Websites, TV rights – and the fly in the ointment
There’s been a lot of talk over the past couple of days at the Motor Sport Business Forum about how Formula 1 needs to embrace the latest media advances. The final panel is underway as I write: Ben Gallop from the BBC, Jonathan Noble from AUTOSPORT, TV producer Jaime Brito, Haymarket Motorsport Commercial Director Ian Burrows, and Alan Baldwin from Reuters.
Alan summed up the changes he’s seen:
When I joined Reuters the culture was that you didn’t have your name on a story. Now my email address is at the bottom of every one. People can contact me through that, and I Twitter as well. The fence that surrounds the paddock isn’t a barrier any more. The media doesn’t have a monopoly on the flow of information.
But within the paddock there’s still too much emphasis on old media, of magazines and newspapers. The teams have a very old-fashioned view of servicing the media and tend to concentrate on the newspapers first.
This has to change. Paper sales are in decline. Are the revenues from digital media going to be sufficient to send reporters to events when the content they produce is so easily appropriated by people who are just sitting at home with their trousers around their ankles? In the future, perhaps. AUTOSPORT moved to a ‘freemium’ model on its site in 2006 because it realised that there was no point in trying to guard the news. Ian explained the reasoning:
News is a devalued asset. Man wins race. Anybody can write that. You have to provide extra value. When we made news free we only lost about five per cent of our subscribers. We’re now delivering over 20 million pages a month to subscribers, and 70 per cent of our audience is outside the UK.
Jonny Noble acknowledged that while it’s impossible to police the bedroom clippers, journalists working for reputable sites have to guard their own brand:
We made a policy decision to not respond to rumours, because otherwise we’d be spending all day every day chasing up rebuttals – whether Massa is going to Williams, or whatever. We aim to get it right rather than being first. It takes months to mend a reputation. You have to do your job and maintain the quality – maintain the trust.
I had a bit of a swipe the other day at the ‘editor’ of a minor F1 news site, who opined on his own forum that he didn’t have to go to an event to write a story about it. Alan Baldwin had a similar take:
You really do have to be there. A lot of the outsiders convince themselves that they don’t. But if you’re in the paddock you get a sense of when people are starting a rumour just to see how far it goes, or if there is an agenda behind it. If you’re not there you can’t nail it. I don’t see how you can write truthfully about what you haven’t seen.
Yesterday’s story about media rights, and Bernie’s “out of my cold, dead hands” approach to them, generated a lot of responses. I still believe that there should be greater access for the people who want it (and that there are people out there who will find what they want, somehow or other). But Ian Burrows summed up the problem with rushing to liberalise the TV rights:
Broadcasting fees make up 40 per cent of Formula 1’s income, and abandoning that model in search of advertisers who may or may not be out there is bloody dangerous.
Perhaps we shouldn’t rush to fix something that hasn’t broken yet…