Clarkson, Hammond and May to launch DriveTribe motoring content platform

In an age when completely driverless cars (probably electric) seem to be just around the corner, the idea of starting a brand new online community aimed at petrolheads seems like an ill-timed one. But that’s not about to stop Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, best known as the former presenters of the globally famous Top Gear TV show. After leaving the BBC last year, these three musketeers signed up to create a new streaming TV show for Amazon Prime. But but they also plan what they say will be a totally separate venture to create an online community for motoring enthusiasts.

Slated to launch in the Fall, DriveTribe (which has a holding site and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter presence) will be a brand new digital media platform consisting of a combination of content produced by celebrities of the motoring scene, professionally created content and that generated by users themselves. The company is co-founded by the three mentioned above together with Andy Wilman, their long-time TV collaborator, and serial tech entrepreneur Ernesto Schmitt, who recently exited Beamly.

But before you throw your hands up to declare this a content strategy from 2004, wait. The startup plans to build an engine to send content that will specifically target the disparate communities that make up car fans — from petrolheads to classic car aficionados. A versioning engine and multi-variate testing system will trial “hundreds of different versions” of content on different segments of users, defined by age, gender, location and interests, with “optimal matches” pushed directly to peoples’ social timelines through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. There will, of course, be iOS and Android apps, as well.

The idea is that punters will sign up to the “tribe” that best reflects their motoring interests, in addition to being able to create their own. The Clarkson/Hammond/May trio will of course be hosting their own “tribes” with original content.

Now, DriveTribe will have its work cut-out. Competitors include online publishing ventures, like the original TopGear online community, PistonHeads, CarThrottle, numerous Subreddits and the estimated 400 million fans of motoring already on Facebook.

Ah, but DriveTribe argues, those people are not well-served right now, and they plan to reach them with this new kind of content-targeting engine.

Richard Hammond said: “Gamers have got Twitch, travellers have got TripAdvisor and fashion fans have got, oh, something or other too. But people who are into cars have got nowhere. There’s no grand-scale online motoring community where people can meet and share video, comments, information and opinion. DriveTribe will change that. And then some.”

Schmitt, CEO of DriveTribe, said: “Automotive and adventure-lifestyle are huge growth areas for content, and are presently woefully underserved digitally. Automotive is also the biggest advertising category in the world — with $45 billion media spend projected for 2016 — and we expect our content will monetize well through native advertising and social commerce.”

DriveTribe thinks there is a big gap in the market, with (they say) 428 million people on Facebook with a self-declared like of motoring — slightly smaller than Movies and Entertainment, which are the number 1 category. Additionally, cars are a bigger interest category than News & Current Affairs (410 million), Football (380 million) or Pets, Dating and Toys combined. At the same time, not one of the top 500 websites globally is dedicated to cars.

Schmitt was previously founder and CEO of Beamly (sold 2015), (sold 2001) and executive chair of Invision, sold to Intel in 2012. He has brought on board Jonathan Morris as CTO, who was previously CTO of The Financial Times online and Thompson Reuters, as well as co-founder of two fintech ventures. DriveTribe will be based in London’s Kings Cross.

So is this like “Tidal for Petrolheads” where car stars will be bringing their loyal fan base to the party? Not really, says Schmitt. He says Tidal was trying to solve a perceived problem with royalty collection where none existed, but DriveTribe is solving a supply-side problem.

The team is starting with 20 product and engineer people, but plans to scale up to 60 by the launch.

Hammond told me that talk about a coming future of driverless cars deadening our desire for motoring is wrong-headed. And that, in fact, the innovation happening around cars will actually “drive” DriveTribe.

“The historical urge for speed still is primal. That will never go away. If anything it’s heightening. There will be entirely new forms of motoring. And there’s the tribal nature of motoring… We will still use cars to demonstrate our power and potency. It’s a hugely exciting times for motoring. The need for people to have their own platform is greater than ever before. Manufactures are, thank goodness, once again making mistakes because they are pushing the boundaries. Twenty years ago manufacturers were not making mistakes, just changing bits of fascia. Now it’s all about innovation,” he said.

Schmitt said the model for their content distribution will be “50% technology and 50% content. But the tech stack is world-class. We will invest same proportion into R&D as we do into content.”

He also said the company will look at extending the model into other verticals, which could include fashion, music or food.

However, he may come up against the issue of aggregation as a business model. All online media and content is fragmented, a problem which was solved by search engines and social media. Thus, customers may not see it as a problem in the first place, and nor, perhaps, will media buyers.

Although Schmitt and Hammond insisted to me that DriveTribe will be separate from the Amazon Prime show, there remains the possibility that it may have a similar name — over which the trio have been racking their brains apparently.

Meanwhile, James May added: “This is pure digital inclusivity. Some of the world’s most endangered tribes — Volvo enthusiasts, for example — will now have a voice as loud as everyone else’s.”

UPDATE: It now transpires that DriveTribe will be based on the 6tribes platform created by former Beamly co-founder Anthony Rose, who obviously worked closely with Schmitt. DriveTribe says that it acquired 6tribes earlier this year, and now owns the IP. “Drivetribe will develop the proposition, and add more to it ahead of launch later this year,” said a spokesperson.