Are FOM taking the first steps to create their own “F1 Network”?

The third and final challenge in the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize was announced by Formula One Management and Tata Communications earlier this week, and it is one which is of significant interest to this writer. FOM are, and I quote from here, “looking for suggestions to encourage F1 fans to provide audio and text commentaries of the FOM archive via the internet so that the content is indexed to allow it to be used in new and exciting ways.”

New and exciting ways. Via the internet. Terms that you do not normally hear FOM say, after all, they only made their Twitter feed engaging a little less than two months ago. In the title of this piece, I use the term ‘F1 Network’, which is deliberate. Alongside being a Formula 1 fan, I am also a fan of professional wrestling. Which brings me onto the WWE Network. The network, dubbed as ‘over the top’, is available on a multitude of devices from the traditional desktop PC, through to the iPad and onto the Xbox One. It currently runs a linear schedule, but shows are also available for fans to watch On Demand. As of writing, not everything is available on the network. In fact, WWE are barely scraping the surface as to what is currently available, however new material is being released on an ad-hoc basis. The monthly price for the network is, yep… $9.99.

The challenge description claims that FOM has around 60,000 hours of footage dating back to 1981. In that time period, up until the end of 2013, there have been 555 races. That works out at an average of 131 hours of footage per race weekend stored in FOM’s archive. That is huge. To put it another way, it would take you seven years, without stopping, to watch the entire archive. In comparison though, the WWE’s archive holds around 150,000 hours of footage, although admittedly that does contain material from a lot of defunct wrestling organisations. Around a quarter of their archive is digitalised.

> Formula1.com article
> Tata Communications article
> Challenge 3 brief

Of course, it is worth noting that the WWE Network has not yet been launched in the UK, and could still launch here as a normal cable channel, like in Canada, which is basically a kick in the balls to the fans as that is just like what Sky Sports F1 is now. Sky Sports F1 is not an F1 Network. It is controlled BSkyB, who do not produce content 24/7 for the channel. An actual F1 Network, in the form of the US WWE Network, would be controlled 100 percent by FOM. Any F1 Network would need good grace from multiple providers, including Sky. FOM can not just launch an F1 Network online, the clause concerning online would have to be removed from every broadcasting contract, otherwise the network would be geo-blocked and Sky would kick up a huge fuss.

The brief says that “we need you to suggest how fans can be engaged to provide commentaries to the footage, and how these commentaries can then be converted into text form to provide a keyword index for easy searching and referencing. Once indexed, the footage archive can be used in many new and exciting ways, such as on-demand services. None of this is possible without the content being indexed in the first instance.” I would hope that any successful submission will involve some form of staggered approach. Does all of the archive need to be indexed before content can be rolled out? No. As I mentioned above, the WWE Network currently scrapes the surface and had WWE waited until all of their content was digitalised, we would be sitting here for many more years until that happens.

The quoted brief confuses me too, because it implies that the footage we hear will be fan commentary rather than the original commentary. Can I ask: who would listen to that? I’d like to hear the commentary in its original form, not dubbed commentary or anything of the like. I hope I have misread that, because fan-based commentary does not interest me in the slightest. Why can’t the original commentary be indexed? Most YouTube videos contain transcriptions, which is an automatic process with presumably little human intervention, surely something of this nature would be much more efficient than providing new commentary?

In terms of roll out, you could roll out ‘a season a year’ to the consumer with extra supplementary material surrounding that season, alongside any additional live streaming that may be considered. That might not sound like a lot for $9.99 per month, however the lifespan of the network would be increased, which is good for FOM in the long run. Release too much material at once, and you shorten the lifespan. The release of material needs to be logical for the network to be successful. Re-watching the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix probably wouldn’t do much for me as it was recent, but watching the 1989 Italian Grand Prix on the other hand having seen the previous races that year would be fascinating.

The pessimist in me believes that we will not get a F1 Network for at least another two or three years, due to a variety of reasons that go beyond the status of current broadcasting contracts. Either way, it will be very interesting to see what the winning solution is for this challenge, and what time scales are involved.

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5 thoughts on “Are FOM taking the first steps to create their own “F1 Network”?

  1. I cant believe FOM have dragged their heels for so long over stuff… Ok think about this… We didn’t get widescreen untill 2007… HD in 2011… Heck we didn’t even have stereo sound on every race untill 2006!!!. I just think they’ll take forever over this… And I don’t believe that they can have so many hours of footage per weekend… It’ll be a bit disjointed particularly with race weekends pre 1995. Some TV crews didn’t even bother filming qualifying particularly in the 80s. So it will be interesting to see what they have in that department

  2. The reason we didn’t get widescreen until 2007 was because it was only then that FOM started filming the majority of the races themselves. Previously the host broadcasters of certain countries refused to produce a widescreen feed, and FOM didn’t want the world feed to switch between 4:3 and 16:9 depending on what the local broadcaster was filming in. The reason FOM didn’t go to HD until 2011 was because it was only then that the majority of broadcasters said they would transmit the feed in HD to their viewers.

    They have plenty of hours of footage from each weekend because their contracts state that anyone professionally filming within the circuit during a grand prix weekend must hand over copies of their footage over to FOM. This includes all the broadcasters such as BBC, Sky, NBC etc. Also the footage that FOM produce doesn’t include the final transmitted & mixed feeds, it includes raw footage from every single camera FOM send to the event, as well as onboard cameras etc.

    What I believe FOM should do is give us as much material for classic races as possible. For example from 1994, FOM produced a seperate onboard mix for each race, which the local directors would cut into on the world feed whenever they wanted to, so it would be great if FOM could provide that (as well as the timing feeds they produced) synced up to the World Feed footage. Additionaly It would be great if FOM could include little heard English commentary other than the BBC TV or ITV, such as Radio 5 Live & ESPN etc. So you could have a choice of 3 or 4 English commentary tracks for example, all synced up to the world feed.

    • Yeah I remember those days vividly… I also remember how bad some of the local tv coverage was… Germany Hungary Belgium Britain for example would do a great job providing the pictures… Italy and Spain would always be terrible in both technical quality and tv direction. Major geek comment coming up… France mostly had just one stereo microphone on the start and finish straight that gave no effect except slightly amplifying the car sound for the few seconds at a time that it was switched on. Glad we’ve moved on from those days.

      • Oh and not to mention that local broadcasters were too proud to give up the privalige of hosting the pictures untill 2007… I recall bernie wanted to change that in 2002… But couldn’t get the local broadcasters to agree

  3. Also, when they say “Fan commentary”, i think they’re just referring to a textual description or commentary submitted by the fan, which will then be indexed automatically for keywords etc. I don’t think they mean a literal audio commentary. But who knows.

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