The Future of Formula 1 Broadcasting in America

It's now hard to conceive that Will Buxton was almost dropped with the switch to NBC Sports as he is now the only hope for a revitalized, modernized, and eccentric broadcast of Formula 1 in America.

I am going to say it up front: I would watch Sky Sports' broadcast if I could, but living in America, viewing an HD broadcast is more difficult than getting a seat in an F1 car. Our only legal option across-the-pond is NBC Sports, and Speed Network before that; it's outdated model for delivering the fabled motorsport to our television sets needs to change, but the programming is not getting the investment it needs.

Two potential solutions arise to solve this predicament: 1) Change the NBC Sports broadcast with Buxton leading the charge, or 2) open up the virtual borders to allow competing broadcasts.

Improving the American Broadcast

Let's start by noting the problem areas of the current NBC Sports broadcast.

The presenters we mostly see and hear are three old, outdated, fat, english (and one Aussie) gentlemen that wear suits from Kohl's and sit behind a very nice, but ultimately unimpressive and badly utilized set.

Bringing the presenters out to every race would almost entirely fix the problem described above, but even when they're brought out to one of the few races now, they still all sit behind a desk and bring minimal extra content from the paddock and pit lane.

Formula 1 is a fast moving sport, one that you have to keep up with at all times in order to bring the desired content to the fans, but also one that is relatively open to the media; though you may not realize this last point if you're used to the NBC Sports broadcast.

Let's now look at the Sky F1 broadcasting model.

The Sky and BBC presenters are always walking around the paddock and pit-lane before, during, and after a session, with the camera crew right by their side. They walk by and have numerous spontaneous conversations with anybody and everybody: drivers, engineers, owners, even random strangers/spectators.

This crossover makes me feel as if I'm at the race with them, instead of just watching the world feed an listening to three old men talk about it from afar.

An example of this openness: one time Jenson Button came up to commentator (and previous F1 team owner) Eddie Jordan after a race and handed him a piece of chocolate cake during the post-race chat; I think it was his birthday. You don't see that kind of interaction on American broadcasts.

Its only during a race or qualifying session when someone from a Sky broadcast runs up to the on-site commentary box to call the action.

So, why Will Buxton?

No offense to the main three NBC Sports commentators, as they may be more apt than I know, but Will Buxton has the character, charisma, holds current friendships with current drivers, and supports a huge connection with the fans.

But most importantly, Will Buxton has the attitude to do well live, make a mistake, and still save the bit. The grid-walks are tremendous (and would be more so if the director didn't constantly return shot to the North Carolina-based set) and his Paddock Pass series provides stellar personal interviews and way more relevant and unrepeated information than anything else NBC Sports produces.

And why do we no longer have an American in the Formula 1 broadcasting line-up? I mean, really?! How hard can it be?

And what happened to ChalkTalk, Steve Matchett? I'm a huge fan of the technical innovations of Formula 1, and for some reason ChalkTalk, or something similar, wasn't carried over from Speed. Steve Matchett's role at NBC Sports turned from knowledgable technical commentator to bloke-who-talks-about-tires-too-much.

The Future of Formula 1 Broadcasting in America

Competitive Broadcasts

Formula 1 will soon follow suit with where everyone else is going and release a model for internet-based viewing. I think a model where broadcasts compete with one another though a F1 app/website is better for Formula 1, both profit-wise for the company and content-wise for the viewers. This way, we can all start watching Sky F1 when NBC Sports doesn't provide us the kind of content we want.

My idea consists of F1 distributing the world feed to multiple broadcasters and then those broadcasters having channel-like access where you can watch live or edited content. Some of these broadcasts could be commercial-based and free for the viewer, and others paid by the viewer with no commercial interruptions. Broadcasters would have to pay for the world feed based on how many viewers they amass, a linear ratio ($1 per viewer/subscriber, for example) with perhaps a bulk initial rate.

Another benefit of a competitive broadcast model is independent commentators bringing commentary to countries in languages where there wasn't before and also being able to overtake the might of a giant broadcaster, who before held a downright terrible monopoly on broadcasting rights in that country.

Whatever happens for us in America, and even those in other countries with similar problems, it needs to happen soon.


Photos from Will Buxton's Blog and F1 Fanatic