Why Sky Sports F1’s mid-week programming needs a rethink: The Verdict so Far

The Verdict series continues with my fourth of fifth posts to begin my F1 Broadcasting blog, which will focus on F1 broadcasting in the UK as well as wide issues. There will be be occasional posts about the racing as well, but for the moment I shall dive into my fourth out of five posts concerning The Verdict. The first two posts focussed on the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC F1 and Sky Sports F1 team members, whilst my third post looked at the product that Sky Sports F1 puts out each weekend while on location at each track. This post will continue to look at Sky Sports F1, but looking at their content during the week.

One of the major challenges for Sky Sports F1 once the channel was announced last November was “how do we fill the hours?”. The hours during the weekend fill themselves with the live F1, GP2 and GP3 action. The hours during the week however, do not fill themselves and instead Sky have to fill material themselves with their own programming. At the moment this is what Sky Sports F1 has during the week and on the off-weekends:

– F1 Fast Track: 30-minute highlights of 2012 races so far set to a backing track
– Weekend in Words: 1-hour compilation of clips of people talking from the previous race weekend
– Weekend in Stills: 30-minute compilation of images from the previous race weekend
– The F1 Show: see my description in Part 3
– Season Reviews: reviews from 1988 to 2011, most taken from the official DVD season reviews

The problem is that Sky are focusing their programming in the wrong areas. As a dedicated fan, who watches the majority of things, only The F1 Show and the Season Reviews appeal for me. The casual fan is more likely to watch F1 Fast Track and the ‘Weekend in…’ programmes (although Weekend in Stills admittedly caters to both), however are casual fans likely to watch the Sky Sports F1 channel during the week? Not really. It would be in Sky’s interest to focus more on the dedicated fan during the week and non-F1 weekends by putting on programmes that appeal to them as they are the core audience for the channel during that time period. Official figures from BARB showed that the highest rated programmes between the Malaysian and Chinese Grand Prix weekends had 44,000 viewers and 57,000 viewers for The F1 Show on Friday evenings, a small pocket of the audience. The channel during these two weeks reached 142,000 viewers and 102,000 viewers per day, again, a small portion of the audience, and most likely a dedicated contingent. If you’re churning out the same programmes day in-day out, where’s the incentive to watch? I can’t see any. For Sky, they should at least be aiming to produce programme for the dedicated audience, but also accessible for the casual audience.

The current programming does not do that. F1 Fast Track is a waste of half an hour of airtime and is nothing more than ‘filler’ which should be dumped. Weekend in Words serves no purpose either, and is twice as worse seeing as it is 1 hour long. Half of the quotes are outdated, and as the dedicated audience would have watched the majority of programming this programme is effectively repeating the same interviews that the viewer has already seen during the main weekend coverage. This programme, again, does nothing for me and should be dumped.

Weekend in Stills is okay and should stay. I can see why people would enjoy this programme, and while it is not my cup of tea, images capture a lot more than what TV images can, so it is probably worth keeping. The F1 Show I shall skim over here, because I’ve already stated multiple times that I believe this is the best piece of TV that Sky Sports F1 produce, so I hope to see this a staple in the schedule. The Season Reviews is a bugbear. Yes, dedicated fans would like it. But why not full races? The thing I don’t like here is that Sky went back on what they said on their Twitter account before the season. Given that this is a dedicated channel, I find the decision to not broadcast full, classic races bizarre. Showing Season Reviews is a step back from the BBC’s fantastic Classic F1 offering between 2009 to 2011 where readers would get a choice of five races and they would get to pick the best for an extended highlights offering, see here as an example. The writer on the blog, Andrew Benson admitted I believe that the Classic F1 series was basically done ‘off a piece of string’, yet they appear to have put in more effort in this area than Sky so far.

I make it sound like this is a ‘big deal’, but it seems a sensible thing to do considering it is easy hours of material to fill on their channel instead of another repeat. Some of you may be wondering whether Sky Sports would actually have the rights to the material. I think they would have the rights to the majority of the material (and commentary) considering it is filmed, and recorded, inside the confines of a race circuit, so that is not an excuse. My overriding opinion is that it’s disappointing for Sky not to exploit the rights. Why both with a dedicated channel if you’re not going to run archive races during non-F1 weekends?

The other programming, is too weak for an F1 channel, in that there should be more. The following is some simple ideas of programming aside from replaying Classic F1 races, which are as follows:

Radio Soundbites
– 1 hour
– The best team radio soundbites from the weekend
– containing clips from the World Feed and also the Pit Channel

Cockpit View
– 1 hour
– The best onboard moments from the weekend
– containing clips from the World Feed and also the Onboard Channel

Hybrid
– 1 hour
– a Hybrid race feed containing the best bits from the World Feed, Onboard and Pitlane with Team Radio and Natural Sounds over the top

The Paddock View Live
– 30 minutes (or 1 hour depending on race ‘excitement’)
– two or three F1 journalists in a studio looking at newspapers and opinion pieces, agreeing or disagreeing
– also asking for viewers opinion

Fanzone
– 30 minutes
– a few dedicated fans in the studio, preferably straight after The F1 Show with the viewpoints being ‘handed over’ to the fans for them to give their thoughts
– also asking for viewers opinion

And how would all of that, including the existing programming and full classic races instead of Season Reviews? Like this…

Mondays
19:00 – Race (repeat)

Tuesdays
20:00 – Weekend in Words
21:00 – F1 Fast Track
21:30 – Weekend in Stills

Wednesdays
20:00 – Cockpit View
21:00 – The Paddock View Live

Thursdays
20:00 – Radio Soundbites
21:00 – Hybrid

Fridays
20:00 – The F1 Show Live
21:00 – Fanzone Live
21:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)

The end result being that you have 7 and a half hours of original content with original content on Tuesday through Friday, a vast improvement on now. And how would Saturdays and Sundays shape up?

Saturdays
10:00 – Race Highlights (repeat)
11:30 – Weekend in Words (repeat)
12:30 – F1 Fast Track (repeat)
13:00 – Weekend in Stills (repeat)
13:30 – Cockpit View (repeat)
14:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
15:30 – Radio Soundbites (repeat)
16:30 – Hybrid (repeat)
17:30 – The F1 Show (repeat)
18:30 – Fanzone (repeat)
19:00 to 22:30 – Classic F1 Race

Sundays
10:00 – The F1 Show (repeat)
11:00 – Fanzone (repeat)
12:00 – Classic F1 Race (repeat)
15:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
16:30 – Radio Soundbites (repeat)
17:30 – Hybrid (repeat)
18:00 – Weekend in Words (repeat)
19:00 – Weekend in Stills (repeat)
19:30 – IndyCar Series (live)

One classic race per weekend is fine in my opinion, with a repeat of it the following day. Anything else would be too much, but one classic race per weekend when F1 is not on would be fantastic in my opinion. Saturday and Sunday offers a catch-up for anyone who missed the weekend offerings, and it also means things are not repeated that much compared to now where some things are repeated many times, for instance the Australian Grand Prix highlights show must be on its 10th repeat by now! Also, I didn’t sneak IndyCars in there at 19:30, that was deliberate! It should be on Sky Sports F1 in my opinion to prevent it being thrown around Sky Sports 2, 3 and 4. It’s the logical thing to do.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blogs so far. My fifth and final blog in ‘The Verdict’ concerns ratings! Have they gone up? Have they gone down? Or have they stayed the same? Comment away in the comments, agree or disagree, I don’t mind!

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