The technology has changed but the culture hasn’t (yet)
M’learned colleague James Allen is calling it “The deal that changes F1 forever” and he may just be right. Up to a point, Lord Copper…
Formula 1’s deal with Tata Communications means the sport will be able to transmit (and, in theory, receive, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here) from every grand prix via Tata’s global fixed line network, rather than renting a one-way satellite link.
Advantage Bernie. For some time now the Formula One Teams Association has been pointing out that increasing numbers of people consume sport via the internet. Unfortunately, until recently whenever the word “internet” sailed into the F1 ringmaster’s ears, his cerebellum translated it thus: “freeloading gits trying to get somefink for free.” Readers of moderate age may remember the protracted trademark battle Bernie fought with the Chiswick-based proprietors of Formula1.com… before he eventually capitulated (in a manner of speaking) by simply buying them off. And indeed, there is still a team of people at FOM HQ whose sole purpose is to issue YouTube with cease and desist orders whenever anyone has the temerity to upload a post-1980 F1 video to it.
But FOTA had a point, which is that revenues from the sale of TV rights will inevitably decline. Yes, Sky is about to engage in the mother of all who-can-piss-higher-up-the-wall contests with the BBC, but elsewhere in the TV ecosphere broadcasters are withdrawing resource from the sport or getting out altogether. The Tata deal will enable FOM to tie up pay-per-view streaming deals with Apple, Netflix, etc, while still milking the likes of Sky until the teats run dry.
This will open up more choice for viewers, with the caveat that the inevitable consequence of more choice is the gradual withering of free-to-air platforms. The question then is what kind of choice do you get? In eschewing Sky, say, for a web stream, are you simply swapping one set of presenters and packages for another, or will you be able to access a variant of the basic feed? Will the web streaming service be packaged as such, with its own presenters, pundits and ambulant cameramen? (just what F1 needs – another bunch of goons barging around the paddock as if they own the place. See here for what happens when camera jockeys forget that getting a shot of Bernie walking into a motorhome is less important in the grand scheme of things than avoiding clonking a driver on the bonce)
Much is being made of the Tata infrastructure being bidirectional, which will open up “interactivity”. I doubt much will come of this unless FOM can squeeze revenue from it, perhaps in the manner of those TV quizzes where you enter by ringing a premium rate number. There’s a reason Formula1.com doesn’t have a forum: Bernie may not know much about the internet, but he knows he won’t earn a bean from providing a free platform for sociopaths to hee-haw at one another. After all, FOM’s digital people have got better things to do, such as composing stiff emails to YouTube…