I am an Australian who loves F1. I attend the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne each year and am there for every minute of every session. Practice 1 on Friday is my favourite session of the year. As the Australian Grand Prix has been the first race of the season for many years, I get to see the new driver / team combinations for the first time live, rather than on tv, which is very exciting.
The broadcast of F1 in Australia is very poor. The current UK broadcast is presented in Australia in a significantly reduced form on free to air (FTA). The practice sessions and the extended pre-qualifying, pre-race and post-race programs are not broadcast at all, even on the local pay tv equivalent of Sky, Foxtel.
The moronic Australian commentators talk over the UK commentary team during the qualifying and race broadcasts, which I find extremely annoying, and which reduces the time we are able to hear the original commentary. I consider the FTA F1 broadcast in Australia to be unwatchable.
Nonetheless, I usually watch every session of every race throughout the year. I do this by watching pirated recordings of UK television broadcasts from the BBC and Sky, downloaded via bittorrent. If I could buy it I would, but I can’t so in order to watch it I have to steal it.
I prefer the current Sky broadcast to the BBC one, although David Coulthard (on the BBC) is good, because Martin Brundle (on Sky) has become an outstanding broadcaster and Damon Hill always has some sharp observations to make.
I particularly like Damon because he won the first F1 Grand Prix I saw live, the 1995 Australian Grand Prix (the final race in Adelaide). Every time I see him I remember him spraying champagne on me (I was below the podium on the pit straight for the victory celebrations).
I remember the psychotic shriek of the Renault V10 in his Williams, and the catastrophic sounding explosion of each down-shift of the early sequential gearboxes. I remember standing up against the fence (those days are long gone) at the braking point at the end of the long straight as he came towards me at 330kph. Respect.
I was very disappointed, therefore, to learn that Sky Sports has recently initiated a thorough defense of its intellectual property by shutting down torrenting of its F1 broadcasts across many sites. The very organised (free) membership site I have been using, which specialises in UK tv, has explained that it has been forced to remove the Sky Sports F1 torrents due to a DMCA copyright complaint from Sky. It now only has torrents for the BBC / Setanta (Irish sports broadcaster) broadcasts of the practice, qualifying and races.
Finding Sky F1 torrents has consequently become very difficult, though they are still available via other torrent sites. Unfortunately their metadata and annotations are poor, and it is often unclear which broadcast you are downloading. They also usually only include the track sessions, not the extended previews that I enjoy. As a result I am now mostly watching the BBC ones from UK tv site.
You are obviously aware of the popularity of torrents of your F1 broadcasts. You are presumably trying to protect your UK income and want to prevent UK consumers from watching F1 for free when they should be paying for it. This is entirely understandable.
Unfortunately you have also blocked your world-wide audience. Do you know how big the international market is for your F1 broadcasts? Do you have any data on how many bittorrent users outside the UK are viewing your F1 shows? Do you realise that many people cannot legally view your content but want to be able to?
I’m writing this on behalf of the many millions of people around the English speaking world who are in a similar position to me. I’m not a thoughtless content pirate. I am a serious F1 fan who is willing to pay to watch the sport as it deserves to be seen.
As a committed fan, with a strong interest in the technical aspect of the sport, I want to see every session in sequence to gain as complete an understanding of the comparative strengths of the drivers and teams as possible. F1 is much more than a Sunday race – the 3 day program needs to be observed in full to best understand the race.
The ways in which people watch tv are changing. Apart from news and current affairs programs, I rarely watch FTA broadcasts. I have a HD digital receiver plugged into my computer, with which I record shows to watch at more convenient times (and so I can skip the advertisements).
I watch some tv via streaming services from the publicly owned Australian channels ABC and SBS, which offer BBC iPlayer style streaming services. I watch some tv from Hulu and ITV by using the Hola browser plugin (which circumvents the geographical blocking of such services).
I watch most tv via bittorrent. My taste is varied and eclectic, and no FTA or pay tv broadcaster in Australia can meet my needs. I don’t want to buy an expensive package from Foxtel, most of which is rubbish I will never watch.
I want tv to be unbundled so I can buy subscriptions to individual programs or series. I would be willing to pay for HBO favourites like True Blood and many others as well as F1. The established tv business model, which requires subscribing to a bundle that is bloated with content I don’t want and restricts access to content with irrelevant geographical boundaries, is antiquated and unacceptable.
Content producers need to change how they sell their products, and they need to connect directly with consumers. I want to be able to buy F1 direct from its producer, Sky Sports F1, not from an intermediary like an Australian network. I want to buy F1 as an individual product, not part of a larger package. And I want to buy it, irrespective of my geographical location, through the internet.
I am a middle class urban dweller with discretionary income to spend, who has high speed internet access and who already watches a lot of tv via web streaming. I don’t need a set-top box or any other physical infrastructure. Sky Sports F1 already offers all its F1 broadcasts streamed from its website. You could easily sell me a subscription to watch F1 via your website, either as a season pass or as individual weekend passes.
You have also recently begun to offer a new pay as you go service to access Sky Sports online via Now TV, where customers can stream all 6 Sky Sports channels for 24 hours for £9.99. But this 24 hour window doesn’t really work with the F1 schedule. However, I would pay the same amount to access only the F1 channel for a 3 day GP weekend. £9.99 a race sounds like a reasonable deal. That’s nearly £200 for a 20 race season if you’re paying for individual races.
Offer a discount for an annual season pass, say £150, and you have an offer that millions of English speaking consumers around the world would be willing to pay for. It’s about AU$215 at the current exchange rate. I already spend AU$50 per month on high speed broadband. I would happily pay that to watch every session of every race live.
Watching F1 entirely by bittorrent creates a delay of several hours as the broadcast has to be edited, encoded and seeded by someone before I can download it. I currently forgo timeliness for completeness, and ignore the live FTA broadcast of the race on Sundays (I’m usually still watching practice 3 and qualifying at that time).
Consequently, I often see the race results on the internet before seeing the race, which can be frustrating, but it’s currently inevitable. Being able to watch all the sessions live via the internet, rather than waiting hours to download torrents, is highly valuable to me. Seeing the race live and experiencing the surprise of the result is worth paying for.
BSkyB is majority owned by News Corp, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who is renowned for his free market philosophy. I consider it a fundamental market failure that I cannot buy a subscription to watch the complete F1 broadcast. You are losing money because of your antiquated business model.
You can’t blame pirates for your failure to sell your product on the free market. You are not losing any money from the torrents of your shows that I view, because you currently don’t allow me to pay you for them. I’m not making a selfish choice about whether to pay for your content. I literally can’t pay for it.
Consumers who pirate content are essentially a market correction. We’re fixing a failure in the market by pointing out where value is not being exploited. You should be listening to us rather than trying to punish us. I am a consumer with money to spend. I want to spend it on your product. Why won’t you sell it to me?