Posts Tagged ‘ F1

A great time to buy in to F1

Earlier this year I went over to the World Touring Car Championship race at Porto. I caught up with a driver who I haven’t seen in years, and amongst other things he told me that in recent months he’d been snapping up repossessed houses for around 50 per cent of the market rate.

“The banks are desperate to get rid of them,” he said, “because they’re desperate for cash. They need liquidity more than they need the paper value of the asset.”

I pointed out that property values could fall further in the short term.

“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “The opportunity is now. They aren’t thinking about the future, because it’s less important to them than shareholder value – they don’t want a rout next time they release some figures. When the panic’s over the bargains will be gone.”

Similar thoughts have been playing through the minds of the investors who are presently jockeying to pick up the Renault F1 team, should Renault decide to sell (I was told last week that the decision is still pending). As the weakened manufacturers have fled the sport to focus on shoring up their balance sheets, the better to defend their share prices, visionary entrepreneurs have sniffed opportunities; although sometimes, as in the case of Qadbak, the difference between entrepreneur and huckster isn’t immediately obvious.

Yesterday’s news that Lloyds Development Capital has taken a stake in the Virgin F1 team underlines the fact that the panic is now over in the banking sector. It was also a nimble piece of news management (hardly surprising, given that Virgin F1’s comms chief used to work at Honda and therefore knows a thing or two about firefighting). Banks and bankers are still reviled and reports of them spending money – especially if, like Lloyds, they’ve been bailed out by the British taxpayer – may not be greeted warmly. The timing of the announcement makes it a small element in the hierarchy of today’s launch.

This is a good time to be investing in Formula 1. The background mood of optimism in the market is characterised by the price of F1’s debt, which is currently trading in the region of 90 pence in the pound. Back in July, at the height of the FOTA breakaway threat, it was around 50 pence in the pound.

In buying Brawn, Mercedes have obtained a championship-winning F1 team for far less than British American Tobacco and Honda paid for pretty much the same outfit when it was still a midfielder. They will now derive all the benefits from having their name above the door while spending far less – partly thanks to the resource restriction agreement. Dr Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes’ chairman, has claimed that from 2011 the annual budget will be a quarter of what it used to be.

So the recent talk about Anthony Hamilton throwing his hat into the ring with Renault F1 may not be too hard to believe. After all, as my WTCC snout pointed out, if you’ve got cash these days then why leave it buried under the Swiss Alps when there are bargains to be had?

There but for the grace of God goes my luggage…

In all my travels I’ve only ever been separated from my suitcase once. I’d been upgraded, too. It was like someone was telling me I wasn’t meant to turn left.

As my EasyJet flight pushed back from the stand – only 40 mins late – at Nice airport today, I heard someone on the row behind say, “Look, the bloke just drove off and left those bags on the ground.”

I pulled my nose out of my book and looked out. Hmm. One of them appeared to be mine…

After finally getting to the front of a passport queue that seemed to start in Cornwall (never mind, there’s a couple more years to sort Gatwick out before the Olympics roll around), I arrived without optimism in the baggage hall. Miraculously, there was my case.

So, a happy ending for me – but let’s raise a glass tonight for those poor folk whose dirty laundry is still sitting on the Tarmac…

Motor Sport Business Forum preview: the future of F1 media, part three – better coverage in the internet age

This is my final post looking at some of the issues that’ll be covered by the media panel at this week’s Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco, featuring James Allen, Jonathan Noble, Joe Saward and Ian Burrows.

Advocates of free market economics and devotees of Adam Smith (there’s a big overlap; maybe I should draw a Venn diagram) still believe that consumers act in a rational way. Unless you’ve spent the past couple of years living in a loft, catching up on the entire series of Heimat, you’ll know this is utter cobblers.

You don’t have to rub yourself down three times a day with a copy of Blog Your Way To A Six-Figure Income to know that if you don’t update your site regularly, your traffic will fall off more dramatically than Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno. And that indicates there’s a big distortion in this ‘ere market; even in the niche that is Formula 1, people want to read news every day. And if the sites they visit first don’t have any news? Well, they’ll carry on looking until they find one that does.

Where there is demand a supply surely follows, with the result that an entire industry has grown up to provide these addicts with a daily fix of not-necessarily-news; usually some quote-based bilge usually bearing no relation to what was originally said or meant. The big fish among these bottom-feeders is the rightly derided GMM, a sloppy outfit which never lets the facts get in the way of a non-story, and which only began to acknowledge the sources it was plagiarising when those sources threatened to get legally medieval.

But he isn’t the only person out there pretending to be something he’s not

GMM’s main ‘journalist’ is Andrew Maitland, an individual who has never entered the F1 paddock and probably never will, owing to the queue of people waiting to give him a thorough kicking if he ever does. But he isn’t the only person out there pretending to be something he’s not. Anyone with a computer and the merest modicum of literary ability can now pass themselves off as an F1 journalist, and there’s a lot of them at it.

On the outer reaches of the spiral arm of the F1 news galaxy there lurks a particular brand of goon. Often they have day jobs, but by night they dress up and play at being journalists, merrily cutting and pasting information from elsewhere, usually adding next to knack-all to it. The mere fact that someone else has carried the story renders it fit to print without further interrogation.

A month or so ago m’learned colleague Joe Saward indulged in a little schadenfreude at the expense of a minor F1 news site, which was complaining that its contents had been pilfered. He called the piece Thieving from the thieves and had a good giggle at the irony because the site in question carried a GMM feed.

What he didn’t expect was the vehement response of some of the forum-dwellers there: the proprietor posted several rather miffed comments on Joe’s blog in which he made a series of bafflingly illogical claims, including that he knew GMM’s output was dirge but spared his readers the worst of it, and that while he would dearly love to be a full-time F1 journalist, he just couldn’t afford the ‘luxury’ of all that travel. His chums, meanwhile, accused Joe of being a meanie without ever actually getting to grips with the point, and then they all went back to their forum, where they could deconstruct Joe’s personality in more detail without fear of moderation.

It was like watching an old Norse raiding party trash a neighbouring village – set the livestock loose, burn down a couple of huts – before returning to camp and congratulating themselves on a pillage well done. The proprietor opined that there was no need to attend events anyway, since he had recently composed a perfectly adequate news story about the Brawn-Mercedes deal using just two press releases. Surely, I thought, he should be aspiring to do a better, more thorough job than this?

F1 fans find the ‘echo chamber’ effect just as vexing as the professionals do – because many of these fans blog about F1 and rely on an accurate information to make their efforts worthwhile

Elsewhere on the web, a site has recently come into being called Formula 1 Blogger. It is cleanly designed and optimised for smartphones, and its creator (full-time job: web developer at Sony Computer Entertainment) Twitters its every update and Diggs assiduously under the peculiar pseudonym of ‘Mootymoots’. The content, though, is the same old tosh, regurgitated without any analysis, insight or comment, and very briefly at that. Every post reads like it took half a minute to write. You kind of wonder what the point is.

Now, my great-great-grandfather was a blacksmith in a little village called Catford, now part of the suburban sprawl of south east London. History doesn’t record his response to the invention of the motor car, but he was probably rather miffed to watch his livelihood disappear down the swanee. In the same way, many old-school F1 journalists are having to cope with the inevitable disappearance of many of their revenue streams, particularly syndication deals. But they cannot stand in the way of progress.

Times change. We just need to make sure they change for the better. The comments in response to the earlier pieces in this series show that many F1 fans find the ‘echo chamber’ effect just as vexing as the professionals do – because many of these fans blog about F1 and rely on an accurate information to make their efforts worthwhile. There are plenty of blogs out there which have readable, well-crafted and compelling content, regardless of how many F1 races the authors (or their visitors) have attended. You don’t have to work in the F1 paddock to talk or blog about the news; but at the same time we need to be cautious about those who are pretending to be something they’re not, because ultimately they are doing their readers a disservice.

You can demand better…

To establish long-term credibility, new media has to adopt some of the better practices of the old (and before some of you start stamping your feet, yes, I know that old media doesn’t necessarily follow all of these rules all of the time). Transparency, accuracy, fairness, attribution, inquisitiveness – it may take a little more time and effort, but it will make the product better.

There is no way of enshrining this in law. Hard-working, hard-bitten journalists like Joe Saward can huff and puff all they like about having their work stolen, but ultimately change will only come through the demand side rather than the supply side. The cut-and-paste genie is out of the bottle. Servers the world over are groaning beneath the weight of all the jibber-jabber.

But you, the readers, have power. You can demand better. If a blog or news site is dealing in regurgitated slop, tell them. Leave a polite comment, pointing out that their stories have been rehashed from elsewhere without proper attribution, interrogation or verification. Let it go up there for other readers to see. And if the moderators remove it, or respond with a Pitpass-style “You’re not paying for any of this, so bog off elsewhere,” then reward their churlishness by doing just that. There are plenty of elsewheres to bog off to and nicer people to converse with.

Hurrah for the internet!

Motor Sport Business Forum preview: the future of F1 media, part two – understanding what readers want

Looking ahead to the media discussion at this week’s Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco…

I’ve written elsewhere that magazines and newspapers, referred to sniffingly by web pioneers as ‘old media’, aim to give the readers what they want – or rather, what they think their readers want. This is a tricky task because it relies on a voodoo triangulation: intuition, previous copy sales, and reader feedback in the form of ‘letters’ – shonky barometers, all.

Let’s concentrate on reader feedback for now. People who write letters to newspapers and magazines are, almost without fail, unspeakably angry about matters that just don’t warrant fury of such magnitude. For instance, there is a man in the UK who, when he takes exception to an article in a motorsport periodical, will demonstrate his anger in a scarily methodical and obsessive fashion.

He will compose a suitably damning missive, leaving a space (or spaces) demarcated by a box (or boxes), into which he will glue the pieces of the offending article, which he has carefully cut out with scissors. To give added emphasis to crucial points there will be a smattering of highlighter pen. And, rather than write one long epistle covering every article that has attracted his ire, he will produce individual letters for each – and post them in separate envelopes, often on the same day.

So you can see why many ‘old media’ types became convinced that their readers were potty – simply because most ordinary folk didn’t see the point of spending the price of a stamp on a few words of assent or debate.

The comment facility has made journalists more accountable than ever before to the people who actually matter: the readers

Now that all you have to do is type your name and email address into a form, you no longer have to be insanely angry to make the effort to get in touch. Yes, mouth-breathers occasionally arrive amid a fanfare of bilious, point-missing verbal abuse, but for the most part (often thanks to careful moderation), comment areas are civilised places.

The comment facility has made journalists more accountable than ever before to the people who actually matter: the readers. It’s enabled a vast sector of the demographic – what might have been called a silent majority – to be heard and to connect with one another, and to make their reasoned voices heard above those of the cranks. In the background, though, is another element of reader power that threatens to be more pernicious.

The array of metrics available online has taken much of the guesswork out of content creation. Where the creators of a newspaper or magazine have to rely on experience and intuition (safe in the knowledge, for instance, that putting an unknown or unloved F1 driver on the cover of a motorsport title equates to death on the newsstands), online publishers see precisely how many times a story has been read, and how the readers reached it – via the front page of the site, drawn in by the design and headline, or from elsewhere via links or a search engine. In turn, they can see which key search words yielded the traffic.

If content is pushed to you, pre-shaped towards your existing preferences, could it be that ultimately it converges into a dull, unchallenging dirge?

It’ll come as no surprise to you that newsrooms now march to a beat more familiar on sites such as Amazon: Customers Who Shopped For This Also Bought. If a story brings a spike in traffic, the call will come from management: “More of that, please.” And it’s not just the big organisations. A couple of years ago, Lewis Hamilton regularly came in for kickings from bloggers who didn’t much care for him – and very much cared for the influx of readers from Spain who were keen to hear that Brits hated Lewis, too. This gravy train disappeared into the tunnel of tedium long before the bloggers exhausted their reserves of spittle, but readers from Arteixo to Alicante couldn’t get enough of it.

If content is pushed to you, pre-shaped towards your existing preferences, could it be that ultimately it converges into a dull, unchallenging dirge? Is the proliferation of channels gradually educating us that we need not listen to anything or anyone with a contrasting view? Are we heading into the domain of www.blah-blah-blah-I’ Does customisation stifle diversity? Are we going to be force-fed the good stuff, like foie gras geese?

I’m partial to a glass of Madeira but I wouldn’t want to share the fate of the Duke of Clarence.

Since most of us prefer to access content without paying, lurking behind this cheerful free-for-all is a host of people intent on getting their hands into our pockets by other means. I’ve never been on an SEO copywriting course, but I know people who have, and I’ve read the materials that accompany some commercial SEO copywriting courses. In amongst logical advice, such as on headline writing, there is guidance that to my eyes crosses the boundary between editorial and advertising: “How to add emotional triggers that increase the desire to buy,” and “steps for turning features into sales-generating benefits” are just a couple.

I earn the bulk of my living from commercial writing, so it would be disingenuous of me to claim that advertorials are bad. But it’s very important that advertorial copy is clearly signposted as such. At the moment there are many sites that aren’t as transparent as they could be about what they’re telling their readers, and why. And it’s often the self-styled ‘little guys’ who are being much naughtier…