Formula 1 is upgrading their technology position in order to support the growing global demand for online access to the sport. Announced this past Thursday, the partnership between F1 and TATA Communications begins with hosting the Formula 1 website on their network. Receiving between four and seven million unique visitors a race weekend, the site's increasing media-centric content is causing demand for improved online speed from all corners of the globe.
With a blisteringly fast 1-Terabit per second network, the TATA communications infrastructure will fuel the future of media delivery for the sport while simultaneously saving money. Joe Saward brings up an excellent point in his commentary on this news, that this partnership may be motivated by lowering the costs of the broadcasting expense of the sport, while simultaneously extending the reach of the F1 and its advertising exposure. Currently, Formula 1 sends it's own broadcasting team to the races to cover the sport, including cameras and editing team. This complex, known as "Bakersville," was started by Bernie Ecclestone in the late '90s as a way to deliver the highest quality digital content directly from the track to broadcasting partners around the world. (Here's a great page from the history books, from inside Bakersville in 1999, also by Saward).
I am, as both a technophile and F1 fan, thrilled by the potential of this new partnership. Tremendous opportunity exists for F1 to delivery higher quality content and rival the best of American sports coverage. It was only this past year that F1 finally embraced high-definition content delivery to it's broadcasters, six years after NASCAR started HD broadcasting. Though the American F1 community mocks NASCAR for several reasons, NASCAR has F1 beat when it comes to American coverage and interaction.
Watching the (lack of) Daytona 500 yesterday, anyone who showed up on screen, driver or announcer, had their Twitter handle listed just below, along with a new hash tag created just to round up the discussion about the rain delay. This effort by NASCAR and FOX is a major step in the right direction for social media integration, and should be watched closely by Formula 1.
In terms of on the television, if you've watched a race on DIRECTV satellite service, the NASCAR HotPass is a great example of the diversity of programming that we really need. Viewers can choose in-car cameras from the top four drivers, watch the map of the track with car positions, and you can choose from team radio feeds to listen to as well. This might be a tough sell to much of the secretive aspects of the Formula 1 teams, but needless to say, NASCAR has got it right when it comes to fan-immersion.
Can internet TV bring that kind of experience to F1? It's not only possible, it's inevitable. Like the music industry struggled to grasp the power of internet distribution, Formula 1 has resisted the trend and is now finally embracing the potential with this new deal with TATA. Though spending a night on the sofa watching YouTube on your TV doesn't exactly sound like a great future for entertainment, the new ways to experience interactive and in-depth content is on it's way. Last night's Oscars brought exclusive camera views of the red carpet and backstage areas via online streaming on their site, and the Superbowl this year was broadcast online as well (albeit a frustrating first try on their part).
Having Twitter and live timing running on the laptop while watching SPEED's coverage of F1 is the norm for the hard core fans these days, but the one-way interaction with the sport is leaving lots to be desired. Where could this new partnership with TATA take Formula 1?
He's a list of what I'd like to see come of the new Formula 1 website:
- Choose a number of cameras, up to 8 for example, and pick their location and size myself
- Listen to pit wall radio feed for any team
- Listen to Race control (FIA) radio feed
- Watch driver's briefing before race
- Live timing built into the interface
- Twitter/Facebook chat with others (group chat with friends preferred)
- Full driver interviews afterwards
- All content stored for viewing later
- All 1080p HD, high bitrate codec preferred
It may be a lot to ask for the first try from Formula 1, but if all they provided was a copy of the feed from the track for a monthly fee, I'd be a happy camper for now. There's tremendous room to grow and a promising opportunity for the sport to engage media and the more connected fan base in the US. We are accustomed to a more connected lifestyle overall, so we expect a bit more than a singular show with limited interactivity.
If you want a taste of what's to come to your TV, I'd recommend you take a look at what Google is trying to do with GoogleTV. Built into your TV set or a stand-alone box, GoogleTV brings interactive environments to your living room with a developer platform that affords opportunity to engage rapid growth and entrepreneurial investment. MSNBC's app for GoogleTV is a great example of the kind of seamless interface and slick package that could be adopted with a dedicated Formula 1 application. Let's hope Bernie's got some tricks up his sleeve and we'll see something that fans across the world can access, in high quality, without costing an arm and a leg.