Birds chasing pigs beats Formula 1

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren Formula 1 team principal, has stated in interviews that he believes that Formula 1 now stands at a crossroads in terms of making the most of the possibilities it has on the internet and in the mobile. He is right.

When we go back 10 years all major brands in the world believed in the internet and mobile revolution. Brands such as NHL, NBA and Formula 1 analysed potential revenue streams from internet and mobile services. The prediction was often that mobile games and mobile services would bring in millions in revenue every year. But many of these major brands, including Formula 1, are still waiting, even though advanced smartphones and tablets have lead to a huge growth in demand for mobile entertainment, for the mobile revolution to happen, and the revenue. In Formula 1 the development has been very slow, probably because of TV rights protective reasons.

Finnish company Sports Telecom has analysed the Formula 1 mobile market and launched Formula 1 branded, based on single driver and single team brands, mobile services during the past 10 years. Mr Whithmarsh is asking a very important question, how to monetize on the new media?

Our experience says it is not an easy task, not even in Formula 1. The key is, referring to Martin Whithmarsh, cooperation. The teams and everyone in the sport need to work together.
When we look at the most successful mobile and internet services Formula 1 is not represented. How is it possible that non branded services outperform world class global brands such as Formula 1? One very resent and good example is Angry Birds, a game where birds chase greedy pigs. The game is simple and it is addictive.

Even though the latest high end cellphones are full-fledged computers with high-speed internet connections gamers don’t use them for the ultimate gaming experience. It is also different time consumption. We play cellphone games while waiting for a bus or sitting in the waiting room to a dentist. We do it when we have these small bits of free time, more known as micro-moments. Games developed for micro-moments should be simple, just like Angry Birds or Bubble Ball, a successful iPhone game developed by a 14 year old.

Rovio choose from the start not to use external brand for their games. They developed their own brands. This was an important strategy decision. It proved to be very challenging until the angry birds nested at Rovio.

I believe strong brands can be successful as well, and they are. Angry Birds is an exception, it is one of those phenomena’s that is difficult to copy, it just happens. One reason to link a brand to a cellphone game or a service is the effect of recognition. A brand such as Formula 1 makes the game or service recognisable and therefore captivating. Fans are loyal and they are ready to spend money.

A non-branded game or service easily drowns in the competition. That is probably so. But I have a feeling, and it is also based on analyse, that distributors prefer to put an effort in and push well designed and good non-branded games rather than branded games. A brand is in it for the business, the revenue. This perception tends to have a negative effect on how both distributors and consumers react on a branded mobile service.

The emotional strings attached to a brand are for good and bad. When asking developers and publishers what kind of brands they prefer the answer is globally or locally A-class strong brands. These are the ones with the highest up-side.

The challenge for Formula 1 is that the sport consists of strong and weak brands. Formula 1 itself is very strong brand. But looking at teams and drivers there are big differences. Only a few of the brands can be considered as A-class brands.

What are then the chances for a non A-class brand to become really successful on the mobile service or internet market? Limited, I would say. But not impossible.

When the mobile revolution started I was involved in a research project where we developed a pilot application for Formula 1. It was a very sophisticated mobile service idea. Data from the cars running on the track and from the driver behind the wheel was collected by sensors attached to the car and driver. The data was then transferred to a mobile device. The user could follow the car and get live and online information from driver and car during a race.

As of today these kind of mobile services are still very rare. Those developed are restricted by rights, not at least TV-rights. Again, cooperation is needed in the sport, as Martin Whitmarsh say, the best option is to work together.

I know that many strong brands, especially in sports, have been disappointed with the revenue from internet and mobile services. I think and hope that Angry Birds will inspire and convince brands that it is possible to make money, big money from mobile services. But it is not easy, not even for Formula 1.

Björn Stenbacka
Sports Telecom

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