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Maffei admits F1 may "never" have as many online viewers as rival sports

NEWS STORY
12/03/2019

With Liberty Media coming from a broadcasting background, as do two of its main players in terms of running the sport, Chase Carey and Sean Bratches, having purchased F1 much emphasis was put on how the sport would be revolutionised in terms of its OTT streaming service which would delight fans and contribute greatly to the coffers.

Introduced last year F1 TV Pro, which streams races directly to viewers for an annual fee, received a largely negative reaction due to the service being riddled with various issues leading to refunds having to be issued and Chase Carey subsequently having to admit that the service would not be launched properly until this year.

At a time many are predicting more issues this year, and a lack of uptake for the service, speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet & Telecom Conference, Liberty's chief executive Greg Maffei admitted that F1 TV is never likely to attract the same sort of user numbers as rival sports due to its lack of original content.

By original content he means that whereas there are hundreds and thousands of football matches every year, and countless other sports, F1 can only offer 21 races.

"One of the challenges with having 21 races available in linear form on a lot of platforms is that it is hard to find a lot of content that is differentiated, unique and special only for that OTT product," he said.

"People who have done a great job, like WWE, have a huge amount of content which isn't available on a linear feed so you have more tonnage to put on the Over The Top product," he added.

"We are never going to have that breadth so that inherently limits some of our upside. I do think there are important revenue streams and important ancillary benefits we can get out of our OTT product but it is probably never going to be as big as some people who have much more tonnage and differentiated unique content."

Indeed, according to Forbes, last month WWE announced that subscribers to its OTT service had increased by 7% to approximately 1.6 million in 2018.

Which begs the question, if F1 "never" - to use Maffei's term - never reaches these kind of numbers it must raise questions over the previous forecasts in terms of how much revenue F1 TV Pro would drive.

Last year, Frank Arthofer, F1's global head of digital, media and licensing, last year claimed: "We're optimistic that the opportunity size is significant".

"We have by our estimates around 500 million fans in the world, which is quite a number," he added. "If even, conservatively, one percent of that customer base is a super avid hardcore fan, that's a five million addressable audience to sell this product to."

Well, if F1 is "never" going to reach the likes of WWE's 1.6 million subscribers, where exactly does Arthofer's "conservative, one percent" of 5 million fit in?

After all, let's not forget that in January last year, Morgan Stanley forecast that F1 TV Pro would get just 10,000 subscriptions in the United States in 2018 and 94,000 elsewhere.

Looking ahead, it claimed that by 2027 there would be 227,000 subscribers in the US and 1.7 million internationally.

Looking on the bright side, weeks after the sport reported a £55.1m ($68m) loss in 2018, Maffei believes the sport could benefit from the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Apple broadcasting races.

"What is really going to drive broadcast revenue is making more competition on the track and seeing more competition among bidders," he said. "And that is largely likely to come from some of the digital players, the OTT players of the world, becoming bidders for the content on a global basis. I think that is quite likely and will be potentially quite beneficial to us."

His comments, of course, come at a time even non-F1 fans are talking about Netflix's F1 documentary, Driven to Win.

"You have seen (Amazon, Apple or Facebook) write big checks for scripted content," he enthused. "Obviously Yahoo and Amazon have both done experimentation with sports and I think you'll see more of that, particularly as scripted becomes more competitive.

"Sports is going to look more interesting as a differentiator, perhaps even less expensive than some of the scripted when you look at the cost per episode rising to 10 million bucks per hour for some of the programming. That's fairly rich."

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 13/03/2019 15:54

"It's no good - Google Translate was totally unable to recognise the language. All I know is that fewer and fewer viewers means less reason for companies to sponsor F1........."

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by Canuck, 13/03/2019 1:32

"How can they expect to sell F1 TV when it is trying to stop Free to Air TV. Here in Canada you can watch F1 TV on the day after the race, I wake up at all hours to watch it live on free to air TV. Why should I pay to watch it after I know the results? And get second rate coverage if I get even 2nd rate? F1 is not intended for the same viewing audience as WWE, so the comparison makes no sense. Moto GP makes more sense and Liberty should learn from them. The FIA should also learn from Moto GP."

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3. Posted by Rock Doc, 12/03/2019 17:14

"If you weren't worried about the future of F1 before, then comparing F1 to WWE which is entirely made up 'For the show' that truly blurs the term sport !!! That alone should be making all F1 Fans shudder."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

4. Posted by Greg, 12/03/2019 16:59

"@GarH. Yes there should be plenty of archival video available to Liberty. Maybe Liberty should watch some MotoGP and take notice of how it should be done."

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5. Posted by GarH, 12/03/2019 16:19

"I had to give up reading this gibberish. Is there a translation?

MotoGP has a similar number of races and their streaming seems to work okay, for a similar fee. They've got hours of archive footage available to their users, F1 should have much the same, but from what I hear FOM can't get it to work. Many F1 fans pay a lot for live timing, apparently the streaming is up to half a minute behind the timing. It's like watching a film with the speech out of sync.

LM are coming across as completely clueless."

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6. Posted by Greg, 12/03/2019 15:55

"A sinking ship. The OTT is still not working correctly, or unavailable where Sky as the coverage in place. When Liberty have a working product and can deliver globally maybe then they will get the subscribers."

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7. Posted by Malemoi, 12/03/2019 15:51

"What a load of cobblers. Never heard such utter drivel. Comparing F1 with WEE - well I never. The fact the it only offers 21 races a year makes it unique in itself as opposed to thousands of hours of footie. LISTEN THE FANS !!:("

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