The gradual move to pay TV continues for Formula 1

There have been two pieces of news concerning Formula 1 broadcasting rights in Australia and South America, and sadly for the paying consumer, both pieces of news will leave their pockets lighter.

Beginning down under in Australia, it looks like Network Ten will be sharing their rights with pay TV group Foxtel from the 2016 season. That is according to Speedcafe and AFR. The deal, however, will not be the same as BBC’s deal with Sky in the UK. Instead, Foxtel will broadcast every practice and qualifying session exclusively live, but crucially Foxtel will share live coverage of the race with Network Ten. So, every race in Australia will still be available live for free to air viewers.

At the end of the day, the race is the main event, and in countries where qualifying does not appear on the radar too much, the above is definitely a more viable option in my opinion compared with the current UK deal. If you like to watch every session and do not currently have Foxtel, you’re going to be pretty annoyed though, so its a two way street. There’s positives and negatives depending on how often you watch practice and qualifying.

Over in Latin America (excluding Brazil), a new Formula 1 channel is being launched by Mediapro. The channel, which is being distributed by Direct TV, will broadcast every session live, with ten of the weekends shared with Fox Sports. Slowly but surely, it looks like the shared model pioneered in the UK is taking over where Formula 1 is concerned. I don’t claim this list to be exhaustive, but the following countries/continents have recently switched to either a exclusive pay TV model or half free-to-air and half pay:

– UK (from 2012 – shared)
Netherlands (from 2013)
Italy (from 2013 – shared)
Czech Republic (from 2015 – full pay TV)
Slovakia (from 2015 – full pay TV)
– South America (from 2015)
– Australia (from 2016 – shared tbc)

Whilst you can point figures and blame certain things on track that have changed this year, the fact of the matter is that, as soon as you enter these deals, you limit your audience immediately. It depends of course on the pay TV penetration, but it is not good from a viewer perspective seeing Formula 1 behind a pay wall.

Revamped Formula 1 website to launch in 2015

Following on from comments made by Bernie Ecclestone to Campaign Asia, which I analysed yesterday on this blog, I see that James Allen has confirmed that a revamped Formula 1 website will be launching in 2015.

Writing on his website, Allen said that, in response to falling viewing figures, Formula One Management “has now got a social media department at Ecclestone’s base in Princes Gate; it’s why they are investing in a new for 2015 and in the official F1 app, which has sold over 3 million editions. had 67 million unique users last season and that is set to rise this year. The new site is set to engage the younger audience, using all the social media tools Ecclestone refers to and will have a level of personalisation and fan engagement which is way beyond what is there today.”

> May 2013 – FOM “may consider live streaming online”
> September 2014 – F1’s Twitter page finally hits the 21st century
> November 2014 – Are FOM taking the first steps to create their own “F1 Network”?

I’m very happy to read this. Although I can not say this with any certainty, I imagine that we could see a new version of the Formula 1 website during the off-season. The current version has been around since 2007, with a few aesthetic changes along the way, so it is about time that it has a complete overhaul. It will be interesting to see how Facebook and Twitter will be integrated into the website, given that FOM/FODM does not have a Facebook presence at the moment. I doubt we will see YouTube integration, unless FOM take the step of creating a YouTube account, which is highly unlikely.

Even if Ecclestone himself does not care much about social media, it is good to see that those under him do. As usual, Ecclestone’s comments do undermine the work of those behind the scenes at FOM/FODM, which is unfortunate as it looks like a lot will change in the next 12/24 months in their digital world. The website revamp, will only help a new generation become more interested in Formula 1, which in my view is absolutely critical for the sport in the next few years and beyond.

Analysis: Looking at Ecclestone’s Campaign Asia interview

A fascinating questions and answers session with Bernie Ecclestone was published by Campaign Asia a few days ago on their website, which received an overwhelming response on F1 media websites and by fans on social media. In it, Ecclestone made a lot of interesting comments, which I will look at further down this piece.

Some said that this is the usual Ecclestone, making controversial comments for the sake of gaining a few headlines. I disagree. This was not an interview with your usual Formula 1 journalist. As far as I can tell, Campaign Asia is an upmarket website, who have no agenda. They’re not looking to spin this story. They did not pull one or two lines out of the Q&A for a sensationalist headline. They published the entire Q&A for their readers to read, which does not happen very often, and I applaud them for that. One link between them and AUTOSPORT is that they are both owned by Haymarket, but I doubt that AUTOSPORT’s editorial stance affects Campaign Asia and vice versa.

The Q&A starts with Atifa Silk asking Ecclestone what the Formula One brand stands for. Which is a valid question. Most big brands have a roadmap of where they want to be in five years from now. Microsoft. Facebook. Two examples of brands that have roadmaps. Brands like the Premier League too will have roadmaps on how to exploit growth in certain regions (in fact, the Ecclestone interview alludes to this later, but doesn’t explain how growth is going to happen). Here is Formula E’s technical roadmap. Defining a roadmap is a key part of telling people what your brand is all about.

This was Ecclestone’s response to the branding question: “That’s a difficult question to answer. I suppose it is a major sport and most sports are in the entertainment business. Sometimes we tend to lose track of the entertainment and get caught up a bit more on the technical aspect of Formula 1, which I’m not happy about. We are very technical and we need to stay that way but I’d rather see a bit more effort on the entertainment.” Ecclestone further down the piece claims that it is “obvious” what Formula 1 does. Is it? Imagine trying to persuade a new fan to watch Formula 1, and you tell them that’s it is all obvious. That’s not a good sales pitch. What Ecclestone does not realise is that, the more indecisive he is, and the more negativity that emerges, that tarnishes the brand and removes a little bit of value from the brand. His brand, let us not forget.

Ecclestone does rightly say that there is increased competition nowadays as people have more choice than 20 or 30 years ago. His next point is about Ferrari, noting that “they’re not winning as much, and you can see that their popularity has dropped off.” With that in mind, why do they still get financial privileges in comparison to other teams? If you want to make Formula 1 a more viable proposition for teams wanting to join, the $90 million that is given to Ferrari needs to instead be re-distributed equally to every team. Ecclestone says that for teams to survive, they should not spend as much. That is all well and good, but Gerard Lopez was bang on the money with his comments in the official FIA press conference back in USA, noting “I kinda guess what [Caterham and Marussia] must have paid for the engine this year and what they have paid for developing around that engine and I guarantee that in the budgets that they have, there was not a whole lot left – so it’s not like they had a choice.” It feels like that Ecclestone believes that money grows on trees. It doesn’t. You only need to look around to see that some teams are struggling to attract sponsors.

Rolex: A wonderful brand I'm sure, but what percentage of Formula 1's audience is going to interact with the brand in the next seven days?
Rolex: A wonderful brand I’m sure, but what percentage of Formula 1’s audience is going to interact with the brand in the next seven days?

This brings me onto a point further down the article about Rolex and UBS, in that young kids can’t afford them. But I think the Rolex and UBS point is interesting in a different context. Are back end teams struggling to attract sponsors because Formula 1 presents itself as an elitist sport on screen? When I watch Formula 1, I don’t see worldwide sponsors that I can openly engage in, I see sponsors that only the rich and famous can engage in. Having a brand, such as McDonald’s or Nike to use two examples, alongside Rolex and UBS would look completely out of place. Does having only four or five sponsors presented on the World Feed at every race have a detrimental effect to those teams at the back of the field? Or does it not matter? I don’t know, but think it is an interesting point. Ecclestone does make the point about Formula 1 attracting an upmarket audience, which is a valid statement considering the sponsors. I’m not suggesting that Formula 1 should go towards a ‘chavvy’ audience or anything of the sort, but just that the choice of sponsors may make Formula 1 appear inaccessible, to some. Ecclestone himself in the interview with Campaign Asia says that the teams at the tale end require at least 70% to 80% of their budget to be from sponsors. If you fail to attract sponsors, you’re going to struggle.

Ecclestone says that they can’t “make Formula One more accessible to people”. I’m afraid I disagree: all races free-to-air worldwide where pay-TV growth has failed to take off, YouTube content (it doesn’t need to be World Feed, just some unique content produced by FOM) and the such like. In the UK, free-to-air television is still king. FOM are only starting to exploit social media with Twitter, but even so, you can argue that development is several years later than it really should have been. That probably does not matter that much, given that Ecclestone expresses no interest in tweeting.

“I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I tried to find out but in any case I’m too old-fashioned. I couldn’t see any value in it. And, I don’t know what the so-called ‘young generation’; of today really wants. What is it? You ask a 15 or 16-year-old kid, ‘What do you want?’; and they don’t know. The challenge is getting the audience in the first place”, Ecclestone said in the piece. Ecclestone is probably one of the few old generation leaders who does not have Twitter. Rupert Murdoch, Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter all do. One reason that start-up companies are so successful in this generation is because of social media. Get a good following, with a bit of funding, and all of a sudden you can become the next big thing. There is a lot of possibilities with social media, which hopefully Formula E will be exploiting.

The two groups that Ecclestone alienated in the interview, women and young men (age 34 or under), accounted for 49 percent of the UK audience for the Russian Grand Prix according to overnight viewing figures, so half of his fan base. The main conclusion I sadly get from this piece is that Ecclestone is not interested in diversifying his audience. Ecclestone appears to be happy with what he have, but does not have the urge to change his audience, or to bring younger people into Formula 1. An ageing audience is not an attractive audience. An unattractive audience will not attract new, trendy sponsors. People associate Rolex and UBS with middle-aged businessman. The piece proves to me that Formula 1 needs new leadership. Not just Ecclestone, but the ‘yes men’ associated with Ecclestone. Someone to drive Formula 1 forward. Passion. Energy. Excitement. New media. Is Ecclestone really the person to drive Formula 1 forward, and continue to make it a global phenomenon?

I don’t think so.

Scheduling: The 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

After 18 races, the Formula 1 championship battle comes down to the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi! In any of the previous seasons, that statement may be somewhat surprising, but given the double points scenario this year, it is not too much of a surprise to see the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg go down to the wire.

With no broadcasting announcements yet for 2015, it remains to be seen whether Abu Dhabi will be the last race for anyone on the BBC and Sky Sports teams. What we do know is that Natalie Pinkham will not be at any of the early 2015 races, but as of writing, we don’t know who will be filling her position. I suspect it will be Rachel Brookes, but that hasn’t been confirmed officially. Sadly though, Abu Dhabi will be the last race for Will Buxton as lead GP2 and GP3 commentator. The change will allow Buxton to focus solely on Formula 1 for NBC Sports, even so, he will be missed by those viewers who listen to his passionate commentary.

One person who will have an unusually busy weekend is Jennie Gow. Thanks to Formula 1 and Formula E clashing, Gow is flying to Abu Dhabi as usual mid-week, flying back to the UK after her F1 practice commitments with the BBC on Friday. Gow then heads to ITV’s London Studios to present Formula E live in the early hours of Saturday mornings, and is straight back on another plane to Abu Dhabi to cover the Formula 1 race live for BBC Radio 5 Live! For Formula E, Gow will be joined in the ITV studio by Alex Brundle and Mark Priestley.

I’ve changed the usual format to see if there are ways that the information can be presented better, I may stick to the below for 2015 instead of having one long list. It also allows me to cover different series instead of using abbreviations throughout. I notice Sky are continuing Classic F1 races throughout December, so I have omitted that as well from the below. But, for the last time in 2014, here is the full UK Formula 1 schedule with all the details you need:

Formula 1 – Sessions (BBC TV)
21/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Two)
21/11 – 13:00 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Two)
22/11 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Two)
22/11 – 12:10 to 14:15 – Qualifying (BBC One)
23/11 – 12:10 to 15:30 – Race (BBC One)

Formula 1 – Sessions (BBC Radio)
21/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
21/11 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
22/11 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
22/11 – 13:00 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/11 – 12:45 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula 1 – Sessions (Sky Sports)
21/11 – 08:45 to 11:10 – Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
21/11 – 12:45 to 15:05 – Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
22/11 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
22/11 – 11:15 to 14:35 – Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
22/11 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying (Sky1)
22/11 – 13:00 to 15:35 – Qualifying (Sky1 +1)
23/11 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Formula 1 – Supplementary Programming
20/11 – 11:00 to 11:45 – Driver Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
20/11 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
20/11 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Gear Up for Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
21/11 – 16:00 to 16:45 – Team Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
21/11 – 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
21/11 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
22/11 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
23/11 – 15:30 to 16:30 – Forum (BBC Red Button)
23/11 – 16:15 to 17:15 – Architects of F1: John Barnard (Sky Sports F1)
26/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report (Sky Sports F1)

GP2 Series (Sky Sports F1)
21/11 – 07:15 to 08:05 – Practice
21/11 – 15:05 to 15:45 – Qualifying
22/11 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
23/11 – 10:15 to 11:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series (Sky Sports F1)
21/11 – 11:10 to 11:45 – Qualifying
22/11 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Race 1
23/11 – 08:55 to 09:55 – Race 2

Formula E – Putrajaya (ITV4)
22/11 – 05:00 to 07:30 – Race
22/11 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

As always, if anything changes I shall update this blog if necessary.

Update on November 18th at 16:10 – Sky are staying live on Saturday from 09:45 all the way through to 16:05, as their qualifying build-up has been extended to a mammoth 105 minutes.

Formula E announce live streaming for Putrajaya ePrix

The 2014 Putrajaya ePrix race day will be streamed live online, it has been announced on the Formula E website today.

Live streaming of practice, qualifying and the race itself will be available via the official Formula E website and via their iOS and Android app. Not all countries will get every session streamed live. It appears the UK audience will only be able to watch practice live on the series website, with the other sessions not being streamed live.

This follows on from yesterday’s news that Formula E have teamed up with cloud-based global video distribution and monetisation network Rightster. Rightster will manage Formula E’s online portfolio, including their YouTube channel. Notably, Formula E appears to care about its younger audience, as the aim is to “attract a younger audience specifically between the ages of 16 and 24”, something specifically noted by Ali Russell, Formula E’s Director of Media.

Patrick Walker, Chief Commercial Officer at Rightster, also said “Rightster has a proven track record in growing YouTube channels globally and we’re thrilled to be chosen as a partner for this exciting new sport. Given Formula E want to target a younger audience, YouTube is the perfect platform to achieve it. The Championship has already received a huge positive response on social media from younger generations and we look forward to applying our expertise to further deepen this engagement over the coming months.”