eXtensions - Sunday 5 March 2018


Cassandra - Formula One Expected to Join the Modern World: but not South-east Asia

By Graham K. Rogers


With modern media like newspapers and television contracting, some sports have begun to use the internet to deliver content. MotoGP has been available online for quite a while, but Formula One was a holdout until now. Online content is to be available in more than 20 countries soon using browser and app delivery systems.

For almost as long as I can remember I have enjoyed Formula One racing. When I first watched the grainy black and white images on the BBC the engines were in the front. I went to a number of GP races over the years and not just in the UK (Silverstone was not far from home), although the last race I actually attended was won by Ronnie Peterson (Monza 1975).

A couple of things improved the events in the 1970s: the arrival of the irreverent Hesketh team and James Hunt, the March kit-car, the Cosworth V8 engine (the block was developed from two 4-cylinder Cortina engines) and Bernie Ecclestone.

At that time he owned the unsponsored Brabham F1 team - his own money supported the costs - but he did manage to persuade Martini to join the party before he went off to do more things and become a billionaire in the process. He saw that with the show properly run and promoted, television and income from advertising, was the key to the franchise. He milked it for all it was worth, for good and bad. His understanding of media then and the selling of the races as a package to the TV companies made him and many others, a lot of money.

Bernie Ecclestone was (in my view) a product of the 1960s and 1970s when a TV channel was viewed as a licence to print money, but in the time of the internet, all traditional media are learning that the sun is setting. Ecclestone seems to have understood that (in part) and Formula One Management is now run by Liberty Media.

Apple TV

As the internet began to provide more opportunities, I moved my viewing focus. Apple TV, although severely limited in Thailand, does offer enough channels to keep me amused. Although I had watched MotoGP on television, Dorna the commercial owners of the series, also provided a subscription service for each of the races (there are 26 this year): that allows live viewing of practice sessions for each of the three classes and the races, as well as a comprehensive library of races run. For €99 ($122) that is a bargain.

With MotoGP online, and most of my viewing also coming from internet sources, it was uneconomic for me to continue subscribing to the cable TV if all I was watching were the 21 F1 races. I did have the iOS timing app and was able to follow the progress of cars digitally, but I found the BBC Radio 4 commentary less informative than what I had been used to from Star TV transmissions carried here (Martin Brundle and David Croft).

The commentary also had frequent and annoying mentions of other sports (in which I had zero interest) and regular silences as the channel was given over to short reports from other sports for radio listeners. This year, for the first time since that app appeared I did not renew my subscription.

I am not alone in changing loyalties: the traditional channels and their fixed scheduled no longer work for many viewers (newspapers are finding similar shifts). I wrote several times in the last year or two, referring to my experience of the Dorna MotoGP service, that the time was long overdue for Formula One to modernize itself and deliver content via the internet. Well, now it is.

Older car

News from the official F1 site on Saturday gave a fairly detailed summary of what viewers may expect with the launch of its live Grand Prix subscription service in 2018. Like MotoGP there are to be ad-free live streams of each race, although the larger size of the cars will allow an additional tweak with access to all 20 driver on-board cameras throughout every race session. They have clearly thought this out as viewers will also be able to watch FIA Formula 2 Championship, GP3 Series and Porsche Supercup races that support each race.

Availability may be a problem for me as Thailand is not listed (certain monopolies may thwart this, at least for now). Indeed Dieter Rencken and Keith Collantine (RaceFans) list the countries and none are listed for South-east Asia.

. . . available in four different languages (English, French, German and Spanish) . . . in nearly two dozen markets at launch (including Germany, France, USA, Mexico, Belgium, Austria, Hungary and much of Latin America). Access will initially be available through desktop and web, with mobile apps and TV apps being phased in on Amazon, Apple and Android. . . .

The cost cited also seems realistic. In my earlier speculations I had expected a series cost of around $200. The release shows a monthly basis of USD$8-$12, with annual rates priced according to market. With a season of 9 months (March to November) the cost could be $72 - $84 with the cited rates if a viewer wanted to watch all races. I most certainly would; and this is considerably cheaper than the cable TV subscription.

F1 With the various viewing options it appears to be similar to how Dorna works with their delivery, although only last season they were still using Flash for browser access. Access on iOS devices was much smoother for me and I mostly always used AirPlay to view content on the television.

I would hope that Liberty Media, although they have considerable experience of content delivery in the USA, have consulted with DornaGP who - while not in competition - are working in a similar field. I also hope that many of the reports that the company wants to make more of a spectacle out of each race - presentations of drivers at the US Grand Prix in October last year, called "glitzy" were much criticised and some teams (notably Ferrari) are uncomfortable with some of the ideas mooted.

I am upbeat about the potential here and am keeping my fingers crossed that availability in Thailand will be eventually be provided. At the bottom of the page containing the news there was opportunity for me to express interest. Duly done. I may have to download that F1 app again and my credit card is at the ready.

I can go and make tea if there are any glitzy bits.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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