On the surface of it, Formula 1 couldn’t come to terms with NBC Sports due to F1’s desire to release their own streaming service called F1 TV. Understandably, NBC may not have been too excited to have competition to its NBC Sports Gold App that streams their programming. Was that a catalyst to the breakdown in negotiations? That’s the conventional story I hear.
Left without a broadcast package for the US, Formula 1 tacks and offers ESPN the rights for little or no money (from what I have heard). It would be difficult for F1 to ask ESPN to hire on-air talent and a full production staff to put a full-court press on this broadcast package given that you were, in fact, getting ready to launch your own streaming service.
F1 must have orchestrated some fancy footwork to get a deal with Sky Sports for their F1 feed as the re-broadcast package for ESPN given that the latter wasn’t going to staff up for a full US broadcast production. At face value, if the desire was to launch the new F1 TV app in the US and drive most of the market towards it, the delay of the F1 TV app prompted a very difficult situation for ESPN. ESPN was now the only game in town for US fans to watch F1.
Think of it this way:
The F1 TV app is to be the ultimate F1 viewing platform in the US. As such, the F1 TV hierarchy goes from two versions of the F1 TV app (top-shelf and stripped down versions) to the most basic of F1 content delivery being the ESPN feed of Sky Sports. No commentary team, no production crew to orchestrate accurate commercial ad breaks, no color commentary to provide a soft landing for re-entry after ad breaks or to recap what the viewer missed during break.
It is as if the Sky Sports stream was playing, you left the room for 5 minutes and came back without any idea of what happened while you were out of the room. For an effectively free broadcast rights package, ESPN added more and longer commercial breaks than NBC seemed to so the desire to monetize is certainly alive and well at ESPN but the production value isn’t.
If F1 was banking on the F1 TV app as the key medium for US fans with OTT features, the inability of F1 to launch for the first race meant that the entire US fan base was served the most basic, Spartan version of F1 coverage known to man as the season opening production. Once again, F1 seemed to underestimate just how touchy US F1 fans are to their broadcast sensibilities.
The fact is, US fans have an overwhelmingly different F1 viewing experience than much of the world given the time zone differences. DVR’s are a US fan’s best friend meaning guides and times have to be accurate for DVR’s to work. Pre and post-race coverage needs to be accurate and are highly desired as news sources for a fan base thousands of miles away from the epicenter of F1.
An American F1 fan’s entire F1 experience is mostly centered around a foggy-minded, sleepy-eyed early mornings and coffee, not afternoon race fun with a beer and your buddies. We sit in isolation in the dim light of a rising sun on a couch as lethargic as the we are…for 15+ races mind you.
ESPN’s Andy Hall was forced to take to Twitter to apologize for the broadcast errors:
“We deeply apologize to Formula 1 fans for the technical issues that caused them to miss the first 20 minutes of the pre-race show for the Australian Grand Prix. We are sorry that our first F1 telecast did not go as smoothly as we would have liked but we are taking steps to prevent those same issues from occurring in the future. We thank fans for watching and for their incredible passion for F1.”
Astonishing to me that their streaming service can’t muster the desire to run full pre and post-race coverage. Immediately after the race they bail out at 3am to some 30 for 30 episode? Really? A live world event takes back seat to a pre-recorded re-broadcast? What planet is that a reality on? It also seems that the Split screen just means longer commercial breaks.
The overall reaction was incredibly negative from US fans including professional drivers voicing their disgust on Twitter. Fans have reached out to me about this raging dumpster fire and are beside themselves with what F1 has reduced itself to.
ESPN touted the pride of bringing F1 back to its original broadcaster, but this package is setting F1 broadcasts back decades. Apart from being Lewis Hamilton fans, Sky Sports has a terrific team and offer a level of detail the US fans are enjoying instead of the SPEED and NBC Sports least common denominator approach of the past. Sadly, ESPN is simply re-broadcasting the backhaul feed with no US production value or commentary team to ease viewers in and out of the Sky Sports feed.
F1 and ESPN had better do something quick or they will be seriously damaging their US fan base. You can’t puff your chest up about bringing F1 back to ESPN and a mysteriously absent F1 TV app and then fail to deliver on both accounts.
I have a lot of patience with the complexity of what they are trying to do, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to a race broadcast with Leigh, David and Steve and I know what it takes. It isn’t easy but they’ve had a year to get this sorted.
I have a lot of sympathy for what Andy Hall is going through and to be honest, I feel like F1 should be the one apologizing, not Andy. I think his hands are tied. In what part of Sean Bratches’s world did he think dumping a backhaul feed on the US fans with no production would be a good thing? He came from ESPN for heaven’s sake. Surely he would know this isn’t the way to treat fans?
I would have thought that releasing the basic F1 TV service for the race with no commercials and pre and post-race coverage would have been better even if the service wasn’t quite ready for primetime? Maybe it wouldn’t have had all the “OTT” features but a basic feed would have been better than what we were exposed to (“Last Name” vs “Last Name” graphics were a delight).
Sure, there are some. From my experience, the video quality of ESPN’s stream was really good. Much better than my Directv Now or Sony Vue streams. The images looked great to me and there was no lag like there was on my other streams. That’s great news.
Sky Sports F1 are professionals and part of their real appeal is the lack of seeker-sensitive tripe that broadcasts to the least common denominator. Some of the onus to get into F1 is on the viewer, you can’t spoon feed them every race without alienating your real fans and Sky Sports knows that.
The real magic is Sky’s pre and post-race coverage and ESPN did carry some of that but would be even better if they carried more of it.
ESPN did have replays but given the blowback, they may think about making replays without commercial breaks because they need something to appeal to the fans who now have bloodied noses over their ham-fisted approach.
The audio was better during the race and that’s good because they were having balance or mix-minus issues on Friday’s broadcast.
Here is hoping that Sean and his band of broadcast gypsies can get the F1 TV service going for Bahrain. I’m not sure how much longer US F1 fans can stomach this zero-production package and at this point they are either promoting illegal VPN streams on the internet or losing fans period. I still believe in Sean and his “OTT” app and I think it will be terrific, but we need it much sooner than later folks.
As for ESPN, I think they will continue to have the stuffing beat out of them unless they concede the notion that hard breaks in the Sky Sports stream isn’t going to work very well. If they didn’t pay much for the service, better to offer the full Sky Sports package and let it run to help build ESPN’s brand than to try and monetize the hell out of a feed with no production considerations. I am realistic enough to know this isn’t entirely ESPN’s fault, mind you, but in the end, they have a brand to protect.