• Brian Wong, WSR Demoted to 12th in Chaotic NASCAR Truck Series Return
    Brian Wong, WSR Demoted to 12th in Chaotic NASCAR Truck Series Return Check out the action from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
  • Strong ARCA Run for Brian Wong
    Strong ARCA Run for Brian Wong WSR heads to Chevrolet Silverado 250
  • Brian Wong and WSR Return to ARCA at the Road America 100
    Brian Wong and WSR Return to ARCA at the Road America 100 Check out the Action Sunday August 27th
  • MDM Motorsports Partners with WSR for NCWTS/ARCA Road Races
    MDM Motorsports Partners with WSR for NCWTS/ARCA Road Races Plans announced for NASCAR Crafstman Truck Series and ARCA
  • Strong Day, Tough Finish at Sonoma
    Strong Day, Tough Finish at Sonoma Check out the action from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
  • Brian Wong Returns to NASCAR
    Brian Wong Returns to NASCAR WSR and Brian Wong return to NASCAR competition at Sonoma
  • Brian Wong Impresses at Red Bull Global Rallycross
    Brian Wong Impresses at Red Bull Global Rallycross Check out the race report here!
  • Wild NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Debut for Brian Wong and WSR
    Wild NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Debut for Brian Wong and WSR Check out the race report!
  • VIR cut short for Brian Wong and WSR
    VIR cut short for Brian Wong and WSR See the Race Report Here!
  • Brian Wong at Watkins Glen
    Brian Wong at Watkins Glen See the race report from Watkins Glen

F1’s ESPN Dilemma and the Reality of the Broadcast Business

espn-tvWhen Formula 1 announced the move away from FOX Sports, which had taken over from long-time rights-holder SPEED, in 2013 in favor of NBC Sports, a great amount of skepticism was met by fans and media alike. Over the next five years, however,  the burgeoning sports network won their fanbase over, thanks in large part to an extremely knowledgable, enthusiastic, and entertaining series of hosts, behind-the-scenes production staff, and compounded with NBC Sports’ willingness to create additional content. This included ample pre-race and post-race programming, extensive promotion, and generally a commitment to making the most of the F1 opportunity.

The result? The audience grew. From 187,000 in 2013, to 440,000 by the end of 2017.

The actual result? Losing the contract to ESPN for 2018 and beyond, a move that was confusing to many fans, but the speculative business reasons behind it are the most curious.

f1nbcclipWhen Liberty Media acquired Formula One from 2017 and beyond, the directive was clear… modernize the sport. To their credit, we’ve seen a number of improvements. Extensive YouTube content, more interactive elements, and a general relaxing of some of the “no access” dogma the sport has become accustomed to.

Where it hits a head is when it comes to broadcasting. While Netflix and Hulu have undeniably blown up the reality of streaming content as a viable means of living room entertainment, to this point there has been one hold out: live sports.

With all of the major cable players holding the rights to nearly every major sport, including Formula One, the streaming mantra of developing original content that encourage the “switch” has been left behind when it comes to sports. People don’t crave new forms of sport developed by streaming providers, they want their traditional game they’ve been watching their whole lives. The only way to get that… is with major cable providers. Recognizing the need to protect their holdout with live sports, cable networks have repeatedly done all they can to block independent streams, opting instead to force consumers to streaming apps exclusive to their service.

image16x9.img.1536.high-1Recognizing the future, Liberty Media has opted instead to take a proactive approach, developing a new subscriber-based streaming service. The rub is, the service is not out yet, but knowing this would be a sticking point in television contracts, this had to be forced in to any 2018 agreements in beyond, even without a product yet.

Given the expense of producing original content, not to mention licensing, it can be assumed NBC wasn’t interested in giving away their audience to an outside streaming service.

The assumed result? A makeshift arrangement between ESPN and Liberty, effectively giving ESPN an opportunity to broadcast F1’s “house feed,” with ZERO in-house production and U.S. commentary, but with the allowance of the soon-to-be announced streaming service to infiltrate the U.S.

INBCSportsF1t’s a forward-thinking move, recognizing the potential of a streaming audience, but of course not without pain. During this weekend’s season opening Australian Grand Prix, the reviews of ESPN’s broadcast were far from glowing. The U.S. has enjoyed their own commentary and way of watching F1 dating back to the 1980’s (ironically through ESPN), so it’s going to be a bitter pill to just accept an F1 “house feed” in the long-term hopes of a more customizable livestream.

Will it be the right direction? Time will tell. In an era where F1 is at a crossroads for the future of the sport, it will be interesting to see how this develops.