F1’s TV ratings are being hammered at the moment by the continuing shift towards pay-TV, which is not something that many want to pay for. You can understand that given that most viewers have been used to watching sport free on TV. At the same time, one can understand the logic of the F1 world. Why should content be free? You don’t go to the cinema and expect to walk in for free, do you? The long term future of all sport is pay-TV and if it is well-marketed new generations will not have the same objections that exist today. It will be normal for them. However, the problem is the changeover and F1 is not doing that very well. I get regular comments from disenchanted readers on this subject. Here is an example:
I’ve watched most GPs since 1981 when broadcasts started here. Until 2013 I could have counted the races I missed on one hand. In 2013-14 I was traveling and missed more races than I’d liked to. Now my son has his own home and I gifted the pay-TV connection to him as a house warming present. So if I want to watch F1 next year I’d need to pay another approx $575 per annum to watch F1. I would pay that much, but I’ll be traveling again and I can’t take the box with me. As I travel I could hunt around for a connection fast enough to stream, but do I want the hassle? No ! Seems to me I can watch pretty much anything, anywhere, anytime, except F1. Maybe F1 does not want fans or viewers?
“On a related note. Through the Naughties I had one or two F1 nights every year until 2012: a few mates, a BBQ, a few beers and we watched the race on the big screen, with live timing on a few notebooks. Mostly about a dozen rowdy souls. I had one this year only five turned up and two only came for the beer, so only three blokes who still watch F1 regularly. I reckon it is something F1 should worry about.”
This is a common story and while the sport is making more money from fewer fans, it is losing overall audience and sponsorship is becoming harder and harder to find, making the teams more reliant than ever on the Commercial Rights Holder, a situation they do not much like, hence the move in recent years for the bigger ones to become self-sufficient by marketing their technology in other markets.
There are signs that eventually the sport will switch to a direct-to-consumer TV model, which would enable fans to watch F1 on any device they choose wherever they may be. That would mean no middle men and the possibility of much more reasonable pricing. Rather than try to work out how the F1 viewing figures are calculated, let us simply look at 10 million viewers, each watching 2o races and each paying $5 for the privilege: it’s any easy calculation: 10 x 20 x 5. That’s over a billion dollars per annum – much more than is currently the case. Scale that up to whatever the real viewing figure is and you can see that not only will there be more people willing to pay: $5 compared to $30 is a bargain, but there would be more cash for everyone, more to invest in social media to attract new viewers and more to pay off the debts that exist.
How far away is that? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? A recent press release from Tata Communications revealed that it has recently completed a successful “proof of concept” with Formula One Management by delivering a live trackside feed from the Singapore track to Formula One Management’s Technical HQ in Biggin Hill, UK – with no time lag between the live broadcast and the footage viewed on the app. Known as an over-the-top service, the test demonstrated how the Formula 1 fan experience could be enriched through new technology. The video feed was delivered using Tata Communications’s global fibre network. Unlike traditional services (which often result in a lag of around 25 seconds between a live event and an online feed) Tata Communications demonstrated its capability to deliver an online feed with no delay.
Based on this logic, before too long F1 should be able to transmit all of its Camera signals to Biggin Hill and edit the feed there, thus cutting out the need for the hugely expensive TV unit and all the people who go from race to race. Let us hope this happens soon. Let us also hope that when it does happen, the F1 group does not get greedy and try to make customers pay silly amounts. It is best for the sport to be as open as possible to all fans, because many cannot afford even $5 a race, cheap though others might think it is.
Nonetheless, while we wait for this to happen, the sport ought to be looking at new ideas from wherever it can find them. F1 is very bad at doing anything that was “not invented here”. That is such a blinkered way of doing business because there are great ideas all over the world.
Right now, for example, a lot of the discussions about a franchise structure in NASCAR is being based in the model that is used in V8 Supercars in Australia. We can and should learn from others.
NASCAR, for example, is working on a fictional TV series to be debuted late next year. To be produced by husband-wife producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, famous for shows such as “Survivor,” “The Voice,” and “The Bible”, which have grossed vast sums from international franchising, the NASCAR-themed show designed to go to a general audience, with storylines about fictional relationships and characters in racing.
“Our sport is laden with those things and some of the attributes that really drive great storytelling, like independence, rebellion and … family,” says Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president entertainment marketing and content development.”
Nothing like that in the pipeline in F1 circles… Such a shame.