Formula 1Opinion

The sorry state of F1 broadcasting in India

It's high time the passionate Indian F1 fans get quality F1 content. That's the least they can get if not a spot on the F1 calendar!

Today, we want to speak up on a topic that has been bugging us for a while now. Our serious concern is based around one simple question: Why is F1 so commercially neglected in India?

The first F1 race in India saw the Buddh International circuit’s grand stands filled with a crowd of 110k people as compared to the Istanbul GP which had 11 people in the grand stands at their first race. Safe to say we have a lot of fans.

In fact, you can observe the live audience yourself on the Disney+ Hotstar live stream which shows an average of 125k live viewers. That’s quite the number. But, in a country of 1.3 billion people, that’s not nearly enough to be compared to the viewership of something like Cricket. And that brings us to the issue.

Fans. Check. Broadcasters. Check. F1 promotions. Double check. Then… why the neglect?

The simple answer: Money! F1 won’t get them the viewership that something like Cricket or Olympics would and hence, they just outright don’t care about the sport at all! In fact, the government doesn’t even consider it a sport which was the reason why FIA decided to not have India in their calendar.

The government wanted entertainment taxes from FIA marking it as “entertainment” and not a sport. Rest assured, the F1 drivers must’ve felt no need to drive in this country after it. Imagine the tourism and promotion those drivers would’ve gotten for Agra and the state of UP considering the track was on the highway leading to Taj Mahal.

That was when we came to know that a track designed, developed and expended on for Formula 1 will NOT be used for it. There you have it. The state of the country and its economy in a gist.

Coming over to F1’s broadcasting. There are only two legitimate ways to watch live F1 in India, namely the OTT platform Disney+ Hotstar, and Star Sports Select 2 (HD/SD) on cable TV. Both are one and the same thing because the Disney+ Hotstar app hosts live TV of their channels as well. Though, 60FPS is only supported on the cable TV channel.

Another way to watch F1 is by pirating or torrenting it, but in doing so you risk putting yourself in the same spot as former F1 driver Bertrand Gatchot; prison! So, definitely not recommended.

Like most other Indian F1 fans, we started watching on cable TV. Back in the V8 era of F1, we had the full coverage for F1, even getting pre and post-race coverage by Malaysian host Paula Ali and former F1 driver Alex Yoong giving us detailed race rundowns. It’s sad then, that in the present day, Star Sports Select 2 (HD/SD) doesn’t even show more than 3 minutes of uninterrupted F1 action, after which we are shown the very same ads on repeat.

This is worse than seeing Stroll’s AM jumping over a curb in Monaco while there was a real heated overtake going on elsewhere.

Also, very often they stream cricket REPLAYS on one/all of their many channels, all while ignoring a LIVE FP1 session! Or if there’s a Tennis match that will attract attention, F1 needs to be axed. I mean, the respect they give to F1 and its coverage is simply intolerable and we have no idea how FIA is even allowing this. THIS is simply not good for the reputation of the sport.

They’ve done it many times in the past, and they’ll continue to do so. They just don’t care! This Reddit post shows that India is the only country where a live F1 race is interrupted for full-screen ads. Just look at the comments under this tweet by Star Sports for the British GP Sprint Qualifying.  It’s beyond unbelievable! And mind you, this isn’t a recent issue. As can be seen in this forum post from 2004, Indian fans have always been annoyed at Star Sports regarding their ignorance towards F1!

So, like us, you dislike seeing the same few ads on loop. There’s an ad-free alternative in Hotstar, though there’s one drawback. Framerate! Something I just can’t grasp is why the F1 stream on Hotstar is limited to 30 frames per second. The official broadcast is in 60 frames, the race highlights and replays on Youtube are in 60 frames, and even Star Sports Select 2 (HD/SD) has a 60FPS stream, so what’s the issue Hotstar? Also, Hotstar mostly streams F1 at around 720p and the audio is pure crass. 720p is a guess because their app does not show the quality and measures it as “Good”, “Bad”, etc. Genius!

Hotstar is the only other real alternative to the cable TV for F1, though a short scroll through their Twitter will show that they don’t even know that a ‘sport’ like F1 even exists! All they know of is cricket and promoting whatever big-name TV show or film they’ve secured the rights to. And last weekend, they crossed every possible line and went so far out of their way to ruin a dedicated F1 experience that WE PAY FOR, mind you.

The scene is the 2021 Russian GP. Lakhs of Indians are watching the heart-in-mouth final laps of the Russian GP. All of us were sitting in absolute excitement, eager to see the outcome, and what do we get? A broadcast interruption. I was lucky to have an alternative in the other evil, i.e. cable TV, and quickly switched over, though a friend of mine wasn’t so lucky. Apparently, they played the toss for the MI vs CSK match. Those are two IPL teams. Playing cricket.

Let me remind you, this happened when Lando was gambling on staying out on track, driving with dry tyres on a wet track. It has taken the little bit of trust I had in Hotstar, and thrown it out the window. And mind you, this is not just what I feel like. This Reddit post shows how incredibly pissed Indian F1 fans are with Hotstar!

What can be done, you may ask?

A simple answer would be to give the broadcast rights over to some other company, or organisation. Unfortunately, only Star India has the rights to stream F1 in India till 2022, so we will have to put up with sub-par streaming till then. Unfortunately for us though, the broadcast contract will likely be renewed. Why, you may ask?

Star wants to hold a monopoly in the market for sports. This is obviously not good for F1 fans considering their money-centric and F1-ignoring ideology, but as we’ve seen with the recent Qatar GP announcement, the FIA will go wherever they get money, no matter how low the quality.

As an F1 fanatic, our only wish is to see F1 in it’s true glory without having to pirate it. A 1080P, 60FPS ad-free F1 stream would satisfy all our needs, and also the needs of the lakhs of Indian F1 fans all over the country. We often hear how passionate Italian or German fans are about F1, though the passion for F1 in India runs as deep, if not more. We however are forced to watch sub-par quality F1 streams to quench our desires for F1, which is a statement that makes me very sad.

All I hope for is that at the end of 2022, Star is either refused a contract like how this Reddit user wants, or gives it up to another broadcasting organisation, who are passionate about the actual sport, and not just the revenue it makes.

Another alternative would be to bring F1 TV Pro to India, which gives live broadcasts of every session, uninterrupted and in 60FPS. The day any of these happen, F1 will finally be able to appeal to the massive, and untapped potential of the Indian market! That’s ought to take away a lot from Hotstar and MIGHT just make them better due to competition.

Until then, we’ll have to resort to either Hotstar’s ad-free but 30FPS choppy quality streams, or the alternative of cable TV butting in 15 to 20 ads after every 3-5 minutes of F1 broadcast. Here’s to hoping for better times to come! Stay strong amigos. We’ll have our time.

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Sahil D.

Love sleeping, video games and aviation, but F1 is life! I'm addicted to F1 and it's happenings, and I really love open-wheel motorsport! Feel free to check out any of my articles- I try my best to write without an element of bias, so you as the reader can form your own opinion! :)

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