The third and final challenge in the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize was announced by Formula One Management and Tata Communications earlier this week, and it is one which is of significant interest to this writer. FOM are, and I quote from here, “looking for suggestions to encourage F1 fans to provide audio and text commentaries of the FOM archive via the internet so that the content is indexed to allow it to be used in new and exciting ways.”
New and exciting ways. Via the internet. Terms that you do not normally hear FOM say, after all, they only made their Twitter feed engaging a little less than two months ago. In the title of this piece, I use the term ‘F1 Network’, which is deliberate. Alongside being a Formula 1 fan, I am also a fan of professional wrestling. Which brings me onto the WWE Network. The network, dubbed as ‘over the top’, is available on a multitude of devices from the traditional desktop PC, through to the iPad and onto the Xbox One. It currently runs a linear schedule, but shows are also available for fans to watch On Demand. As of writing, not everything is available on the network. In fact, WWE are barely scraping the surface as to what is currently available, however new material is being released on an ad-hoc basis. The monthly price for the network is, yep… $9.99.
The challenge description claims that FOM has around 60,000 hours of footage dating back to 1981. In that time period, up until the end of 2013, there have been 555 races. That works out at an average of 131 hours of footage per race weekend stored in FOM’s archive. That is huge. To put it another way, it would take you seven years, without stopping, to watch the entire archive. In comparison though, the WWE’s archive holds around 150,000 hours of footage, although admittedly that does contain material from a lot of defunct wrestling organisations. Around a quarter of their archive is digitalised.
Of course, it is worth noting that the WWE Network has not yet been launched in the UK, and could still launch here as a normal cable channel, like in Canada, which is basically a kick in the balls to the fans as that is just like what Sky Sports F1 is now. Sky Sports F1 is not an F1 Network. It is controlled BSkyB, who do not produce content 24/7 for the channel. An actual F1 Network, in the form of the US WWE Network, would be controlled 100 percent by FOM. Any F1 Network would need good grace from multiple providers, including Sky. FOM can not just launch an F1 Network online, the clause concerning online would have to be removed from every broadcasting contract, otherwise the network would be geo-blocked and Sky would kick up a huge fuss.
The brief says that “we need you to suggest how fans can be engaged to provide commentaries to the footage, and how these commentaries can then be converted into text form to provide a keyword index for easy searching and referencing. Once indexed, the footage archive can be used in many new and exciting ways, such as on-demand services. None of this is possible without the content being indexed in the first instance.” I would hope that any successful submission will involve some form of staggered approach. Does all of the archive need to be indexed before content can be rolled out? No. As I mentioned above, the WWE Network currently scrapes the surface and had WWE waited until all of their content was digitalised, we would be sitting here for many more years until that happens.
The quoted brief confuses me too, because it implies that the footage we hear will be fan commentary rather than the original commentary. Can I ask: who would listen to that? I’d like to hear the commentary in its original form, not dubbed commentary or anything of the like. I hope I have misread that, because fan-based commentary does not interest me in the slightest. Why can’t the original commentary be indexed? Most YouTube videos contain transcriptions, which is an automatic process with presumably little human intervention, surely something of this nature would be much more efficient than providing new commentary?
In terms of roll out, you could roll out ‘a season a year’ to the consumer with extra supplementary material surrounding that season, alongside any additional live streaming that may be considered. That might not sound like a lot for $9.99 per month, however the lifespan of the network would be increased, which is good for FOM in the long run. Release too much material at once, and you shorten the lifespan. The release of material needs to be logical for the network to be successful. Re-watching the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix probably wouldn’t do much for me as it was recent, but watching the 1989 Italian Grand Prix on the other hand having seen the previous races that year would be fascinating.
The pessimist in me believes that we will not get a F1 Network for at least another two or three years, due to a variety of reasons that go beyond the status of current broadcasting contracts. Either way, it will be very interesting to see what the winning solution is for this challenge, and what time scales are involved.