Thursday Thoughts: The Future of F1 Content

Thursday Thoughts visits different blogs and is hosted here this week, so it is my turn to ask the question. Here is my response.

– What innovations would you like to see in F1 content delivery?

I think most of us by now are aware how far F1 lags behind other motorsports, even other sports entirely when it comes to delivering their product to the end user, the customer, the fan. It is quite frustrating to be told repeatedly how F1 teams use the most advanced technology to create these fantastically fast cars and yet the rights-holders are in some cases years behind the game in introducing the technology needed to provide real insight to the fan.

The rights-holders to Formula 1 are the collection of companies owned by CVC and controlled on their behalf by Bernie Ecclestone, I am not sure which company controls which element but I think FOA runs the races or at least the bits the FIA don’t run, and FOM handles the TV and online offering. For the sake of argument I’ll use FOM.

FOM seems insistent on relying on traditional avenues to get their message across, whether it be TV, magazines or newspapers. They seemingly reluctantly got themselves involved with the web business with www.formula1.com but they only did so in 2002 or thereabouts. Given the web recently celebrated 25 years of existence and most forward-thinking companies have been on it in some for or another since the mid-90s it was a curious oversight.

Why is it that F1 keeps talking about “embracing the internet” as if it’s 1994 and it’s a clever idea? Perhaps get on with it?

Ed Straw, F1 Editor of Autosport, via Twitter yesterday

Two major gaffes have appeared on Formula1.com. There may have been more.

One was the SMS text service. This was a great idea in principle: sign up to the service and you would receive a text message after every session informing you of the fastest drivers, and the points positions after races. The problem was they introduced it with the pricing structure of a decade earlier and the world had moved on, at least in the more developed mobile phone markets.
While I forget the specifics, the prices would have looked reasonable in 1997 when the mobile market was enjoying rapid growth and a plethora of new applications but in 2007 they looked utterly ridiculous and far too high. I would like to see this adjusted so that the more casual fan who isn’t able to watch all the sessions or even all the races can receive updates at reasonable rates. My Dad gets a text message whenever his football team scores a goal. It can’t be that hard.

The other was the web shop, again a good idea in principle – yet the original version was stocked with the wrong goods. Like so much in F1 it was pitched towards the premium customer, the more affluent fan who wants something special. Only in F1 could you buy an official carbon-fibre mouse mat, replete with F1 logo, for £200. Which is fine – I actually like the fact these items are there because I appreciate it helps position the brand of F1 – they just forgot to include things mere mortals could afford, a position they have gone some way to correcting in 2009.

Another aspect website is the live timing. When it works it is very informative, unfortunately it has a lot of glitches. It has been used ever since the site went live and is probably due a rethink. It could be bigger and contain more information. F1 is full of data, let’s make use of it. Again, this year they’ve gone some way to making the info they offer open to more fans by creating the iPhone app which I’ve heard is tremendously useful, if pricey (there seems to be a theme here).

While I’m on the subject of timing, the TV coverage desperately needs to cut back on the “1-stop” graphic and tell us how far apart the cars are! Of course if they borrowed from DTM they could just mark a little ‘1’ on the vertical position graphic that appears to the left of screen from time to time. If I don’t have an iPhone or can’t get near a computer to access live timing, I shouldn’t be deprived of the basic car-to-car gaps, these should be available to all on the main feed and if I want the extra info like sector times then that’s when I should look it up elsewhere. With any luck this data will be rolled out to further mobile platforms in future.

I must admit, other than the iPhone timing app I don’t know what else is offered officially for mobile devices because I don’t own a modern smartphone – but soon I and most others will do, I suspect I am already in the minority among mobile-owners.

I see no reason why FOM cannot offer an app offering short video clips to mobile devices, for a small fee. I see no reason why they cannot offer those same videos on their website, although I think most of us expect web video to be free unless it is of some length. On the website I would therefore offer short, free videos to anyone who visits. I would also offer a premium subscription (‘premium’ in name only, priced at a level we can afford!) where you can watch entire races, let’s say until Jan 1st. They could expand that to show classic races and send FOM TV to each test session to provide us with reports from winter testing.

FOM claim they don’t offer these because the commentary and ownership is specific to particular broadcasters, yet the broadcasters claim they can’t provide online coverage because the video is owned by FOM. The only notable exception seems to be the BBC’s iPlayer (an excellent service) and the FP sessions trialled last year by ITV. At the end of every session aired on the BBC there is a particularly large copyright notice stating that the production is copyright of FOM. If FOM owns the video,can they not put it online, even a version with no commentary? Even better, work with each broadcaster to offer the same footage with different reactions. It would fascinating in the week after a race incident to go to Formula1.com and compare the reactions of crews from BBC, SPEED, Globo, RAI, RTL, etc, etc. They could make a montage and sell it for money.

They also need to bring in High-Def coverage to those who will take it and offer that as a quality option for the downloads. There are HD channels in more and more countries and even the little devices support it now. They’ve been using HD cameras for a year or so now but they still won’t release a true HD feed for broadcast or sale, which is crazy, why invest in the technology if you aren’t going to use it?
This is the most technologically advanced sport in the world and it is still in fuzzy-vision. NASCAR has 36 races per year and most, if not all of them, are available in HD in the US (and sometimes in the UK). It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an HD TV or monitor, you still notice a difference. I think Abu Dhabi was in HD and it looked fantastic on my SD TV on the SD digital broadcast.

Conclusion: FOM are applying 20th Century solutions to 21st Century fans. They need to change. Fast.

There are signs that they are changing slowly. The iPhone app. The F1 2009 Wii and PSP games, and the 2010 PC, Xbox and PS3 games. These should be released annually in the way that the FIFA, Madden and other licensed games are, there is a demand for it.

Perhaps they are starting to wake up?

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You can read the Thursday Thoughts of my fellow bloggers by following the links in the Question post!

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