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…

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  • Comments (4)
  1. Massa is going to Williams! You heard it here first!

    (Mr GMM if you are reading – this is called satire)

  2. After reading an article by Mr J Noble a while ago I wrote an article about what I saw as the future of F1 broadcasting. It obviously comes from the point of view of imagining miles in the future but I think it shows how little ahead of where we are most people are looking:

  3. “We made a policy decision to not respond to rumours, because otherwise we’d be spending all day every day chasing up rebuttals, we aim to get it right rather than being first” – too bad some F1 fans don’t understand that they’re being fooled by pseudo news websites like F1-Live.

    I think these days we have a phenomenon of 100% internet-based F1 communities of fans who rarely go to actual F1 events, some have never even been close to an F1 car or circuit. It’s odd, it’s like virtual reality is taking over. I suppose if F1 teams did more stuff similar to Renault Roadshow or Red Bull demo runs in the cities across the globe it would incite people to go outside and enjoy F1 on the spot. Maybe I’m exaggerating, dunno.

    • Steven Roy
    • December 10th, 2009

    The only reason TV rights make 40% of F1′s income is because Bernie has ignored so amny other areas of income to pursue a dying model. Games is potentially a huge market that has been ignored. Every year F1 teams produce 50(?) cars which are obsolete by the start of the next season. Why is the world not littered with official F1 museums which could offer untold moeny making opportunities from selling F1 branded merchandise to offering deals to sponsors to retail their products to hosting corporate events to hotsing private parties.

    Imagine a private party with 20 F1 cars, assorted race suits, helmets and other memorabilia with an indoor karting track and online racing games. It should be easy to scatter a couple of dozen such establishments around the globe.

    The reason that TV rights make up 40% of F1′s income is because Bernie’s business brain is massively over-rated.

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