Efremov steps down from role as Motorsport Network CEO

Yavor Efremov has stepped down from his role as the CEO of Motorsport Network, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

Motorsport Network, which oversees Motorsport.com and Autosport amongst other outlets, announced Efremov’s appointment, in April. Now, an update to Efremov’s LinkedIn profile shows that he left the position as CEO in November, moving into an advisory role with the company.

Efremov’s departure follows the exit of non-executive chairman and McLaren boss Zak Brown in October.

Speaking at the time, Efremov said “I’d like to thank Zak for all that he has done in his role as non-executive chairman since January 2016. He shares our passion for the sport.”

“Without him, we would not have been able to grow Motorsport Network to the level we’ve reached today. I look forward to continuing our personal friendship and professional collaboration in the future.”

It has been a turbulent end to 2019 for the Network, after a decision to increase the price of Autosport magazine from £3.99 to £10.99 (essentially signalling the beginning of the end for the publication) was met with fierce criticism across the motor sport landscape, leading to not only Brown’s departure but also a u-turn at the beginning of November.

I understand that Efremov was a key figure behind the decision to increase the price of Autosport to £10.99 in October, meaning that his position as CEO became untenable once the u-turn happened.

In October, it was revealed that the Network had appointed Matt Young and Gary Learner as executive vice presidents, with Young also taking up the role as chief revenue officer, and Learner as chief technology officer.

Meanwhile at Autosport…
The exits have not stopped at the top, with several names from the Autosport mainstay also departing recently.

Long-time Grand Prix editor Edd Straw has exited after 17 years with the organisation.

Writing on his Twitter, Straw said “A quick personal announcement – I have now left Autosport after just over 17-and-a-half years having decided to go freelance. Still finalising plans for next year but will continue to cover F1 for various outlets.”

Glenn Freeman, who was Autosport’s video content editor across their social channels also left in November.

Freeman noted “Time for a change: Last month I left Autosport, after 14 years, to pursue something new. Not an easy decision, but exciting times ahead for 2020. I’ll always look back fondly on my time there, including stints as News Editor, website Editor, + our recent video/YouTube success.”

In addition to Straw’s and Freeman’s departures, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that Matt Beer has left Autosport.

Jack Cozens has succeeded Beer as editor of Autosport.com. Beer was fundamental behind the foundations of the Autosport Academy, a programme aimed at bringing young talent including Cozens into the Autosport fold.

The most recent developments follow the exit of Andrew van de Burgt as Autosport’s editor in chief in October.

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Motorsport Network reverses Autosport magazine price hike with immediate effect

Motorsport Network has reversed its decision to increase the price of Autosport magazine with immediate effect, whilst also reassuring readers about the future of the print edition.

The corporation announced in October that it was increasing the price of the weekly magazine from £3.99 to £10.99, in a move seen by many within the industry as an attempt to kill off the magazine.

Now, following negative feedback from fans and stakeholders alike, the corporation has confirmed that Autosport will again be £3.99, starting this Thursday.

In a statement posted on Autosport’s Twitter feed, Motorsport Network explained the rationale for the reversal.

“Since we announced we will be prioritising a digital-first approach we have closely listened and spoken to many of our highly engaged audience; some of whom have read the magazine throughout their lives,” the statement read.

“It is evident that, for some readers, the print edition of the magazine is not only the preferred format but the only format. The strong connection is clear.”

“We will be continuing to focus on growing Autosport Plus, as that is where the largest proportion of our audience now engages with our features, but this approach is not suitable for all readers.”

“Therefore, from this week, and for the foreseeable future, the print edition will be returning to the previous price of £3.99.”

“We have listened carefully and are committed to continuing our weekly print magazine as long as we can, whilst it is financially viable.”

“We welcome any further feedback from readers suggesting how we can grow Autosport magazine as we move into our 70th year of being the authority on motorsport.”

A surprising shift
To say that Motorsport Network’s statement comes as a surprise is an understatement. What is clear is that the reaction from fans has caused an embarrassing climbdown from the organisation.

It also shows a shocking lack of user research from the Network, by failing to talk to and engage with their consumers in the first place, meaning that they reached a badly thought out conclusion, resulting in a PR disaster.

McLaren boss Zak Brown resigned from his role as non-executive chairman less than 24 hours after the original announcement in October (although arguably Brown’s resignation was 18 months too late given the conflict of interest between his two roles).

One of the concerns about the price rise was that, in the event of the magazine’s demise, national championships in the UK would lose out the most.

Analysis conducted Motorsport Broadcasting showed that most of the magazine features at a national level did not translate over to the website.

However, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that initiatives have begun to increase the amount of coverage that national championships receive on the Autosport website, safeguarding it for the future.

The shift started during the final British Touring Car Championship weekend at Brands Hatch, which is expected to continue into 2020. I understand that this piece of activity was already underway before Motorsport Network made the price announcement.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the sales of the print magazine plunged because of the price rise.

Bringing those lost consumers back on board will be difficult, but maybe that is desired if they want to dissolve the magazine in the short to medium-term.

We must ask the question though: has Motorsport Network’s long-term strategy changed in the past month because of the Autosport backlash, or do they consider this merely a roadblock to their long-term aspiration?

If Motorsport Network wanted to kill the brand, would they have not pursued with the price rise?

Only those on the inside high-up in the chain will truly know what the endgame really is here.

F1 Racing magazine staying, but Autoweek’s print magazine closes stateside
Whilst Autosport’s print future is clear (for now), one brand hoping to engage more with their audience moving forward is F1 Racing magazine, who Lifestyle Media Group are in the process of purchasing off Motorsport Network.

Writing in last month’s edition of F1 Racing, Lifestyle’s chairman Clive Nørgaard Norton reassured fans about F1 Racing’s future.

Norton said “These are challenging times for printed media, but Lifestyle Media House is committed to supporting the magazine and trying to grow its readership.”

“We look forward to closing the transaction. Following completion, there is no imminent price rise planned, and we will be keen to engage with the F1 Racing readers and supporters to better understand what kind of magazine you want to read.”

Elsewhere, in an almost parallel development stateside, Crain Communications, who publish Autoweek, are to cease publication of the print magazine, which had been printing on a bi-weekly basis.

Hearst Magazine are to take over the digital and experimental side of the Autoweek business with immediate effect in a multi-year licencing deal with Crain.

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Motorsport Network to sell F1 Racing magazine; Autosport magazine heading towards oblivion

Updated on October 8th.

Motorsport Network is to sell the monthly F1 Racing magazine, whilst the weekly Autosport print magazine looks perilously on the brink.

Like Formula 1, 2019 marks Autosport’s 69th anniversary in the print industry, with the magazine hitting the shelves on a weekly basis.

Now, it looks like that this year could also be their last. Rumours about the demise of the trio have been circulating for months within the industry, but picked up a gear on Sunday (6th October).

Two Autosport staffers, one of which is their special events manager Laura Coppin, confirmed in now deleted tweets that the magazine will disappear, but that the brand will remain online via Autosport.com.

The two also confirmed that the brand will remain as part of the yearly Autosport International Show and Autosport Awards.

Motorsport Network attempted to diffuse speculation around the magazine by stating that they are “exploring options” around the print edition of Autosport and that “any news will be communicated at the appropriate time.”

Little less than 24 hours later the corporation announced on 8th October that, instead of closing the print magazine, they would be hiking the weekly price of Autosport from £3.99 to £10.99 with immediate effect.

In addition, Motorsport Network has sold F1 Racing magazine to Lifestyle Media, in a transaction expected to complete by the end of October.

As initially reported by Dieter Rencken, I understand that Russian billionaire Dmitry Mazepin (also father of F3 driver Nikita) placed an offer to buy the print magazine arm of Autosport, but that talks between the two parties have collapsed in recent weeks.

In addition, Autosport’s Editor in Chief Andrew van de Burgt is leaving the organisation this week.

The dominance of the Network
We can trace the control of Motorsport Network in relation to Autosport back to 2016 when they acquired Autosport, along with F1 Racing and Motorsport News from Haymarket.

Around the same period, Motorsport Network also acquired Motors TV. Since then, Motorsport.com and Autosport.com have become increasingly similar in content, with the same articles appearing on both domains.

Motors TV was rebranded to Motorsport.tv, with the UK television channel closed in September 2018.

Motorsport Broadcasting has heard at various times over the past twelve months about rounds of redundancies at Motorsport Network, most recently in July with their video production unit trimmed.

There is a clear strategy from Motorsport Network to eliminate their rivals, and by eliminate, I mean “take over, and then remove” their competition.

Most of what made Autosport’s output unique in recent years has disappeared, and that expands far beyond the core of the magazine into the online sphere.

Some writers remain unique to Autosport’s platform, but Motorsport Network now publishes most content on both Autosport.com and Motorsport.com.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABCs), Autosport magazine had a weekly circulation of 15,480 in 2018, whilst the monthly F1 Racing magazine had a circulation of 27,553 in 2018.

To put both of those figures into context, Motor Sport Magazine (outside of the Motorsport Network circles), released monthly had a 2018 circulation figure of 29,666, and Autocar (still owned by Haymarket) had a weekly circulation of 32,253.

Given that no other motor sport-based magazines exist, it is difficult to know what is ‘good’ in this context, but nevertheless both Autosport and F1 Racing losing out to Motor Sport Magazine is not great for the Network.

However, are both the F1 Racing and Autosport magazine brands operating at a loss, or is this simply the next step in Motorsport Network’s long-term strategy to streamline its content?

You may think the answer to part one of that question is ‘yes’, but depending on who you believe the answer may be ‘no’…

If it was not already clear by this point, Motorsport Network’s position in the industry is dominant, and increasingly so.

The Network has James Allen and McLaren boss Zak Brown in prominent roles, and has links to the World Endurance Championship and Formula E, which raises all kinds of neutrality questions that this site has discussed in detail previously.

Times change, but the love and affection motor sport fans hold for brands does not. To say that it is extremely sad that potentially three brands could end to fuel the Motorsport Network strategic direction further is an understatement.

In my view, a view held by many across the industry, Motorsport Network will use the steep price rise to justify getting rid of the magazine in print format. Instead of letting the magazine die peacefully, Motorsport Network are letting the ending drag out, in a deliberate, calculated move.

If Autosport magazine in print format is no more in the medium-term, do not underestimate the ripple effect that the move will have across the industry, especially for those that use the magazine as a form of promotion.

Outpouring on social media
Since Motorsport Broadcasting posted the original Autosport article on Sunday, there has been an outpouring of emotion and thoughts from across the motor sport landscape.

The initial suggestion that the ex-Haymarket brands could be in imminent danger came from Jim Holder, Haymarket Automotive’s editorial director and Autosport’s former deputy editor on Sunday (7th October) afternoon.

“Written only as fan (of the sport, journalism and above all the people) but as everyone reflects on a brilliant Rally GB I also hope they pause on the rumoured demise of the bulk of the UK media covering motorsport – Autosport, F1 Racing and Motorsport (Motoring) News,” Holder said on his Twitter feed.

“Of course, I spent a decade working for two of the three, but the same two were also what fuelled my passion for the sport and made Wednesdays and Thursdays the best days of the week.”

“The world is online now we’re told, but to toss their heritage away is heart breaking. To toss it away by grinding the titles into the ground even more so (if rumours of imminent, off-the-scale price rises are true) and more so because of the talented, dedicated people being put in impossible positions by these jaw-dropping decisions.”

Names from across the industry have commented on the news that broke on Sunday evening, including former F1 Racing editor Matt Bishop, current Sky F1 analyst Karun Chandhok and four-time IndyCar Champion Dario Franchitti.

Officially, Autosport magazine is on a life support machine. In reality, as the earlier tweets showed, its destination has already been decided…

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Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict

The 2018 Formula One season has ended, and with it, brings down the curtain on the motor racing year.

On-track, it has been a year of generally good racing wherever you look. Whilst neither the F1 or MotoGP seasons went down the wire, the racing in both has been worth watching on many occasions this year.

Off the track, there have been many developments on the broadcasting front. Traditionally, the end of season verdict has stuck to the UK F1 view point, but we live in a motor sport world far greater than both the UK and F1, and with that in mind it makes sense to expand the scope of the verdict to encompass all elements of broadcasting.

Whether it has been the launch of F1 TV, or World Rally Championship’s All Live service, there has been plenty of movement in the online arena. Liberty Media have made their mark on Formula 1’s graphics set, whilst closer to home, 2018 was the last year of Channel 4’s current F1 contract, the broadcaster remaining in a reduced capacity, for 2019 at least.

Now, we want your opinion. Has something irritated you with this year’s motor sport coverage? Have I missed a revolution that this site should be covering? And what would you like to be different about the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2019? Are you planning to watch a new series next season?

As always, the best thoughts and views will form a new article closer to the festive period.

The paddock reacts to the demise of Motorsport.tv’s television network

Last Friday, Motorsport Network announced that Motorsport.tv is moving to an online only platform, effectively closing its television channel from the end of September. The news brings down the curtain on 18 years of television broadcasting, covering Motorsport.tv and its former guise Motors TV.

Personalities that worked on the channel expressed their sadness at the announcement via social media, including Ben Constanduros and Channel 4’s Formula 1 commentator Ben Edwards, both of whom worked with Motors TV during its early years.

As widely expected, technical expert Craig Scarborough confirmed over the weekend on Twitter that Motorsport Network have axed his Rapid Tech programme. The network has also cut Peter Windsor’s weekly Motorsport Show, which featured a plethora of original content.

David Addison, who was a regular commentator on Motors TV’s ‘Race Day’ events for the Hayfisher production company, said that some championships could struggle because of Motorsport Network’s decision.

“What Motors TV and more recently Motorsport.tv did was bring lots of different championships to the enthusiast. It was a platform for different championships to be able to get exposure,” explained Addison, who spoke to this site during last weekend’s BTCC event at Silverstone.

“It was also an opportunity for different championships to use that as a sales tool to try to attract more people in. You might argue that it was a bit niche, because if you’re watching a motor sport channel, you’re already a motor sport fan.”

“But, it does take away a platform for championships in the UK and around the world. There are so many championships that need, and have benefited from, Motorsport.tv’s television coverage, that are now going to struggle.”

Frank Johns, whose company Frank Johns Associates provided national-level content to Motorsport.tv’s various guises, wrote a comment on this very site stating “As a regular programme provider to Motors TV from its earliest days and more latterly to its successor the sudden closure of this channel is sad news indeed.”

Johns noted in his comment that their programming would continue to air on Motorsport.tv’s on-demand service, but suspects that the audience figures “will be a shadow of its former self.”

For many national and international championships which aired exclusively on Motorsport.tv and want to retain a television presence, they will now need to look elsewhere for that exposure.

This site has reached out to both the World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship for comment, as well as Supercars in Australia, all three impacted by last week’s development.

A spokesperson for the Supercars series has since told this site “Motorsport.tv will continue to show all highlights and selected events. Freesports will be showing highlights.”

“We also have a subscription called SuperView for our viewers outside Australia and New Zealand to live stream every Virgin Australia Supercars Championship qualifying and race session in 2018 (excluding the sessions at the 2018 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix), live and uninterrupted on your mobile, tablet or desktop.”

To cut a long story short, Supercars do not plan to change their existing UK rights (which presumably applies across Europe), meaning that events such as the Bathurst 1000 will not air live in the UK on television.

Motorsport.tv could be ahead of the curve
Addison was keen to emphasise that, whilst some championships could struggle, Motorsport.tv could end up being a trend setter in the on-demand space, and that Motorsport Network’s decision might not be doom and gloom.

“My age group used to sit in front of the television once upon a time, on a Sunday afternoon watching motor sport. But now, we consume motor sport on so many different platforms, on the phone, on the train, you name it.”

“If Motorsport.tv is a subscription pay-TV platform only on the internet, actually it’s probably not that far removed from where we are now anyway,” Addison told me.

“It takes away that free service, yes, and it takes away that ‘channel punching’ ability to happen across motor racing. But for the real die-hards that want to watch it, they’ll probably still watch it, even if they have to pay, and have to watch it via the internet.”

“Who is to say that in five or ten years’ time, people are standing in a paddock reminiscing about when motor racing was actually on the TV! It might be that they [Motorsport.tv] are ahead of their time.”

“We’re not saying that they are dead, not showing motor racing, they’ve just changed the way it is going to be presented and how one accesses it.”

Addison, who currently commentates on ITV’s British Touring Car Championship coverage, argues that some championships, such as the club events that featured prominently during Motors TV’s heyday, might be better suited to coverage on the internet.

“To some degree, and this is where one sounds in danger of sounding rather snobbish, there is an argument to say that your big, high profile glamour, well-attended categories, such as F1, touring cars, Blancpain, World Endurance continue to air on television, as they make for good television.”

“However, three and a half people at Anglesey watching half a dozen BMW’s is not great television. And that, with all due respect to the people in it, the people involved in the television production, does not look brilliant on TV.”

“Those races are of specific appeal to the participants and their families. National racing, club racing, cars, bikes or rally cross, oval racing, put it on the internet, it is of a specific appeal and it can exist quite happily there.”