“This is the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like a driver, I suspect” joked Formula One’s director of digital Frank Arthofer when he addressed media including RaceFans after the new F1 TV service was announced.
The official live Formula One streaming service is due to arrive in time for the first race of the 2018 F1 season. Here’s how the new service was presented to the media and Arthofer’s answers to all their questions on F1 TV.
At a very high level the product that we’re launching is Formula One’s first live video service, direct to consumers available online. It will come in two packages.
F1 TV Pro, which will be the marquee premium product, available in about 40 countries at launch and will include for the first time ever live Formula One races available without a cable subscription or free-to-air. That package will have 24 feeds, so it will have the world feed available in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish. It will have 20 onboard cameras all available on a live bases and then three additional feeds, one of which will likely be a data channel, and the other two are still in development. So actually it’s a bit groundbreaking from a sports perspective in that for the first time ever one individual sport will be streaming 24 different feeds from the same event on a live, simultaneous basis.
The second package will be F1 TV access which is our lower tier service. This will be available on a near-global basis, will include race replays, archive content as well as some of the existing F1 Access products around the data channel and live radio streaming.
The Pro product will be available for between $8-12 per month, or $100 per year. That will be converted into the relevant currencies. The Access product will be $2-3 per month, around $20 per year. And we’re in the process of beta trialling it now with the goal to launch for Australia on March 22nd.
I would say the really big points for us are a couple-fold. Firstly this is about delivering a great experience to fans and really enhancing the way we enable our fans to experience Formula One. And I’d say secondly the two core demographics for this product are going to be the following:
Firstly it’s fans who don’t have cable but who are Formula One fans in a given market where it’s available on a pay-TV basis and they’d like to subscribe directly.
And the second demographic is the super-hardcore fans. We have by our estimates around 500 million Formula One fans in the world, about 5% percent of the world’s population, which is quite a number. If even conservatively 1% of that customer base is a super-avid hardcore fan, that’s 5 million addressable audience to sell this product to who would potentially be willing to pay the incremental fee for what is really the best way to watch Formula One in the market.
What will be the reaction of companies that have paid to broadcast in these countries?
Firstly in the markets where we’ve carved these rights out we’ve done so with full transparency and the context of our contract agreements. So it won’t be a surprise to any of our partners and it’s something that’s increasingly common as the media landscape evolves for partners to have linear TV distribution partners as well as digital distribution partners.
Secondly in the markets where we haven’t carved the rights out, like the UK as an example, we’re very open to working with our partners to consider a path to up-selling this product to our broadcast partners’ customer base.
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There are going to be users in territories that don’t have access rights who want this, so what kind of security are you doing to prevent VPN access or geo-block these regions?
The short answer is we’re working with our technology partners who are yet to be named, with the exception of Tata who will be part of the product, to put in place best-in-class content security and protection. That’s always been, I’d say, a fairly conservative position we’ve taken from a Formula One perspective.
Put another way, we’ve been aggressive in protecting our IP and will continue to do so on this service.
You’ve just suggested that five million users is your target…
I wish that the total address-able potential base would all subscribe. I think that’s probably a big number in the short-term. It’s more of a framing on a global basis if you take a small percentage of our core fanbase and say they’re super-avid that would be the near-term address-able number of those who might consider it. I’m not sure we’ll convert all of those folks in the first year or two. That’s a marketing and a product challenge that we’ll be addressing.
But we’re optimistic that the opportunity size is significant. [But] not at the moment putting numbers against how many customers we expect to deliver.
Given the potential value is there a lot of pressure to roll it out to other territories?
I think the biggest pressure on us is not a fiscal one at this stage. It’s about delivering a great product and a stable technical experience for fans. That’s why when we launch in Australia we’ll launch on desktop only for the first race to make sure we get that right. And then move thereafter onto launching mobile apps and move thereafter to launching connected TV devices.
We just really want to make sure that when we break new ground here with 24 simultaneous streams from the track, that we do it on a way that’s a good, solid customer experience and then we continue to build and iterate on top of that. We really believe in that process.
Are you looking at taking customers away from existing free-to-air subscribers? If you are, how will you compensate existing contracts given that you’ve got 40 territories.
I think the short answer, it’s true on social and it’s true on digital, the more time people spend with Formula One the better it is for all stakeholders in Formula One. We have conversations on a regular basis, and we do it today, about other sports and the value they’ve seen of putting live clips available during a race on social media platforms which actually drives TV audiences opposed to [taking] away from it.
It’s funny, old-school way to think about it to presume you wouldn’t necessarily be able to deliver an audience from digital to TV but it actually has that effect. So I think from our perspective this service gives fans a chance to engage more deeply with the sport and that’s a win for all of the stakeholders around it: Sponsors, broadcast partners and the teams in Formula One itself.
Will you be competing against rights-holders?
Competition’s a funny word. As I said, when we get folks to come to Formula1.com, for example, I’m not sure were competing with skysports.com. We’re delivering a service to fans and we’re trying to build an indispensable platform in their journey with the sport. But I wouldn’t say we sit around saying ‘how do we beat Skysports.com in terms of total traffic?’
So I think it’s similar in that context. As it relates to markets Luca [Colajanni] will distribute a full list of the 40 countries. The big ones are we’ll be in all of [Latin America], less Brazil, for the most part. Some of the smaller markets we’re not prepared to take consumer dollars so we won’t be in those markets, and that includes Mexico. We’ll be in the US, Germany, France, Turkey, Belgium, Hungary, Poland as well as a few others.
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There seems to be no [Scandinavian] countries?
That’s just a product of the timing of our broadcast deals. Long-term there’s a number of different models where we could go to market with this product in the Scandinavian countries. But that’s probably something that will evolve and take shape over the next few years instead of in the immediate term.
Have you already appointed the commentators?
We’ll be largely working with our broadcast partners’ commentary in those language. The English language feed will be Sky’s UK feed. French will be Canal Plus as of now, that’s provisional though.
What will it cost the customer in terms of data?
Firstly with live sports the vast majority of the viewing occurs in the home, so through your broadband connection as opposed to mobile. On a secondary basis I think two things. What you typically find id customers who are streaming high-quality HD video are fairly price-insensitive. The growth of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime underscore that point. But equally, in time, we are very open to working with mobile partners to offer a product proposition that makes complete sense for fans and is cost-effective at every level of the chain.
Is the intent of this replace traditional broadcaster model of how you gain income for the sport? For example the UK Sky deal is in place until 2024, this would replace the broadcaster model you have at the moment?
Very much not the case. We have 100 million or so viewers for an average race. I just said that a percentage of five million would be the target from a subscriber base point of view in the near term in terms of address-able markets. Clearly I think there’s a role for both products.
This is what I would call the very ‘superfan’ product. But there will always be customer who free-to-air and cable TV is a great and cost-value proposition, very effective service. This isn’t about replacing that, it’s about delivering the really hardcore fans a better service than is currently available in the market.
You’re using Sky’s commentary, does that mean there are revenue implications for Sky?
We have broader partnership agreements with Sky that we don’t discuss in a public forum. But we have worked through the relationship with Sky such that we have the rights to make their commentary available.
Since 2008 Formula 1 audience has shrunk by a third, more or less. Can streaming reverse this and attract new fans? And what will be the advertising scheme for the stream?
I think digital, more broadly, is a huge lever to drive fans. The example I used of clips from the race live during social media I think actually drives fans and ultimately viewership.
But more broadly everything we’re doing from investing in our social media channels which have grown 70% year over year to building this F1 TV service to relaunched F1.com and the app at some point in 2018 are very much with the goal of not just growing fanbase but deepening our engagement with our current fans. And that’s pretty much the mandate. Success will be measured on that criteria firstly and foremost. Did I answer both your questions?
There will be no advertising on the service at launch.
Go ad-free for just £1 per month
What kind of historical content will be accessible?
For context, this type of service typically take about 18 months to build and we’ve done it in six which is quite a feat from the team who’s worked on it and we have a number of partners involved including out partner Tata.
As it relates to archive the goal is to have a handful of races, both on a full and highlight basis, available at launch. Going back to 1981, so 36 years. And a lot of that content has never been really seen or released, it’s been sitting in our production studio at Biggin Hill and we’re doing our best to make it available to fans. I personally think it’s a really great asset and something that, regardless of whether fans will pay for it, it will surprise and delight them once they sign up for the service.
In the US you’ve got a new broadcast partner. Is that a test bed for how the marriage works between OTT and broadcast partners?
I think that’s a fair assessment. The NBA has its NBA League Pass product which is its OTT product with live games from every game, not just nationally broadcast games, available in almost every country in the world. While this is new to Formula One, this is not new to the world of sport. I think there are a number of existing test cases out there that serve as a relevant example for us. But I think the US is a good market for us to explore and learn how successful we’ll be there.
What are your plans in Germany? Will you have your own commentators and presentation.
No, we’re working with you [the question came from an RTL journalist]. Thank you!
Will there be Chromecast or other casting compatibility?
Over the first two or months after launch you’ll see a number of features and enhancements added including additional platforms like mobile apps and TV apps. Chromecast and AirPlay will be part of the roadmap for the first… I’d say two months is a fairly appropriate estimation.
Going back to VPN, how motivated are you really to address that…
…because if an English guy wants to pretend he’s in America he’s still going to be paying 100 dollars…
We want to protect our broadcast partners. It’s very important to us.
What’s the end game?
Serve the fan. Commercially we’re a substantial business, public traded now at around a $2 billion revenue. Everything we’re doing here related to serving the fan. Obviously I think we’ll deliver incremental value in the long-term to the business. But we’re not sitting around looking at a specific target where we say ‘yes, that’s successful’ and if we miss that ‘no, we’ve been unsuccessful’.
The world of online streaming is evolving so quickly that building a great product that’s very stable is a win. We like looking at Reddit and seeing what our fans say and making adjustments based on the feedback that they give us. This is not lip-service, it’s truly about delivering a great product for the fans this year.
What has been the teams’ reactions to this service? And we’ve heard some rumours about Netflix providing some off-track content.
I think there’s a lot of off-track content that’s going to be incremental over the next few years. We’re working better than ever with the teams to build a smart content strategy. This is an obvious win for teams. Certainly they share in the financial benefit. Equally this is the first time, if you’re a Mercedes fan, you have the chance to watch Lewis [Hamilton’s] on-car cam for the entire race. That’s a pretty compelling proposition for a Lewis fan or a Mercedes fan.
I think the teams have generally positioned themselves as our partner in this and will help us market the service and sell it into their fans as well.
You announced four languages, what about the others?
It’s one of the beautiful challenges and opportunities of our sport in that we’re truly global. The NBA is also truly global and League Pass is only available in two languages, maybe three. Our goal in time is to serve fans of all nationalities and languages. We don’t have a road map for when that will occur. There’s a return on investment case to be made here. Those four languages are probably the most scaled in terms of the fanbases that overlap with the countries we’ll be in at launch. If we’re in China at some point in the future you’ll be more likely to see it in Chinese.
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