F1's Murray Walker was way ahead of YouTube
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The recent rise of YouTube bloggers, Twitch streamers etc., who provide more of the entertainment that's replacing traditional TV for the younger generations - seemed weird to me at first. Clearly there's a demand for a different kind of entertainment, but why was it so rapidly popular? Well, rather than sit down and be shown the latest shenanigans of Coronation Street at a time of the broadcaster's choosing, you now decide what CONTENT you'd like to consume, and when. The notion of content is king, even in cliche form, is still probably under estimated even more these days. It's not just the presentation of the facts of who's having an affair with who, or which team won the football match any more. New 'Content creators' (as the new generation of entertainers call themselves), are just following what works, which is all about content consumption. That could be, them providing engagement with their audience whilst playing a game, or responding via blog comments to their fans, or addressing their questions in videos. The very fact you came here to read this article, was to consume content and inadvertently look at some adverts (that helps pay for my racing - many thanks!).
Again - it all revolves around content in it's many forms, and we the audience are getting even more spoilt for choice. Which brings me on to sport. Generally speaking, you watch a race or match to know the outcome, and the meantime is filled with a bit of commentary and some pundit expertise to keep you interested and entertained. But technology now lets us engage interactively, with live voting polls, social TV discussions (on Twitter for example), second screen apps for live data, additional podcasts etc. It boils down to consumption of content, and we've gained the ability to on demand, surround ourselves in a blanket of the world of our chosen subject.
Which is why, (only now we're getting to the point I'm afraid!), for a while in F1 certainly in the UK, we've had richer content kicked off with various features. I think this started with ITV and their drive for a richer fan experience, refined by BBC then taken to another level with lots more (love those historic F1 Driver shows) on Sky. But sadly in other ways, it has also become a slightly blander experience. Unfortunately I lay the blame partly at the door of some of my favourite commentators who've swallowed the line "If you are not winning or realistically expect to win on the near future, why are you here? Go home...". That was mainly driven I think from the top to get different teams instead into the sport with more money, so it's more commercial than anything sporting. If we are to ignore the minnows and the mid teams, who let's face it, just want to go racing week in week out at the pinnacle of motorsport (who can blame them?), we focus more on the front of the grid. Even the new advert for Sky places much emphasis on there going to be more competition at the front because of the rule changes. HA!! Bless... Ever the optimists...but it's the wrong strategy. Because when you get the inevitable dominance which is cyclical in F1 (hey - at least the team mates are allowed to compete unlike the early 2000s...!), what have you got left? Err... ok. So this team is still dominating...um, that's a blow. Now what do we talk about? Lewis again?
And finally, that brings me now to Murray Walker. So yeah, sorry for the slightly click-baity headline! He did a great interview a while back on Sky with Georgie Thompson, and said he wanted to almost grab the viewer by the throat and make them excited about his world, as passionate as he was. He did this with all his stories and anecdotes. I can still hear him talking about the hard working Mer-ce-des engine team in Brixworth, the fabulously designed Ferrari from Rory Byrne, the minnows of Minardi from Faenza in Italy, Michael Schumacher who grew up karting in Kirpen, Peter Sauber - you couldn't meet a lovelier chap - and his Hinwill based Sauber team, and it goes on. It was always details, he always weaved such a rich tapestry. He kept feeding you an inexhaustible supply of CONTENT. If you ever watched French or German commentary around the same time, you'd just assume there was a problem with their audio kit, or they were only paid part time during races. With Murray, he brought the thing to life, you felt involved, like you knew more about the sport, the team's stories, the drivers and their histories, you were completely immersed in his content and enthusiasm. AND he went through far more dominant spells in the sport!
I generally enjoy Ted Kravitz's very oddball alternative view of testing or race weekends on my phone on the train to work. Because to me, it's a more raw reflection of a fan's view, so it's actually one of my favourite features. It makes me wonder what if Murray had been born 30 years or so later to take advantage of these new content delivery mechanisms, he could feed fans like myself directly and more, rather than the narrow broadcast window. He'd be great at it I'm certain, because he'd have more opportunity to bring you into his world. You'd just feel so much more engaged with the sport because you were better informed.
So. Please F1 broadcasters (and the new heads of F1 - I see you're already making headway with this!), don't get hung up on Mercedes having a dominant car this season (yet again). Get your most passionate presenters to listen to some Murray Walker for a few hours (on any motorsport for that matter), allow them to try their own ideas (ok it may work or not work - that's life!) and get more of their content on demand, more frequently. Tell the untold stories of all of the teams in the sport, the unreported blood sweat and tears that comes from a race team, that just wants to go racing for a career. In one of the greatest sports on the planet backed with decades of heritage, encompassing thousands of participants from all over the world to compete at the pinnacle of motorsport - there are fantastic plots, sub plots, story arcs.... They are right in front of you, you just need to surface and deliver them to keep fans like me engaged, rather than simply report who is winning a race.