Is Formula E’s streaming partnership with YouTube the recipe for UK success?

Last week, it was announced that Formula E fans in the United Kingdom will be able to watch the action in the upcoming 2018-19 season via the championship’s YouTube channel, with every race being streamed live.

The first two seasons of the electric series aired live on free-to-air television on ITV4, whilst the series has more recently aired across Channel 5 and 5Spike. As the series heads into season five, a free-to-air deal remains up in the air, with only Eurosport on-board currently, although Formula E says further UK rights deals are upcoming.

As part of the rights agreements in place, the official YouTube stream of the race, consisting of the World Feed, was geo-blocked for the UK. The only way for the UK audience to watch was via the respective television partner.

Now, Formula E has turned back to YouTube to try to boost its UK profile. The picture on the television front for season five will become clear soon, and it will be fascinating to see where Formula E ends up.

As analysis of Formula E’s audience figures on this website has shown on numerous occasions, the championship has struggled to hook in the casual fan in the UK. There are many reasons why: little marketing from organisers, a lack of promotion, poor scheduling, and apathy towards the series from the wider public.

But what has happened has happened, you cannot turn the clock back. Instead, Formula E must now move forward, making the most of the opportunities presented to them, both on the traditional television platform, and over-the-top. The launch of their Gen2 car presents them with an opportune time to do that.

From a UK perspective, Formula E joins a variety of motor racing championships in the YouTube arena including the Blancpain GT Series, British GT, European Le Mans Series and the Euroformula Open to name just a few. Live streaming the World Feed output on YouTube is not innovative, however series organisers are going a step further to make it so.

Enter the term ‘influencer’.

Stepping into the unknown
The E-Prix itself will still feature commentary from Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti, but prior to each race ‘influencers’, such as KSI, will join presenter Laurence McKenna in the YouTube Space London studios. From a motor racing perspective, using ‘influencers’ during race coverage is innovative, and a step into the unknown for Formula E.

The stream will be UK-only to begin with, although Formula E hopes to open it out to other markets in the future. Other countries with access to Formula E’s YouTube stream will receive the World Feed only as in previous years.

“Working in tandem with some of the biggest names and influencers allows us to grow our existing audience, which is primarily a younger and more digitally-engaged demographic,” says Ali Russell, Formula E’s Media and Business Development Director. “This partnership truly fits their needs and viewing habits.”

So, what is an influencer, and how does it work on social media? Here, we use a very basic example. Influencer X has 10 million followers, and promotes product Y. The aspiration is that a percentage of influencer X’s followers start regularly engaging with product Y, boosting the profile of said product.

We have not seen influencers get involved with a motor racing series on Formula E’s scale before, meaning that it is difficult to say how much of an impact they will have on Formula E’s total audience. The new audience may come for the influencer, but whether they stick around for the E-Prix is another question.

It also depends on how the influencers promote Formula E across their own social media platforms. For example, KSI has 2.4 million likes on Facebook, 4.6 million followers on Twitter and 19.7 million subscribers on YouTube (whilst collating those statistics, I can see several people I know in my age bracket [26 to 30] are following him, so he is clearly of relevance to some).

There is a very big difference between KSI passively tweeting a reference to Formula E, compared to say, KSI doing a video blog about the championship and explaining why his audience should follow the series, or even doing a behind the scenes piece. The latter could genuinely be influencing, resulting in a successful partnership, the former would result in little gain.

Anyone can pretend to influence with the right mindset, but the execution is critical here to the Formula E’s success. What Formula E does not want is a high bounce, and that is people who click onto the live stream and quickly disappear before the race begins.

I am intrigued to see how this works in practicality. How will the pre-race build-up lead into the race without alienating those that are viewing for the first time? Formula E needs to strike the right balance to not alienate one group or the other.

I dare say, and I absolutely mean this with the greatest of respect to Nicholls and Franchitti because I thoroughly enjoy their commentary, but Formula E should consider having a commentary team specific to the YouTube stream. Nicholls and Franchitti will be talking to viewers worldwide, and might come across as detached to those watching the bespoke stream.

If an influencer is going to influence, surely the influencer needs to be present throughout the race itself as opposed to just the pre-race build-up? If you have tuned in to watch the influencer, going ‘cold’ from the YouTube Studio into the World Feed could be the jump-off point for the non-motor racing watchers.

If done right, however, the rewards could be huge for the championship to break through and attract a new fan to motor sport…

BBC Red Button a possible home for Formula E
During the Valencia test, e-racing365 reported that the BBC could broadcast races via its Red Button service for season five. One assumes that would also cover the BBC Sport website.

The BBC deal is currently unconfirmed, but if it comes off, it means Formula E will not be on a traditional television channel in the free-to-air space at all. Nevertheless, being live on the BBC Sport website would offer the series significant exposure.

Again, it feels like Formula E has exhausted all avenues on the television front, and that going behind the BBC’s Red Button is one of the last free-to-air options available to the series, alongside YouTube.

If the BBC deal comes off, it means that the YouTube broadcast could have far more flexibility, with Formula E in the knowledge that the sports fans could tune into the championship via the BBC website.

I am interested to see how many people view Formula E live in the UK via their YouTube channel. Some of the streaming figures for motor racing events on YouTube have historically been very poor, with only the dedicated fan of that series sourcing it out.

You are more likely to stumble upon something via a TV set than via a YouTube live stream. You are unlikely to channel hop to Formula E’s YouTube channel, which is why the influencer aspect of the YouTube deal is important.

Season five is a step into the unknown for Formula E, and as the young kid on the block still, it is exactly the kind of series that should be trying things like this.

After all, trying something new is better than not trying at all, and for that I commend Formula E for going down the ‘influencer’ route.

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9 thoughts on “Is Formula E’s streaming partnership with YouTube the recipe for UK success?

  1. BBC Red Button is on a std TV channel on Freeview – Ch 601 – it’s just a long way from the rest of the TV channels

  2. As long as the youtube video’s they post after the race dont contain spoilers then sounds good to me. 1080p live and on demand via youtube with rewind to beginning. Sounds like a good viewing experience to me.

  3. Having the races on a BBC service, even if it’s red button, will bring some commensurate promotion during other BBC Sport programmes, and probably also trailers / promos for the programmes (and the red button icon appearing during the shows) — good ways to capture some otherwise passive viewers.

    If they can pull off a hybrid BBC Red Button & YouTube stream, for the casual fan and the hardware fanatic, that could be great. Perhaps it even defines a gateway model for future coverage of other series…

  4. Surely by hiring these so-called ‘influencers’, FE have once again decided that ‘any publicity is good publicity’. I hope they have a fallback plan if this ‘influencers’ idea fails. I agree that bringing in their followers is the easy bit – convincing them (or anyone else) that FE is worthy of ‘appointment viewing’ is the real challenge.

  5. The only thing i can say to FE and their influencer efforts is “good luck.” Influencer marketing is probably the biggest bubble in the marketing industry right now. It’s a bubble because the sums of money influencers earn far exceed the actual influence they have.

    To influence something, an influencer has to be… y’know, influential. I’m talking Beyonce level here. If Beyonce says she’s watching FE this weekend then there’s a pretty good chance that millions will follow. That’s not because she’s an influencer, but because she has influence. Ironically, if an influencer is paid to talk about FE, that’s not influence. That’s advertising. In the same way nobody believes a celebrity believes they love the shampoo or yoghurt they advertise on TV; nobody will believe an influencer loves FE because they’ve been paid to say it. IMHO because of fraud, fake followers, lack of disclosure (#ad), dodgy metrics and more; the party is about to be very much over for influencers.

    As for the coverage itself, the picture might be rosier there but it isn’t without its challenges. First of all, unlike broadcast TV (where there’s the possibility for serendipity,) streaming on Youtube requires a viewer to know about something to go and watch it live. It seems to me that the problem for FE right now isn’t that people can’t access the coverage. It’s that they’d rather watch F1 or the Premier League or something else. That’s a problem that you can only solve with mass awareness about the sport, which means advertising via outdoor, TV and print.

    FE might want to dress this up as an innovative, digitally driven, youth oriented strategy. But if they want to have any hope of challenging other sports (let alone F1) then they need a mass audience to switch to them. I don’t believe that this strategy will solve that fundamental problem, and in fact it might have the opposite effect.

  6. I think it is a real shame where Formula E has ended up. The organisers should have spent MUCH more money to get it a good spot on TV and lots of cross publicity in the other Formulas to get people watching. My problem, right from the start, is that I never had a clue when or even where it was on. They need to do something like 10 races a season too – it seems there are about four at the moment? Too few.

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