Sorrell: Virtual Reality will transform Formula 1 “big time”

Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP and a member of the current Formula One Group board of directors, has given a wide-ranging interview to the official Formula 1 website, which is well worth a read. Sorrell, 71, is expected to earn a whopping £70 million this year.

Sorrell’s interview on the F1 website talks about a number of issues, including television audiences, Sky’s Formula 1 coverage and virtual reality. Sorrell speaks highly of live sporting events: “…despite streaming, despite the rise of tablets and smartphones – all the implications which in theory would make linear TV less important – live sporting events are extremely powerful. But it’s not the event alone – it’s also what’s surrounding it.”

Where the UK is concerned, I have always insisted that television is king. Overall, television audiences are declining slowly as the devices Sorrell mentions continue their surge. But, for the large sporting events, such as the upcoming European football championships and the Rio Olympics, television is the driver to these events. However, the reason those events are so popular is because they are easily accessible and free to the widest possible audience. The viewer does not need to download X app on Y device, the event is there ready to view without anything extra to do. If you hid either the Olympics or European championships behind a pay wall, audiences would plummet.

I find it odd that Sorrell talks highly about live events bringing people together in “powerful” ways, yet skirmishes over Sky’s Formula 1 audience: “When Sky UK started to broadcast there was an argument that audience would come down because it is pay TV. But the actual quality of the production and the use of technology and the engagement of the viewer is much better than it ever was. The product is simply better.” The product may be “simply better” with innovations such as the Sky Pad, but it comes at a price to the consumer. The cost for the consumer results in a diminishing audience, meaning that the live event is less powerful than in previous years. If you are reaching fewer people, you cannot make your voice heard as loudly as you once did before.

“Virtual Reality for Formula One could be fantastic – driving the car! In the Ridley Scott film ‘The Martian’ you can do that. I have lifted off in the space craft from the surface of Mars, walked in space and looked down into deep space and got terrified, with the headphones and the goggles. The technology is already incredible and will improve massively in the next few years. Think about what you could do. And there are some – Bernie and others – who are embracing new technologies.” – Sir Martin Sorrell, speaking to the official Formula 1 website

Sorrell sells the concept of Virtual Reality being part of Formula 1 in the future. Sorrell says “I said before that I believe that Virtual Reality will hit it big time. I know that some of my colleagues disagree, but I believe in it.” In the context of consuming Formula 1, I don’t see Virtual Reality being the next big thing. It works brilliantly in video games, but with Formula 1 I’m not as convinced, in the same way I was unconvinced about the hype over 3D a few years ago. Virtual Reality, whilst the technology is amazing, is a niche market. I would go as far as saying that less than 5 percent of Formula 1’s audience would be interested in Virtual Reality.

Sorrell also talks about generating interest from “other [income] models” aside from “getting a flat fee for broadcasting rights”, a statement that also feels odd given that Sky and FOM signed a near £1 billion broadcasting contract less than three months ago. The other model Sorrell refers to is presumably an over-the-top model where consumers are purchasing video content off FOM to watch at their leisure. Given the fees Sky paid, over-the-top is bound to be in conjunction with Sky as opposed to against Sky.

Lastly, Sorrell says that the fast growing markets (BRICS and Next Eleven) are key. For those wondering, those two groups cover Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea and Vietnam. So, expect a lot more movement in those countries over the next five to ten years.

7 thoughts on “Sorrell: Virtual Reality will transform Formula 1 “big time”

  1. No…. No… No and no…. Virtual reality is still too far into it’s infancy… Particularly with regards to oculus rift… Which has been made to look crap with the HTC vive being released… HTC vive is great but too young in it’s technology yet (project cars is on HTC vive and is actually pretty good but not without it’s issues) so for live F1.. The technology is a long long way off yet… And it’s not certain if it will properly take off.. 4k is going to be the next big big thing… We are seeing that next year of course… But virtual reality isn’t going to happen any time soon… If it ever will

  2. “The cost for the consumer results in a diminishing audience” – I struggle to see why the drop in the TV audience is put at Sky’s door when FTA coverage on C4 has lost over a million viewers per race, reach also needs to be taken into account.

    As for VR, it will go the same way as 3D as far as TV is concerned, 4k will also struggle.

  3. As above VR will be semi popular in the gaming world.
    Its just another hype to sell more apps, game machines and headsets for tech giants.
    It will go the same way as 3d for the average tv and sports user and add nothing to the game.
    From what Ive seen of it its a quick ‘oh thats nice’, eyes and head hurt and bored already.

    Done all the 360 stuff now back to the real action and analysis.

  4. it really is how much money they can milk. what did princess leia say in star wars.

    the more you tighten your grip the more it will slip through your fingers.

    Really some to set up a reival series and just drop f1 and money men

  5. Agree with the comments about VR. Multiple reports about people suffering migraine and epileptic attacks. VR for Martin Sorrell and the WPP group, is a £0.2+ million installation.

    4K/UHD – Says it all

    Nigeria for a F1 race? Do these people really think that we all live in the filter bubble of their making? Holocaust is another word for genocide, and that is happening right now in Nigeria, and many other parts of Africa.

  6. Where this Sorrell guy lost me was when he started talking about the Kardashians:

    “Q: You still haven’t told us how you would build a hero…

    MS: The answer is: concept. I interviewed Kim Kardashian recently and had a conversation with her mother. A lot of people have various thoughts about Kim Kardashian, her mother and her sisters, but it is an incredibly well thought through concept and branding. Each of the daughters appeals to a different segment of the market. The natural urge is to dismiss it as being superficial – but it isn’t superficial. So finally the answer: you have to think about whom you are trying to appeal to. If you are a driver of a team and have a certain set of sponsors, who is the target market for those sponsors? But, of course, it is also a question of nationality.”

    Umm, I’m sorry but it’s impossible to argue that the Kardashians are anything other than superficial, just like all reality TV shows. Is it great concept and marketing? Maybe, but it’s cynical in the extreme. What F1 needs right now is less cynicism, which I’m afraid is exactly what the Sky F1 deal reeks of; a short term cynical cash-in. FOM seem to think putting live races exclusively on Sky will make people more likely to pay to make the switch; it won’t. They’ll just turn to VPN’s and illegal livestreams, or they’ll stop watching altogether and watch BTCC, WEC, or Formula E instead. (If ITV4 can get their FE coverage/advertising together, or C4 picks up from them once their F1 deal is up) It makes no sense as a business in the long term, simply because Sky F1 will not get the viewers that FTA would.

    As for Virtual Reality, it’s a novelty right now. I’ve seen that Formula E have started using it: Personally I think watching the race that way would be gimmicky and inferior to trackside/TV coverage, however I do like the idea of a fans forum for people who can’t go to the venue in person, that would be great to interact with drivers or team personnel in terms of putting questions to them, because there is that actual interaction element, similarly walking around the garages in VR might also be a really interesting experience. With the races A) The tech clearly isn’t there yet to make it worthwhile to watch the entire race and B) It’s a passive experience where you’re just along for the ride; the only thing that might help is extra info, but like I said earlier this is nothing that you can’t get from the actual coverage; even the FE website has a live driver tracker during sessions now which is very helpful.

  7. The current VR setups have major issues when a stationary viewer is turning in VR. This causes VR sickness. Given that all motor racing involves turning, it will be very hard to overcome this. There is a company that raised billions, Magic Leap, that claims to have solved this problem with their technology, which allows the eyes to focus naturally as though they are really viewing far away objects. Current VR tech focuses the eye on the screen two inches away, regardless of what is shown on screen. Until someone solves VR sickness, it is somewhat useless.

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