LONDON — Former “Top Gear” hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, who are preparing to launch a car show for Amazon, have partnered with tech entrepreneur Ernesto Schmitt to create DriveTribe, a digital media platform for car enthusiasts, Variety can exclusively reveal. Former “Top Gear” executive producer Andy Wilman is also on board the venture, which has been co-funded by the five partners.
DriveTribe, which aims to become the digital home for motoring fans worldwide, is structured into different “tribes,” each with their own characteristics and personality. Each tribe will be hosted by stars, bloggers, writers and videographers, including Clarkson, Hammond and May, who will generate and curate their own content for fans. Users sign up to the tribes that reflect their personal motoring interests, and can also create their own tribes. “What we are looking to do is build a next-generation vertical that is dedicated to motoring, and that really combines content, social and commerce,” Schmitt said. The content will be produced both by professional content creators, and the users.
Speaking exclusively to Variety, Hammond said: “We know we can do, and are doing, and always will do the high-production value long-form TV stuff. That’ll never change, that’s us at heart. But we are doing that, of course, in a world that has now allowed a whole raft of different ways for people to consume their media, not just sitting down and watching beautiful, delicious TV but also bite-sized chunks of media in whatever form many, many times a day, and obviously given our subject being motoring, which is incredibly broad and exciting, especially right now, we figured, well, it’s time to do this, it’s not been done, let’s do it, let’s do it first and let’s do it really, really well: pull the whole subject together for a whole bunch of people all over the world.”
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Hammond added: “Bearing in mind that we are editorial-led people, we saw an opportunity. Because we know and love our subject, we are probably more aware than most of the breadth and the depth of it, the different passions that it ignites in different people in different ways, because we have been exposed to that for many years. And we figured now is the time when technology in the media is allowing us to pull the thing together in a whole new way, and then Ernesto came along and made all that possible.”
Hammond said that he, Clarkson and May would be interacting with DriveTribe users on a daily basis. “We are very excited just to get to grips with this thing. We can’t wait to see it,” he said. “It presents an opportunity to get to a whole lot of people about a subject about which we are incredibly passionate, occasionally knowledgeable, and often quite stupid. Everything we’ve learned about it means we have the opportunity to connect with people many times and in many different ways.”
The platform would be for everybody, he said, just as “Top Gear” appealed to all types of people, young and old, male and female. “It touches everybody – if all that ever happens is that your meals on wheels arrives in a car, or you hate them, they still impact upon your lives. We all speak car. We are all familiar with it in some way. That’s what makes it such a great subject for us as journalists,” he said.
Schmitt, who serves as DriveTribe’s CEO, is a serial tech entrepreneur in media and entertainment. He set up a string of ventures, including peoplesound.com, one of the first online music businesses, which he sold in 2001; he created Beamly, which was a pioneer in second screen and social television, which he sold in 2015; and he was also exec chair of Invision, which was all about cutting-edge touchless, gesture-based recognition user-interface controls, which was sold to Intel in 2012.
“The real thread through all of those is that they are large-scale, distribution platforms enabling both the creation of completely new forms of entertainment, but also totally new ways of connecting audiences with content,” he told Variety.
Schmitt is joined at DriveTribe by chief technology officer Jonathan Morris, previously CTO of Financial Times online and Thompson Reuters, as well as co-founder of two fintech ventures. DriveTribe is building its U.K. team ahead of the planned launch in the fall, with 20 full-time staff on board now, which will build to about 60 by the autumn. The platform will rapidly roll out into different territories and launching different language versions, Schmitt said.
Schmitt 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 aims to unlock what it sees as the huge untapped potential in the digital motoring sphere, who until now have not had a global digital platform that delivers all the diverse elements of the motoring world. There are more than 400 million motoring fans on Facebook alone, for example – making cars and automotive a more popular category than gaming, soccer or news.
In a statement, Hammond said: “Gamers have got Twitch, travelers 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.”
May said: “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.”
Clarkson said: “I didn’t understand DriveTribe until Richard Hammond said it was like YouPorn, only with cars.”