F1 ready for internet broadcast; are the fans? Are Liberty Media?

Tata Communication’s managing director of F1 business, Mehul Kapadia, says that the 2016 tests they engaged in for Over the Top (OTT) direct-to-consumer internet broadcasts of Formula 1 were successful and the systems are capable of delivering such a product. The bigger question is, will it be packaged as a product and offered to fans?

“One of the challenges that OTT has faced in the past is that what you see on your television versus what you see on your iPad or phone would not be synced up,” he told Autosport.

“That was the one big technology challenge that we have worked on solving, and demonstrating that we can do it.

“This was something we ran at the Singapore race and I would say the technology is now there to do it.”

I’ve argued at some length that the ability to stream live content is certainly there but so are the existing national broadcast rights contracts that are worth millions of dollars and represent more of a carpet-bombing approach to mass audience reach. They are also more apt to snare the casual viewer through public viewing shrapnel that may impact orbital viewers who happen to be sitting near a television with an F1 broadcast running.

The ability to offer a WRC style live stream online package is certainly there but I’m not sure how quick Liberty Media will choose to monetize their B2C streaming model given their existing broadcast contracts. Also, the article I read suggests supplemental programming that is immersive and brings the viewer into the paddock and while that’s nice, I am not sure I would pay for just that element of an F1 weekend if it did everything but show the race.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the “second screen experience” in this cultural wave of television watching. Perhaps it is because I’m not a 20-something but to be honest, I am watching far too intently to have interest or time to see who tweeted what about a particular moment during the broadcast.

I feel the live tweeting of a race from some publications is fine for those who are not able to actually see the race but I wouldn’t follow along while I am watching the race. That’s a bit like taking my wristwatch off my arm and telling me what time it is.

Do I care what the mobocracy thinks about a particular helmet paint scheme in real time during the race? No. Do I care what the mobocracy thinks about a shunt in real time? No. I care what professional broadcasters, teams, the FIA (race control), timing & Scoring and drivers think about the race in real time. I’m too busy watching every tire in a corner, wheel in a driver’s hands and pit crew along with telemetry to care what @WorldsbiggestF1fan thinks about the lack of a penalty for Ericsson over a pass that was aggressive.

F1 is unique in that one of the strongest elements in an unfolding race is the live timing & Scoring (T&S) screen and I have little time to view Tiwtter or Facebook to see what fans say as I am watching the live broadcast and T&S and that consumes most of my attention. If you’re really good at T&S, you can actually predict race pit stops and see the strategy unravel before your eyes. I simply can’t do that when I’m viewing Twitter and reading half-baked jokes about Lewis’s tattoos or Massa’s age.

“OTT has a couple of answers needed from a commercial standpoint.

“It is a commercial challenge about whether sports franchises want to directly reach to consumers and then not have the scale that comes to them from broadcasters.”

I believe that the future of television will be to slowly and methodically un-bundle programming content. I think Liberty Media will follow suit and eventually unravel itself from national broadcast packages bundled for viewers and start to seek more immersive ways of delivering content to fans directly irrespective of the platform they choose to view it on but that will take time.

Liberty Media knows, as I am sure you do as well, that the future of entertainment is about un-bundling services and moving toward content ownership and creation. The delivery infrastructure used to be the main focus but now it is on content creation/ownership. Delivery methods are ubiquitous, good and compelling content is not.

Netflix might be a good example of this. They don’t own the infrastructure you consume their product on, they create the content. Netflix is larger than HBO by multiples and who would have imagined that day coming? Liberty Media know this and they know that they are now content creators and will start to focus on curating systems for their content. Delivery methods will simply be a choice the consumer makes but the key will be the professionally developed and high UX of a curation system for custom content.

I can envision a day when F1 has its own comprehensive and professionally produced broadcast that will be packaged for streaming either live or on-demand with sync’d T&S. However, there is also the language issue for the global consumer base to consider and that lobbies hard for national broadcast contracts as well.

This all brings us to Kapadia’s comment or the idea of creating a pre and post race streaming package but to be honest, I’m not sure I would pay $150 to get talking heads and interviews in the paddock that I would have to switch devices for before and after the race but that’s just me.

“Loads of opportunities are still there, and there are so many things that we can work on,” he added.

“The entire digital transformation that is happening, whether it is the way we work or the way we look at the sport, or how we interact with the sport when you are at the race track or at the stadium.

“Whether you are watching football, F1 or cricket, the entertainment value is coming from being immersive and closer to the sport.

“While some part of that immersion has been solved by what sort of data you can get on your second screen, fundamentally your primary viewing experience, irrespective of the screen size, needs to give you more immersion, more choice in terms of how you want to view it, and a higher degree of what data points you now want to look at.

“We are looking at a 360-degree digital transformation that is going to happen, and all of it catering for fans.”

These may be the biggest opportunities in F1 in that the kinds of data and images they can harvest would all be focused on content creation and improving the entire package. Right now, broadcasters pay for differing levels of access and coverage in the paddock but perhaps they could acquire packaged premium content developed by F1 to supplement their broadcasts. This would eliminate some of the need to have video crews at every race etc.

The inevitable question isn’t if but when Liberty Media moves toward a content focus and not a delivery infrastructure/national broadcaster focus. The fact is, there are multiple knock-on effects of this too. If I could purchase a F1 broadcast package with live and on-demand streaming with sync’d T&S, I would dump my current television broadcast package and be a cord-cutter. The only reason I have a cable subscription is F1.

Before we all march off the side of the cliff with the F1 digital transformation, let’s all have a gentleman’s agreement here…while the present season should be live, let’s get a Netflix-style seasonality to the package for season binge watching. Who wouldn’t like to have the ability to go back to the 1998 season and binge watch all the races until you get to Spa and then get really mad at David Coulthard?

Hat Tip: Autosport

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Michael Self

Shut up and take my money! NBC’s coverage is terrible. A 3 minute commercial break, then 30 seconds taken by showing an aerial overview of the race locale or a pre-recorded interview, then a minute spent recapping what we missed, then 5 minutes of the race if we are lucky.

Negative Camber

There are a host of reasons for NBC’s adverts and format that go beyond just F1. It, in my mind, is a clash with legacy format versus user experience expectations in 2017. I know the folks at NBC that handle the F1 production and they are all top-shelf people but they don’t run the entirety of NBC and so they have to program accordingly. There’s no doubt in my mind that Will would like to have an hour pre and post race to really unpack all the details and offer interviews etc but the programming doesn’t allow for it. There’s… Read more »


On the one hand I think big sports have to be available for free in a way. I got hooked to Formula 1, because it was always available on Free-TV in Germany (with ad breaks when RTL took over in the early 90’s). And back then we even had the choice to switch to Eurosport with English commentary, which was much better with Ben Edwards and John Watson as commentators. But that lasted not long and Eurosport lost the rights. Now I would pay to get the (British) Sky-TV coverage on my iPad, but nobody would take my money. So… Read more »

Tom Firth

It’s a good advert wrapped in an F1 piece for their partner TATA communications technology. Interesting too if they can make it work effectively. It is frustrating streaming any race online and you being 5 seconds behind the tv broadcast or whatever, and your friend 2 minutes behind and other people elsewhere. If can actually make their technology work for F1 to be synchronous, it would be really good, not just for F1 but for the rest the sport as well.


Make an easy way to pay for a legit stream with a good bit rate in HD and youll get loads of people moving over. The main issue will be the commentators. Will the most popular from each country be willing to move over to an online only broadcast? Will people like Sky allow this to even happen? If the tv stations dont embrace the new tech it will end up really messy before it gets better.

Paul KieferJr

Meanwhile, here I am, doing my best amateur play-by-play on Twitter as I watch it on a live stream. What have I been missing?

charlie white

I will temper my usual anti-NBCSN comments here. But whenever I hear F1 fans(outside North America) complain about the loss/lack of free-to-air race broadcasts, I tell them it’s hard to feel bad for them because we(in the USA) had to pay for F1 broadcasts(in the form of a cable/satellite TV subscription) since the 1990’s. Even now, NBC will broadcast 2 or 3 F1 races nationwide free to air(and you still may not get it if the local affiliate will preempt it for local Sunday morning church service). But NBC should follow Fox broadcasting model for the Daytona 500-put the various… Read more »

Tom Firth

Your point on cost compared to viewing in America is valid, however cost to fans isn’t the only factor. What will happen in 2019 when F1 goes fully to Pay TV in the UK is at a conservative estimate, the loss of 3 million viewers from F1’s audience figures, per race. Multiply that effect across most the European heartlands of F1 and the effect is catastrophic.. it won’t be the small panic about the dip in ratings in recent years, it’ll be far worse, and when the sport already has the issue of an aging audience and less sponsor engagement.… Read more »