Formula One set to hit the road with OTT effort
Formula One is set to launch its over-the-top product this week ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, marking the biggest move to date in the racing series’ efforts to revamp its digital business.
F1 TV’s debut was delayed earlier in the season, as F1’s digital group worked to perfect it. Frank Arthofer, F1’s global head of digital and new business, dismissed critics’ contention that the product should have been ready for the start of the season in late March, saying it was most important to have the product fully ready and professional before its launch.
F1 TV is launching only for computers but will soon be available on mobile and TV apps. The product will have two tiers: The premium F1 TV Pro, which will show live races and cost $70 to $150 annually, or $8 to $12 monthly, depending on locations; and a non-live tier called F1 TV Access that will cost $20 to $25 annually, or $2 to $3 per month. To start, F1 TV will be available in more than 50 countries and territories. F1 is producing the product with Tata Communications, NBC’s Playmaker, iStream Planet, CSG and Ostmodern.
In the U.S., F1’s OTT product could compete against ESPN — which picked up F1 media rights this year from NBC Sports — because F1 TV Pro will also show live races for the entire season, all 20 driver cameras, plus additional exclusive feeds.
As of late last week, F1 was scheduled to start taking payments for subscriptions to the OTT product. Arthofer declined to disclose subscription estimates or registration totals. But in an interview with Motorsport.com in March, he gave a range of 5 million as a potential high-water mark, which would represent 1 percent of the 500 million fans F1 claims worldwide.
Liberty Media bought F1 for $8 billion at the end of 2016 and took over in 2017. The new ownership brought Arthofer on board in June of last year to build out its digital business. He mapped out a three- to five-year plan to increase the sport’s social and digital media footprint.
Arthofer said that when he joined F1, its digital group “was like a $6 to $7 million startup with very little infrastructure in all ways.”
Another digital effort that will debut this week is a new show that F1 will air exclusively on Twitter following races. “F1 Live Show” will be hosted by F1 personality and journalist Will Buxton and feature exclusive access to F1 drivers and executives, plus a panel that will feature the likes of 2016 F1 champion and now retired racer Nico Rosberg.
Arthofer cited F1 data showing that it had a 60 to 70 percent growth rate in social media following last year, and added that the series is on track for similar numbers this year. F1 has 5.6 million Facebook followers, 4.2 million Instagram followers and 3.6 million Twitter followers. It also has a deal with Snapchat around content.
The series has a major esports initiative underway, and it has already unveiled one new esports-specific sponsor in DHL, which is also an overall F1 sponsor. Arthofer said he has two more partners he’s about to unveil.
Arthofer declined to disclose revenue growth figures but said his group focused this first year on building up its following and will now start to look more toward monetization. He mentioned selling traditional advertising, branded content and earning revenue from licensing — like the Twitter deal — as ways F1 will grow its digital revenue.
“It’s a 10-year game; we’re not in the short-term game on OTT,” Arthofer said. “For us, it’s about providing a deeper and better experience for the hardcore fans, doing it in a cost-effective way and making sure that both the product we launch with is of high quality and represents our brand, and that we have a sophisticated plan to make it better.”