Monday was International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and today is Peace One Day. Piracy is a hot topic in motorsport, and almost every panel discussion I participate in regarding the business of motorsport brings it up as the worst evil since the abandonment of V12 engines in F1. It generates a huge number of column inches, and this kind of conflict between series and fans is counter-productive. Since everyone's probably still in the mood for talking like pirates, and affording us a little cover, we thought we'd talk about piracy in motorsport as our topic for Peace One Day.
Internet piracy is on the decline, for the most part, now that affordable online subscription options are available for several forms of media (WEC and MotoGP), and a lot of scope for crowd-funding content (Patreon, which has yet to catch on in motorsport, but is a possible avenue for independent content creators). Add to that, law enforcement have now grown more street-wise and started closing pirate streams, some series have affordable app-based coverage, and Formula E is free to view on their website or on YouTube.
Nino Tamarashvili, who works for an international sport and entertainment broadcaster, told Motorsport Sisterhood, 'In my view, the Formula E model is absolutely correct for an emerging category. You can catch up with the last two seasons for Formula E on their YouTube channel, which means you're looking at their branding the whole way through, you're earning them a few cents of ad revenue, and you're fully engaged with them on a direct level.'
Niall Geaney, a partner in a Dublin-based law firm that deals with several sporting bodies, agreed with Tamarashvili, saying, 'Formula-E is new and it needs the publicity to develop. In five years, however, when Formula-E has a strong fan base built up its very difficult to see this free to air content continuing.' He went on to say, 'The example of WEC is a good baseline in that for a simple one off payment the user can have full access to a race weekend content. Personally I use the WEC app quite a lot and the quality of options available to the user are worth the fee to be paid. If these major sports events are to maintain this high quality of broadcasting with options of selecting various in car video, highlights and live timing screens then this must come at a cost.'
But how much cost? Blame for the decline of F1's global TV audience has been laid at the feet of internet piracy on a number of occasions since the introduction of the Sky-based broadcast model. The rationale for this is that the decline in official revenue is due to hordes of people, who are used to F1 being free-to-air, now jacking a stream instead of paying for it. However, there is no reliable data available about this – either supporting or disproving the hypothesis. Most of the broad-spectrum academic information on internet piracy is about CD and DVD sales – published when the music industry was wringing its hands over Napster – and the one relevant motorsport entry is a patent to prevent filming at events.
Given that there are other forms of piracy that have a far greater impact on series organisers' bottom lines, one would think that pirate filming of events would be a slightly lower priority. For example, anyone with a Sky subscription and an internet connection (and some technical know-how) can broadcast it to a website, allowing hundreds upon thousands of people to watch the race for free. As someone whose WEC app glitched during Le Mans, I can testify that it just isn't possible to follow a race to any meaningful degree via twitter fan-cam videos. Live timing, which is available for free for most series, is a far more informative way to follow a race without access to a broadcast.
It is possible that most fans pirate to some extent. It is also possible that the 80-20 rule applies here – that is, most people stop at jacking a stream, while a small percentage are the ones making GIFs of footage, making 'best overtake', tribute, and comedy videos, and an even smaller percentage actually hosting the pirate streams. With the lack of reliable data available on the topic, it's easy to see why series bosses have such a hard time coming up with a sensible policy to deal with it. The ways of 'dealing with it' that we have seen thus far includes charging more for TV channel subscription (F1), broadcasting via a subscription app for a lower fee (WEC and MotoGP), and broadcasting free via YouTube (Formula E).
In Geaney's opinion, where GIFs and videos become problematic is in the intent to monetise the content. 'There needs to be a differentiation between these breaches of copyright by fans for the promotion of the sport generally and breach for commercial gain. The later must be litigated fully to avoid the dilution of the value of the broadcasting rights. However the former should be encouraged to develop the fan base of a sport.'
From a broadcaster's perspective, Tamarashvili described it as 'wildly annoying' to see pirated GIF content of her work online, but her reason for saying that was because the image resolution of the GIFs and clip videos was 'trash quality'. However, she had nothing but praise for the higher-quality pirate content. 'Fans create high-quality, excellent content that sells our products better – and frequently to bigger audiences – than we can, as our branded accounts. We can't have that peer-to-peer, explanatory connection, which has been shown to drive both transactional and non-transactional engagement on a colossal scale.'
Regarding whole event streams, Tamarashvili said, 'People rip it faster than we can make it properly available as catch up and that damages our numbers hugely (everything is available free but we are judged on numbers of views) which is very frustrating after weeks of setting up a major moment.' Geaney's comments on this form of piracy were more sternly worded. 'Many of these major sports events rely upon commercial rights holders investment to be able to host the events. The commercial rights holders rely on TV revenues. If you allow private individuals to attend these events, create their own content and publish it online without consent or take content straight from the TV coverage and rebroadcast it then no doubt the argument will be that this damages the rights holder ability to give a return on the investment made.'
He went on to say, 'The constant counterargument exists in that by restricting the ability of fans to broadcast GIFs on sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter potentially may be viewed as damaging the ability of the fans to promote the sport and develop a fan base...If as a fan I am allowed to see a teaser of 10 seconds of the beginning of a race online or a great passing manoeuvre during the race will it not encourage me to tune in to my pay per view channel later that day to watch the entire race?'
Is this a valid argument, then? Deeds we shall henceforth refer to as 'petty piracy' – that is, fans limiting themselves to broadcasting short video clips, GIFs, Vines, and similar on channels where they make no revenue, rather than 'grand piracy' or broadcasting whole events – are justified in the name of promoting the sport. Geaney said, 'It very much depends on the sports event. If there is a sport which could clearly benefit from further knowledge by the public as to what the sport is about and with such broadcasting this could help the sports development, then there is certainly an argument for allowing the fans some limited freedom to broadcast as they see fit.' Tamarashvili agreed, saying, 'Aside from anything else, we simply can't create that much content. Run a skinny digital team whilst providing enough content to let fans run with it? You don't even have to cross-post your things across platforms! It's a huge time-saver; it lets you get on with posting selective, quality, tailored things as best you can with the resources available.'
So have the broadcasters blown the piracy problem out of proportion? Does petty piracy really affect their bottom line. Tamarashvili says no. 'If anything it's far more likely to affect the difficult-to-view things like Sky-only content.' Geaney agrees. 'Do you allow fans to broadcast as they wish to help promote the sport in lieu of having a commercial product to sell or do you restrict all broadcasting save for the official channels and risk less promotion to fans who may not be as familiar with the sport? If you look at F1 which over the last few years seems to have been under fire from many fans for lack of a spectacle on track then there is an argument, in my view, to lessen their stranglehold on the copyrighted material in lieu of gaining fans through online promotion.'
Geaney brought up the example of the Olympics and other events that, under British law, are considered 'protected events of national importance'. Under this legislation, events are promoted by being broadcasted free. Interest in the Paralympics, for instance, spiked in Britain after the 2012 games, because the games were better covered in more detail than they had been up until that point. 'Should we look to expand this list of sports to include sports that could do with help to develop and promote? There is certainly an argument for this but once again it will come back to financial viability. If you expand the list and allow more free to air then some sports will not be able to get commercial backing from sponsors who see TV broadcasting money as their revenue on return.'
When asked if FOM's policing of copyrighted material was excessive, Geaney said, 'In my view its very simply a case of not allowing the use of copyrighted material for commercial gain or exploitation...A simple licence agreement can deal with this which clearly stipulates that a general licence is given to all 3rd parties to broadcast short excerpts of content (whether it be privately manufacture content or reproducing broadcasters official content) provided it is not for commercial gain. Policing this however in practice is the issue and you can certainly see why it is easier and more cost efficient to simply outlaw all use of the copyrighted content.'
Tamarashvili agreed with Geaney on this point. 'For preventing grand piracy, the simple solution is to make sure that content owned by them is easily available and reasonably priced, with little-to-no online barrier to accessing it. Most people will not mess around with a dodgy stream if the alternative is a high quality, secure and relatively cheap service - we've seen this again and again with everything digital, from music to TV series to general video and audio content. But for the short clips, there's no need to police it. They're some of the best trailers you can get – targeted very precisely for their audiences, by embedded experts...it's the stuff of content marketer's dreams!'
When I asked my pair of experts if they thought broadcast piracy in motorsport would decrease if more series adopted WEC's and MotoGP's model, they unanimously agreed that this is the silver bullet for grand piracy. Tamarashvili said, 'Make it easy, make it available, people will watch it! People already want to watch it, it's just there is a huge limit to the amount of effort and money - or in practical terms, commitment, especially if it's location-based services - that it's possible to give over to something that's meant to be entertainment. Make it easy and keep it fun, in terms of policing infringements.'
Geaney said, 'I do think that this may decrease the piracy issue in that there will be more choices available and better coverage at a more affordable rate. Such a concept offers choice to the fans to engage with the sports at many different levels. For example, currently with the WEC app you can choose which races to pay for and for LeMans coverage you can choice one day or full weekend coverage. It is pay as you view as such which would be very attractive to fans who may not have the time to watch an entire weekend's (or season's) sport.'
'I don't think it could or would or indeed, should stop the gif-making as that's excellent supportive content and commentary/feedback, which is hugely interesting to broadcasters,' Tamarashvili said. 'It's also completely free promotion on a scale and accuracy that it would be simply impossible to deliberately build.'
Geaney also doubts whether it is possible to end petty piracy. 'I would be of the view that individuals will always strive for personal approval by posting such clips online. That said if you had one central platform, a Youtube for motorsports as such, then individuals could still post licensed content and gain popularity through approval from the users of the site. This may reduce such piracy issues.'
A pay-per-view service that incorporated a social media element would be the best way to reduce internet piracy. If it were a centralised system that broadcast motorsport from around the world, it would bring very welcome publicity to smaller, less well-known series. It would end broadcasting as we know it, but it would likely reduce piracy, as we have seen happen with the music, book, and film industries.
It's been a full year since this site was launched. In some ways, it seems like I've been the vocal motorsport feminist for longer than that. Concomitantly, it seems like just yesterday that I was wrestling my rusty tech skills into creating something resembling a website. (Let's be honest, the last time I did anything resembling coding was before I was asked by my uni to please not write Computer Science 201, as they didn't want to waste time marking my exam script.)
It's been an eventful year! Susie Wolff has started Dare to be Different; Tatiana Calderon has got a GP3 drive...it seems like we're finally making progress on the feminist front. I've also found motorsport-loving women in more varieties than I thought existed prior to starting this project.
REVIEW OF THE PAST YEAR
They say the first year of any organisation is the hardest - bootstrapping, working two jobs simultaneously (and, in my case, taking a theology degree part-time), hardly ever having time to socialise other than for networking purposes...it all adds up - so that's over, and we're all rather relieved to have survived. Progress has been slow, but we're choosing to fail forwards, learn from our mistakes, and pick up the pace as we build momentum.
We have consulted with experts to bring you the best research woven into an accessible format. It took quite a lot of discussion and juggling to sort out which courses were the highest priorities. The question of how to package them in a way that was simultaneously affordable for the audience and lucrative enough to fill the money pot for all the cool things we want to do in the future also took quite a lot of thought and research.
We are shooting the first course (Taking Rejection Like A Boss, to be followed by Troll-Wrangling 101) next week...allow a week or two for post-production and a few small website upgrades before The Elastic Heart Toolkit hits the store. There will be a referral discount for everyone who takes a course - that is, we give your friend a 25% discount and you get a 5% gift voucher to the store.
We have formed a network of small-scale suppliers to provide goodies for the merch store. We've been working with the artists to come up with original and unique designs, which are scalable if demand for a particular item grows exponentially higher than we're expecting. Products being tabled at the moment include: t-shirts and hoodies, silk batik scarves (available in square or hijab), and bead sculpture paperweights. More will no doubt come in time. Scheduled ETA is within a few weeks of getting the e-courses online.
While we've been trying to raise funds - largely unsuccessfully...thank you to everyone in the UK who voted 'leave' and destabilised the financial market - we have come up with an alternative strategy that should improve the sustainability of the project, both in terms of carbon produced, and in terms of continuity of the labour force. I'll explain more about this in the 'coming year' section, under 'local cells'.
Conference - WiMCon
As it turns out, organising a conference is more time-intensive than we had expected. Coordinating twenty speaker's schedules to coincide over a weekend is trickier than it sounds, especially when coordinating a free weekend between several racing series and several university holidays. Also, Brexit happened, and raising £200,000 in sponsorship was a big ask. We will be holding the conference in Barcelona in March, with far more fun activities (for cheaper) than we could find in Oxford. More to come on the WiMCon page.
Mum of the Month
We sent out a number of queries, and received positive responses. Then we sent out the questions and heard nothing back. We're not taking this off the agenda, but courses and conference are taking first priority at the moment.
Nyoom! - the Art and Lit Mag
Again, courses and conference are bigger priorities for us at the moment, due to the projected impact of both of those compared to the art and lit mag. We need to improve our internal infrastructure to make this project a success. When we have the structures to do a great job, we will pursue this further.
RESPONSE TO BREXIT
Has it really been three months since the Brexit vote?! In the meantime, we have started a research group and a business incubator group on facebook. The goal is to grow these groups into actual, physical premises where people can undertake independent research and/or grow a small business into a powerhouse by sharing facilities.
We were contracted to do some recruitment work for a Formula E team. While we didn't place a candidate, we have a strategy to build a larger database of motorsport talent, and pursue this more directly. Recruitment was always on the agenda for Motorsport Sisterhood, as this is the most literal and direct way to get more equitable hiring practices. The only business consultancy contracts we won this past quarter were with a Zimbabwean film studio (in exchange for filming our courses), so not exactly related to Brexit, but a step in the right direction. Another quarter is coming, and we've taken up bullet journalling to increase our productivity.
WHAT'S COMING UP...
It occurred to us (while having mutual excitement over a TED talk) that by establishing local cells, we could provide better support to our global network of women. It would also help the racial inequality we see in motorsport, as several women in our network are based in countries with a majority non-white population; if we boost the stellar talent from local networks to international, we can organically address the racial homogeneity without ruffling too many feathers.
We've been working on designing and making some motorsport-themed games. Once local cells are established, games nights will become a regular feature of the calendar. They're on the Gantt chart in my bullet journal, but several steps need to happen before they will work in the long term.
Creativity is good for the soul. Socialising is good for the soul. Activities like knitting are akin to meditation in terms of the human brain's response to rhythmic, repetitive tasks. Thus, we are looking for volunteers to host crafting circles for motorsport-loving women in your area.
As with the crafting circles, doing things in groups has a long list of benefits, among which is having people on hand to hold you accountable when you don't feel like exercising. These will likely take the form of monthly or quarterly fun runs, but the precise form of the activities is highly dependent on the skills and passions of the local organisers. If you would like to start a fitness group for motorsporty women in your area, contact us!
As we've stepped up our social media involvement, we have had engagement with question askers (of varying levels of background aggression) online. Some would call them trolls; we prefer to think of them as debate practice. So without further ado, allow me to add a few FAQ points, which will be copied over to the FAQ page.
What do we think of Dare To Be Different
Story time. Forests are complex ecosystems. A multitude of species find their homes in forests, from the mycelium (literally translates to 'mushroom root', this acts like the intranet of the forest) to the mother trees (pioneer individuals of a particular species that establishes in the forest and nurtures its seedlings and saplings via the mycelium). Each species performs a vital role, and without one or two (or a few), the ecosystem would unravel. We think of ourselves as the mycelium, connecting similar species and sharing nutrients between the plants in the forest. Susie's role is a vital one as one of the mother trees in the 'women in F1' forest. It is possible, even encouraged, to be nurtured by the forest's mother tree and be plugged into the mycelium for help from other species. And we're working on getting Susie as a speaker for WiMCon to allow her time and space to be a mother tree in the community.
Why are we doing all this for women when men are really the ones being discriminated against in fields like engineering, where women are 'gifted' with jobs upon leaving uni, whereas men have to fight each other in their thousands?
We're doing this for women because the data say that there are fewer women in motorsport, and this needs at the very least a conversation and a good look at the data to figure out how to make it more equitable. We just want to know some information, which we will use to inform our strategy. We will shortly be launching a survey on the gender pay gap in motorsport; if you would like to participate, you will receive a time-limited voucher for store credit. If you would like more information on how to live in happy masculinity, we really recommend the work of Michael Kimmel; he's a very thorough and rational researcher, and writes in a witty, informative style.
Who exactly are we fighting?
Nobody, really, because we're not fighting. We believe in non-violence. It is possible to protest an unjust system without turning it into a violent revolution. Incidentally, the likelihood of a movement adopting non-violent methods is strongly predicted by the group's attitude to the role of women. So yes, we believe in voting with our dollars and will recommend our tribe avoid buying certain products or services if it becomes known that the providers/promoters are unethical, but no, we're leaving our fire-starting spells in the 'emergency use only' section of the spell book.