nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Live test: Formula 1 app totally fails VPN test

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During the Belgium Grand Prix on Sunday, I tested Formula 1’s claim that its F1 TV app defends against live viewing in regions where it has exclusive TV licensing agreements. Here’s how F1 did against three commonly used VPN solutions and with no VPN at all.

F1 defends against VPN usage

Formula 1’s new F1 TV service allows people living in regions where the races are not broadcast to enjoy the action. However, Frank Arthofer, F1’s director of digital and new business, said the app employs “best-in-class content security” to ensure people can’t watch using a VPN if the race is available to them on TV.

I live in the US, where ESPN owns the broadcast rights to F1 races. The website and F1 app should prevent me from watching the races live. I tested this with and without the use of VPNs.

The above video is an edited highlight of a live test I broadcast using Facebook Live during the Belgium Grand Prix on August 26th, 2018.

You can see the original, unedited version at the nScreenMedia Facebook page.

How I did the test

I used three VPN solutions to try to gain access to the live race stream. The solutions I tried were:

  • ExpressVPN
  • IPVanish
  • NordVPN

Anyone can sign up for these VPNs. They are easy to install and even easier to configure. In each case, I had the VPN route my requests and the video stream through Germany, where F1 does not have any TV licensing agreements. In other words, an app with unsophisticated security would assume I was in Germany and allow me to watch the content I wanted to see. I used an F1 subscription registered in Germany (see the section VPNs not the only hurdle for details on this.)

I used a Windows 10 laptop to test each of the VPNs. The procedure I used was very simple:

  • Start the VPN establishing my location as Germany
  • Open the browser and log in to formula1.com
  • Start F1 TV from the site’s menu and attempt to watch the live stream
  • Close the browser
  • Exit the VPN app

Using all three VPNs, I was able to watch the race live through F1 TV in California while ESPN2 was broadcasting the live race. Even worse than that, with no VPN enabled I was still able to watch the race live. According to nScreenMedia testing, Formula 1 is doing nothing at all to stop a German registered user from watching the live race in the US.

VPNs not the only hurdle

Formula 1 also helps secure the content by making people state where they will watch from when signing up for service. Your credit card billing address and viewing country must match for the signup process to work. There are, of course, plenty of ways around this. You can borrow a friend’s login in a country with live access or have them sign up for you. You can also use a world debit card service like mycard2go.com to get a card number that will work to register in Germany.*

However, the objective of my test wasn’t to look at the sign-up aspect of F1’s security. It was to test whether a registered user can watch a live race in a region where F1 has an exclusive television license agreement. Unfortunately, F1 fails the test.

Why it matters

Many video services use technology to stop people from watching content outside of the region where the service is licensed to distribute.

According to nScreenMedia testing, Formula 1 is not doing this with the live races.

*Geoguard provided nScreenMedia assistance in obtaining the login for the F1 app.


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