Should broadcasters’ lobby to take over the FOM World Feed?
There’s two things I could use this blog post to complain about, both of which reared their ugly head in Canada. The first concerns Sky Sports’s Formula 1 coverage very quickly turning into ‘The Lewis Hamilton show’ with some worrying traits, the latter is regarding the incompetent direction of Formula One Management (FOM). I’ll use this post for the latter. Whilst the Canadian Grand Prix was thrilling from start to finish, with Daniel Ricciardo eventually winning, it was not FOM’s brightest hour. Seemingly, constant zoom ins and an ever growing reliance on virtual advertising means that their priorities are changing from what they once were. No longer is the car the sole focus of the picture, meaning the sometimes the raw speed does not come across to the viewer as well as it once did. One might ask: is it time for change?
If I’m going to criticise FOM, then I think it is only fair to begin by focussing on the positives. Of which there are several, don’t get me wrong. The thermal image shots lead the way on the innovation front, it is probably FOM’s best innovation by far. With both rear-view and front-view shots, it gives the viewer a good idea of how hot the tyres get under braking, and also in last Sunday’s case how warm the brakes on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes were getting shortly before retirement. It’s a very effective innovation, and one that many fans like seeing. Rotating cameras is another innovation, however if you watch the IndyCar Series you will know that rotating cameras have been around for many, many years. Nevertheless, from an F1 coverage point of view, it is a step forward in the very least. A final innovation is line comparison, which sadly is used nowhere near as much as it should. Despite first appearing back in 2009, it has only been sporadically used by FOM since. It should be used more, but for some reason isn’t. A line comparison feature, for example, would have been fantastic to see for Nico Rosberg’s Qualifying excursion in Monaco.
I feel it’s important for me to highlight that FOM has done some great innovations, and for that we should applaud them for. However, more recently, they have been let down by two things: virtual advertising and poor direction. I made a point last year about virtual advertising, when it was starting to appear. “The virtual advertisements that are subtle are the best,” a point which I still maintain. When virtual advertisements work, and blend in with the image, I have no issue with them. You know what, it’s cost effective and I can see the logic in using them. The issue I’m having is that the advertising is creeping into Formula 1 coverage more and more, to a degree where it is taking over certain shots, and in some cases is blatantly obvious. I’m not against FOM using virtual advertising, however, they need to rethink a) how and b) where they use them. If it is going to disturb the piece of track that the camera is focusing on, or become an unintended distraction to the viewer because of its size, don’t place it there.
The second part concerns the poor direction as of late which for me, and many other Formula 1 fans came to a head in Canada. Constant zoom in to the crowd, cutting away from Lewis Hamilton running wide at the hairpin and very nearly missing Daniel Ricciardo overtake Nico Rosberg for the lead. I’m a motor racing fan. I watch to see that move, that moment. I don’t expect someone up in production to then determine that a crowd shot is more important than seeing the on-track action. This is similar to the virtual advertising issue above. I can live with one or two crowd shots if the track action is quiet, but in Canada things were teetering on the edge. Obviously cameramen do not decide to pan to the crowd out of their own accord, so calling the cameramen ‘stupid’ for doing their job won’t get anyone anywhere. They would have been directed to pan into the crowd every so often by whoever was leading FOM’s production team on Sunday. Just after Ricciardo overtook Rosberg we had a pan to the crowd. This was mildly amusing because the crowd didn’t appear to be reacting at all, which led Ben Edwards covering up that fact moments later.
As an aside, when all the sound kerfuffle was going on earlier this year, one angle of it concerned FOM. The camera angles currently do not present Formula 1 in the best light and are instead used to get maximum exposure for the sponsors in the background. What the live camera angles should be showing is this sport that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up at 200mph. The secretive structure at FOM means that it is difficult to know where the buck stops, and it goes without saying that those who direct the F1 also direct other events. To put it simply, whoever at the top is making the calls at the moment is making the wrong calls. Whilst the innovations are largely fantastic, I hate to say this, but Formula 1’s television coverage is heading into reverse. I don’t want to blame one person, or one director, because they do this for a living, and for the large part do a great job at it. I’d like to think that they do Formula 1 directing because they’re the best in the business. Canada wasn’t their finest day, however, some of the decisions that are made during races need a serious re-think. Formula 1 fans deserve the best World Feed possible, akin to what F1 Digital+ provided across Europe between 1997 and 2002. Do I think we’re currently getting that? No.
Another perspective is that the World Feed needs some new blood. In November 2012, speculation began to mount about Sky Sports taking over the World Feed following this comment from Barney Francis, who is the managing director of Sky Sports. Three months later, and Sky would cover testing live and in 3D, a Formula 1 first. Nothing ever happened after that, Sky didn’t broadcast testing live this year. Given FOM’s current direction, I’d love to see Sky Sports get their hands on the British Grand Prix weekend and take over the World Feed. Given that this is year three of their contract, I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened already, as it gives them much more control in terms of the camera angles and the editorial aspect that they want to present to the viewer. Once Sky have done it, assuming it was universally liked, then they can get other broadcasters on-board in order to try and have more influence on the World Feed – or perhaps have Sky as the World Feed ‘leaders’ (given their potential pan-European status in the future, this could have a lot of weight), with other broadcasters playing a supporting role.
I’m not saying Sky controlling the World Feed would be better, however from a curiosity point of view, I want to see it happen. And given FOM’s lack of direction last weekend, who can blame me. I’ll finish off by linking to the below, which was all filmed, produced and edited by Sky Sports in the latter stages of the 2011 Formula One season.