Formula One marketing chief: we're not trying to replace broadcasters

Formula One still sees a major role for broadcast partners like Sky, head of marketing Ellie Norman said - despite the sport's decision to launch its own over-the-top digital platform, F1 TV.

The platform is set to launch in time for the start of the 2018 season, which kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne from 23 March.

Costing subscribers around $8-12 (£6-9) per month, F1 TV offers ad-free streams of races, including on-board cameras, with the ability to watch multiple feeds at once. It will cover practice, qualifying and races, as well as press conferences, pre– and post-race interviews, and coverage of the lower-tier Formula Two and GP3 competitions.

While F1 TV will launch in around twenty markets – including the US, France, Germany and Mexico – they will not include the UK, where Sky’s F1 coverage already includes some of the features that F1 TV will bring to other markets for the first time.

"The market situation is different across the world, from a market maturity perspective," Norman said. "We have a broadcaster relationship with Sky and they have a dedicated F1 channel. Sky’s product is a rich, deep product." But she would not rule out the product launching in the UK at a later point.

Norman acknowledged that as with other sports, tech companies like Facebook and Amazon could also become involved in distributing Formula One in the coming years: "I think going forwards there will be a number of ways you’ll consume sports and that will vary from broadcaster, digital platform, and direct-to consumer."

Let's get visceral

While F1 TV is aimed at hardcore fans, it is part of a series of steps designed to transform the image of the sport and its ability to engage with audiences, following a major brand study that brought home some hard truths.

"The perceptions around F1 were of being inaccessible, boring, very much around the cars, and actually the associations people really want are with the drivers, the teams, and to make it accessible," Norman said.

Another big part of the answer was F1 Live, an event that took place for the first time last year in London and invited fans to watch a car parade on Whitehall and a live show – featuring interviews with the drivers, along with live music – in Trafalgar Square.

The event is now going global; it will take place this year in Shanghai, Marseille, Berlin and Miami, with more destinations set for 2019. It’s an opportunity to take the "visceral elements of the sport" to the people, Norman explained.

"We clearly have a very engaged hardcore fan base," she said. "What’s also vitally important for me is how do we engage with the lapsed viewer and  build the next generation of fans."

What's wrong with being sexy?

A key change to Formula One this season will be the disappearance of the "grid girls" and their replacement with "grid kids": young participants in karting, the first form of motor racing most people get involved in.

Norman is keen to focus on the second part of this switch, which she sees as an important way of offering a a previously dreamt-of experience to the next generation of devotees. "It’s all about the fan experience," she said. "Enabling fans to get closer to the sport. There are very few people that have the chance to go on the starting grid."

But clearly the move also helps the sport to shake off aspects of its image that are not in keeping with the expectations of modern audiences.

For many people, they are arguably closely associated with figures like former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, who hit out at the decision to stop using grid girls – saying he couldn’t understand why anyone would find the presence of "good-looking" women on the starting grid offensive.

Norman said she had not heard Ecclestone’s comments, but added: "Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Bernie did an incredible job of building a sport – we now have an incredible opportunity to open it up."