Mick Schumacher, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019

Is life better or worse for F1 media in the Liberty era?

Dieter's Inbox

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In a recent edition of his Paddock Diary @DieterRencken mentioned some of the ways in which the F1 media co-operate with each other, even when they could be considered rivals. That prompted the following question from Tristan:

I was surprised to hear you mention recently that you share stories with other language publications or more to the point that there is no conflict in being able to do so. What is the nature of the conflict between English publications? Is it purely from a page-view/reader/subscriber point of view? Or is there any value at all in being able to push narrative?

As an aside how do you feel the relationship is between the media and the current owners/management group of Formula 1? In the past there has been a general air of it being a bit of a ‘boys club’, do you feel this has changed much? From a complete outsiders’ perspective it feels as though there are more independent publications doing YouTube videos and the like that are making their own opportunities to report on F1, whether sanctioned or not.
Tristan

Press conference, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2019
Opportunities to talk to F1’s key players are limited
Tristan, you’ve raised topics that regularly ruffle feathers in the paddock. Here’s my take and let me stress, these are my personal opinions.

Every journalist in the paddock might wish to attend all the media sessions with drivers and team members on a given day. But it’s common for two or more interview opportunities clash. Recent changes to weekend formats including later starting times for sessions cut into interview opportunities, particularly as drivers and team personnel usually have evening commitments. (The mooted three-day race weekend will surely make matters worse.)

This is less of a problem for large media networks who can afford to send many journalists to each race. To provide a full service to our readers we strive to cover all interviews, and the only option is via reciprocal arrangements with non-competitor outlets (i.e. those not publishing in English). Such arrangements also offer cover in the event of travel delays, illness and so on.

There can be synergies within same language groups, such as news/technical outlets, but most outlets aim to be first with important breaking news – that is our philosophy – and thus we do not wish to rely upon direct competitors.

By co-operating with a number of foreign-language sites we all tick all boxes without conflict. The only other alternative would be to leave the F1 media to be dominated by a single outlet and/or F1’s (rather subjective, in my opinion) official website. I know what I’d rather read as a fan – which is, incidentally, why I elected to leave an increasingly dominant network and join this website at the beginning of last year

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As for your second question: I assure you I was never part of a ‘boys’ club’, which is why my pass was ‘felt’ more than a few times under previous regimes. As for the current owner of F1’s commercial rights, Liberty Media, it’s too early to judge precisely where the media stands. However I note with interest a growing number of our competitors’ contributors now also having their work published by the official F1 website. Make of that what you wish…

However, we should not ignore that the opening line on Liberty’s website states it: “owns interests in a broad range of media, communications and entertainment businesses” before referring to “tracking stocks”. Hence it is clear that the company wishes to make money out of F1 as an entertainment business through its media companies.

Ferrari front wing, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2019
There’s more to this Ferrari livery than some will tell you
Thus I wonder how long before Liberty views independent F1 news outlets to be in competition with its stated core business, particularly if they reveal uncomfortable truths or are ‘off message’. For an example of the latter, contrast how the same story was covered on the official F1 website and here. We believe our write-up gave readers a much more complete explanation of what was really happening and why, compared to which key details are missing from the officially-sanctioned coverage. This is an example of why we believe it is vital to maintain our independence.

Where Bernie Ecclestone saw the media as ‘free’ PR agents for his product, I am increasingly concerned that Liberty views independent outlets as a threat to both its control of F1, and associated revenues. Indeed, I fear for fans that Liberty’s end game may be the elimination of the independent media. All I’ll say is: Be careful what you accept as ‘fact’…

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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  • 9 comments on “Is life better or worse for F1 media in the Liberty era?”

    1. Nice question @skipgamer , and nice responses, Dieter.

    2. While I find the extra media stuff directly from FOM (like on the official f1 website, or youtube channel), and things like Mercedes post-race debrief videos often worth checking out, I certainly do not go there first for an independant on what’s happening in motorsport/F1 (and less and less to that certain dominant network you mention); very glad to pay to support racefans.net and other independent coverage, especially when it is of this level.

      I do have F1tv though, which is of course, part of the development @DieterRencken addresses. I like to have my stream directly from FOM, also bc. I now have a choice of UK SkyF1,Dutch Ziggo – eh, that’s already part of Liberty!, German RTL (and Spanish, French, if I’d want to) commentary – though I often used bbc5 live commentary via the f1 app – which makes sure it isn’t a monopoly view. No commercials is great, and I am less and less interested in any pre-show bla bla so don’t miss that much.

      But, it’s a natural development to get both more languages, and to have that coverage brought inside their control at some time, so they are not dependant on what other broadcasters do (or want in return). In principle, they could give those teams editorial independence, but I am not sure who’d make them do it. I do worry a bit about that. So, for the sport itself, and with more channels for it to bypass other media, it will be ever more important to have that independent view around.

    3. Unfortunately, I believe that you are right @RacingLines. Obtaining total control over everything certainly is a trend everywhere. One only needs to take a look at Amazon, which is on course to put just about every other company in the world (from independent coffee shop to global delivery services) out of business…and people love it, because it is (allegedly) more convenient.

    4. Neil (@neilosjames)
      20th June 2019, 13:10

      Hope you, and people like you, continue providing independent coverage for many years to come.

      I do the ‘F1 Fan Voice’ surveys and a little while ago there was a survey about F1 media. Thought it was amusing that the official F1 website was even an option for questions about where I go for breaking news, in-depth stories, etc.

      1. @neilosjames: Hope you reported autosport and kept racefans off the Liberty radar. ;-)

    5. Independent journalism is so important.

      Ironic for me the internet I use to read this is provided by Liberty. Hope they don’t block the website!

    6. This example about Mission Winnow is indeed very worrying though really not unexpected from an official PR statement.

      I for one think that sites like motorsport.com are far more dangerous on the long term than F1.com. I mean, it’s no secret that it’s McLaren running the business so how long before subtile agenda moves if it hasn’t already happened?

      Long live the independent media!

    7. DIeter, I get where you are coming from, but I think Liberty is really looking at the NFL model for F1. Jon Gruden once made a joke about non-NFL reporters being out of a job. It didn’t happen. ESPN and multiple other media outlets still cover the NFL.

      One can also see the NFL model in what Liberty is trying to achieve with the rules. By making it more competitive, engaging and hopefully profitable, the teams might actually be worth something. F1 teams need only look at the Carolina Panthers recent sale price of $2.3 billion from an original $200 million purchase price.

    8. This article has a very high “tin foil hat” vibe.

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