Formula 1 Fans Will Thank TATA

Yes, like my usual posts, I could be getting ahead of myself. And you may wonder what the link here is. The answer, my dear reader, isn’t as simple, or maybe I don’t want it to be. (No, I am not being cryptic!)

This post was penned a few months back but was put on the backburner after Star Sports announced multiple channels in India and promised in-depth sports coverage (including Formula1) and what not. Their announcements did bring a sigh of relief to the Indian Formula1 fan who is usually denied LIVE coverage by the TV broadcaster for about 3-4 races in the season; more like only 16-17 races of the season for fans in India!

I can’t recollect which races of the 2013 Formula1 Season have they missed broadcasting (can anyone help with this list?) but I do know that there were scheduling issues with this weekend’s 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix and after fan furore on social media, the channel decided to broadcast the race not just in HD but SD as well.

Start Sports & TATA Communications

Their HD only decision comes as a bit of a surprise and appears a desperate measure to sell HD packages in a country where distribution of HD channels isn’t as comprehensive. And sadly, the SD channels were to show repeats of sports where you need only ‘one ball’ (pun intended) to play!

While I am glad that the TV broadcaster made last hour amends to their programing, I am not confident if there’s a long term solution in sight! And this is where TATA plays an important role and Star Sports should be wary about. Read on.

I wouldn’t know if ALL Formula1 fans are thankful to TATA or not, but Indian Formula1 fans would certainly be. After all, they funded Narain Karthikeyan’s debut season (partially) in Formula1 and then his comeback seasons with Hispania Racing Team. I have written about their association in the past and these are good reads:

They gave India their very own and first Formula1 driver, followed by a technical partnership with World Champion team Ferrari and the only regret yet (for me) is to see TATA not challenge themselves as an engine manufacturer in Formula1.

However, TATA has decided to take on yet another interesting challenge, one that is probably more challenging than building an F1 engine (err!). This time it is about activating their ‘content delivery network’ for Formula1 to enable live streaming of Formula1 races across the planet.

Formula1 as a sport has been non-existent on social media platforms. One look at the other series like MotoGP, IPL, Olympics, etc. and you shall agree. I wouldn’t know if is due to lack of understanding (operationally and the power) of these platforms given Ecclestone’s age (I don’t blame him!) or it is due to the sport’s callous attitude towards marketing itself (Read: Formula1 Needs Better Marketing).

I have written earlier how Formula1 can learn a thing or two from the Indian Premier League especially given how the cricket league has used live streaming to increase its reach globally. And after much of a wait, Formula One Management and TATA Communications, the sport’s ‘Official Web Hosting and Content Delivery Network Provider’ finally tested a feed which broadcast the proceedings of the 2013 Singapore Grand Prix live at the FOM HQs in London. The feed was of JPEG 2000 quality, one which is better than the regularly used JPEG. And I will stay away from the technical part.

Sooner or later, I expect FOM to introduce live streaming via its website at a cost to fans across the world thereby reducing dependence on TV networks. The pros of live streaming outweigh the cons and I am in favour of this already-delayed introduction (MotoGP offered this option to their viewers since before 2011). From selecting between various camera angles and feeds (well, we don’t have smart TV viewing in India) to being able to watch the race without having a television or a cable network at all, it is good to offer the sport on devices where fans spend more time consuming content than the native television itself.

Introduction of live streaming will complicate TV contracts and reduce revenues from the TV networks; however, it will also open up new revenue streams via online subscriptions and ads (I hope not!). And I hope that the streams on offer aren’t restricted to live feeds alone and that FOM would allow pay-per-view access to their illustrious archives as well.

The only con here (in my view) is the dependence at the user’s end to have a robust high speed internet access with tons of bandwidth to download and view the feed, something which surely doesn’t exist in India; even with TATA’s owned communications company, VSNL (Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited).

So I don’t know what’s a good bet to rely on, Star Sports and their inability to commit to a consistent broadcast of the Formula1 races to the Indian audiences or our consistently inconsistent internet connections. And to think of it, we are cribbing about the Ecclestone checkmating the Indian Grand Prix. Doesn’t everything just seem against Formula1 setting its foot firmly in India?

Hear the latest episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast: ‘Massa to be the most cheered driver at Interlagos, Brazil‘. 

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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