This is the second article in a series, so, if you missed my first piece you can find it here: Formula Zero - Part 1.
It's pretty obvious that Bernie's original 99 year lease of the commercial rights was a little bit of a mistake. Don't get me wrong I appreciate what Bernie has done for the sport over the last few decades but the current model is part of what is crippling the sport. You can't claim to be a promoter and not actually fulfill that role. "How's that?" I hear you say. I don't see FOM as a promoter, they're a facilitator, they are like the glue that binds all of the parties, but it is everyone else that actually promotes the sport, be it broadcasters, written media, the teams or the circuit promoters.
|Taken from PremierLeague.com|
Whilst the Premier League has teams that have helped to bolster its rise to the top of the broadcasters wish lists they don't get anything for their historic achievements. It could be argued therefore that since 2007 Ferrari have been rewarded for their mediocrity and whilst I don't have the financial figures to hand I'd suggest they contributed far less to their budget in a percentage term compared to the rest because of this. The inclusion of Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and now Lotus to this group only fortifies the financial gap to the other teams.
One of the biggest problems for F1 is that it's in a straight jacket, it has locked itself into one mode of thinking, which was all well and good when TV was king and the broadcasters could afford to pay the ransom that Bernie was touting. The problem now is choice, the once fierce entertaining battles broadcast on a Sunday afternoon have to compete against not only a huge array of televised sports, other tv shows that have a better production value than they used to have, streaming services that allow you to watch anything you fancy at the click of a button but also against gaming, a platform that allows the player to immerse themselves in a similar world, against other drivers from around the world, rather than just watching someone do it.
In a world where everything is at your fingertips F1 now seems tame in comparison. Whilst the rest of the world has moved on, F1 seems to have got stuck in a little time warp. Having said that, the production element is still leaps and bounds beyond some series. For example, IndyCar. With the emergence of the aero kits for 2015 I decided to give the sport another go. Sat watching the broadcast, I thought I'd been transported back to the 80's. Now I know a lot of American TV has a low production value (don't be offended by this my American friends, just watch some British TV and you'll quickly understand where I'm coming from) but the graphics looked like something straight out of KITTs dashboard.
It gave me a renewed sense of F1's achievement in how it presents itself BUT, there is still room for improvement, especially if it is to garner a new, younger crowd but we'll touch on this again later as we need to renew our look at the money...
|The graphics as used on the F1 Digital+ platform courtesy of F1Broadcasting|
The FOM 'world feed' means that everyone is working with the same coverage, meaning Bernie and FOM essentially have control of what we see. Some broadcasters will edit the feed from time-to-time using some of their own graphics and cut between onboards etc but on the whole we all see the same stuff.
Whilst we all pretty much see the same thing live there is a distinct difference in what we hear and also the package that surrounds F1. I won't get into what each country gets up to but suffice to say that for the rest of the English speaking world there was/is the opportunity for the broadcaster to buy commentary from Sky/BBC/Channel 4.
Australia - Tenplay (races shown live on Channel 10) & Fox Sports
Croatia - MAXtv to go
Finland - MTV3
Germany - RTL
Japan - Fuji TV next smart
Romania - Dolce Sport
Spain - Antena 3 and Esport 3
Sweden - Viasat
UK - Sky Sports and previously BBC iPlayer (Will be available on Channel 4's online platform All 4 from 2016)
United States - NBCSN and Univision Deportes
Neither of the big streaming services currently carry live sport, although I see it as an inevitability, it puts F1 in a prime position to jump the gate. However, such a switch is entirely outside of Bernie and FOM's comfort zone as it would require plenty of activation from their side, especially if they were to create their own platform rather than piggyback Netflix or Amazon Prime. In that respect I can't see it happening, although a previously frosty approach to Social Media has thawed during 2015, with F1 actively using their Twitter account to provide both serious and comedic commentary.
Building their own platform, using proprietary software is one way of protecting the brand and delivering the classic content without fear of redistribution. However, doing so will only ingratiate the service with the current crop of Formula One fans, of which we keep being told is in decline. Therefore, although it brings with it some risk, it does seem that using a platform that is already in place will endear F1 to a new crowd..
Switching back to content, F1 needs to continue to innovate, especially when it comes to the presentation of the sport. Bernie's gripes with the current hybrid formula being a prime example. Firstly, he has perpetuated the problem of the powerunits, from a commercial perspective, of them being too quite. Granted they're somewhat attenuated in comparison with the V8's and I can understand that means they lose an element of the the theatre. However, they're quieter for good reason, as sound is but wasted energy. On the flip side, they aren't THAT quiet and most have found a new appreciation for hearing other details, such as tyre squeal and the plank clipping the track, that were unheard over the V8 wail. Trackside you might not get the same wail as before, something that is easy to note if you press yourself against the railings at Becketts (Silverstone), as previously you could feel your chest being bullied by the cars as they filed through the complex. But, I'm not that bothered by that and to be honest my ears are a little thankful too, 10 minutes stood there without ear defenders was enough to damage you for life. The issue I have is that Bernie/FOM appear to have used this as an opportunity to push their own agenda (nothing new there) as trackside the cars don't sound too bad but from the main and onboard feeds the microphones don't appear to pick it up very well.
The same can also be said for the apparent loss of speed, whilst I'll agree that things can and should be done (although not what the Strategy Group are planning for 2017) to improve things with the design of the cars I also feel that the broadcast has made the cars look somewhat slower too. Over the last decade (or so) we have seen a move from the 4:3 to 16:9 aspect ratio because as consumers our technology purchases have driven the industry in this direction. This widens the frame improving what you see on screen, or at least it should...
|Image from: theonlineracingassociation.com but a further edit from myself adding the outer borders to simulate the 4:3 screen area.|
Talking of action I don't know about you but I often find myself questioning what I'm watching and why it isn't the interesting battle, with FOM sometimes seemingly going out of their way to show other shots. Don't get me wrong having a unilateral broadcast direction is far better than having what was once a follow the drivers of our country setup, where regional production was used. However, don't ruin the race experience with politics, show us the action...
Going back to the graphical overlays, I can wholeheartedly say that I appreciate the job that Framestore did on the new graphic set (You might remember them from the Tooned series that McLaren/Sky ran). However, there is always room for improvement..
|The newer (current) graphic set is more aesthetically pleasing, with team colour co-ordinated accents that make seeing where a team/driver is placed much simpler.|
|For comparison here is the last set of graphics|
|This is from Nascar and helps to identify the drivers in a pack, I'm quite sure this could be applied to the FOM graphics set in a way that helped the casual viewer to see who, is where.|
|A screen shot of a similar thing being employed by Sky Sports last night during the live broadcast|
I've also wondered why we don't see F1 use overlays for line comparison, it was mentioned back in 2009 but I don't believe ever saw the light of day. It would give the broadcast teams a great way of showing just where drivers pick up time over others. Besides, anyone that is remotely interested in gaming will have used a graduated racing line to guide you around the track before.
|Taken from a random YouTube capture of some F1 2015 online racing YouTube we cn see the green racing line ahead, demonstrating the ideal line the gamer should be on.|
Something that F1 could transfer from Indycar is the use of the visor cam, the onboard pictures we currently get from FOM are fantastic, however, they seem a little sterile. Compare them with the frankly crap, grainy quality of the past and they lose some of the drama. However, as I've already alluded to aspect ratio could also be playing its part there too. (Although as you'll see the following video is clearly in 16:9)
This onboard with James Hinchcliffe accelerates the scene, making everything seem more dramatic and makes your appreciate the work going on in the cockpit. Just note how early he scopes out the apex in the corners, as we see his head track toward it....
Back in 2012 Paul Di Resta had a visor cam for the Monaco GP, the footage studied here by Ant Davidson...
Remember it's easier for things to be tested at Monaco because it's the only circuit currently on the calendar where production of the footage isn't done in-house by FOM..
Something that I think could really elevate Formula One's broadcast images if done right could be drone footage. It's something that the teams already use, during promotional filming days, capturing images that previously needed the huge overheads of a helicopter. Now whilst I admit it's still a costly endeavour and something that would need to be heavily controlled for safety purposes it looks stunning. Just check out the following footage from Kingdom Creative..
Lastly, for me at least, as I'm sure you all have plenty of your own ideas. I'd like to see a pitstop window prediction graphic, as for newbie's or casual viewers it must be frustrating not being able to understand how/when and why pit stops are being made. A simple calculation of the average time through the pits including a tyre change could show in an overlay of the track (Or even more simply just have an estimated position he'd feed back into) where a driver would feed back into the pack and why it's important they stay out a little longer in order to stay away from traffic even if they seem to be loosing a little time due to tyre degradation. It's a simple calculation that I track in my head for each driver but if you don't have the data to work with I can see how it would be confusing.
UK viewers will now be aware that from next season F1 coverage will no longer feature on the BBC, with the same half the season of live races configuration and the rest highlights finding its way onto Channel 4. This isn't the first time Channel 4 have tried to be Formula One's terrestial TV saviour though. Back in 2011 when the original deal was struck between the BBC and Sky to split the coverage between free-to-air and pay-tv they proposed a wholesale takeover of the Beeb's contract with FOM. At the time Bernie/FOM wanted the continuity of the BBC and had still been left wondering "what if?" over the demise of F1 Digital+.
|The 2011 Channel 4 manifesto - original source http://duncanblog.dailymail.co.uk/2011/08/revealed-channel-4s-last-ditch-bid-to-keep-formula-one-on-terrestrial-tv.html|
Whisper Films is a production company fronted by Jake Humphrey (Yes, you know the ex BBC F1 presenter and now with BT Sport covering the Premier League), David Coulthard (Ex McLaren and Red Bull driver and frankly one of the best parts of the the outgoing BBC F1 team, albeit he can be very Red Bull biased at times ;)) and Sunil Patel (Ex BBC Sports producer). On top of this, the close nit team they have assembled have an extensive back catalogue of successful programming. In August this year Channel 4 announced it had took a minority stake in the company, putting it in pole position to assist in the packaging of the Channel 4 content. They've produced some fantastic content already, working within the Formula One environment... http://www.whisperfilms.co.uk/films
Whilst it is easy to make the connection between the two don't expect Jake to front the show, as he's just signed another 4 year deal with BT, continiung to present the Premier League but will also help front the Champions and Europa League alongside Gary Lineker coverage. Meanwhile, Whisper's association with the production of F1 might give DC a stay of execution.
In terms of the Channel 4 offering I suspect we'll see a play on words used by the Channel, unless Bernie puts the kibosh on it, as 4mula One is an obvious cross promotional tool. The short turnaround between now and the start of the season could present some issues to Channel 4 in terms of being ready, certainly something that won't help them to prepare content that lives and breathes around the sport as their original manifesto suggested would be the case. However, it's easy to see how they can leverage their current programming to assist in cross promotion. Much of which would be short term programming using special cross over shows like Come Dine with Me, 8 out of 10 cats, Gogglebox etc to garner interest from other demographics. Thinking long term Formula One has such depth that creating both comedic and factual programming should be a breeze. Furthermore, creating programming around the countries that the sport is currently visiting could also help to entice viewers too.
In terms of the on screen talent and production package I suspect we'll see a scaled back on-site presence, with a studio to cutaway to when the cars aren't on the track. Don't be dismayed though, I actually think this can be a great way of presenting sport if done stylistically and punctuated by great features. (Whisper Films are currently working on the BBC's American Football coverage, bear in mind it's not live but it's great and shows how a studio environment can work. If you're in the UK or use VPN this weeks show is available on the iPlayer for the next 29 days... http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06t0j76/american-football-201516-11-race-to-super-bowl-50-nfl-week-16).
In terms of the screen talent I think we'll see a few faces carried over from the BBC, with David Coulthard resuming his current duties and providing post race support to the studio from the track. They'll need a pit-lane reporter and so I suspect Tom Clarkson may be bought across too. However, we must remember that the BBC are retaining their radio broadcasts from the circuit too and so there could be cross-over used although I'm not sure I'd go as far to say that James Allen will lead commentary as it's an altogether different application of commentary when it's not accompanied by the visuals something many fans had disdain for in the ITV days as his style does lend to the radio broadcast. (Don't get me wrong, personally I like James' commentary and I have often used the 5Live feed whilst watching on the iPlayer. I appreciate the depth of knowledge that he has accrued, especially on a technical level, which comes across in his commentary.)
If we were to assume that both production companies can work together and need to save costs in doing so that leaves several spots open, the main presenter role, a studio pundit and a trackside reporter. I'd also like to see the return of a tech reporter like the BBC had with Gary Anderson, I'm pulling for Scarbs on that one... I have no qualms as to who the presenter is, although someone like Peter Windsor would be fantastic, I can't see it. However, it really needs to be someone who knows F1 even if they haven't been associated with it before. They need to know the mechanisms behind the sport as otherwise they'll quickly come off as plastic. In terms of the studio pundit(s) it has become more difficult over recent years to tied down ex drivers as they all seem to be moving onto Formula-E, however, Karun Chandhok gets my vote having done plenty of media work in the past with the other outlets and having a good grasp on how to translate what he see's for the viewers. A fresh faced Jaime Alguesuari could also work with the Spaniard having retired from racing recently, although he may be a little green to start with. Meanwhile, from time-to-time I think it would be fantastic if they could get special additional pundits onboard, legends of the sport such as Sir Jackie Stewart, John Watson, Nigel Mansell etc.
Aside from the 'main events' of Friday's Free Practice sessions, Saturdays FP3 and Qualifying sessions and the race on Sunday, I think there is scope for a short post news daily roundup of the F1 news, (I'll be doing something similar in 2016 via Snapchat) along with some magazine shows during the week like Sky currently produce.
Whatever comes of the 4mula One coverage I think it arrives at a pivotal juncture, where F1's relevance is being questioned and the fresh input of a channel unshackled from the restraints of a corporation like the BBC could make huge waves.
Money is the root of all evil... something that certainly rings true when it comes to the F1 calander. Over the last decade or more Formula One shed its previously predominant Euro-centricity and has become a truly global sport, racing at venues previously unheard of in top flight motor racing. Countries like Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Russia and Azerbaijan who have no real racing pedigree see Formula One as a vehicle for which to display their wares to the world. They have been prepared to pay handsomely too, as it helps to accelerate growth for their nation. This has put huge pressure on the 'classic' circuits not only with Bernie/FOM able to increase hosting fee's on contract renewals, it has also meant the circuits have had to make improvements to come inline with the new circuits.
When Silverstone agreed it's new 17 year deal in 2010 it helped to finance the infrastructure changes required to bring it inline with some of the newer facilities. The original plans drawn up in 2008 (above) for the wing complex and alterations to the circuit were quickly ratified and completed in time for the 2011 GP costing somewhere in the order of £30-50m (I'm yet to see precise figures) something that needs to be paid for over the tenure of the F1 contract and accounted for along with the ever escalating race fee. The British GP contract was believed to be around £12m in 2010, on which a 5% escalator is placed each year, meaning this year they'll be paying around £15.3m and by the end of their 10 year walk away clause just shy of £20m to host the GP. Forced into a financial corner, Silverstone under new guidance, tried something different last year, encouraging a family audience that previously would have had an eye watering bill to attend a GP. They slashed the general admission fee to £99 for Sunday and £120 for the weekend, whilst raising the age threshold for free tickets from 2 to 11 years old.
A bold, but smart move by the circuit promotors who've now ingratiated F1 to a new generation, turned a profit for the first time in a while and saw a race day attendance of around 138,000. Silverstone have bucked a trend though, with many of the other circuit promoters, like the teams, on the brink. Some of that comes down to outside funding, with the likes of Circuit of the America's (COTA) looking shaky, owing to their government funding being slashed. However, that doesn't hold water when it comes to attendances. The German Grand Prix at Nurburgring for example, was missing from the 2015 calender as the race wasn't financially viable. A strange occurrence given a German manufacturer heads the F1 pack with a German driver chasing the title, whilst Sebastian Vettel a 4 time World Champion, now wearing red, also lay in contention. The issue faced here is perhaps one of cost with F1 fans often feeling short changed when compared with other sports. A seat at a Bundasliga game, for example, costs around half that of the Premier League and so cost perception is critical.
As an aside an issue for COTA this season was the inclusion of the Mexican GP, which meant a loss of some travelling fans, something that plagues many circuits when they're in close proximity. As such I've often wondered why the circuit promoters and Bernie/FOM haven't banged their heads together to work on cross-promotional activities, especially as the calendar is now the largest we've ever seen. I've long held the opinion that we should have four drivers titles on offer, of course the World drivers and constructors titles which will remain the main focus but why not have a *'The America's drivers title' (4 races), 'The European drivers title' (9 races) and 'The Asian/Oceania drivers title' (8 races) perhaps with the Champion of each also accruing some additional points toward the World title changing the landscape of the championship in its entirety. This will not only then help with the promotion of the sport Internationally but also Continentally even if they aren't raced consecutively, with a similar calender as we currently have retained.
*Bracketed race allocation based on the 2016 calender
Other commercial deals
Use the F1 moniker at your peril, afterall it is a trademark, however, this elitest attitude does throw up a number of entanglements that disuade many companies from engaging with Formula One. F1 as a brand only ever really aligns itself with one major commercial partner, of which the current flavour of the month is Rolex, a premium brand able to afford the stellar price tag I'm sure Bernie covets. It's not an uncommon trend though and so perhaps a winning one, with the like of the Premier League being title sponsored by Barclays, albeit they're a UK based competition not a Global one like F1.. Perhaps if the Continental titles were to be applied it could open up avenues for more title sponsorship deals, especially as the likes of Vodaphone have withdrawn their logos at certain races in the past owing to the races being held in countries they don't want to be allied with.
Whilst this article has more to do with the F1 brand as a whole I think it's important to also look at revenue generated by the teams too, as this is what helps them to operate in the sport. F1 offers sponsors a global platform with which to advertise their wares, it's why we see the largest advertising spaces on the cars filled by conglomerates as they're able to leverage advertising for many of their brands, whilst also forming partnerships that'll advance both their own and the teams interests. Sponsorship within the F1 ranks is circular, with many sponsors simply moving from team to team based on performance orientation which also has its own performance effects, due to budget constraints. Then there are the teams that have to work outside of this model, accruing sponsors on a regional and smaller budget basis, Manor being the current example but perhaps BrawnGP are the 'biggest' team to have done it in recent history. Arriving with their predominantly white with fluorescent accent livery devoid of sponsors back in testing in 09 they had little to worry about for that season, having been given a budget to operate by the outgoing Honda board. However, if they were to continue to develop at a decent rate and have enough money to carry themselves over to the following season they needed to get logos on the car. Richard Branson's Virgin were the first to eye a deal that would see their logo's emblazoned on what came to be the best car on the grid. Many more followed suit on what turned out to be an almost race-by-race change of sponsors based on region.
This will clearly make for a more difficult task of filling the car but, if done with the model in mind from the outset fortune can favour the bold. As at the other end of the spectrum McLaren proved last season that a sudden downturn in form and a disconnect between the team and the sponsors leads to losses. McLaren are looking down the barrel of a rather bare car in 2016, if 2015 wasn't already bare enough. The once juggernaut of the sport has had no title sponsor for several years and lost long time partners Johnnie Walker and Tag Heuer to rival outfits going forward (Force India and Red Bull respectively). This leaves them with Santander (another deal on rocky ground), Segafredo, Hilton, CNN and Chandon and of course Honda who not only supply the team with free powerunits but also put money toward the driver lineup/budget.
If you've made it all the way to the end of this post, especially in one sitting you deserve a medal. I'm sorry it's been quite a long one, however, there was plenty to cover. Money sits at the core of F1 as to why there is a disparity between the top and bottom teams. I'm not saying money can buy you success but it can go a long way to getting you there, a fairer distribution of the funds collated by FOM seems to me to be an obvious way of achieving a closer field. As always don't be shy to air your own thoughts in the comments below...