Formula One is in “active” talks with US internet giant Amazon over streaming deals to screen its Grand Prix races, as the world’s most valuable motorsports series seeks a digital future beyond television broadcasting.
Chase Carey, F1’s outgoing chief executive, told the Financial Times that he had held “substantive discussions . . . [with] Amazon and all the global digital platforms” over conducting new screening deals, adding: “They’re [an] incredibly important potential partner and an opportunity for us to expand and grow our business.”
The discussions come as F1 seeks to expand its audience, targeting younger fans who are increasingly switching to watching sport online rather than on traditional TV networks.
Amazon declined to comment on Mr Carey’s remarks, but has been among the most aggressive of the internet giants in bidding for live sports rights around the world.
The company has secured rights to stream National Football League matches in the US, is among the broadcasters of the English Premier League in the UK, and earlier this month said it wanted to secure deals to screen big cricket matches in India. These moves are designed to tie sports viewers to its Prime subscription services.
F1 is also under pressure to unlock new revenues after coronavirus-induced losses in 2020. The group incurred operating losses of $363m in the first nine months of the year, because of lower fees from race promoters and a hit to corporate hospitality without fans in attendance.
Liberty Media, the US group that acquired the sport for $8bn four years ago, was forced to inject $1.4bn of cash into F1 in April, furloughed half its workforce and agreed salary cuts with executives to weather the pandemic.
However, Amazon and other big internet companies have been reluctant to offer the sort of money that broadcasters have previously paid for the rights to show F1. The racing series’ biggest broadcast deal with Comcast-owned Sky in the UK is worth $250m a year in an arrangement that runs until 2024.
This year, F1 has negotiated or renewed TV rights deals in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Nordics, while it is also in the process of finalising a deal in Brazil. Broadcast deals represent about a third of overall F1 revenues.
Mr Carey, who will remain as F1’s chairman while handing over the CEO role in January to Stefano Domenicali, head of luxury carmaker Lamborghini, said switching to screening deals with online groups will be an “incremental” process. F1, he said, was concerned about alienating fans “who probably are not quite accustomed to watching their major favourite sporting events on a digital platform”.
Mr Carey, 67, a confidant to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and a Fox Corporation board member, also pointed out that F1’s traditional broadcast partners were investing heavily in so-called over-the-top streaming services. This includes Sky in the UK, and Disney, owner of ESPN sports channels, which screens F1 in the US.
Expanding F1’s digital footprint has been one of Mr Carey’s priorities, which include launching an online subscription channel of its own, growth in “esports” or competitive video gaming, and Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary series about the sport.
Mehul Kapadia, chief operating officer of the Motorsport Network, said these online efforts had already helped to attract younger audiences by allowing fans to go behind the scenes in the sport.
“Now people want a 24/7 experience,” he said. “[The question is] how can you make your fans feel like they’re in the driver’s seat? That’s how the potential of the sport can be unlocked more.”
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