The secret behind the great success of Formula 1 on YouTube
Formula 1 is one of the most popular sports in the world. More than half a billion viewers around the world follow the Grands Prix. The popularity in the Netherlands is enormous, with more than 1.5 million viewers per race, also – or perhaps especially – because of Max Verstappen’s good results. But apart from the enormous popularity, the digital transformation that Formula 1 has undergone in recent years is impressive. What is the secret behind this transformation and the resulting success on YouTube?
THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF FORMULA 1
It’s hard to imagine, but less than four years ago, Formula 1 had no digital media department. It was a brand with global appeal, but without a significant digital footprint. Sales showed a downward trend year-on-year and revenue came almost exclusively from TV deals. This changed when Liberty Media took over in 2017. The most obvious change was the new logo, and they also made large-scale changes to their online strategy. So, in just a few years, they transformed Formula 1 from an old-fashioned motorsport company into a rock-solid and innovative entertainment brand.
The above video from Athletic Interest was recently published about this digital transformation of Formula 1 and was partly the inspiration for this article. YouTube plays a very important role in this transformation. What can other brands and publishers learn from this?
NO FEAR OF CANNIBALIZATION
From my own experience, I can tell you that many big media companies have a (false) fear of cannibalizing airtime. They think that every view you generate on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram comes at the expense of views on your own VOD platform, which can generate higher ad revenue. So it seems to be a shame to put too much content on YouTube. But this notion is wrong. YouTube is used by consumers in a different way than Netflix, NPO Plus, Amazon Prime Video or Videoland. The platforms differ in the intent and duration of user sessions. With YouTube, you tap into new audiences that you can’t reach through your own channels, and you increase your current viewers’ willingness to watch more often.
An example from my own experience: I’m a big fan of Veronica Inside and regularly watch clips and recaps of ‘Gijppie’ and the other gentlemen. This YouTube viewing behavior leads me to watch the linear show on Monday and Friday nights more often instead of less often. YouTube and TV complement rather than cannibalize each other: A well-considered use of YouTube can actually strengthen its own linear or online audience.
Formula 1 has recognized the power of YouTube and social media and is using them to reach new viewers and retain existing fans. Sky Sports also takes this view with the Premier League and uses YouTube to generate awareness, revenue and traction for its own platforms.
DATA RESEARCH FORMS THE BASIS OF THE STRATEGY
In contrast to former owner Bernie Ecclestone’s approach, which was based on gut feelings and personal preferences, Liberty Media began with large-scale data research. The first three months after the acquisition were largely spent researching the target audience, desires and interests. This gave them sound input for audience, channel and content choices. These decisions have made Formula 1 the fastest growing sport on YouTube over the years. The channel has grown from less than one million to nearly six million subscribers and generated more than 840 million views last year.
A SOLID AND DIVERSE YOUTUBE CONTENT STRATEGY
Highlights: Summaries of the (qualifying) races form the core of their content. These are published shortly after the races, are between five and eight minutes long and invariably generate millions of views per summary. The other race formulas, such as F2 and F3, also have their highlights on the channel.
Onboard footage: in addition to the regular recaps, they publish compilations of onboard footage per race from the perspective of different drivers.
Listicles: after highlights, listicle videos generate the most views. Think about ‘Top 10 moments of pit lane drama’, ‘5 feel-good moments in Spain’ or the ‘Top 10 funniest F1 press conferences’. They cleverly use a combination of archive and recent footage. In addition to the lists, they also publish shorter clips, such as spectacular crashes, separately on the channel.
Backstories: After almost every race, they also highlight a specific driver with a story about how they performed and experienced the race. In this way, they capitalize on the popularity of each driver and build on it. They also regularly publish longer documentaries about specific riders from the past or future. They are not afraid to release longer content, for example this documentary about the rise and struggles of Roberto Moreno is almost an hour and a half long. The video below about rising star George Russel is less long, but at 20 minutes+, it’s also longer than the average video.
Livestreams: For every Grand Prix, the excitement for the race is built up with livestreams of the final preparations. A mix of background images, interviews and atmospheric footage keeps fans excited about the upcoming spectacle.
Expert views and podcasts: The real die-hard fans who want to know and follow everything will also get their money’s worth on F1’s YouTube channel. They publish a weekly podcast, tech talks in which they take a closer look at the underlying engine technology, and weekend warm-ups in which a preview of the upcoming race weekend is given.
New target group, new opportunities: In addition to the tremendous viewership, watch time and attention, Formula 1 is also succeeding in tapping into new audience segments to attract even more fans to its sport. 31% of YouTube viewers of the Eifel Grand Prix live stream were under 25 and 68% were under 35. They are also exploring new opportunities in terms of partnerships with advertisers. Through an exclusive partnership with new high-performance car brand CUPRA, they were the sole advertiser around all of the channel’s video content during the race weekend. CUPRA not only achieved 100% share of voice, but also more than 4% awareness lift and two million viewers in seven different European countries.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?
The days when Formula 1 was not interested in any other medium than television are definitely over. The change in digital strategy and the innovations they have been making since 2017 are producing impressive results and have made the sport more popular than ever. And Formula 1 is not standing still. There are even more ideas to make the sport more competitive and attractive to new and existing fans. So they are not only pioneers, but also an example for many other brands, sports associations and publishers. Who will follow?
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