Monday, May 18, 2015

F1 Broadcast: Free-to-air, Pay TV, online

Television and broadcast rights.  It's an issue not just for Formula One but plenty of other sports.

What do fans deserve when it comes to being able to watch their favourite sport?

Deserve?  That's an interesting word.

Recently in Australia, Formula One signed a 5 year deal with pay TV operator Foxtel.  This involved extended coverage for pay-TV subscribers and 10 races on free-to-air for everyone else.  It's happened before in several countries.  F1 fans who want to see every race need to subscribe to pay television.  It's not new and its growing.

Formula One is a truly global sport.  In every country it's perception and popularity can be vastly different.

Therefore the quality and frequency of the TV coverage in any particular country is whatever Bernie can sell.  Plain and simple.  And now, or soon, you will subscribe and pay if you want all of the races.

What is happening in Australia now is a compromise - 50% of the season on free-to-air.  How long until the entire sport is behind a pay-TV wall?  How does that affect your fans?  Your future long-term viewership?

And of course there is the online world.

The NBL in America have an interesting concept.   "Buy NBL" is an online subscription providing access to the basketball season via internet, phone, tablet etc.  This means that the NBL can sell global TV rights and global online rights.   This is the future.

The problem for Formula One broadcast right now is hinted above.  Bernie and FOM have not embraced the internet and the online world.  They sell traditional TV rights country-by-country.  One day, they will have to sell online packages.

Current and next generation F1 fans need to see races on TV or their computers, tablets/phones.  The first race I ever watched was a brilliant 1986 Adelaide Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon.  Being witness to this started a lifetime love of Formula 1.

In conclusion - F1 needs to be accessible to people in the way they want to view it; television or internet.  There MUST be a large free component that is comprehensive, enticing and shows-off Formula One for what it is ... the best sport in the world.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Improving The F1 Circus

Formula One is often referred to as a circus.

Throughout the years that circus has changed and adapted - it had to.  It needed to accommodate new technology and new ways of doing things.  Some of that change happened suddenly through regulation and intervention from the governing bodies.  Otherwise Formula One just evolved on it's own.

I will address safety in a separate blog.  Here I'd like to discuss 8 key areas where I believe the circus can improve and help move F1 into a new modern era.   

1.   Noise

We need lots of it!   Speed is nothing without noise.  Part of the thrill of F1 is the sheer SOUND of these machines.   So - the volume needs turning up.  Science can deliver increasingly quieter & smaller engines but not in F1.  The current engine specs should remain but work needs to be done on improving the noise.  Now please.  

2.   Technology

We need F1 to be at the leading edge of technology.  It's part of the show.  This technology should always be focused on racing innovations in order to achieve the quickest possible lap times using the least possible fuel.  Where possible, an excellent by-product of racing technology is that it often translates into road technology.   Balancing cost cutting with technology is not easy, but it is a must.

3.   Internet

Where do we start with Mr Ecclestone's lack of interest and investment in the digital world?  Its a joke.  As the commercial rights holder he is holding all the cards, and he is choosing to do nothing.  F1 needs to embrace and engage with fans, both old and new, on the internet and in social media.  The more the better.  Furthermore, Bernie is sitting on another absolute goldmine: decades of race footage which is largely not utilised nor being made available publicly.  Why not offer digital download?  Specific races, seasons, drivers etc.  Rent or buy.  

4.  TV coverage

While a lucky few actually get to be at the race, the vast majority are of course watching from their lounge rooms.  First up, TV coverage globally for F1 needs to be live and free-to-air where possible.  This is imperative.  The TV production, picture and sound could also improve (as recent races in Austin proved).  TV coverage needs to be interactive with relevant statistics and advanced graphics.  And good use of onboards both front and rear would be lovely thanks.   After the live race coverage, an edited race highlights package (say 30 minutes) could be created and then replayed to attract new and casual race fans.

5.   Race day fans

Going to an actual F1 race is the ultimate.  While it's a great spectacle, the show can improve.  One suggestion is some uniform aspects to each and every race build-up globally.  For example, they could run F1 demonstration laps of both recent and historic F1 cars.  Imagine it - a travelling museum of beautiful F1 cars at each Grand Prix.  Other ideas for race day fans: more access to the circus and it's drivers, interactive shows, simulators/gaming, better shopping, 2 seater rides, historic footage and information.  An event for all ages.

6.   Testing

There needs to be a reasonable level of testing not only for the cars and teams but also for new driver evaluation.  I suggest 2 dedicated sessions per year - 10 days pre-season and 5 days mid-season.  In order to encourage new talent, a 3rd driver should be mandatory for all test sessions.  How do we improve the show around testing?  Make it more of an event!

7 : Cost control

The elephant in the room.  Cost control is very difficult to devise, implement and police.  The FIA has had some success with restrictions on certain areas of F1 to help keep costs down.  This should continue.  For example, there is a reason why we have things like a standard ECU.   Other examples; engine tokens, wind tunnel and CFD restrictions, enforced summer break etc.  We need to allow technical development in F1 but standardise where appropriate.  The FIA must achieve more cost cutting through regulation rather than budget caps or auditing procedures.

8 : Smaller Teams

There has been a lot of press recently - most of it alarmist - about F1 being "in crisis" or "imploding" due to the demise of some teams.  There have always been small teams in F1 and many of them do not make it of course.  While this is unfortunate, it is unavoidable.  Some stability and budget certainty should help.  Also, as many have said, I agree that the distribution of funds to teams should be more equitable.  Again, Bernie is really holding the cards here ...

In conclusion

The key figures in all of this are obviously the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone, Liberty Group, CVC and the Strategy Group.  Liberty have shown they will make changes which is great news.

I firmly believe that the FIA do have the will when it comes to cost cutting.  However in the recent past they have not delivered on some key promises including an adequate cost cutting plan.  But I'm hopeful that they will do it in the future.

With Bernie of course - it's all about the money.  Every decision he makes, he makes in the best interests of (his wallet) and F1 as he sees it.  Of course, he is not always right, nor does he embrace all of the areas listed above.  He is unlikely to adapt and change too quickly unless forced.

In conclusion I don't think much will change of significance until Liberty implement their business plan.  What pressures are exerted on Bernie to change will be interesting to see unfold.  Liberty will push those changes, but will Bernie be there to implement them?   We will see.

Thank you for reading.

Your comments are welcome.

Pep, F1 Podcast.