Lee McKenzie on the art of broadcasting

Lee McKenzie is a name familiar to many readers of Motorsport Broadcasting, having covered motor sport for many years, as well as other forms of sport.

I sat down with her a couple of weeks ago at the W Series season finale in Brands Hatch, as we discussed a range of topics, from her upbringing and interview style, to giving advice to budding journalists coming through the ranks.

You’ve been around motor racing a lot since you were younger, through your Dad [Bob].

I was going to Formula 1 races when I was ten years old, I’ve known Bernie since I was a small child. My Dad was at Senna’s funeral, and wrote books on both Damon and Nigel. I’ve been surrounded by all this, in different sports, not just motor sport, all my life.

I started out as a rugby journalist and I started in equestrian, my two real passions. People just associate motor racing with me because that’s what they’ve been watching. I love doing the Paralympics, Para sport, Wimbledon, all that kind of thing. I’ve not done a full F1 season since 2012, it’s never been my only job, it’s never been my first job!

You go to other sports, and you think “actually F1 does this really well,” and then you go to other sports and meet other athletes, and think “yeah, we could learn from that.” There’s always a roundness to doing many other things, because it makes you more complete as a person.

I have been fortunate to have had that upbringing, but I wouldn’t have had a job had I not been good. I know that may sound arrogant, but if I was just somebody’s daughter, I wouldn’t have had a long career.

This year you have been presenting the new W Series. Has it been a different style of presenting for you, or do you tackle all sports similarly?

It doesn’t matter what sport I present; I present them all in a similar way. It takes an awful lot of prep, it’s not just the bit you see on camera. But I’ve thought the quality of racing has been fantastic.

It’s hard selling any television programme when the sport doesn’t do it justice, so the fact that the racing has been of such a high quality is great. It’s an easy sell from that point of view.

A lot of what you’re doing is reacting to the sport that’s been. Prepping for an Olympics or a Commonwealth Games is much, much harder. There are so many countries, sports, people. Here, I only need to know about 18 to 20 people, a few of whom I knew anyway.

We do a lot of filming in advance, so not everything we’re doing in that two hours. I’ve written all my scripts by the time I’ve got here; I’ve got the running order.

There’s a lot of blank sections that you fill in after qualifying, the whole of part two I can’t write a single word for yet, but that’s the excitement. And you obviously can’t write the ending of any television programme on sport, not a single thing, but I love that bit.

You’ve covered many different sporting events as you mentioned earlier, as well as non-sporting events before that. How do you get the best out of the different personalities involved?

I’m a journalist, I’m not a TV presenter. I’ve covered the Lockerbie trial, general elections, a lot of different sports. You prep, you can’t be a fan. You go in there as a professional, and if you make friends with people, that’s a bonus.

You have to get that level of respect, and I think that’s something you see in quite a lot of the F1 interviews, that level of respect you get from drivers. That’s something I’ve always tried to work hard on. I don’t need to be someone’s friend who I interview on television, but it helps sometimes.

You can be friendly with someone, but it’s how you conduct yourself in that high-pressure moment. It doesn’t matter who I was interviewing, I would never back down from asking a question should a question need to be asked, whether they were friends or not.

Lee McKenzie interviewing Max Verstappen as part of a wider feature during the BBC's coverage of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.
Lee McKenzie interviewing Max Verstappen as part of a wider feature during the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

If we use Formula 1 as an example, I would ask the same question to every driver differently because you get to know their characters. You’ve got to be a little bit clever with it. If I was trying to ask a question to Lewis [Hamilton] and ask a question to Sebastian [Vettel], it would be the same question but phrased differently.

Is there an F1 interview you’ve done that stands out from the rest, or was a highlight for you?

There’s ones that stand out for different reasons. The Lewis interview in 2011 was a big moment at Monaco, it didn’t necessarily feel good but it felt journalistic.

A lot of interviews with Seb, they always go slightly wrong, but all good fun. I did a hard-hitting sit-down piece with Fernando a few years ago, I was very pleased about that one. You get a good feel for when you’ve done a good interview, and a lot of that comes down to knowing the person and a bit of respect.

Lewis is great to sit down with as well when he’s very open, and touches upon a lot of different things.

Michael Schumacher’s probably one I would single out as, doing interviews with that I really liked. I loved working with Michael, I had a great relationship with him, we did some lovely interviews together.

I took the horse over to his yard and competed. Any time I could spend with Michael at that moment felt special, and not just because of the situation now. I went to Kerpen kart track with him and Seb where they both started out, and that was a lovely piece. Interviews like that stand out for me.

Lewis and Sebastian are the veterans of the F1 paddock now, but do you notice a different interview style for those coming through the ranks, such as Lando and George?

It’s easy to be unguarded and open when you first start out, you measure it on what happens in ten years’ time.

Max has been the same. I spent two days with him and his family in Belgium a few years ago, that was a lovely piece. Of course, you wouldn’t get the opportunity to do that now but I don’t think he’s changed as a person. He was hard-hitting as it was.

I think him and Charles are very open, but again it’s what happens in five years’ time when people’s careers progress that makes them have to shut down a little bit and that to me is understandable.

If you were to give advice to budding journalists coming through the ranks, what would you say?

I would say: prep. There’s no doubt that media in the past 15 to 20 years has changed. But don’t copy and paste. Own the content that you make, and do it with pride.

There’s a lot of people that come to me and say “I want to be a motor sport journalist, can you give me any tips” and I would look at their Twitter feed, and it’s like a crazed fan.

You’ve got to conduct yourself in a way that conveys respect. You’ve got to be a journalist; you can’t be a motor sport journalist I would suggest. I would say that the best journalists in sport come from that news background because it’s a very well-grounded thing, and then follow your passion, and immerse yourself in it.

Bringing it back round to the W Series, the series is not only aiding their on-track skills, but also their media behaviour as well in interviews.

Sometimes it feels like that [coaching], not just the Brits but a lot of European based drivers have known me, or have been watching me on TV.

We do sit down a little bit sometimes and talk things through. They want know how to come to a Grand Prix, they want to know how to do more media stuff, and how they should be conducting themselves.

I will never volunteer that, but if someone wants advice, then absolutely, I’m happy to give that advice.

My thanks go to Lee McKenzie for spending the time with me on the above piece.

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Tracking Formula 1’s 2019 UK TV viewing figures at the half way stage

Formula 1’s television audience in the United Kingdom has dropped by between five and ten percent compared with the first half of 2018, analysis conducted by Motorsport Broadcasting suggests.

2019 heralds the start of a new era for F1 in the UK, after Sky Sports snatched exclusive rights to the championship back in 2016, in a deal that lasts until the end of 2024. The broadcaster sub-let the free-to-air element of their contract to Channel 4, in a one-year deal. The free-to-air element covers highlights of every race, as well as live coverage of the British Grand Prix.

Now in their eighth season, Sky have cemented their status in the F1 paddock as one of the sport’s main broadcasters. But how have viewing figures stacked up in the first half of 2019 compared to last year?

Overnight viewing figures
Traditionally at this point, Motorsport Broadcasting would use the UK overnight viewing figures data to generate averages across several years, using the data for comparative purposes. Unfortunately, as of April, due to circumstances beyond Motorsport Broadcasting’s control, this site no longer has access to that data.

To continue to access overnight data would cost a significant amount, and is not a viable option financially for an independent writer. Instead, we must now rely on a limited amount of consolidated audience data via the BARB website.

Overnight audience figures, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’), are released the day after transmission, whereas consolidated audience figures include viewers who watched via the TV set within seven days of broadcast, and exclude commercial breaks.

Therefore, the consolidated audience figures in this piece cannot be compared to overnight audience data elsewhere on this site.

The consolidated data in this piece covers the TV set only, to allow for fair and accurate comparisons with 2018. The figures exclude viewers who are watching via on-demand platforms, such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV, which is likely to make up a larger portion of Formula 1’s audience than in previous years.

Although Motorsport Broadcasting no longer has access to overnight audience figures, I still intend to present a fair and accurate picture of Formula 1 viewing figures in the UK, as increasingly difficult as that becomes over the months ahead.

The analysis in this article covers the first eleven races of the season, meaning that the Hungarian Grand Prix is excluded.

Channel 4
In 2018, Channel 4 aired five of the first eleven rounds live, with the remaining six airing in highlights form. Now in its new contract with Sky, only one of the first eleven rounds have aired live this season, that being the British Grand Prix.

The free-to-air broadcaster splits their live race day programming into three blocks: build-up, the race itself and post-race reaction.

To present a fair comparison between live and highlights, this site uses the first two portions to generate a weighted average. For ease of analysis, we assume that Channel 4’s build-up is 40 minutes long, with 160 minutes for the race segment.

Channel 4’s programming in the first half of 2019 averaged 1.71 million viewers a decrease of 18.4 percent on the equivalent 2018 figure of 2.10 million viewers, a loss of 387,000 viewers on average.

On a like-for-like basis, Channel 4’s six highlights programmes in 2018 averaged 1.93 million viewers, compared with 1.68 million viewers for their ten highlights programmes so far in 2019, a decrease of 12.8 percent, or 247,000 viewers.

If 100 people watch Channel 4’s coverage, but only 40 people on average tune in for the wrap-around analysis (same as other sports events), the average in 2018 would be 75 compared to 68 in 2019, a decrease of 9 percent.

There are two main factors as to why Channel 4’s audience has dropped by between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the metric you use. The first is simply that a portion of Channel 4’s audience has shifted to Sky since 2018 (see below).

However, the make-up of Channel 4’s highlights has changed since 2018, due to restrictions imposed on them by Sky. A two-hour programme, with less on-track action will inevitably result in a lower average audience for the entire programme. A portion of the audience only cares about the on-track action and will skip over the chatter.

2019 started on a painful note for Channel 4, with four of the opening five races recording drops of over 30 percent. It is no coincidence that the first three races also aired live on Sky’s general entertainment channel Sky One, suggesting that Sky’s move did significant damage to Channel 4’s audience in the early phase of the season.

The scale of the year-on-year drop has diminished as the season headed towards the Summer break, but only two races have increased their audience year-on-year on Channel 4. France (up 20.2 percent) and Austria (up 3.8 percent) recorded poor numbers in 2018 due to the FIFA World Cup.

A spectacular German Grand Prix proved to be Channel 4’s highlight in the first half of 2019, averaging 2.10 million viewers, but even that was down by 16.3 percent year-on-year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 1.20 million viewers watched the Canadian Grand Prix in a late-night 23:00 time slot which, although it is their lowest number of the year, is a respectable figure, and down a relatively small 5.1 percent year-on-year.

Sky Sports
Ten out of the first eleven races in 2019 aired exclusively live on Sky. That, combined with a huge pre-season advertising campaign, means an increase in Sky’s audience figures is expected. But, has the pay television broadcaster clawed back the loss that Channel 4 has made, or do we end up with a net loss overall?

As highlighted above, Sky aired the first three races of 2019 on Sky One to try to attract further subscribers to Sky Sports F1. As in 2018, Sky split their programming into four blocks: Pit Lane Live, On the Grid, the race itself and Paddock Live.

Calculating a three-and-a-half-hour average, as this site has historically done, is impossible without access to detailed five-minute breakdowns. Instead, we will use the whole of On the Grid (35 minutes in length) and the race itself (around 135 minutes), using those figures to produce a weighted average per race.

Unfortunately, the data on BARB’s website for Sky’s F1 programming is incomplete, with the following data points missing:

  • 2018
    • Australia – Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • China – Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Monaco – Sky One [both]
    • Canada – Sky Sports F1 [both]
    • Britain – Sky One [both]
  • 2019
    • Australia – Sky One [both]; Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Bahrain – Sky One [On the Grid]
    • China – Sky One [both]; Sky Sports Main Event [On the Grid]
    • Germany – Sky Sports Main Event [both]

I appreciate this is far from ideal, but it cannot be helped, without paying to access the missing data points.

You might argue that, without these data points, analysis of Sky’s data is meaningless. I would argue in response that writing an analytical article on Channel 4’s viewing figures without mentioning Sky’s own figures only paints one side of the story, and is also meaningless without accounting for the wider context.

Of course, the analysis from this point forward should be treated with a degree of caution. But I would rather write about it and let an informed debate happen, instead of choosing not to publish an article at all.

Based on the published consolidated data, a weighted average of at least 782,000 viewers have watched Sky’s F1 programming in 2019, covering both On the Grid and the race itself, an increase of 27.7 percent, or 170,000 viewers, on the 2018 figure of 612,000 viewers.

The averages above include simulcasts where BARB have reported the data, and excludes Canada, as there is no 2018 data available. Sky’s 2019 audience figures are likely to be significantly higher when accounting for the missing 2019 data.

On balance, the average audience for Sky One’s simulcasts of Australia and China, plus Sky Sports Main Event’s coverage from Germany, will have a greater impact than the two Sky One simulcasts in 2018 (when both races also aired live on Channel 4).

We know that Sky One did very well for the opening rounds (although Australia and China failed to make Sky One’s top 15 in the respective weeks), whilst Germany will add a few hundred thousand viewers on Sky Sports Main Event (for which there is no data for that week).

The Bahrain Grand Prix has been Sky’s highlight of the season so far. Airing across Sky Sports F1 and Sky One, the race itself averaged 1.41 million viewers, a figure double last year’s Sky F1-only figure of 713,000 viewers.

Close behind, a controversial Canadian Grand Prix averaged 1.38 million viewers for the race segment across Sky’s F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event. More impressively, Sky’s Paddock Live segment for Canada averaged 370,000 viewers from 21:25 to 22:00, one of their highest ever figures for the post-race show.

What can we decipher?
Based on the data we have available publicly, Channel 4’s coverage averaged 1.71 million viewers during the first half of 2019, a decrease of 387,000 viewers year-on-year. Sky’s coverage has averaged 782,000 viewers, an increase of 170,000 viewers (ignoring Canada).

Last year, the split between Channel 4 and Sky was 77:23, compared with 69:31 this year, both in Channel 4’s favour.

Combined, an average audience of at least 2.50 million viewers have watched Formula 1 so far in 2019, compared with 2.71 million viewers in 2018, a decrease of 217,000 viewers, or 8.0 percent. The decrease year-on-year is likely to be smaller than that, given the missing data points for Sky.

If we are to assume:

  • Sky One’s 2019 simulcasts of Australia and China averaged 200,000 viewers each
  • Sky Sports Main Event’s 2019 simulcast of Germany averaged 300,000 viewers
  • Sky One’s 2018 simulcasts of Britain and Monaco averaged 150,000 viewers each

This would bring Sky’s average up to 837,000 viewers, an excellent increase of 201,000 viewers year-on-year. It would bring the combined average audience up to 2.55 million viewers, compared with 2.74 million viewers twelve months ago, a year-on-year decrease of 185,000 viewers, or 6.8 percent.

Whichever way you cut it, Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK have dropped year-on-year. Whilst any drop is disappointing, the decrease is less than 10 percent, and could well be closer to 5 percent when including all the consolidated data.

Yes, the headline figures are down, but in the context of the changing television landscape and the new television deal, the figures are not actually that bad.

Formula 1 cannot be complacent though; the sport needs to work with broadcasters to try to stop the audience decline. An extension to Channel 4’s highlights package for 2020 is needed to keep the free-to-air, mass audience shop window open.

Research from UK’s telecommunications authority Ofcom, released on August 7th, showed that whilst traditional television viewing is still top dog, viewing is falling at a “slightly faster rate” than in previous years, which Ofcom attributes to “the changing habits and preferences of viewers.”

According to Ofcom, around half of UK homes now subscriber to at least one streaming service, whilst young people spend an hour a day on YouTube. With F1 now releasing highlights in a variety of formats across social media, it is inevitable that their television audience figures for non-live programming will be hit harder as a result.

What we have not mentioned at all so far in this piece is the impact that the on-track action can have on audience figures. Formula 1 has had a fantastic period on-track heading into the Summer break, with thrillers in Austria, Britain, Germany, and Hungary.

But what 2019 lacks that 2018 had is the championship battle up-front, and that could be a turn off for television viewers as the season heads into the final half, beginning with the Belgian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

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How W Series has embedded itself into the DTM production setup

Setting up a new motor racing championship is inherently difficult. From the cars, to the drivers, to the media, to the television production and beyond, the amount of effort involved means that inevitably, not everything will go according to plan.

Last weekend, the inaugural W Series season ended at Brands Hatch, with Jamie Chadwick winning the championship trophy and a cool $500,000 to go with it.

Off track, how well has the series embedded itself into the DTM paddock? Motorsport Broadcasting roamed Brands Hatch to find out…

The existing DTM setup
On a logistical level, W Series slotted into the gap left by the FIA Formula Three Championship as the leading support series on the DTM bill, taking place at six of DTM’s nine race weekends.

DTM is the German equivalent of the British Touring Car Championship, except unlike the BTCC, the DTM championship travels around Europe, with four of this year’s nine race weekends taking place outside of Germany.

Now in its twentieth season, the DTM production setup features four different entities.

  • TV Skyline – outside broadcaster
  • DTM Productions / ITR – production and editorial
  • Wige – graphics and timing
  • Riedel – RF on-board cameras and team radio

W Series could have taken the existing DTM facilities, without additional wrap-around coverage.

In this scenario, broadcasters would have had to add their own bespoke content if they wanted additional colour – making W Series less valuable to prospective broadcasters. Producing a plain World Feed for W Series makes little sense.

The aim of W Series is to increase women participation in motor sport and, to get the message out, organisers needed a high-quality television product in place. That is not to say that the DTM product is not good, but the ambitions of both are different.

How well has the arrangement worked?
W Series organisers brought in Whisper and Timeline to work on the championship, playing the same roles as DTM Productions and TV Skyline respectively. The additions mean that space in the television compound is tighter than ever, but manageable nevertheless.

The role of Whisper and Timeline covers all wrap-around content, but does not cover the race itself, which remains in the control of DTM’s own providers. During W Series’ first season, Whisper and Timeline produced a live programme for broadcasters to air.

2019 W Series Paddock Hill Bend.jpg
One of the W Series drivers tackle Paddock Hill bend during Saturday’s second practice session.

Speaking to me during the final W Series race of the inaugural season, Whisper’s Senior Producer Harry Allen is happy with how the relationship between all parties has unfolded.

“As Formula E have found out, setting up a race from scratch and directing the whole race yourself is a pretty massive undertaking, and I think the relationship with DTM is a really neat, tidy and high-quality way of dealing with that situation,” Allen told me.

“We could have attempted to go our own way and have six races set-up all by us, all of the circuit infrastructure, everything, but that’s a massive expense,” Allen added.

“Being able to be a support series on DTM, but then present that on Channel 4 and round the world as a W Series programme is great. We make sure that we mention DTM, we don’t try to hide that we’re operating on a DTM weekend.”

Whisper’s in-house graphics arm Chapter 3 Graphics designed the W Series graphic suite, which fans saw during the wrap-around coverage. However, communication was required between Whisper and Wige (DTM’s graphics provider), to ensure that the race graphics aligned with the outer offering.

Allen, who has worked with the BBC in the past on their sports offering, points this out as one of the successes from his perspective.

“We designed the graphics pack which they’ve [Wige] integrated into their system. It all works so that when we come on-air with our graphics, they look the same as their graphics,” he said.

“It’s been pretty seamless with all the partners. DTM, ITR, TV Skyline, Wige, Riedel, Timeline, and our guys. It’s a massive operation, and it’s all worked pretty well I think, we haven’t had any major issues.”

What the team are producing
For Brands Hatch on race day, alongside the qualifying feed, Whisper produced a 195-minute World Feed from 14:15 to 17:30. That might confuse some readers given that Channel 4 were on-air from 14:30 to 16:30.

Although the ‘core’ World Feed is for those two hours, beforehand a variety of features are played out from 14:15 to 14:30, for any broadcasters that have opted to do something different (for example: a studio-based show with their own presenters).

Similarly, all the post-race interviews are played out following the conclusion of the main W Series programme for broadcasters that wish to use them later. The structure of the pre-race build-up allowed worldwide broadcasters to opt-in to the show at two different junctions, giving them flexibility from a scheduling perspective.

2019 W Series Ted Kravitz.jpg
Ted Kravitz in full flow during the start of the pre-race Notebook, recorded on Saturday evening.

In addition, the pre-race paddock segments air on a slight tape-delay. Due to the nature of the support series, cars are already making their way to the grid by the time the show begins to air, making it more logical to pre-record the paddock segments before the drivers’ get into their machinery.

Lee McKenzie steered both the pre and post-race build-up, with David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz providing additional input. Kravitz’s Notebook also played a key role in W Series’ social media output.

The style of Kravitz’s Notebook is like his F1 content, Kravitz wrapping up the fortunes of each of the 20 drivers, along with any other snippets that Kravitz has picked up throughout the race weekend. I watched on as Kravitz filmed the pre-race Notebook on Saturday evening, Kravitz beginning the Notebook from Paddock Hill bend (above) before wandering through to the W Village, all timed to near perfection.

On top of the live content and the Notebook, Timeline and Whisper also cut two separate highlights programmes off-site at Timeline’s base in Ealing: one for global broadcasters, and another specifically for US broadcast partners NBC, who air W Series highlights on Wednesday’s on NBCSN.

“We deliver that to NBC by 5pm on a Monday (12pm in US),” Allen tells me. “NBC then have five hours of opportunity to watch it and give feedback, and then on Tuesday we make any changes and then deliver the final product for them.”

“That’s how we service NBC, who are obviously a huge client for W Series.”

W Series’ is Allen’s first motor racing role but that, he says, is a deliberate move from Whisper. “The reason why I am producing this is because one of the key things we’re trying to do is get W Series to a new audience,” he says.

“The production team around us, these guys go to Formula 1 every race [for Channel 4]. I’m trying to create something that is accessible to a different audience, and everyone around me is keeping me in check making sure we hit the motor sport audience. If there’s anything, any time that is not correct then we’ll meet in the middle!”

Cottingham’s “most incredible” journey
Before Hockenheim, Claire Cottingham was a name unfamiliar to motor racing fans worldwide. Now, just over three months later, Cottingham has commentated on all six races of W Series’ first season.

Speaking to me prior to the Brands Hatch season finale, Cottingham reveals her journey, from getting the initial phone call to now.

“Before they gave me the gig, I had to go in and do a test commentary. I went in to commentate on a race, with one of the guys from Whisper,” Cottingham tells me.

“It was just to see how it flowed and things like that. It was an agonising couple of days waiting, and then I got the phone call. It was one of those surreal, unbelievable moments in life!”

2019 W Series Jamie Chadwick.jpg
Champion Jamie Chadwick being interviewed by presenters Lee McKenzie and David Coulthard post-race.

“I think it’s about having the right person. It’s not my place to say ‘should it be female’ or whatever. It’s worked out that they picked somebody who knew motor sport, has been in motor sport, and that’s great.”

“It should always be the right person to fit the job, and that’s what they did, they believed I was the right person for the job. Whisper have been brilliant to get the right people in the right places and to give women more of a presence in motor sport. When I got the phone call, I thought ‘I’m in on this mission!’ It’s been the most incredible journey so far,” Cottingham added.

Cottingham, who has previously commentated on Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Renault Eurocup for BT Sport, spoke about the challenges of working on a new championship, and the hurdles it brings.

“Because it’s a new series, much like when Formula E came out, everyone was learning the technology and learning the racing, it’s very similar,” she says.

“We’ve all learnt from Hockenheim to now, the drivers, the production team, everybody. We’ve all grown with it and I think that’s what’s been really fun, to be part of that family and moving it forward.”

A successful first season for W Series
Cottingham’s commentary can be heard worldwide, including in the UK on Channel 4. Allen is happy with how W Series has been brought to a wide audience in its inaugural, thanks to broadcasters such as Channel 4 backing the series.

“I think we’ve done really well, because we’ve brought a start-up racing series to a pretty wide audience, and I think people know about it,” Allen notes.

“When I speak to my friends who have no interest in motor sport, they’ve heard about it, they’ve read about it in the papers, in the broadsheets, they may have even watched it on Channel 4.”

“The good thing about being on Channel 4 in the UK is that people who are interested in Formula 1 will know about the fact that we’ve got W Series coming up, because at the end of the programme they’ll trail it.”

“If you’re watching the rugby today on Channel 4, we’ve sent them a 30-second VT, which will trail our final programme, and off the back of that the presenter of the rugby will say ‘don’t forget tomorrow to tune in, 2:30 on Channel 4 for the finale on W Series.'”

“Whisper is all about the stories, characters, personalities, entertainment is everything. Sport is entertaining, but my opinion on sport is that has to be easily understandable by everyone, so if you’re sitting down with your daughter or son and they’ve never watched W Series before, they can’t think ‘that was boring’ at the end of the programme, and that’s the key.”

“What we’re doing with this is everything around the racing, even if the racing hasn’t done what you wanted it to, we’ll make sure we sell that sport to the absolute maximum and get the most emotion and entertainment out of it.”

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Scheduling: The 2019 W Series finale / Austrian MotoGP

This weekend, Jamie Chadwick and Beitske Visser take to the track in the hope of becoming the inaugural W Series champion! The two join 16 other drivers’ on-track at Brands Hatch in the final round of the W Series season.

Live coverage of the finale airs on Channel 4 in an extended two-hour broadcast. The race itself starts at 15:10 on Sunday, with Lee McKenzie fronting coverage as usual. Ted Kravitz remains alongside McKenzie, whilst David Coulthard re-joins Claire Cottingham in the commentary box.

W Series supports the German touring car series DTM, which airs live for UK viewers on Freesports TV.

Motorsport Broadcasting will be reporting on-site from Brands Hatch, so keep an eye on this site and on the Twitter feed over the weekend and beyond for snippets from Brands.

Elsewhere, MotoGP heads to Austria, with both MotoE and the Red Bull Rookies Cup joining them at the Red Bull Ring.

W Series – Brands Hatch (Channel 4)
Qualifying airs live across Facebook and Twitter
11/08 – 14:30 to 16:30 – Race

MotoGP – Austria (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (£)
09/08 – 07:45 to 15:15 – Practice 1 and 2
10/08 – 08:00 to 16:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
11/08 – 07:15 to 15:00
=> 07:15 – Warm Ups
=> 08:45 – MotoE
=> 09:30 – Moto3
=> 11:00 – Moto2
=> 12:30 – MotoGP
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Austria (Quest)
12/08 – 23:00 to 00:00 – Highlights

DTM – Brands Hatch (Freesports TV)
10/08 – 13:15 to 14:45 – Race 1
11/08 – 13:15 to 14:45 – Race 2

Red Bull Rookies Cup – Austria
10/08 – 16:00 to 17:00 – Race 1 (BT Sport 2)
11/08 – 14:15 to 15:15 – Race 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)

As always, please check back in case scheduling details for the weekend change.

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F1 avoids television blackout during German Grand Prix

The German Grand Prix saw one of the greatest races of the modern era take place, with Max Verstappen storming to victory in changeable conditions.

Off the track, Formula 1 faced their own technical battle which nearly saw Saturday’s action plunged into darkness for half of the worldwide audience.

Writing in F1’s Media Pass ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Television Systems Group Manager Trevor Turner explained in further detail what happened.

Instead of copying and pasting his quotes word for word, it is worth analysing what Turner has said in detail, as Turner gives a fascinating insight into the intrinsic nature of motor sport broadcasting.

The World Feed
As this site revealed last month, there are four different versions of the F1 World Feed, catering for different regions.

Turner’s post reveals the nature of these feeds, and where they are distributed from:

  • European feed – distributed from an on-site Eurovision Services up-link and fibre truck
  • Asian feed – distributed from F1’s Media and Technology Centre in Biggin Hill
  • American feed – distributed from F1’s Media and Technology Centre in Biggin Hill

It is likely that the fourth World Feed serves F1’s over-the-top broadcast, although Turner does not directly confirm this.

Additionally, Turner confirms that the Eurovision Services truck provides “additional transmission services for Canal+ in France and Movistar in Spain,” and is also the hub for all of F1’s additional feeds, such as the pit lane channel and on-board channels.

Over in the UK, F1’s Biggin Hill base also delivers digital content, such as social media, web and F1 TV content.

Tata Communications, F1’s official Connectivity Partner, provides different backups on-site, including a backup of the World Feed.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, a fire destroyed the Eurovision Services truck (referenced above) at the Hockenheim circuit. In other words, the German Grand Prix was facing blackout for all its audience across Europe. Swift co-operation was required between F1’s stakeholders, including F1, their broadcast partners, and Tata.

“While the truck itself looked relatively intact, inside it was completely destroyed,” Turner said.

“It quickly became clear that we were in real trouble. RTL [F1’s German broadcast partner] had already stepped up and arranged for two satellite trucks to be driven to Hockenheim (one from Frankfurt and another from Munich) but neither was expected to arrive before FP3.”

Broadcasters’ help F1 out ahead of FP3
With the Eurovision Services truck out of action, the Asian international feed became a far more important asset than in previous events.

Geneva is home to Eurovision Services, which is a subsidiary of the more widely recognised European Broadcasting Union (EBU). It is this facility which played a key part in getting the feeds to air, as Turner explains.

“So, the first solution was to use the Asian international feed at our UK Media Technology Centre to cover the loss of transmissions over Europe (now which were no longer possible directly from the track) and Eurovision teams in Geneva to plan transmission of this feed in both HD and UHD formats from an alternative fixed satellite facility,” Turner notes.

My day-to-day job (Senior Data Engineer for those interested) involves me hearing the phrases ‘upstream changes’ and ‘downstream changes’ daily. How do changes up the chain affect me, and how will changes I make affect those further along on the chain?

I can only imagine that those pieces of terminology are commonplace in broadcasting, except the risk involved is significantly greater.

A sport beamed to millions of viewers worldwide on a bi-weekly basis, any change presents high risk if not thoroughly tested. Other parties stepped up to help introduce additional fail-safes, including both UK broadcasters, preventing further issues from occurring during the weekend.

European feed – ‘business as usual’ process

  1. Content generated at track
  2. Transmitted across Europe via Eurovision Services truck

European feed – Germany process

  1. Content generated at track
  2. Content sent via Tata’s fibre links to F1’s Biggin Hill HQ
  3. Content passed from F1’s Biggin Hill HQ to Eurovision Services’ Geneva HQ
  4. Transmitted across Europe via Eurovision Services’ Geneva HQ

“Tata offered access to their on-site back up world feed satellite link to support the new transmission set-up we’d put in place for Europe,” says Turner. “In addition, RTL offered access via their fibre to Cologne and Sky UK’s Master Control Room (MCR) was on standby to support with signals which they also had available via F1 and Tata in London.”

Now having overcome the main hurdle, getting the third practice session on-air to its core audience, F1 next needed to understand how to facilitate the needs of their other stakeholders, as well as their own additional feeds.

From Biggin Hill to Geneva, and beamed worldwide
The additional feeds were more of a concern for F1, given that the feeds are not only used on F1 TV, but also by a variety of worldwide broadcasters, such as Sky Sports in the UK.

“That content is available at the UK Media and Technology Centre via Tata’s fibre links, so our Master Control Engineer, Russell Tree, managed to access those signals and configured some spare equipment to get those channels to Eurovision’s hub in Geneva where they were able to repackage them and get them to our clients.”

Canal+ and Movistar’s additional feeds followed a similar route to that of the additional track feeds, both passing through Geneva.

“We offered them access to F1’s social media and post-production edit video connections from the circuit to F1’s UK MCR where they were again on-passe to Eurovision,” says Turner. “This would restrict F1’s social and edit activity during FP3 and Qualifying but our colleagues in F1 editorial were happy to help given the gravity of the situation.”

All the hard work behind the scenes now complete and to the viewer at home, nothing had changed. Everyone was able to keep the show turning, which is a testament to those on the ground.

F1 pulls together in a near TV crisis
It is not unusual for behind the scenes technical issues to hit F1’s broadcasts, and for the individual crews to help one another out in the middle of a broadcast crisis.

Several years ago, Sky Sports stepped in to help the BBC when their graphics machine crashed, Sky helping to get the BBC programme back on the road. Rivals on-screen, a camaraderie atmosphere exists off it.

The system that F1 collectively implemented for the third practice session in Germany remained in place throughout the remainder of the weekend, only suffering minor hiccups with their Ultra HD offering on Sunday. The two RTL trucks that arrived at the track following FP3 were not utilised to avoid additional risk.

Turner was extremely happy with how the weekend turned out.

“We were able to broadcast FP3 live without any issues. It was real team effort and the assistance we received from all our partners – at Eurovision, Tata Communications, RTL, Sky – was brilliant,” says Turner.

“It really was a bit like a Formula 1 team arriving on Saturday morning to find they got a problem and need to do an engine change in a real hurry. In fact, it was worse. It was like opening the garage and finding that the car’s gone!”

“If I was calling it as a race result, I’d say we started in 20th and won the race. So, one place better than Sebastian!”

The additional resources F1 implemented for Germany will remain in place this weekend, as the championship heads to Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Thanks to Darshan Chokhani (@DarshanChokhani) for alerting me to the quotes.

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