This weekend could mark a milestone for Formula 1. It may not be for on-track action or records broken but it could come at the hands of the support racing series of GP2, GP3, or Porsche Supercup. According to the delightful James Allen, F1 Management and Tata Communications will deliver these support races via their fiber optic and satellite communications platform meaning over broadband.
It’s significant in that the pipe is big enough (has been for quite a while) to handle the amount of data a full broadcast would require. It’s significant because delivering the series via broadband will, perhaps, beget new ways of content distribution meaning direct-to-consumer.
The weekend is clearly a great test for the system prior to moving F1 to the broadband transmission method and while that seems harmless enough in this age what with Periscope, YouTube, Google Hangout and other streaming video service, it’s epic task for Tata and the engineering wonks that work there.
Broadcast encryption and negotiating QOS levels at each venue as well as devising serious redundancy systems is no easy task, trust me. Also, don’t miss the fact that it is a significant investment in infrastructure and broadband leases when you’re racing in far-flung locations around the world that may have slightly less than savory services—hence the satellite systems etc.
Point being, F1 is spending money on its delivery system that may very well be a precursor to what the F1 world says it wants—content delivery as a package delivered to any device they choose to consume it on at any time. Be warned, for those enjoying Sky Sports F1 commercial free, your days may be numbered with injected ads like we Americans endure every 10 minutes.
Can F1 get 10 million people to buy a package for $39/year? If so, that’s nearly $400 million dollars. If 500 million people watch F1 per year and you divide that by 20 races, it’s around 25 million per race…if my math(s) is correct. So if you could get half of those folks to buy a subscription, that’s big money.
That’s asking a lot if I’m honest. Fact is, you still have to keep the value of your broadcast packages for terrestrial TV and many people simply can’t afford that kind of investment when you think of the sport in a global and economic perspective. Also, the value of the content is a real issue.
Bernie Ecclestone has kept a tight lid on his video of past races and any YouTube video that shows up get a stern letter. I agree with him. F1’s video history is a massive asset and you can’t simply just lob it into the public domain or you lose a serious potential revenue source. So the broadcast has to be managed post event to ensure that it isn’t diluted more than it already is via torrents etc.
It’s all a big move but perhaps it is inevitable. F1 needs to be times relevant more than it needs to be road relevant and this is a good first step.
Hat Tip: James Allen