‘This video is no long available due to a copyright notice by FOM.’ This is a message that many fans of F1, who trawl the world of youtube, will be familiar with. It is a notification that informs the recipient that the F1 video they were hoping to watch online has been taken down in violation of copyright; a reminder of FOM's refusal to join the rest of us in the 21st century and fully embrace the internet revolution and online digital content. While they host 2 minute video summaries of the last race along with a shortened version of the FIA Gala which provides a summary of the season neither is particularly satisfying, somehow failing to really edify its’ audience. The videos are edited extremely creatively with no care given to linearity, the music is often bland and the minute insights gleaned from pit radios don't appear worth it when compared with the often juddering freezing mess of a player FOM thinks acceptable to present to us. That this is the only source of F1 content aside from the FIA reviews that is legally allowed, is both disheartening and frustrating in equal measure. FOM are not wrong in upholding their right to protect their own copyright, but are wrong in not presenting a satisfactory alternative and choosing instead to adhere to a dinosaur model of solely selling rights to individual broadcasters which is fast becoming obsolete, neither making commercial nor marketable sense, and which ultimately is costing them revenue, fans and profit.
The internet has vastly changed the way we access, receive and interact with information and content. Access and usage of the internet is increasing, from 361 million people in 2000 to just under 2.3 billion people as of the 31st of December 2011. That's an increase of 523 %, in 11 years and the numbers continue to grow every day. A study conducted by A.T.Kearney on behalf of Vodaphone found that in the UK while one third of all internet traffic is currently video related, by 2015 this is expected to rise to seventy per cent of all traffic. Television broadcasting in its current form is beginning to struggle as many individuals, particularly from the younger generation shirk the standardized time slots that were the norm of the older generation in favour of choosing when and where they want to consume content, with a willingness to do this through both legal and illegal means. The financial implication of this is that it no longer makes viable commercial sense to restrict any form of content to a country with plans to release it worldwide at a later date, as you'll quickly find the boat has already been missed and the content already uploaded to the internet out there for anybody with a smidgen of common sense to consume. The growth in the popularity of smartphones and tablets is also having a massive impact on the way we use the internet and is dynamically shifting the nature of content to an anytime anywhere mentality. The BBC recorded that the growing popularity of interconnected TV's, smartphones and tablets helped BBC Iplayer hit record-breaking numbers in 2011 with 194 billion TV and radio programme requests across all platform, with only two thirds made up by computers.
Both Formula 1 teams and journalists have not been slow to notice this, rapidly changing the way they interact with and cater for fans. Most teams now have a presence that goes beyond a simple website, McLaren for example have a interactive dashboard that allows you to track the drivers, provides basic telemetry and reveals pit to driver communications. More over every team now has some sort of foothold in social media with Ferrari leading the way with over 302, 000 twitter followers, while Red Bull lead the way on facebook with over 573, 000 followers with neither accounting for the individual drivers whose numbers at their highest runs into the millions. Twitter itself has really come to the forefront as a platform that allows journalists, and drivers to directly address their thoughts and opinions to the masses, as well as being the place where news in F1 is now broken. This shows that there is both healthy appetite and demand for online content.
The problems of the current system are manifold, while most countries are covered by some form of broadcasting; there are of course those who aren’t. Furthermore due to separate regional broadcasting presentation of the races tends to be of varying quality with F1 coverage in Australia and the USA often eliciting complaints. While races in the USA are usually shown on speed, there is a requirement that Fox show four of the races who went broadcasting tend to inflict upon the viewer a continuous shower of adverts every 8-9 laps which ruins both the immersion and the experience of watching a Grand Prix live. In Australia viewers have had to deal with the drop of coverage from high definition to standard definition which consequently also meant the races were delayed for some parts of western and southern Australia. Although eventually resolved by moving F1 back to the high definition channels for those regions, it demonstrates that the quality of content for F1 consumed can be arbitrarily decided by which country you happen to live in which does nothing to help further the sport or its fanbase. It also fails to cater for a lot of F1 fans because while some F1 content is free, most of it is often paid for, and usually involves buying the content as part of a package forcing individuals to pay extra for shows and channels or not to watch at all. This provides an unnecessary additional cost reducing both the opportunity and the demand to watch Formula 1. Additionally out of all the broadcasters for the 2012 season only six countries provide some form of online content, and any full on demand content generally seems to have a time limit or is reduced down to highlights, depriving viewers of the complete racing experience over a significant period of time which when you consider that a season can last as long as eight months, can seriously detract from the enjoyment of it.
Another criticism of this policy is its contribution to a lack of education and knowledge in regards to Formula 1 and its history. F1is defined by its history with drivers, teams and engineers all playing a prominent role in its narrative. A lack of available historical content not provided for by FOM means not only that a lot of viewers lack context when watching races and seasons, but that it forces individuals with a legitimate curiosity to pursue illegitimate means to satisfy it, ultimately depriving FOM of profit. A black market (or secondary market) springs up when demand is not being satisfied on the normal market and is often due to legal restrictions by the state. On the internet there is a thriving hub of underground torrent sites. These sites provide F1 races from almost every decade, often supplying practice, qualifying and races sessions along with live timing. While some are open to all, the best tend to both be by invitation only (to prevent infiltration from agents of the law) and force a strict seeding policy on their members to ensure the survival of both the site and the uploaded content. These are further supplemented by live streams of races and youtube videos which provides clips of incidents, interviews and exciting moment in the races which are hard to find anywhere else; uploaders changing names and creating multiple or private link only accounts to prevent FOM finding them and shutting them down. The quality and comprehensiveness of these operations make a mockery of the two minute summaries FOM deems it enough to put up, and represent the continual missed opportunity by FOM not only to bring the sport closer to the fans but to provide itself with an extra source of revenue.
My solution would be threefold: first an official youtube channel. This would be filled with clips from the latest races highlighting specific incidents and generally drawing attention away from the low quality captures used by fans to a higher quality alternative which makes its money from the advertising it chooses to put on their channel. Not only does this help with the proliferation of F1 which draws in new fans who might stumble upon this videos and be introduced to Formula 1 at its best, instead of a black screen with a notice of a take down, but it also boosts revenue while reducing copyright infringement. Such a channel would only exist to show clips, and montages and not full blown races.
The second is a general stream of the world feed on the F1 official page along with live timing. Such a stream could be paid for on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis possibly with a discount system depending on the package bought. Paying for the race would then allow you to watch it whenever for a certain amount of time before it became part of the archives. Not only would this cater for existing fans by allowing them to watch the races irrespective of their location and allowing them to pay for direct access to streams. It would mean individuals would no longer be forced to pay to see the races as part of a larger package, which would hopefully help increase viewer figures, and serve as another form of competition to national broadcasters who would be forced to up their game and increase the quality of the shows they produce. To give an idea of the general profit to be made and with the knowledge that over 500 million watch the average F1 race, I can crudely calculate that if each race was charged at £5 and everybody paid that you would have 100 x 500 million which would equate to revenue of over 50 billion pounds and while having that many people paying would be unrealistic especially in the short run, if you factor in that the races are more likely to be charged at £20 each you realise that Formula 1could still make a very healthy profit could more or less offset any loss in revenue because of cheaper rights for national broadcasters who they are competing against. Furthermore it would be a great example of future proofing F1 and making it much more enticing for the younger generation. There might be issues raised over commentary, however FOM could leave it to individuals to find global or regional radio/TV commentary they like and sync it, to provide their own, or to use another broadcasters such as the BBC’s, who already sell theirs to multiple broadcasters.
The third would be a general archive similar to that of Iplayer that would be available as an app and on all platforms including connected TV, smartphones and tablets, and which would allow access to all of the weekend sessions, races, and live timing, on a individual basis for a certain fee. All content would be of the highest quality and in full and deals could be worked out that could allow consuming of unlimited content for a certain period of time. While it would take time to upload all of the content that is needed, clear targets could be established with the content that could expected to be uploaded in a five year period published publicly, followed by a published list of dates showing a timeframe for when all content would become available. An advantage of this site would be the opportunity to also raise profit with advertisements on the main site along with before, during and after the content, and while they would still be issues over copyright, it would only be by those individuals who would be doing it anyway, while still allowing Formula 1 to net healthy profit.
It’s quite clear that F1 should act before it finds itself too late to the game. The current method of broadcasting lends itself to a number of issues that continue to impact upon the sport detrimentally, affecting both its current and prospective fanbase, while depriving it of a significant source of revenue. Furthermore the more it drags its feet and prolongs the inevitable jump the more it encourages a culture and expectation that these things can be downloaded for free without permission. Meaning that after a point when it does finally act, the impact and revenue gained will be less with most people generally more knowledgeable in regards to free illegitimate sources. I have outlined 3 ideas which I believe implemented together would solve many of the problems I have mentioned above, and while the solutions are not without their flaws and would be considered to some slightly conservative, they would help provide a workable framework that could assist in building a better model. The future is coming and can’t be shut out forever, it would be amazing one day not to need a feed director and for views to have complete control over the camera to watch and follow who they want during a race. While such an idea remains a dream at this stage, it would be nice to see F1 the pinnacle of motorsports, also become the pinnacle of online sports content.