Netflix Reportedly Bidding for F1 Live-Streaming Rights

Netflix’s aversion to live sports could be ending.

The world’s top subscription streaming platform is reportedly bidding for the live streaming rights to Formula One auto racing currently held by Disney/ESPN. NBCUniversal and Amazon Studios are also in the mix of potential new suitors for the popular race car circuit.

Netflix helped create a new fanbase for F1 through its docuseries “F1: Drive to Survive,” which is currently filming its fifth season with series creator Box to Box Films.

F1, which is owned by Liberty Media, is reportedly looking for $100 million — five times what Disney/ESPN currently pays per year to broadcast — for the 2023 rights. Disney is offering $70 million, according to BusinessInsider, which first reported the news.

Notably, Liberty Media has thus far retained the F1 streaming rights, which it has tried to market through standalone F1 TV Pro at $80 per year. This would suggest that Netflix would have to bid high to secure those rights. Just the kind of live sports bidding war co-CEO Ted Sarandos has said in the past Netflix has no interest in entering.

But the streamer finds itself losing subscribers and investors following a disappointing fiscal quarter. With “Drive to Survive,” a hit with streamers, Netflix may be looking to throw caution to the wind.

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Pro Sports Using OTT Video to Target Younger Viewers

Formula 1 auto racing is a global brand generating more than $3 billion in revenue. It attracts an audience of 500 million people – largely older than Madison Avenue’s coveted 18-34-year-old demo. In the U.S., the rival to IndyCar remains a niche TV sport.

A survey by Ampere Analysis found just 6% of U.S. sports fans identify F1 as a sport they would watch on TV. Indeed, domestic viewers will rely on a repurposed feed from U.K. satellite TV operator Sky to watch any coverage of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season.

F1 TV, the sport’s newly-launched over-the-top video service, is seeking to buck its older demo fan base by targeting younger viewers (under the age of 40) usually associated with streaming video.

London-based Ampere contends the $8-$12 monthly service – available in four languages (English, French, German and Spanish) and in nearly two dozen markets, including the U.S., will appeal to younger viewers because of the OTT element.

“As more sports become available OTT, it gives less popular leagues an opportunity to monetize markets where they are not mainstream enough to be attractive to a major broadcaster,” analyst Alexios Dimitropoulos wrote in a blog.

Even mainstream sports are taking the hint.

In the U.S., Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and World Wrestling Entertainment have launched OTT platforms — MLB with spectacular results.

The national pastime spearheaded the OTT movement among U.S. professional sports through its MLB Advanced Media division. The unit – which is co-owned by all 30 MLB franchises – recently sold backend digital tech subsidiary, BAMTech, to Disney in a deal worth more than $3.5 billion.

“Sports fans face a myriad of distractions and while commercial opportunities are still developing, it’s critical for rights owners to build their presence on social platforms to help maintain loyal audiences, support tune-in and provide a content experience which meets the needs of viewers who watch much less linear TV,” Gareth Capon, CEO at digital media aggregator Grabyo, told consulting firm KNect365.com.

Indeed, WWE, which makes millions marketing pay-per-view wrestling entertainment, generates significant ancillary revenue from WWE.tv, an OTT platform with almost 1.5 million subscribers.

“We expect more leagues and events to follow the same route … over the next few years,” said Dimitropoulos.

Netflix, Formula 1 to Stream Docu-series in 2019

Netflix is entering the auto-motoring genre in the fast lane.

The SVOD behemoth and Formula 1 March 24 announced a season-long collaboration for a 10-episode original docu-series of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, to be screened in early 2019.

Separately, Netflix, beginning April 6, will stream its first global original motor series, “Fastest Car” – featuring souped-up every-day cars from the past (1971 Pinto, 1984 Buick Grand National, etc.) taking on high-performance race cars such as a Ferrari 488 GTB and McLaren MP4. The series seems to be in response to Amazon Prime Video’s big-budget “The Grand Tour.”

Meanwhile, the unnamed Netflix original F1 series claims to be the first to bring viewers inside the cockpit, the paddock and the lives of the key players in Formula 1. The series will have exclusive access to the world’s fastest drivers, team principals and owners, as well as Formula 1’s own management team.

The series will be executive-produced by Academy-Award winner James Gay Rees (Senna) and Paul Martin for Box to Box Films. Sophie Todd will be the showrunner.

“This partnership with Formula 1 furthers our mission of working with world-class brands and production partners to produce best-in-class unscripted series,” Bela Bajaria, VP of content for Netflix, said in a statement

Formula 1, which recently bowed its first over-the-top streaming service, believes Netflix’s global audience and brand will help attract more casual fans.

“We are actively repositioning from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand,” said Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations at F1. “The agreement with Netflix serves to chronicle the fascinating story of what transpires behind the scenes during a grand prix season. This is a perspective of the sport that has yet to be unveiled to fans around the world.”