A significant step was announced today in the development of the way live TV pictures are distributed globally from F1 circuits with the news that F1 Management has appointed Tata Communications to carry the live signal for the GP2, GP3 and Porsche Supercup racing series, which support the Formula 1 calendar at 12 rounds.
In practical terms this means that they will supply the signal to broadcasters around the world via fibre optic and satellite, starting in Spain this weekend. Why is it significant? Because, although neither side is saying it, this is clearly a trial run for both F1 Management and Tata with a view to one day transmitting F1 Grands Prix this way. One imagines that if the transmission of the support packages goes smoothly, a migration of the F1 signal to this platform will not be too far behind.
F1 mass market broadcast really expanded in the late 1970s and was built on the rise of satellite transmission of live TV pictures. This step towards fibre, installing fixed line connectivity at each race track and sending data and TV signals using a fibre-optic ring around the world has opened up more possibilities in a digital age for internet expansion, two way ‘conversations’ between users and the race track and a host of other ideas, not yet dreamed of.
FOM’s then head of TV operations Eddie Baker described the deal with Tata (a sponsor of JA on F1.com) in 2012 as,
“It’s the most significant moment for F1 since the advent of satellites.”
F1’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has famously been suspicious of the internet, but seems to have relented in the past 12 months and has allowed FOM to open up a You Tube channel and to distribute some video material via that and other social channels, as well as an Official F1 app. A revised F1.com website has also expanded video capability, but it is still some way off sites like MotoGP, which have streaming.
An example of what it might look like is NBA Pass, which gives users access to any game they want to watch live on all their devices including mobile for under $100 a season. There is even an application for it on Apple TV.
Everyone knows that the future lies in distribution direct to the end user at some point in the future for F1, it’s a question of how long it takes them to get there; for the moment the priority is protecting the value of the TV rights sold to the broadcasters like SKY, BBC and other rights holders.
Speaking in 2012, Baker pointed out that the Tata deal opened the door to endless possibilities,
“It gives him (Ecclestone) the ability to be able to do whatever rights deals he feels are right without limitations,” he said. “That means he can assess every opportunity, he can react to every opportunity, he can move with the times in perhaps a way that we were not able to do in the past.”
Today’s announcement shows that, three years on, the steps along that pathway are arguably increasing in pace, which is quite exciting for F1 fans. However, they will, of course, be wary of the cost to them of this process. Free to air TV coverage of F1 is an increasingly rare commodity around the world, as it is with football and it’s rare now to find a FTA channel with all 19 F1 rounds showed live. Many countries have adopted the shared model of all races and practice sessions live behind a paywall, like SKY’s offering, with half the races live and the rest highlights on a Free to Air station, such as BBC in the UK or RAI in Italy.
According to Tata Communications’ CEO Vinod Kumar, “Each Formula 1 race demands a range of connected services similar to that of a small city. By consolidating fixed line connectivity needs with Tata Communications, Formula One Management will be able to take the greatest possible advantage of that infrastructure and tap into the versatility, on and off-site support and existing knowledge and experience of our platform and our team