I watch illegal F1 streams online but hopefully not for much longer...
Now that F1 has finally committed to offering a live stream of races on their own independent platform, will they be able to turn pirates into profits
I know it's wrong and that I run the risk of irritating some of my connections by admitting this, but ever since Formula One stopped being regularly broadcast live on terrestrial TV in the UK, I have been relying on illegal live streams in order to follow the series. This is because I doggedly refuse to pay £34 per month for Sky Sports F1 just to watch 21 races a year. I am not interested in any of the other sports channels and am not interested in the rest of the Sky platform, I just want the F1.
As such, I was pleased to hear that Liberty Media are actively investigating launching a live streaming service, following an open discussion they held on the website Reddit with F1 fans about how the show can be improved. Needless to say, it's about time they talked to us tech savvy fans and listened to what we had to say.
I hope that Liberty Media take note of how the World Endurance Championship app is monetised and how they handle their content. I believe the people behind the WEC app have got things absolutely spot-on in terms of content, performance and pricing. If you haven't yet experienced this, download it! For £26 you get to live stream and playback the whole WEC season, including the Le Mans 24 hour race. This includes switching between onboard feeds, the global TV stream, switching commentary, watching the highly detailed live timing, the GPS track map, replays, etc. It really is everything you might possibly want in a motorsport series app.
It's worth noting that, if I (and many people like me) am unwilling to pay £34 a month for Sky Sports F1 (effectively £17 a race), I'm unlikely to pay a similar amount direct to Liberty Media for the exact same product. This point needs to be recognised because otherwise, a live streaming solution will be launched but it's uptake will be poor due to either incorrect pricing or a lack of functions and features.
Currently I live stream the races on my PC and have a list of about 7 or 8 services that reliably stream the race for free. Sometimes the stream is not smooth and so spends some time each lap buffering due to having too many people watching it at the same time, sometimes it dies unexpectedly and sometimes I struggle to find a stream that is actually up and working in time for the start, but these are acceptable issues when you are not paying for the service. The fact that I can see how many people are watching each of these live streams tells me all I need to know.
Although there are no officially conducted surveys, I believe through my own research that at least 4% of the people who regularly watch F1 are doing so illegally. That may sound like a small number but if you consider that this 4% accounts for many hundreds of thousands of people, finding a way to get even a small amount of money from these would result in a huge payday for Liberty Media, once the costs of creating and maintaining a live streaming service have been accounted for. Also, think of all the young people to whom F1 is not a part of their lives because they only exist in the worlds of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. If Liberty Media can get this generation interested and excited about Formula One, then the revenue obtained by their live streaming app/website would be immense. You just need to look at twitch.tv and see how many people watch others play racing games online to understand the potential market for this amongst young people in countries like India and China.
It sounds like Liberty Media will be developing their own live streaming platform as opposed to relying on an established partner like Netflix, Amazon, Twitch, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to do this for them. This will provide more freedom to offer a more complete experience to their customers, but will likely cost more to implement and take longer to bring to market, both things that will be directly felt by the end customers.
I for one am excited to see what Liberty Media come up with. I just hope that they engage with people like me during the development process to ensure that they can attract illegal streamers with what they offer.
Bearing in mind I pay to stream Films & TV (Netflix, Amazon), Music (Spotify) and other media services, it should be relatively easy to win my business, but we shall see if Liberty Media get it right.