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Formula One- The Smartest Guys in the Room

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Technology partners... an important facet for many businesses and now Formula One has an official partner in which to grow. The Tata Communications group have announced a technical partnership with Formula One and will provide hosting, broadband and circuit connectivity for the series at each race. Here is the presser:

Tata Communications, a leading provider of The New World of Communications, today announces a multiyear technology service and marketing agreement with Formula One Management. The agreement will see Tata Communications delivering world-class connectivity to all 20 Formula 1™ race locations over its global network, the largest in the world. It will also provide hosting and content delivery services to Formula1.com, which is accessed by tens of millions of fans around the globe.

The innovative deal positions Tata Communications corporately as a Technology Supplier of Formula 1™ with category exclusive designations as Official Connectivity Provider of Formula 1™ and Official Web Hosting and Content Delivery Network of Formula1.com.

Formula One group businesses and race locations will now be connected to the Tata Global Network (TGN), supported by secure MPLS connectivity. Formula One Management's IT infrastructure and Formula1.com will be co-located and hosted in Tata Communications' world-class data centers.

The public announcement was made during a London press conference delivered by Vinod Kumar, MD and CEO of Tata Communications and Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of Formula One group.

As this is a part of Formula One that bridges my life as a blogger on the sport and an executive in the technology industry, let me enjoy the collision of my two worlds and perhaps help you understand some of the details.

The Pipe
Most likely, the services are at a major discount or compensated for the partnership but don't let that fool you, it's a massive undertaking. Providing connectivity at a race is huge and bridges several logistics hurdles with Internet Service Providers for each host nation unless they are using a dedicated satellite backhaul for the broadband but even that is majority expensive as bouncing mega-bandwidth off a bird int eh Clark Arc 22, 500 miles away is a bit pricey.

I doubt it's satellite and most likely landline but either way, it is a challenge as each nation has different broadband and carrier regulations that have to be accommodated or ironed out prior to pre-, on- and post-event communication.

Multi Protocol Line Switching (MPLS) connections are a dedicated "pipe" from one location to the other and usually is a secure connection for dedicated data, video and voice traffic. The line is normally earmarked for what the call QOS or Quality of Service protocol that was established by the ITU in 1994 for a quality of service in the telephony world.

This QOS placed provisions on the type of traffic a line would experience giving priority to a hierarchy which could look like this: 1- voice, 2-data, 3-video. That can be arranged to place a priority on the types of information you need and that is most critical.

If Formula One is using this MPLS for video, it will be made a priority as packet collision and loss is a big baddie in the world of video. The big question I'd like to know is how big is this pipe? Ds3?, T1? Bonded T1's? It makes a big difference.

The Host
Hosting is a major issue as well due to the immense traffic Formulaone.com generates on an hourly basis and the type of streaming content they host. If Mr. Ecclestone has notions of providing more content to fans via the website, this will take a serious hosting service built for media and specialized, pay-wall content.

Sites have to be technology agnostic these days as the press for mobility is the biggest revolution the world is facing on the technology evolutionary cycle. Responsive sites for gesture-based devices such as iPads and iPhones/Droids are key and if F1 is going to use Tata Communications as a content delivery channel, this will place a major burden on servers and site characteristics.

The Host has to be completely integrated into the data transfer and with so many things to look at these days for content delivery, it will take serious strategy to determine what and which will be used.

Smartest guy in the room
In the world of Formula One, there are a lot of sharp people but I would be remiss in giving any of them credit as they've completely missed the realization of what fans really want. I am dreadfully sorry and do not want to sound flippant but the teams, sponsors and F1 itself are painfully behind the technology curve and bereft of what the changed consumer model really is.

I've spoken to marketing companies, the press/journalists, teams and the commercial rights group and I must be honest, they all will tell you they are the smartest guys in the room when it comes to social media, content-as-marketing, co-content creation, video, audio, fan appeal, return-on-message, the 5th screen, the zero moment of truth and just about every other notion they can Google. Sorry...they clearly are not. I've been surprised at their acidic comments and attitude toward the consumer in this model but I believe it is changing and this is what prompts their harsh words...fear of relevancy in a legacy machine.

Insiders, experts, sponsors, drivers and just about every other periphery player in F1 has not shown me any clear understanding of what the fan really wants. They tell me what they think of themselves and how they are piously at the cutting edge of F1 insight and while I have always shown deference to those who are, I am also reminded that no amount of bravado can replace the level of fan desire and the power of the consumer model to render their heavy-handed comments irrelevant.

Has F1 finally got it?
All of this to say that F1 may have actually opened their eye to the analog sunset. In 2013, there will be no more analog video. You know that VGA connector on the side of your laptop? That is dead in less than 12 months. The digital sunrise is here and F1 must provide content of a high resolution, it must face the changing consumer model, and it must embrace the entirety of its marketing machine...not just it's TV contracts.

Formula One's obsession with revenue isn't the baddie here, it is what's needed to keep the tide coming and the force to raise all ships. What is amazing is the lost revenue potential because of the obtuse nature towards the new consumer model and digital sunrise. If they really listen intently, tehy will hear the consumer model and fan desires and can accomodate them for a long future in the new world.

Let's be fair, however, in that F1 has many facets and assets to protect in this digital age of piracy and content hijacking world. It's something that every fan must be sensitive about and I do have compassion for that issue but like Hollywood and the infamous HDMI format (which is a big, ugly, money-making consortium), they can easily cock it up in the process. No one wants to be caught with their pants down like the music industry did (and Metallica perhaps) but if Hollywood's best answer is HDCP using EDID tables for video control, they've lost already. F1 has a partner that can revolutionize their distribution channel if they just think about it intelligently.

One caveat
While I think many of the decision makers in the machine are slow on the uptake, there are a host of technology professionals deploying networks, communication, video, data and voice traffic at each race for each team. These guys are rock stars! The tasks they are charged with are insurmountable and they DO get it! While I criticize the C-level mindset of F1, the technician-level work is fabulous and the men and women who connect teams with their HQ's and harness bandwidth from backward-thinking nations and ISP's should get our greatest praise for what they do.

Even the TV broadcast crews are heroes of otherworldly proportions. The Sky Sports team and SPEED here in America are professionals in every sense of the words and are some of the most amazing technical people in the business.

On/Off
While I've waxed poetic about F1's foray into a new technical partnership and its inability to thoroughly understand what its customer really wants, I do think this is a great move on their part and the part of Tata Communications. F1 needs help and we've tried to help them but perhaps taking help from non-industrial media or social media or bloggers or new media (which doesn't really exist...it's just media now) or new distribution channels and management isn't something they're willing to do...most likely because they're the smartest guys in the room.