Channel 4 retains free-to-air F1 offering for 2023

Channel 4 will continue to broadcast Formula 1 on free-to-air television in 2023 after agreeing a new deal with Sky Sports, the broadcaster has today confirmed.

The free-to-air broadcaster will air highlights of every qualifying session and race next season, along with live coverage of the British Grand Prix weekend.

Coverage will continue to be produced by Whisper. Motorsport Broadcasting understands that the new deal between Channel 4 and Sky only covers the 2023 season.

Channel 4’s Chief Executive Alex Mahon said “It’s fantastic news that motorsport fans will be able to follow all the action during the 2023 Formula 1 season on free to air television thanks to this latest deal with Sky.”

“Our strong, long-standing relationship with our excellent partner Sky has delivered some fantastic moments for viewers.”

“Last year’s thrilling Formula 1 season finale between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, England’s dramatic win at the 2019 Cricket World Cup and Betfred Super League rugby have all been made available to British audiences on free to air television thanks to our close working relationship with Sky, and it’s great to see this continuing into 2023.”

Stephen van Rooyen, Executive Vice President & CEO, Sky UK & Europe said “Our partnership with Channel 4 succeeds thanks to our shared values.”

“We both support the UK’s cultural economy across TV & film production, journalism, and the arts, and of course we’ve shared some of the UK’s great sporting moments together over the last few years.”

“Together with Channel 4 we look forward to giving racing fans in the UK all the twists and turns from the 2023 season.”

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F1 and Sky extend broadcast deals across UK, Italy and Germany

Sky Sports will continue to broadcast Formula 1 across key European territories in forthcoming seasons, the two parties have today (September 30th) confirmed.

In the UK and the Republic of Ireland, Sky will air Formula 1 until the end of the 2029 season, a five-year extension to their existing deal which was set to expire at the end of 2024.

Further afield in Europe, the broadcaster has extended their rights agreements with F1 in Italy and Germany until the end of 2027. Deals in both territories were set to expire at the end of this season.

The deal includes broadcast rights to Formula Two, Formula Three and the Porsche Supercup.

Live coverage of the home race, and highlights of all other races, will remain available on a free-to-air basis. This is the same as the current UK deal, but an increased level of exclusivity for Sky in Italy and Germany, with fewer races available live on a free-to-air basis.

As part of the new agreement, F1 TV’s premium-level offering, which allowed fans access to live action, will no longer be available to fans in Germany.

F1 says that, from 2023, viewers watching via Sky will have an “improved multi-screen and second-screen option, tracking their favourite driver’s position on the circuit or selecting a driver’s on-board camera.”

The wording here indicates that UK fans will not have access to F1 TV, a source of contention for some fans in the UK. However, it is possible that the experience via Sky’s improved options will be on parity with that offered by F1 TV.

Formula 1’s president and CEO Stefano Domenicali said “We are incredibly proud of our long-term partnership with Sky, and we are delighted to announce that we will continue working together until 2029, a very important commitment from Sky.”

“Since the beginning of our relationship in 2012 we have both strived to bring the excitement, emotion, and drama of Formula 1 to our traditional fans while engaging new and more diverse audiences. Formula 1 has seen huge growth in recent years, and I can’t think of a better partner to continue to reach our fans with dedicated, expert and in-depth coverage.”

Sky not only brings fans live coverage but a range of behind-the-scenes access and content that brings F1 to life. We are hugely excited about the future of the partnership and the journey of Formula 1.”

Stephen van Rooyen, Executive Vice President & CEO, Sky UK & Europe, added “Every race. Every moment. Every twist and turn. All exclusively live on Sky for years to come!”

“Formula 1 continues to break records on Sky, with millions more watching than ever before across our markets, driven by new younger and female fans which is fantastic for the sport. More than 80 countries will continue to enjoy our world class analysis and content of one of the most exhilarating sports in the world.”

While Sky Sports will continue to broadcast F1 in the UK until 2029, it is unclear whether Channel 4 will remain involved from a free-to-air perspective following the conclusion of the 2022 season.

The broadcaster, which has aired Formula 1 on free-to-air television since 2016, issued a “no comment” statement when asked by this site whether they will continue to cover F1 next season.

Announcement in the making for some time

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that the announcement has been in the making for some time. The extension is not a surprise to this writer, who accurately predicted the timing of the announcement back in July 2021.

F1 and Sky were originally set to announce the extension on the Friday of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, however both parties agreed to delay the announcement following the death of Queen Elizabeth II the evening before.

Sky have made moves in recent months to lock in long-term deals in the UK: Scottish football (2029), England cricket (2028) and PGA Tour golf (multi-year) some of the most recent extensions, however the F1 extension is their most high profile yet.

By the end of 2029, Sky will have broadcast 18 F1 championships and close to 400 races live on their F1 channel, compared with 12 full seasons on ITV and 22 full seasons on the BBC (19 under the ‘Grand Prix’ banner and 3 from 2009 to 2011).

While Sky’s F1 viewing figures in the UK largely plateaued when coverage of half the races also aired across the BBC and later Channel 4, their viewing figures have surged in recent years.

The broadcaster was the beneficiary of a titanic championship battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen last year, while also benefiting from Netflix’s Drive to Survive season, increasing their younger audience.

The positive trajectory has continued for Sky in the UK into 2022, with the British Grand Prix in July recording Sky’s highest ever audience for the home round.

Sky say that their audiences are skewing younger than in previous years, their offering also attracting more women to F1.

F1 audience statistics
Sky UK and Ireland

  • Average audience for 2022: 1.7 million (up 60% since 2019)
  • 4.3m new viewers to Sky Sports F1 since 2019, of which 1.7m were women
  • 4 of the top 5 most watched races ever on Sky during 2022

Sky Italia

  • Average audience for 2022: 1.5 million (up 20% since 2021)
  • Most watched Grand Prix in Italian pay-TV history was Saudi Arabia with 1.937 million viewers

Sky Deutschland

  • Average audience up 24% since 2021
  • Half of new viewers aged under 35
  • 40% of new viewers overall are women
  • Most watched Grand Prix was Saudi Arabia with 1.38 million viewers
Source: Sky

Sky will be hoping the Drive to Survive halo continues into future seasons, as their new deals with F1 come into effect.

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Sky, F1 to scale back Italian Grand Prix coverage following death of The Queen

Coverage of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix will be scaled back in the UK following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen passed away on Thursday 8th September at the age of 96.

Sky’s broadcasts throughout the weekend will be reduced in length, with a shortened build-up for qualifying and the race.

The qualifying build-up will last 30 minutes instead of the usual 60 minutes, while the race day build-up will now be 60 minutes instead of 90 minutes.

The F1 Show has been dropped from Sky’s schedules. Furthermore, Ted’s Qualifying and Race Notebook will not air, both will return in Singapore.

Sky will continue to broadcast Formula Two, as well as the Formula Three and IndyCar season finales as expected this weekend.

On Friday, the BBC’s coverage did not air on radio, only airing via the Formula 1 app and Amazon’s radio app.

Channel 4 have yet to confirm arrangements for their offering, however it is likely that their offering will also be reduced.

All of Formula 1’s British based personnel, teams and drivers have reduced their social media output. For example, the official F1 Twitter account has only posted skeleton updates related to each session, with ‘in session’ commentary notably absent.

The Formula 1 television World Feed had a more sombre tone to it on Friday. Brian Tyler’s signature theme and introduction were absent from coverage, coverage instead fading from black into an overhead shot of the Monza circuit. Coverage returned to normal on Saturday.

Elsewhere, the British Superbikes round from Snetterton will continue as planned this weekend, with coverage airing on Eurosport 2.

Friday 9th September
12:45 to 14:15 F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
15:45 to 17:15 F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)

Saturday 10th September
11:45 to 13:10 F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
14:30 to 16:55 F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)

Sunday 11th September
13:00 to 17:00 F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 13:00 Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:55 Race
=> 16:00 Chequered Flag

Revised Sky Sports F1 schedule for the 2022 Italian Grand Prix.

This article will be updated further throughout the weekend.

Scheduling: The 2022 Seoul E-Prix

After extending his lead last time out in London, Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne looks a shoe in to clinch his 1st Formula E championship, as the series heads to South Korea for the season 8 finale.

The double-header takes place in Seoul, the first time Formula E has been to South Korea. Vandoorne holds a 36-point lead heading into the weekend.

With 58 points on offer during the weekend, 4 drivers are mathematically still in the running: Vandoorne, Jaguar’s Mitch Evans, Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara, and DS Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne, although at this stage it is Vandoorne’s to lose.

Live coverage of both races air across Channel 4 and Eurosport, with coverage also available via their digital platforms. The race weekend concludes Channel 4’s first full season covering the championship, the broadcaster committed to Formula E for multiple seasons.

Unlike with when Channel 4 covered F1 live, there are no afternoon replays, so fans who miss the 08:00 alarm will need to record the action or catch-up on YouTube.

As usual, Vernon Kay presents Channel 4’s coverage alongside Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti providing commentary for the season finale.

Saturday 13th August
23:55 (Friday night) to 00:40 – Practice 1 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
01:45 to 02:30 – Practice 2 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
03:30 to 05:15 – Qualifying (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
07:30 to 09:30 – Race 1 (Channel 4)
=> also on Eurosport 2 from 07:30 to 09:35

Sunday 14th August
01:25 to 02:10 – Practice 3 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
03:30 to 05:15 – Qualifying (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
07:30 to 09:30 – Race 2 (Channel 4)
=> also on Eurosport 2 from 07:30 to 09:35

Full scheduling details for the 2022 Seoul E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Sunday 7th August and are subject to change.

Domestically in the UK, the British Superbikes and British Touring Car championships take centre stage. The touring cars heads east to Snetterton in Norfolk for the 7th race day of the season, while Thruxton plays host to the superbikes.

Live coverage of BTCC continues to air across ITV and ITV4 in a new for 2022 arrangement. Snetterton is the 4th race meeting of the season to see live action air across both channels, following in the footsteps of the Brands Hatch Indy, Oulton Park and Knockhill events.

Steve Rider presents, alongside David Addison, Tim Harvey, Richard John Neil, Paul O’Neill, and Louise Goodman.

The Superbikes action airs on Eurosport 2, with Matt Roberts presenting.

Saturday 13th August
12:00 to 16:30 – BSB: Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)

Sunday 14th August
12:00 to 15:05 – BTCC: Races 1 and 2 (ITV)
13:00 to 18:00 – BSB: Races 2 and 3 (Eurosport 2)
15:00 to 18:05 – BTCC: Race 3 (ITV4)

Full scheduling details for the 2022 Snetterton BTCC and Thurxton BSB rounds. Scheduling details correct as of Sunday 7th August and are subject to change.

If scheduling details change, this article will be updated.

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Season of growth for Formula E as championship prepares for Gen3

The COVID-19 pandemic threw Formula E off-piste, and arguably hurt the championship more than its competitors.

After a period of strong growth until season 5, the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020 forced series organisers to throw together a series of double headers to finish season 6, with 6 races across 9 days in Berlin.

But now, with COVID-19 hopefully in the rear-view mirror, Formula E is hoping to become a tier 1 sport, a message reemphasised on a near monthly basis from those hoping to drive the championship forward.

In a wide-ranging interview, Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas sat down with Motorsport Broadcasting to discuss:

  • The Jakarta success story
  • The COVID-19 ‘reset’ for the series
  • The double header debate
  • The UK picture
  • The future broadcasting landscape

The Jakarta success story

Formula E has visited 9 venues so far during the 2021-22 season, most of which were fan attended prior to the pandemic.

The exception, Formula E’s debut in Indonesia, as the championship headed to Jakarta in June for its inaugural E-Prix in the Indonesian capital. Nothing out of the ordinary, except the reaction to the electric series’ arrival caught those on the ground by surprise.

For Dabas, the story begins months before the event, thanks to her relatives in Indonesia. Already, Formula E was prominent across their Facebook feeds months before the championship had even arrived, only increasing from that point onwards.

“I’m thinking, ‘okay, that’s a game changer,’ for this to happen,” Dabas says. “And she [Dabas’ relative] is from a remote part in Indonesia, it’s not like she’s from Jakarta.”

“I’m already at this point thinking that the awareness in the market is huge. And then when I got there with a week to go, I got an audience with the governor of Jakarta, and I’m thinking ‘okay, there’s something happening here’, which has not happened earlier.”

Dabas compares the situation to her previous work in cricket. “Look, I’ve worked on the cricket in India and different parts of the world, and you still don’t get an audience with the political figurehead. And Indonesia is a huge country, population wise.”

“We realised that with the government backing, everybody in the streets, it felt like a massive sport had arrived. There were team buses going past and people were waving on the streets, it was completely different, it felt like a football World Cup.”

The E-Prix itself aired on RCTI, Indonesia’s largest free-to-air network, as well as Metro TV at the suggestion of Jakarta’s governor “because he knows the market well,” with 13.4 million viewers watching on TV and 60,000 fans in attendance.

“We’ve not had that from a single market and when you start getting those numbers you know, as a sport, you’ve arrived in that territory, and people are still talking about it now,” Dabas continues.

“They’re talking about the race coming next year and, they want a double header, there’s discussions on social media channels. Everybody really bought into the sport, the government, the people, and the channel we put it on also helped.”

The “hunger to have a big sports event or a concert” after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Formula E “electrification story” helped the series generate attention in Indonesia, according to Dabas.

Can Formula E replicate their success in Jakarta elsewhere, and if so, how? The answer is not straightforward, given that the situation in each market is radically different.

“What we had in Jakarta was what I call, in strategic terms, a white space, motor sport wasn’t that huge. I know that MotoGP was there before us, and we were lucky they were before us, we learned a lot of things from there.”

JAKARTA STREET CIRCUIT, INDONESIA – JUNE 02: Anies Baswedan, governor of Jakarta, Ahmad Sahroni chairman of FE Jakarta and Alberto Longo, Deputy CEO and Chief Championship Officer of Formula E with FE drivers during the Jakarta ePrix at Jakarta Street Circuit on Thursday June 02, 2022 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

“But I think the point is that in our key markets, UK, for example, we can’t replicate that [the Jakarta model] because we’re not the only sport, look at the clutter of sports this weekend for example [during the London E-Prix weekend].”

“We can’t replicate what happened in Indonesia, but I think I’m quite enthused by what we’re doing in each territory.”

Qualifying format helps drive engagement following COVID-19 reset

The pandemic forced Formula E into a reset, which the championship is now recovering from. On the horizon is Gen3, which makes its debut at the start of 2023.

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that Formula E will have a ‘different look and feel,’ with an overhaul of the championship’s branding on and off-air expected before season 9 and Gen3 arrive in January.

The new generation of electric machinery gives series organisers another opportunity to promote the championship’s green values, and attempt to attract more younger fans in the process, which remains the aim for Dabas.

Dabas says that engagement levels for the series have increased by 30% season-on-season at the half way stage, highlighting the new ‘Duel’ qualifying format as one of the drivers behind this.

“And when I say engagement levels, people are watching for longer and there are two reasons people watch for longer,” Dabas reiterates.

> Insight: The making of the 2021 London E-Prix

“One, which is critical is the sport must be good. You can’t put on a rubbish sport and great coverage and hope that people will watch.”

“Our qualification format has been fantastic this season. So that means that there is competition for top spots, and you can now identify who the top drivers in the championship are, and that’s important.”

“For any sport, and even with cricket we used to say, if the pitches are terrible, you will not get a good match. So, you need to have the sporting conditions right to create a good narrative.”

“Once that is right, your coverage must engage fans. This season, we’ve got a good sports format. The drivers are more recognisable because, we know who the top five or six drivers are, and then the coverage around the world which has meant that people are more engaged.”

“What I’m trying to say is we need to increase the number of people aware of Formula E, bring them into it, but then once they watch it, they need to be hooked onto the product for longer, and we are seeing that’s happening.”

Watching from one of the vantage points in London, it was clear that the television graphics for the Duel format not only worked for those watching as home, but the format also worked for those in attendance.

Every time a gap between two drivers tightened, the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ echoed around the ExCeL, fans rooting behind their favourite drivers, including ex-F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, and home hero Jake Dennis.

Not all the metrics are rosy for Formula E: their total audience declined in season 7, although Dabas highlights the increase in live audiences for the championship.

“Season 7 was the foundational season for setting it right, as the distribution deals had all expired. When I came in, we did 40 deals with different broadcasters. Season 8 has been a growth season, 100%,” Dabas believes.

“I know season 5 people say was the biggest season for Formula E but in all honesty when I look at the numbers, we had 97 million live audience then and in season 7 we had 197 million.”

“If you look at the overall numbers people watching the live sport has gone up and that’s what the big sports will talk about. Yes, there was more consumption of highlights and different things, but the live numbers increased.”

Formula E’s Duels qualifying format, here featuring Stoffel Vandoorne versus Sergio Sette Camara, was a hit with fans in London.

“I think this will probably be our biggest season ever in terms of audiences in our history, and we can only grow from here, no doubt.”

Dabas cites a recent example from the New York weekend, where Dabas met informally with multiple US broadcasters to discuss Formula E’s roadmap moving forward.

“They asked us for meetings because they wanted to know more,” Dabas says. “And that’s a sign for me, having been in this business for 22 years, that there’s market competition, which means that people watch your product.”

“And if people pay decent money for your product, then they invest in marketing it as well.”

“The more you invest, the more you spend on marketing, advertising, creating an awareness and, as we have seen in this country with what Sky Sports has done with Formula 1, if you have an invested broadcaster, that can be a game changer for you.”

Debating the ‘merits and demerits’ of double headers

London was another of Formula E’s double header weekends, an increasingly common feature of the calendar. But while Dabas sees the value in them from a broadcasting perspective, it is not something she believes will be a feature throughout the whole season.

“If you ask within Formula E, we can sit in a pub and talk for hours discussing the merits and demerits,” she says. “I think double headers has its place, but it can be an overkill sometimes.”

“But what double headers does is bring people into the ecosystem on Saturday and then you can give them something more [on Sunday].”

“If you talk to certain broadcasters, some of them have told us this is why they like double headers. You can do a tune in for the next race and there is something more coming up in the inventory.”

> Insight: Behind the scenes with Formula E’s television production team

“On the flip side, who do you say was the winner of New York? There were two winners! I don’t think it’s going to be a success everywhere, and that’s why we pick and choose, and Jakarta is a good case [where it may work].”

“We had 60,000 fans watch and honestly, you could have filled the stands again the next day, there were queues. Where there’s a demand and the narrative works from a sporting perspective, I think we can do double headers but it’s not every location in every city.”

“It’s important that we don’t end up doing 10 races in five locations or 20 races, 10 locations. We must go around the world, we are an FIA World Championship, it’s a mandate that we should be in different continents around the world.”

Provisionally, Formula E’s 2022-23 calendar features 5 double header weekends, with 18 races currently scheduled in 13 locations across 7 months.

London shines despite F1 clash

Both races over the London weekend inexplicably clashed with F1’s Hungarian Grand Prix, which The Race understands was ‘directly specified by Formula E’s TV international broadcast management.’ Sources close to the data suggest that Channel 4’s Formula E audience took a significant hit due to the clash.

Despite the congested sporting schedule which Dabas highlighted, attendance was good, with a near capacity crowd on both days at the ExCeL in London, and room for further growth in terms of activities inside the arena.

The Allianz E-Village was decent for its first year with paying fans at the ExCeL, but there was still a significant amount of unused real estate, which Formula E should look to address in future years.

On the television side, the race weekend aired live on Channel 4, with the Seoul E-Prix set to follow suit. It means that 10 of the 16 races in season 7 have broadcast live on the free-to-air channel, a higher proportion than what the BBC offered during its coverage of the series.

Formula E want ‘channel consistency’ from their broadcast deals, and Channel 4’s offering this season has helped move the series in that direction from a UK point of view. Although the BBC offers a wider reach than Channel 4, Dabas argues that the latter is a better fit for Formula E.

AUTODROMO HERMANOS RODRIGUEZ, MEXICO – FEBRUARY 15: Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20 leadsJean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20 during the Mexico City E-prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on February 15, 2020 in Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

“Everyone when I joined said that the BBC is the best platform to be on [for Formula E]. But the reality is the best platform for us is where we have audiences that match our sport.”

“And if you look at all the free-to-air broadcasters, Channel 4 is probably the one that has that match. The shows they have are quirky, its progressive.”

“I speak to the Head of Programming [at Channel 4] and they love us, they’re like, you’re in and performing and you’re doing a great job. And that, for me is like an indication that we’re doing okay. We are happy with them; the partnership is solid.”

“We started last year and the product is getting better, we’re getting more races on Channel 4 than we had on BBC. And for us that visibility in our core market is important.”

Dabas also points out that Channel 4’s Formula E coverage skews younger than their F1 offering. Figures for the British Grand Prix showed that around 12% of Channel 4’s F1 race day audience were aged between 16 and 34.

“Channel 4 tells us that the audience we get for Formula E is much younger than Formula 1, and that’s an important data point for us because they carry both.”

“How do we then reach that audience is important. In Indonesia it may have been RCTI, here it’s Channel 4 and maybe in one years’ time it may be a streaming platform, I’m just saying that we have to go where the audience is and that’s really important.”

Sport ‘no longer only free-to-air reliant’

What the future looks like from a distribution perspective in the medium-term is unclear, with the streaming picture ever evolving.

And, according to Dabas, free-to-air is no longer as important as it once was, although it still plays a crucial part within the overall picture.

“I think it’s hard to ignore the streaming platforms,” Dabas believes, “and, it’s not just Amazon and Netflix. Look at what is happening with Warner Bros. Discovery with the merger. In India, for the first time for IPL, the digital rights are more expensive than broadcast rights.”

“And ultimately, I look at my daughter, she doesn’t watch TV. If we say we’re a sport for the future, we must see what the right balance is. Free-to-air is still in the picture. But I think we’ve moved on from a sport which is only free-to-air reliant, to a sport where maybe our primary carriers could become streamers in the future.”

“I think we still need the free-to-air to get the audience in, but with a deepened engagement and the products we can offer, and the coverage, maybe the streamers can help us over there, so it’s really important for us.”

“And when I say streamers, it’s not about getting someone to pay $2 for it. I don’t want to put Formula E behind a subscription pay wall. I think many sports have learned that there’s very few fans who sign up particularly for just one sport, it’s better to be in a consolidated platform, which exists with Paramount+, there’s Peacock in the US, there’s Apple.”

“Apple’s done a great deal with MLS, so we just need to look at where the market is heading. But more importantly, where are our fans consuming this sport.”

The season 7 season finale airs this weekend, live on Channel 4 on Saturday 13th August and Sunday 14th August from 07:30.

Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal. If you wish to reproduce the contents of this article in any form, please contact Motorsport Broadcasting in the first instance.