Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May are hoping to revolutionize digital media. But first, the former hosts of Top Gear, BBC’s long-running and insanely popular car show, are having trouble coming up with a name for their new automotive show on Amazon. Prime Torque, Autonation, Skid Mark, Gear Knobs, and more are all taken, as Clarkson revealed in a recent Sunday Times column, and another trailer for the new show used the dilemma as a gag. Another name that’s also taken is DriveTribe, but this one is being used by the affable hosts themselves in a completely different venture.
Clarkson, Hammond, and May have announced plans to launch DriveTribe later this year, essentially a car-centric content hub that will feature stories, video, and more from not only the stars themselves, but an army of professional writers, filmmakers, and interactive artists, as well as fans of every niche in the universe of car enthusiasts. As stars of old media, the trio recruited an impressive team of new media executives late last year to put together the engine on this new project. CEO Ernesto Schmitt, previously founder and CEO of Beamly, chief technology officer Jonathan Morris, previously CTO of Financial Times online and Thompson Reuters, and chief product officer Dave Killeen, previously general manager at Mail Online, and senior product roles at Badoo, Hearst, and the BBC.
Hammond says they simply saw an opportunity, and tried to find the right people to help them make it a reality. “Me, James, and Jeremy, having worked together for a very long time making high production value, long-form TV, started looking around and realized, ‘Hang on a minute, not only is our subject undergoing tremendous revolution and evolution right now with cars changing and morphing by the week before our eyes, our media is as well,” says Hammond. “People are consuming things in different ways, so we thought we needed to find a way to drive our subject of cars and motoring into this hard and right now. So Ernesto has been showing us how to do it.”
What attracted Schmitt to what may sound like a broad, off-the-cuff idea is the size of the opportunity. “Cars and motoring is a bigger audience category than gaming, football, TV, news and current affairs, it’s one of the top three categories,” says Schmitt. “And it’s not just among middle aged men, because 40% are women and two-thirds are under 35. It’s got near universal appeal, but it’s dramatically underserved digitally. If you look at the Top 500 web destinations, not one is dedicated to cars.”
And if you’re going to build an automotive media platform, you could do much worse than having Clarkson, Hammond and May as the face of it. Before the three left in 2015, Top Gear was one of the BBC’s biggest global brands, with international versions in the U.S., Russia, France, South Korea, Australia, and China, and sales of the TV show, DVDs, books, live shows, and other merchandise worth more than $70 million a year. The show holds the Guinness world record for most popular factual television show in the world, with an audience of 350 million people in 214 territories. But that’s just half the plan.
Because the subject of cars is so vast, and interest so diverse–from NASCAR and Formula One, to hot rods, classic cars, and beyond–Schmitt says DriveTribe will catalogue and separate content into “tribes,” allowing consumers to build their own library of tribes to reflect their own interests.
“Automotive is an incredibly popular category but it’s about lifestyle, which is fragmented and tribal,” says Schmitt. “Porsche fans are not necessarily the same as muscle car or classic car fans. All the existing platforms for motoring fans suffer from a few problems, one being they use a traditional magazine approach that serves up the same thing to everyone. More importantly, they either appeal to an individual niche, which limits its audience, or try to serve everyone, which is thin on the content side.”
In addition to the ex-Top Gear trio, DriveTribe has its own editorial staff, 15 to 30 people to start, curating and producing its own content. The third level is where they open the doors to any and all third-party vloggers, bloggers, commentators, YouTubers, you name it, who’d like to adopt DriveTribe as a toolkit and platform to run and curate their own tribes, their own following, voice and content. This lets them do video, social, written, all in one place. And the final contributor component is user generated content, where anyone can create and contribute to their own tribes. What this means is a vast amount of content, and the beauty there is finding the right audience for the content, which is where the third piece comes in: the technology.
Schmitt’s team of about 20 software engineers and product designers based in their King’s Cross headquarters in London. “There will be about 60 of us by the time we launch in the autumn,” says Schmitt. “These are all first-class product and engineering people. Our CTO was CTO of Financial Times online, and Thomson Reuters where he managed a team of 4,000 engineers. All these guys are united in the desire to do one thing–create the next-generation media platform. That is the scale of our mission.”
What Schmitt means by next generation, is a platform that not only enables contributors of all levels and interests to participate, but is made to allow an infinite amount of content to find the right audience, optimizing it for engagement, then directly connecting it to audiences where they are.
Once a piece of content is created, the platform puts it through a versioning engine that produces dozens of versions of that same piece of content with different headlines and images. It’s then put through a multi-stage testing engine that takes each version and test publishes it to hundreds of users across hundreds of segments defined by different attributes like age, gender, and location but also interests in different content themes. When the engine finds the optimal match between content and audience profile, based on these tests, it then pushes it out to consumers who fit that profile. As a result, Schmitt says that millions of people who have never heard of DriveTribe before will still find content in their timelines that has been optimized for them.
“We expect 60% to 70% of the eyeballs to be on third-party platforms, and then 30% to 40% to be people who download our native apps or use our website to contribute and engage directly,” says Schmitt. “But to us it doesn’t matter, we’re platform agnostic, what we care about is the content tailored to you, delivered directly to you. The consequences of this engine, is allow us to find the natural maximum audience for each piece of content.”
“We’re very comfortable with and in the subject of how motoring connects people and within people’s lives,” says Hammond. “It’s a whole new way of reaching people with that content and driving then towards them the content they want.”
The revenue model will revolve primarily around social and native content-based advertising, but both Hammond and Schmitt insist the focus right now is getting the tech and content right first. Once that is done, not only will they integrate in the ad-based revenue model, but alos start to look beyond behind the wheel.
“The ambition is to really build a next-generation media platform, to redefine what it means to be a media business,” says Schmitt. “We’re starting with motoring, but there is an opportunity to expand to other interests down the road.”