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April 26, 2016

Former Top Gear trio hope to create an online universe for car fans

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Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — the trio of presenters from BBC’s Top Gear who have a new show in the works for Amazon — have invested heavily in a new company that is aiming to create the ultimate online destination for fans of cars and the show. It’s called DriveTribe and it is, at first glance, a sort of SB Nation for car nuts (and perhaps, eventually, fashion or food or entertainment nuts, the company says).
To say it’s ambitious is an understatement. Not only is the company looking to create the digital home for Clarkson, Hammond, and May, but the founders believe there is a massive, untapped market of underserved car enthusiasts that they can capture. Comparing DriveTribe to Twitch for video games or TripAdvisor for travel, company representatives said there was no single, massive online destination for motoring enthusiasts.
DriveTribe has been in stealth mode since December, with funding coming in a Series A round directly from Clarkson, Hammond, May, and Andy Wilman, the longtime executive producer for Top Gear who followed the trio to Amazon. Funding amounts weren’t disclosed. DriveTribe CEO Ernesto Schmitt would only say that the round was similar to what you’d expect in a Series A. (Series A rounds often stretch well into the millions of dollars.)
The editorial side of the company is set up into a number of “tribes” that will be led by individual content creators. Each of the three presenters will have their own tribe, but the company also envisions tribes focusing on different niches in the automotive world. Fans of Mustangs or Camaros could have their own tribes, while Jeep lovers and air-cooled Porsche owners could have their own. Users would “join” tribes that reflect their motoring interests, while the overall DriveTribe brand would unite everyone.
Content would be created by the three presenters, a dedicated, yet-to-be-hired editorial staff of between 15 and 30 full time members, as well as attracting “stars, bloggers, writers, and videographers” to create their own content. The goal is to convince the best and brightest from around the automotive world to create content for DriveTribe, rather than for competing platforms like YouTube or Facebook. The company currently has 20 employees, mostly engineers working on building out the technology, with a total of 60 employees (including editorial) planned by year end.
In a briefing this week, Schmitt spent a lot of time talking about the technology that DriveTribe is building, drawing comparisons to the content management system that Vox Media — The Verge‘s parent company — uses. It will, apparently, allow each “Tribe” to create content that will be delivered across multiple platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat), while automatically tailoring headlines, images, and layout to individual consumers.
Media companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on technologies like these, and, while it sounds excellent, actually executing on the vision is another matter entirely. And I’m not at all clear why it’s all necessary in this case, considering that Hammond, Clarkson, and May aren’t part of the show — they are the show. Creating content that people want to read is usually the hard part. With these three, that’s already done.
My hunch is that the three of them feel burned by the BBC and desperately want to avoid any corporate interference with what they’re creating. That’s a worthy goal, but they don’t need to spend millions on a custom tech stack to do it. Just write (and film) awesome stuff. Top Gear‘s loyal audience will come in droves.
So, what about the high-budget show that the trio has started filming for Amazon? DriveTribe doesn’t have any direct connection. Instead, it will exist alongside it, complementing it with all the non-show stuff that Clarkson, Hammond, and May will do. The hope is to build a massive, all-encompassing automotive site (and perhaps expand to other verticals like fashion in the future). But why bother? Just build the online home for the beloved threesome. That seems easier.

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