A catalyst for change?

Fernando Alonso’s testing and rookie orientation day in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 later this month has drawn attention from far and wide. His orientation day has also reignited the debate about whether there is value in covering testing live.

From the outset, the circumstances around Alonso’s IndyCar appearance are unique, in a situation unlikely to be repeated. A peak of around 72,000 devices watched Alonso’s orientation via YouTube, with the stream provided by the IndyCar Series consistently above 40,000 devices.

Furthermore, IndyCar streamed the event via Facebook to a reach of 800,000 users. Other forms of motor racing, such as Formula E, have struggled to break through live streaming barriers on YouTube. The numbers recorded for Alonso’s orientation are staggering, especially considering that this was a weekday event.

There is a great deal motor racing can learn from this, not just Formula 1 but also other forms of the sport. Watching cars drive around a track, essentially collecting data, for hours at a time may seem like a useless activity for much of the population to watch.

The actual process of testing doesn’t have the intensity. It is much more difficult to understand because different people are doing different things. Testing highlights are really interesting, live coverage of testing is really, really boring. – MotoGP journalist David Emmett speaking to me last year.

Dorna broadcasts MotoGP testing live from Valencia post-season and Sepang pre-season via their app, combining ‘as live’ footage with studio discussion. Sky Sports F1 aired Formula 1 testing live in 2013, although this was shoe-horned around the 3D gimmick that never went any further.

The argument against live testing is that the cost is too high and the expected audience is too low. Setting up a full camera crew at say Barcelona requires a lot more people than the Indianapolis oval. For Dorna, cameras are already in Valencia following their season finale a few days earlier, so it makes logistical sense to cover the post-season test in an in-depth format.

Alonso’s Indy 500 test is the first time that testing, in any form, has aired live via outlets such as YouTube and Facebook in this live and raw form. Firstly, I absolutely applaud IndyCar and those involved from McLaren through to NBC for making this happen. The stream today allowed new fans to appreciate the demands of oval racing.

Discussions between Alonso and his mechanics were broadcast, with an openness displayed throughout. In comparison, during Formula 1 testing, the prying media have no access to drivers’ conversations with mechanics. To broadcast F1 testing in the same way as Alonso’s IndyCar test would require a significant culture change for teams up and down the pit lane.

Imagine Lewis Hamilton testing new parts on his Mercedes, and then openly giving feedback on camera in front of his mechanics instead of behind closed doors, with microphones picking up his every word. Whilst fascinating to those watching, the information provided would also be golden to his rivals.

Broadcasting testing live via social media would help viewers and fans of the sport appreciate the intrinsic nature of testing. It may bring new fans to the sport, if they stumble across live testing and become captivated by the nature of it, in the same way fans were captivated by the stream today.

Whilst I do not want to see every minute of testing live (a few hours at most each afternoon would suffice), the extremely positive reaction to IndyCar’s live stream ahead of the Indianapolis 500 may serve as a catalyst for change. How Liberty Media can implement that into Formula 1 might need a little bit of persuading from a variety of parties…

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14 thoughts on “A catalyst for change?

  1. It does show that a change does need to happen with how people watch motorsport. Not sure if we’ll see live streaming in F1 in the next couple of years. If that were happen that will be great. It’s good that Indy Car did do this with Alonso’s test. Keep up the good work.

  2. ITV will try and get the F1 rights exclusively from 2019 to 2024 and stop Sky from showing it exclusively. It will happen for sure.

      • Is there anyway that this Sky exclusivity can be stopped? This ITV idea is madness. I would be pleased to see full length highlights of qualifying and race with 2 hours similar to Channel 4.

  3. Thanks David. This is one of the most useful and interesting posts to ever appear on this fascinating blog! Your hard work is duly noted 😉

    F1 media mostly still seems stuck in the Ecclestone-esque bubble, where F1 is all that matters. The attention to Alonso’s Indy drive suggests that approach is outdated, with potential to actually alienate some motorsport fans – especially in the valuable North American market.

    I don’t want to watch every minute of testing live. However ideally I’d like to choose the specific coverage that interests me, from a menu with a much more comprehensive selection than the sport currently provides.

    The judicious use of social media for this kind of extra content, makes a lot of sense as the vehicle to carry and promote such product. The best picture resolution can be saved for key events, preserving the inherent strong value of that content.

    I’m not surprised by Alonso’s obvious happiness in this footage … I’m guessing the fact he’s never driven the car before (as a potential problem) is dwarfed by the expectation that regardless, it will start the race without complications!

    I think Lewis would relish the opportunity to make public his communications with engineers, pit wall, team managers etc. He’s the only top driver to explicitly state he’s not frightened of racing as an equal team-mate, with anyone his team chooses to put in the other seat – irrespective of contractual stipulations.

    I doubt Vettel or Alonso (when at the height if their game, fighting for a title) would be so content to just say “bring it on!” to the general public.

    I see no reason why they should have any choice – F1 needs to open up the interesting minutiae to those fans keen to see whatever specialist area floats their proverbial boat, and which they will pay for in respect of well-produced added value content, via a variety of media.

    When Force India lost the engine cover last weekend, their rudimentary attempts to hide the exposed back end from prying eyes, looked outright silly. We know that F1 teams have far more sophisticated means of gathering information about competitors.

    The doom-laden screens of blankness commonly employed in Barcelona testing, to hide anything and everything from a relatively small audience – accomplish very little, apart from making the sport of F1 appear to have an unreasonably overbearing culture of unnecessary secrecy. Again that resonates with the Ecclestone era, but I’m pleased to see Liberty’s vision appears to put these things into perspective.

    I’m not so sure I buy Zak Brown’s veneer of happiness, regarding Alonso missing a marquee F1 event – but I’m glad there’s no sinister overlord preventing McLaren from distracting the public from their current F1 woes. At least the post-RD McLaren have found more creative solutions to hide their pitiful performance so far in 2018!

    I think Liberty realise they’re not just fighting a FTA vs PPV battle, but that a huge number of F1 fans are able to access the premium priced content for free, due to the absurd prices exclusive broadcasters such as Sky place on what is becoming a much less desirable product – as they fail to actually add value to the content they’ve paid so much to broadcast.

    Realising that the savvy F1 consumer only expects to pay for quality content, should inform the multi-platform and multi-media approach Liberty take in the future. Paying attention to younger fans without the same resources right now, but likely to acquire such moving forwards, is also key securing the future of F1 broadcasting – which inevitably will secure the long-term future of the sport!

  4. Maybe just maybe Channel 5 may show highlights of the Indy 500 with this close relationship they have with BT Sport with deals to show cricket and Premiership rugby

  5. You mention Formula E in the piece and say that it’s struggled to break through live streaming barriers. The fact remains that their livestream of the world feed on youtube is geo locked (as i’m sure any such F1 service would be too) and so unfortunately those of us in the UK are forced to watch the channel five coverage instead of the far superior world feed on youtube.

    • Apart from the studio presentation at the start and end the feed for the race is identical in both pictures and commentary

    • There’s plenty of decent VPNs that offer a free service, along with a choice of IP location if needed.

      It seems weird that a race series still struggling to establish itself, would bother putting up unnecessary barriers – when it should be inviting in every interested fan!

      I’ve not really watched a full race event yet, but am hoping to get around to it sooner rather than later.

      I’m assuming the TV stream options come complete with some introductions, explanations, analysis and other “added value” content, that won’t be on Youtube?

      It might be helpful if we had an article suggesting how newcomers to FE might choose the medium via which they watch a race event? What’s put me off so far is I know so little about it. In order to make watching a full live race worthwhile, it would be nice to know which sources provide the most comprehensive coverage for experienced motorsport fans, alongside information about adverts and other intrusions.

      For those watching via computer, it should be possible to combine judicious use of geo-specific VPNs, in order to watch coverage from more than one source – to provide the most comprehensive viewing experience.

  6. I think it should be noted as well.. Indycars test for everyone else at gateway the day before was streamed live on their YouTube channel (I don’t think there was commentary) likewise the preseason test at phoenix

  7. Will try and catch future Alonso tests leasing up to the Indy 500. The fascination of F1 fans catching up on oval racing on a non-F1 day was a big attraction – and the last time that an F1 champion raced in the sport (Mansell) there was no Youtube or Facebook to follow.

  8. INDYCAR has had cameras at the Speedway as a security measure in the wake of a fatal testing crash in 2003. Selected INDYCAR open tests are streamed, and all practices and qualifying, plus support races, that are not being broadcast on NBCSN or ESPN live are streamed. If there is a television broadcast, the radio broadcast is streamed (and listen to the quality of a radio commentator — at least one business news anchor says best to listen to a race is radio and observe the way they call the race from a tower with a notepad.)

    The streamed INDYCAR support races carry the INDYCAR radio broadcasters on commentary. Mark Jaynes, Jake Query, and others provide commentary. Also worth noting is during an INDYCAR race, the 2-3 pit commentators have 7-8 pit assignments and roam all pit boxes for notes. Often they will observe things happening on track from their perch. Each crew of three (reporter, cameraman, spotter) will observe anything, and if they note something in a pit box, they report it.

    And on another note, for INDYCAR, the ESPN broadcast network races will be the end of the line for pit reporter Jerry Punch (over 30 years in the part-time gig while he worked as the director of an emergency room in a Charlotte-area hospital) and presenter Allen Bestwick (over 25 years in motorsport commentary, including the last 11 at ESPN). Both have been released in the recent round of ESPN terminations as motorsport is not in the future of ESPN.

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