It’s lights out, but fans skeptical to pay and watch

Business Sports

Experts warn that viewers might shift to watching races through illegal streaming sites due to high subscription costs.

After experiencing the fall of Mercedes and Redbull’s dominance for the past two years, Indian Formula 1 (F1) fans fear being left out this season because of the high-pricing strategy by F1 TV.

F1 fans are hesitant to subscribe to F1 TV because the subscription will cost them  Rs. 2,999 for the entire 2023 season or Rs. 249 monthly. They say the prices are too expensive for the Indian market. This comes after Disney plus Hotstar’s decision to not stream the sport. Experts say that this high pricing will hurt the Indian market and see a potential rise in streaming the races on illegal sights.

“It is frustrating and annoying to not watch F1. But the prices are unfair for the fans of the sport,” said, Shakthi Rajagopal, a hardcore follower of F1.  He could not subscribe to F1 TV as he did not see the value in paying such a high price for just one sport.

Varunkumaar Chelladurai, an F1 sports analyst thinks the subscription model is becoming a huge barrier for potential fans to enter the world of motorsports. “It is a lost opportunity and I feel this might hamper the reach of the sport,” he said. Even when motorsport is not a mainstream sport in India, the subscription model will affect the existing and new viewers, he added.

Another fan, Nikil Baskaran said that he was shocked and had no other option but to subscribe to watch live races. “I felt very hesitant but still bought the yearly subscription,” he said. Nikil further added that he regretted his decision to spend this much but finds comfort with the old race archives and the features that come with the subscription.

Earlier this year, Disney plus Hotstar announced that they will not be streaming F1 as they did not get the rights to broadcast the race. Fans took to Twitter to complain about the high cost to watch the live races.

Since F1 will not be streamed either on Star Sports TV or on Over-the-top (OTT) platforms, fans have to watch it on F1 TV which was launched early this year. “We also obviously talked to Star and one or two other traditional platforms and we felt that they didn’t value our rights in the way that we did,” said Ian Holmes, Director of Media Rights, Formula One, in an interview with Reuters.

A Disney plus Hotstar official said that with the sport becoming popular, the Liberty group raised their price to stream the sport. But he said that the F1 contribution was very less to the platform. “The rights were too expensive. The sport, becoming more popular because of shows like Drive to Survive on Netflix probably encouraged the Liberty group to raise the prices for rights,” he said. He added that this will only affect the casual viewers as they will not pay to watch them, but true fans will go with the F1 TV’s subscription model.

Liberty Media Corporation (LMC) completed the acquisition of F1 from its parent company Delta Topco, in 2017 for a value of eight billion dollars.

The official at Hotstar said that the decision can always be revisited with positive business cycles. But he added that he did not have any specific information on when that will be.

The subscription comes as a dual model with F1 TV and F1 TV PRO, where live races can only be seen on the latter. The F1 TV PRO costs Rs. 2,999 for the 2023 season or Rs. 249 monthly. While F1 TV shows only the race statistics, the upgraded version comes with additional features such as a driver on-board camera, radio channels, live telemetry, archive footage of the sport, etc.

Aishwary Gaonkar, an editor for the F1 segment at Essentially Sports, a sports media organization, said that for a price-sensitive market in India, the subscription price must be slightly lower. “The demographics that we are talking about of the F1 fanbase in India are mostly a younger audience. This price point becomes a clouded judgmental aspect with income limitations and the OTT platform value effect,” he said. He added that only hardcore fans would pay at the current price by cutting off unnecessary Netflix, Amazon, and Hotstar subscriptions.

As per the official statistics in 2020, India was among the top five countries with the largest fan base, with 31.1 million F1 fans. The Netflix series Drive to survive has brought some growth and the last few years have been exciting for the sport in the country, said Aishwary Gaonkar. “But compared to other sports, the number will always be less. You are never going to see the day when F1 is even remotely as popular as cricket or football in India. So, the drop in viewership may be huge from a percentage point of view and the growth for the near future may be stunted,” he added.

In 2021, over half of the respondents consider Formula 1 as the sport they follow most avidly

With just two races completed for the season, Varunkumaar feels that there is already a huge spike in watching races through illegal websites. Illegal streaming from untrustworthy websites will be the answer to a steeply-priced plan, said Aishwary Gaonkar. He added, “Illegal streaming will pick up because people do not wish to pay so much to watch F1.”

For the core audience, the features that come with the subscription are fair, both Nikil and Varunkumaar said. But this does not apply to the casual viewer as they are only interested in enjoying the live races. Switching to F1 TV PRO would help fans receive a better viewing experience of F1 as it will provide insights and real-time analysis which Star Sports and Hotstar did not, Varunkumaar said.

Unless we see F1 focusing on India with a dedicated market strategy, the sport cannot see drastic growth, Aishwary Gaonkar said. Without strategies like the return of the Indian Grand Prix (GP), attracting and developing driver talents from India, or building the racing infrastructure from the karting levels, F1 will not succeed as a sport in India, he added.


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