Formula E, Voltage, and YouTube: a match made in heaven?

Last November, Formula E announced that races will be streamed on their YouTube channel. But, instead of your typical stream, the championship opted to try out a new approach using ‘influencers’. Five months on, how is the experiment going?

Andrew, one of Motorsport Broadcasting’s avid readers has been watching from the start, and sent in his observations…

If you are reading this site, you are more than likely a heavy motor sport fan, and therefore instantly dismissed by the personalities behind Formula E’s new YouTube experiment as ‘not the target audience’.

But as someone keen on broadcasting, I have been curious to watch the development of ‘FE Voltage’, to use the proper title. Think of Voltage as a cross between an irreverent YouTube talk show, and Gogglebox (a show we have in the UK, where we watch people, watching TV!).

The concept is the brainchild of GOAT, an agency that looks after influencers and YouTube talent. They are responsible for sending influencers to each race (presumably paid for by Formula E) with the sole target of widening the reach of the championship.

Voltage places influencers in a studio at YouTube London to watch the Formula E race with a similar premise. Fans of said influencer migrate to the Formula E channel to watch their favourite YouTube star being associated with the series.

Because of the broadcasting rights for Formula E, there are two Voltage feeds on YouTube: a geo-blocked feed which does not show the racing at all, and the ‘World Feed’ which uses picture-in-picture of the real-World Feed.

Difficult start for Voltage…
KSI, who is one of YouTube’s most notable stars, joined the team for episode one covering the Riyadh E-Prix. Despite coverage from mainstream outlets in the UK (such as the Metro, Express and Mirror), the numbers on the channel were small. Three months later, the Saudi video has 250,000 views (roughly split 50/50 across the two feeds), whereas KSI has 6.5 million followers across Facebook and Twitter.

It was clear from the comments left by viewers that few were there for KSI, questioning who they were and why they were talking over the race. KSI himself was unsure why he was there, frequently filmed on his phone, and once heard remarking ‘this is boring’.

The hosts, Queen B and Laurence McKenna seemed to have no idea what was happening in the race, no grasp of the basic rules that Formula E had been shouting about, such as Attack Mode and Fanboost.

Not one person in the studio seemed engaged, so how could the viewers become engaged?

Thankfully, episode two had a different feel: no distractions, no phones, just the guests and the race with anything non-Formula E related left to the pre-show. The use of the World Feed commentators’ audio (including Dario Spaghetti!) and the addition of Autosport correspondent Scott Mitchell as Formula E Guru helped.

The guests WillNE and Stephen Tries did not have the same number of followers as KSI from race one and the English feed suffered, with 45,000 views, but crucially 1,500 dislikes to just 400 likes on YouTube. The World Feed version of Voltage reached 266,000 views – mainly because Formula E removed the ability to just watch the race – internet consumers had to watch through Voltage.

Nevertheless, the studio energy was flat, disinterested and even with a Guru, there was no encouragement to engage. While the addition of Mitchell added some integrity, the production team placed him in the corner away from the influencers – left behind like the last one picked to be on a football team. It represented so much about the philosophy of the production.

What will not surprise many readers is that Aurora produces the output, the same house that produces the World Feed coverage alongside North One Television. The World Feed varies massively in quality from race to race, missing many key moments up and down the field.

What is more surprising though is that Neil Cole (also WRX pit reporter, WTCC presenter and Race of Champions commentator) produces the show. Clearly a man who knows his motor sport, it baffles how the stream seems so dis-interested in the sport.

Just 37,000 watched episode three, which covered Santiago, with 1,000 accounts disliking the video. The stream that includes footage of the race managed an upward trend to 294,000 and had more positive engagement in the 165 comments, clearly fans of the guests, WillNE and ‘Morgz Mum’ helped.

Were they commenting on Formula E, engaging with what they saw, and subscribing to the YouTube channel however, the numbers suggest not.

…but is the show turning a corner?
One of the stars of Voltage is Saunders Carmichael-Brown, who is on-site with the main Formula E television team. He frequently tries to drag the studio back to focus on the action, or enthuse about the atmosphere and the battles on track. There is a genuine passion and understanding, although it is clear he can rarely hear what the studio is saying, coming across sometimes as a little underproduced.

Carmichael-Brown’s energy is what Mitchell needs to emulate as the ‘Guru’. As a writer and journalist, he is highly respectable and knows Formula E, but is unable to articulate his knowledge on Voltage. Of all the guest or presenters, Mitchell should be the most engaged having followed the championship longer than those alongside him.

The double stream setup ended after Santiago, with a single ‘World Feed’ in use from Mexico City onwards. Evidently, broadcasters did not feel threatened by Voltage’s presence and so allowed the change to happen. A chili eating competition helped fill some dull moments half way through Mexico, and by the end the guest seemed truly engaged with the racing action.

The Mexico stream had 550,000 views and clearly benefited from both the craziness of the racing and the fun competition. It may have also been geo-blocked in a different way to help the numbers, but the feeling was still the same from many watching.

From chilis in Mexico to worms in Hong Kong and thankfully, due to various red flag periods, the team used the worms to fill the time. As the races went on, it became clear that the bookers of the talent were starting to consider requests from fans for motor sport related guests.

Yianni Charalambous, a car wrapper with 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube going by the name of Yiannimize, joined the core line-up for Hong Kong, whilst MrJWW joined the team for the following race in Sanya. Both were clearly engaged in the racing far more than previous guests. The change of direction pushed Queen B to engage as well and Mitchell became far more involved than McKenna hosting.

The World Feed was also in full screen with the studio in the corner allowing for far less negativity. Initially the numbers for Mexico on YouTube looked poor at just 90,000 but the figures soon grew to 570,000, with Sanya’s figures soaring to 632,000.

With just 18 comments for Sanya, one would question exactly how the numbers have increased so much, especially as Formula E are now uploading the full World Feed coverage onto their YouTube channel.

The relationship between Voltage and the main production team has improved, which became apparent when Voltage cut to a replay of Sam Bird exiting the Sanya race before the World Feed had shown what had happened or even referenced it.

Mitchell’s departure from the team following Sanya presents a great opportunity to bring in an energetic presenter to really enthuse on the sport. While Mitchell’s influence and knowledge has been hugely important to the product, Voltage could do better. In fact, the best person for the job is probably the producer!

Ultimately, Voltage’s figures have increased significantly since Riyadh last December. However, with a low number of comments and interactions, it is not yet creating the buzz either Formula E or the production team were hoping for.

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2 thoughts on “Formula E, Voltage, and YouTube: a match made in heaven?

  1. Thanks for your detailed journalism. At the end of the day I was going to say something about my view but as I wont be watching the rest of the season it doesn’t seem fair.
    Lets hope F1 doesn’t ruin the product trying to pander to the idiot’s that follow Youtube stars.

  2. Great article. I didn’t even realise that this was a thing having watched the races so far in BBC iplayer. It sounds hideous & is clearly not aimed at motorsport fans. The problem they have with trying to engage the generation that they’re pandering to is that, unless you like motor racing motor racing is boring! So, why alienate people who like motor racing!?

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