The direction never taken: Formula 1 and Channel 4

On July 29th, 2011, a new broadcasting deal for Formula 1 in the UK was announced by BBC and Sky Sports, that would change the Formula 1 broadcasting landscape in the country. The deal, which was a result of the licence fee settlement that the BBC had agreed to, stated that BBC would broadcast half of the twenty races live, with the other half being broadcast in highlights form. Sky Sports would broadcast every single session of the 2012 season live, half of them, exclusively.

As I have stated many times in this blog, not least in my ‘The Verdict so Far’ series to begin this blog, this was a major change for Grand Prix broadcasting in this country as the below graph helps illustrate:

Figure 1.1.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC received thousands of complaints, over 5,000 in total, along with 8,000 responses to the blog on the issue. The question, for many, was “did the BBC prevent ITV or Channel 4 from taking full F1 rights for their own greediness?”. BBC would, quite obviously, say no, chances are we will never know the full answer.

But what we do know is that Channel 4 were definitely putting a serious bid on the table to take exclusive Formula 1 rights from the 2013 season onwards. The same applies for ITV, although there is no proof of that in the form of actual plans, whereas for Channel 4, there is. These documents from the Graphical House website show that Channel 4 were definitely taking a potential bid seriously with a very slick overview of what they were planning.

Although the Graphical House website pulled a few of the important pages, Phil Duncan’s Daily Mail blog has these pages which make for interesting reading. Ignoring the show names, as these are generic titles and are probably not worth focussing on, I do think the ten point plan is worth looking into.

The ten point plan that Channel 4 proposed in Summer 2011 to try and capture exclusive UK F1 rights.

With that in mind, for the remainder of this post, I’m going to play devils advocate and pretend that the BBC and Sky deal did not happen. Never. Kaput. Zilch. Whatever you want to call it. And I’m going to pretend that these ten points were involved in Channel 4’s Press Release stating that they had won the Formula 1 rights from BBC. My first thoughts though writing that, is “how would the F1 fans have responded?”. I don’t think the move would come with much approval, that’s for sure, and I believe many would see it as a step backwards, with commercials in the live race. But on the other hand, surely if it safeguards Formula 1’s future on free to air television, then that has to be, under any circumstances, a good thing?

The first point talks about their motor sport coverage across their networks saying that it will be “more extensive [..] than ever before”. That is really a given, as Channel 4 have never had the rights to Formula 1 before, so that is not particularly surprising. It may well mean more coverage than BBC and ITV before it, which, given that Channel 4’s audience share is lower than BBC’s and ITV’s is again unsurprising as the more airtime that they dedicate to Formula 1 will lift their all-day share. This leads somewhat onto their second point with “more live hours of racing free-to-air”. Ignoring the “no pay-wall” bit, which is obviously aimed at Sky, the main jist of the point suggests that Channel 4 probably would have considered taking the GP2 and GP3 rights from Eurosport. Point 3 suggests the above would be repeated in primetime too, alongside the F1. If I had to guess how their schedule would look, had it been on Channel 4:

08:30 to 11:00 – LIVE F1: Practice 1 [E4]
12:30 to 15:00 – LIVE F1: Practice 2 [E4]
19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Friday Summary [Channel 4]

09:30 to 11:15 – LIVE F1: Practice 3 [Channel 4]
11:15 to 12:00 – GP2: Qualifying [Channel 4]
12:00 to 14:30 – LIVE F1: Qualifying [Channel 4]
14:30 to 16:00 – LIVE GP2: Race 1 [Channel 4]
16:00 to 17:15 – LIVE GP3: Race 1 [Channel 4]
17:15 to 20:00 – GP2 + GP3 [E4]
20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Saturday Summary [Channel 4]

08:15 to 09:15 – LIVE GP3: Race 2 [Channel 4]
09:15 to 10:45 – LIVE GP2: Race 2 [Channel 4]
10:45 to 11:45 – F1: Qualifying [Channel 4]
11:45 to 16:30 – LIVE F1: Race [Channel 4]
16:30 to 19:00 – GP3 + GP2 [E4]
19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Sunday Summary [Channel 4]

I could not see Channel 4 broadcasting GP2 and GP3 Qualifying like Sky Sports F1 do, only the live races on their main channel, although I do think they would broadcast GP2 highlights before F1 Qualifying on the Saturday as I have outlined above.

In the same way ITV4 did in 2008, I think Channel 4 would have an on-air team for GP2 and GP3 with an interview or two before and after the races. It’s difficult to know whether they would actually cover GP2 and GP3, my guess is yes, but there again we don’t know the real reasons behind ITV choosing to cover GP2 live in 2008, maybe they did it because they knew it would be their last year covering Formula 1 live. Of course, for Channel 4, the other question would be whether they would expand their motor racing portfolio outside of Formula 1 and the respective support race series’. To my knowledge, they have never covered major international motor sport livetheir only major live sports recently has been horce racing and athletics, with the corporation winning the rights to the Paralymics in August.

The “red button hideaways” point is interesting. At the moment, or in the 2009 to 2011 BBC deal, practice was broadcast behind the Red Button along with extra streams, such as onboards. The pit lane channel was not introduced by Formula One Management until this season, but BBC have chosen to take that as well, so we will include that too. As I indicated above, I think practice on the Friday’s would be on E4 with Saturday practice (typically the more important) on Channel 4. But what about the extra streams? If there are going to be no “red button hideaways”, then where do they go? One option would be to have Formula 1 programming in the Channel 4 portfolio over three channels, so you could have:

– main feed on Channel 4
– onboard feed on E4
– pitlane feed on More4

The latter two would probably draw more attention on E4 and More4 compared to the Red Button as channel hoppers are more likely to come across it, plus they are much more easier to access than the “hideaways” that Channel 4 describe above. Aside from that, you could then have an extra three onboard feeds, plus the driver tracker, on the Channel 4 website in a similar vein to what the Sky Race Control is. Having the onboard and pitlane feeds also free-to-air, it means that the viewer could watch the main feed and record the pitlane feed if they wished to, something that is not always possible with Red Button “hideaways” on Sky Sports.

One point I have not addressed in any of the above is the dreaded commercials. While there would definitely be adverts in the race, I think Channel 4 would learn the lesson from ITV and schedule adverts for a much shorter duration, in a similar vein possibly to their old cricket coverage, with 6 x 1 minute breaks per hour, meaning that you are not cutting away from the coverage in ‘big chunks’. I think fans would accept this a lot more than say fewer breaks, but of a longer length per hour.

Moving on from the race weekend scheduling, the ten point plan makes note about the Formula 1 archive and original programming. While Classic F1 races would probably be kept online, a Legends series, akin to the one Sky Sports F1 currently do, would probably be covered in some detail by the broadcaster. Aside from that, they note factual programmes, which is one of Channel 4’s expertise and an area where I am sure that they would do very well in.

One other thing I would have liked about this deal is having the races on the 4oD channel on YouTube as YouTube is so much better than watching videos off the BBC website and the Sky Sports website, the latter in particular is not the best site for watching videos off.

So, in conclusion, ignoring the quality of the broadcasting this year, would Channel 4 have been the better option for the majority of viewers watching? Absolutely, as it would have kept every race live on free-to-air television, which is fundamental in my opinion. By having the 50/50 mould we have now, an irreversible step has been taken. One day, Sky will have full, exclusive rights to Formula 1, and one day, someone at BBC Sport may choose to pull the plug…

Agree with my points? Disagree with my points, or do you have anything to add? Comment anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

European Grand Prix ratings soar to twelve year high

Boring was not the word on anyone’s lips yesterday afternoon, and the viewers seemed to agree as the European Grand Prix soared to a twelve year ratings high on BBC One and Sky Sports F1. The two broadcasters recorded a combined peak of approximately six million viewers. Five million were watching on BBC One with a further one million approximately on Sky Sports F1. The exact Sky Sports F1 peak figure is unknown, but I suspect it is around the one million viewers region.

In terms of averages, the BBC programme from 12:10 to 15:15 recorded an average of 3.83 million, a 32 percent viewing share, with Sky Sports F1 adding half a million viewers on top of it. The split is a mammoth 88% in BBC’s favour versus 12% for Sky Sports F1. This is by far the biggest split between the two broadcasters in the races that both broadcasters’ have broadcast live, with the split normally nearer the 80% to 20% region.

Irrespective of the splits and who had what, the viewing figures were the highest since the 2000 running of the European Grand Prix, which will please broadcasters after the Canadian Grand Prix was hit very hard from Euro 2012. One thing the new deal is doing is making the ratings analysis much more difficult, instead of it just being a constant low four million or high three million depending on whether, there are other factors to take into account depending on whether Sky has exclusive rights to that particular race and what time BBC’s highlights are on, as we seen with Canada. Here is how the European Grand Prix has rated since 2000:

2000 – 4.85 million
2001 – 3.14 million
2002 – 3.20 million
2003 – 2.80 million
2004 – 2.79 million
2005 – 2.42 million
2006 – 2.50 million
2007 – 3.24 million
2008 – 2.64 million
2009 – 4.09 million
2010 – 3.50 million
2011 – 3.89 million
2012 – 4.33 million

So a super rating for it yesterday, even if it is dwarfed by another certain football rating

As of writing, I haven’t seen any Qualifying ratings so can’t comment on those.

Sky Sports F1 – Top 10 ratings (week ending 17th June, 2012)

From BARB:

1 – 47k – The F1 Show (Friday, 20:00)
2 – 25k – The F1 Show (Friday, 22:31)
3 – 20k – Legends (Friday, 19:00)
4 – 18k – Canadian Grand Prix Highlights (Monday, 16:30)
5 – 17k – Canadian Grand Prix Replay (Monday, 19:00)
6 – 16k – 2009 Season Review: Part 3 (Sunday, 21:00)
7 – 12k – 2009 Season Review: Part 2 (Saturday, 21:01)
8 – 11k – Bahrain Grand Prix Highlights (Saturday, 13:32)
9 – 8k – Fast Track (Tuesday, 19:31)
10 – 8k – Canadian Grand Prix Highlights (Tuesday, 21:02)

The F1 Show is unsurprisingly down from a high of 86,000 two weeks ago, but to be honest, I’m surprised it held up as well as it did here against England vs Sweden.

The rest of the schedule did normal figures, if anything slightly higher for some reason. The channel reach, though, just managed to avoid the record low it recorded two weeks ago, with a reach of 564,000 viewers compared with 560,000 viewers a fortnight ago.

Sky Sports F1 to screen Classic British Grand Prix’s [UPDATED]

Sky Sports F1 starting next Friday are to screen Grand Prix classics, I can confirm. Schedules on the Sky Sports website are updating, and reveal the following for next weekend:

11th GP D’Europe – 20 minutes
– Friday 29th June, 19:40 to 20:00
– Wednesday 4th July, 20:00 to 20:15

1956 British Grand Prix – 1 hour
– Friday 29th June, 21:00 to 22:00
– Tuesday 3rd July, 20:00 to 21:00

1958 British Grand Prix – 30 minutes
– Sunday 1st July, 21:00 to 21:30
– Thursday 5th July, 19:30 to 20:00

1964 European Grand Prix – 40 minutes
– Friday 29th June, 19:00 to 19:40
– Monday 2nd July, 20:00 to 20:45

2007 British Grand Prix – 2 hours
– Saturday 30th June, 18:00 to 20:00
– Monday 2nd July, 21:00 to 23:00

2008 British Grand Prix – 2 hours
– Saturday 30th June, 21:40 to 23:40
– Tuesday 3rd July, 21:00 to 23:00

2009 British Grand Prix – 2 hours
– Sunday 1st July, 17:00 to 19:00
– Wednesday 4th July, 21:00 to 23:00

2010 British Grand Prix – 2 hours
– Sunday 1st July, 19:00 to 21:00
– Thursday 5th July, 16:00 to 18:00

2011 British Grand Prix – 2 hours
– Sunday 1st July, 21:30 to 23:30
– Thursday 5th July, 21:00 to 23:00

Legends: Stirling Moss – 40 minutes
– Saturday 30th June, 21:00 to 21:40
– Wednesday 4th July, 20:00 to 20:40

Looking around the web, the 11th GP D’Europe is in fact the 1950 British Grand Prix. The 1964 European Grand Prix took place at Brands Hatch, also under the title of the British Grand Prix. And according to Radio Times, the Stirling Moss programme is an interview with him and Steve Rider.

Great to see Sky putting out all the stops for the British Grand Prix. This is the second time Sky are showing Classic races, the first time being from Monaco in May.

UPDATE on 26th June: I’ve added the entire week’s schedule, so you can see when the races are being shown.

A few movers and shakers for this weekend and Silverstone

With practice over for this weekend’s European Grand Prix, there are a few movers and shakers to keep you informed of for the remainder of the weekend and at Silverstone.

On the Sky Sports side of things, Karun Chandhok is joining the team this weekend, starting with tonight’s The F1 Show with Georgie Thompson and Ted Kravitz. This is Chandhok’s second appearance I believe with the team having been on The F1 Show alongside Derek Warwick a few weekends back. Another person joining the team is former Sauber and BMW driver Nick Heidfeld, who will join Simon Lazenby, Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle on Sunday. Allan McNish is the third driver with the team temporarily, McNish replacing the injured Anthony Davidson as viewers for practice today would have spotted.

BBC’s team meanwhile reverts back to the usual set-up after Jake Humphrey’s brief departure to cover Euro 2012. He was expected to stay out there, but the schedule means that he is able to cover Valencia in full. The move means that Tom Clarkson will probably not be covering this weekend for BBC and will only be with them for Germany and Hungary. For radio, Jonathan Legard replaces James Allen again for this weekend.

Looking ahead to Silverstone, and former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley will be pitlane reporter for 5 Live. Priestley, who was with McLaren from 1999 to 2009 will be alongside Jennie Gow for the entire weekend. Also, it has been announced that the F1 Forum from Silverstone will take place on the main stage on Sunday after the race. So if you’re heading to the main stage after the race at Silverstone, you may just be caught on camera!

Thanks to Karun Chandhok and 5LiveF1 on Twitter for some of the information above.

UPDATE on 23rd June: Clarkson is actually still out there for BBC, as you can hear him interviewing Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel here.