Television, television, television….
Money, money, money…
Those two linked topics topped the bill when a group of team chiefs and major component suppliers met the media at Albert Park on Friday.
‘The world is changing’, was the keynote, and Formula 1 must change with it to ensure ongoing financial health.
The Formula 1 panel revealed concerns that the sport is facing a major challenge to sustain its levels of financial success as we move from traditional television viewing habits to younger, more flexible multi-platform media audiences.
Nobody talked about speed. Nor racing. Nor even the sound or beauty of their cars.
Instead, it was all about ‘how to improve the show’ and sustain it as F1 switched from working with national free-to-air broadcasters to a more complex and regionalised global structure of deals with pay-per-view companies.
“We need to deliver the best show we can to get the biggest audience we can get,” said McLaren team chief Martin Whitmarsh. “The world is changing. Pay-per-view has changed the classic audience – we have to work hard to succeed on all the platforms now.”
The panel, including Whitmarsh, Eric Boullier of Lotus, Jean-Michel Jalinier of Renault, Paul Hembery of Pirelli and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff agreed that the sport’s traditional ‘business model’ was changing.
But, they stressed, Formula One held a unique position as a truly global sports brand offering an equally unique platform to its partners, sponsors and advertisers.
And this, they said, meant that only the highest quality levels of entertainment, in the form of ‘the show’ for television, and other media platforms, would maintain success.
“This is a massive sport going through a transitionary period,” said Whitmarsh. “We have to work very hard.”
Wolff added: “We are the largest global sport and we are working in a very tough environment. We have to protect the sport as a whole.”
As they talked, a vision of the future took shape: one in which the sport’s global audience consumes Formula One as a recorded show on tablets and other devices. Yes, another soap opera with 19 episodes.
“People under the age of 20 don’t sit and watch television on a traditional television any more,” said Hembery. “That is the way the world is changing. Formula 1 has an opportunity to be at the forefront of that technology, particularly as it is such a technological sport.”
When asked if it was true that the underlying problem facing the sport was that F1 spends too much money, the panel hit back robustly.
“It’s a world sport, it has this great coverage and none of the investors today in Formula One are there for any altruistic motivation,” said Whitmarsh.
“They’re there because it makes sense, they get a return on that investment and if they’re not, they’re not around for long…” By the end, having heard F1 described variously as a platform, a commodity and a show, it was easy to forget it was, and still is, a sport.