As we welcome in a new decade, F1 TV and FOM aficionado FOMWatch (@FOMWatch) has been looking at how F1’s in-house streaming service F1 TV has been faring from its 2018 launch to the present day.
At the start of 2018, F1 announced that it would launch an in-house streaming service in time for the 2018 season, entitled F1 TV. Developed in collaboration with third-party companies (including NBC Sports’ Playmaker Media, iStreamPlanet, CSG, Ostmodern and Tata), the platform ultimately launched just in time for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Offering all that years’ F1 sessions live and on-demand, showing the World Feed and all 20 drivers onboards with exclusive live team radio, the service also allowed viewers access to an ever-increasing selection of historic full races and highlights, dating back to 1981, the year in which FOM (or FOCA as it was known back then) first gained a slice of Formula 1’s commercial rights.
Lastly, F1 TV includes access to the live timing features on formula1.com and the F1 App, originally part of the ‘F1 Access’ live timing subscription offered since 2015.
Users in certain countries can sign up to a premium tier, called F1 TV Pro. Restricted due to broadcasting rights currently in place, the tier has both the live action and their respective replays, archive races and live timing features.
A cheaper tier, branded as F1 TV Access, has everything aside from the live streaming and replays of live streams is available in significantly more countries, including the UK.
In 2019, F1 brought three additional content feeds to F1 TV:
- The Pit Lane Channel (introduced in 2012, and for 2019 featuring exclusive F1 TV commentary from support race commentator Alex Jacques)
- the Driver Tracker channel (introduced in 2010)
- the Data Channel (introduced in 2016)
In addition, F1 streamed F2, F3 and the Porsche Supercup sessions live in full via the platform for the first time (with World Feed commentary from Alex Jacques). In 2018, only highlights of the support races were available to watch after the race.
Technical issues plight service
Despite improvements for 2019, F1 TV has not been without its problems, some of which remain. A common complaint from users over on Twitter and Reddit surrounds the reliability of the service, with the service falling to handle high demand during live races, resulting in F1 issuing refunds to subscribers, and F1 CEO Chase Carey admitting that 2018 was a “beta” year for the service.
The quality of the streams itself is below that of othher streaming platforms. While F1 streams live sessions at full HD resolution (1080p), the frame rate on F1 TV is only 25 frames per second (fps). In the Ultra HD era, F1 shoots and broadcasts in 50fps (and prior to that, at the equivalent 25i – both of which equate to 50fps after de-interlacing), and that is what F1 airs on television.
Because of the reduced frame rate, the F1 TV stream looks jerky and less smooth, reducing the sense of speed in comparison to its television counterpart. F1 TV was hoping to have 50fps playback introduced in time for the 2019 season, but this has still yet to be introduced.
Considering other sports streaming services such as BBC online, Eurosport Player, Tennis TV, and Now TV (from Sky), and F1 themselves on their YouTube channel have all introduced 50fps support on their own streaming services, it is a shame that F1 TV is lagging behind in this respect, especially as F1 is a fast-paced sport that would benefit from these changes.
Finally, another criticism is the way F1 TV mixes together the World Feed and the commentary of its broadcast partners. Some broadcasters, such as Sky, frequently cut away from the World Feed during practice to show their own content from reporters down in pit lane.
In contrast, F1 TV shows a single ‘vanilla’ World Feed channel, which does not include the bespoke broadcaster content. When this happens, fans watching via F1 TV will hear the commentary team talking about another topic that the broadcaster is airing exclusively for their audience.
A solution to this would be to either use cutaway-friendly commentators (such as BBC Radio’s commentary team for example), or to instead stream different versions of the World Feed specifically tailored to each broadcaster, to show their cutaways in-vision.
Content improving with more distinctive material
Despite these criticisms, F1 TV has slowly been improving if only at least in terms of its actual content.
The exclusive commentary on the Pit Lane channel provided by Alex Jacques is very informative, making full use of the multi-screen layout of the feed to show alternate angles, replays, and onboard footage, all which Jacques can commentate on.
Fans and pundits alike have criticised F1’s main feed output in recent years for showing too many replays, or not showing enough midfield action, whereas this is ultimately often shown first on one of the picture-in-picture windows on the Pit Lane channel.
In addition, while there have been regular on-demand videos such as session highlights and Paddock Pass posted since the 2018 launch, the amount of exclusive and in-depth on-demand content available to subscribers (most via F1 TV’s lower-level tier) has increased from just one in 2018 to much more in 2019.
A 50-minute documentary on Michael Schumacher and exclusive long-form interviews with Charles Leclerc and Jody Scheckter were some of 2019’s highlights, whilst Formula Two documentary series ‘Chasing the Dream’ starts 2020 on a high-note for the over-the-top platform.
Subscribers to F1 TV Pro also have access to the Weekend Debrief series (produced by FOM and aired on Sky Sports F1 in the UK), as well as Tech Talk feature show for each race in 2019.
F1 has greatly improved the archive content available to all F1 TV subscribers, with all from 1981 to 2017 having at least a ten-minute highlights reel, if not a full race, extended highlights, or season review clip. Now, F1 appears to be going in reverse chronological order, uploading full season’s worth of races from 2017 and earlier, having reached 2009 at the time of writing.
In conclusion, while F1 TV has matured in terms of what is available on the service, it still has a long way to go in terms of reliability, stability, and availability, particularly in terms of its mobile apps. Hopefully FOM will allocate more resources and personnel to ensure that the platform can continue to grow moving forward.
How have you found the performance of F1’s over-the-top service? What would you change to the platform, if anything? Have your say in the comments below.
Fancy contributing to Motorsport Broadcasting? Head over here for further details…