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

The Mid Season Verdict series continues with part four of five, this time focussing on Sky Sports F1’s programming outside of race weekends, and how they could improve it. When the channel was first announced, the question for many was “how do they fill the hours outside of race weekend?”. Which, is a perfectly valid audience. A channel, as well as having content aimed at the casual fans during the race weekend, is also meant to be aimed at the hardcore fans outside of race weekends. Has it done that? Not really, in my opinion. At the moment, outside of race weekends, we have:

– 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

There has also been Classic F1 races, but only for Monaco and Britain. The problem with the Classic F1 races that they have shown is that some are not even worthy of the title ‘classics’ seeing as they are races from the past five years. On the whole though, 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 programme between the British and German Grand Prix weekends had 45,000 for The F1 Show on Friday evening, a small pocket of the audience. The channel during that week reached only 99,000 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 during the race weekend, this programme is effectively repeating the same interviews that the viewer has already seen during the main 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? I don’t really get it. They have shown Classic races for Monaco and Britain, but what have they shown during the break? Classics races? Nope. Nothing. Nada, zilch. I suggested a classic season. It would be pretty simple, open a vote in May on the Sky Sports F1 website, get people a few weeks to vote any season between 1990 and 2008, they screen the winning season during August. Not too difficult. It is an extremely lazy approach, repeating the same programming over and over again. It is quite sad seeing that a dedicated channel was created for Formula 1 fans, yet it is still not being maximised to its full potential as it should be. Sky can’t claim “it costs money”, as I said above, BBC did it on a piece of string! For me, the F1 channel could be so much better outside of race weekends. It is unfortunate that at the moment it is barely above average.

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, and yes, they are the same suggestions as April, because all (bar one) have not been implemented:

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
– credit where it is due, Sky trialled this during The F1 Show a few weeks back with David Croft as host. Would love to see it back every two or three weeks.

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
– for those that watch Peter Windsor’s online show, The Flying Lap, this is basically what happens when his show has gone ‘off the air’ where he keeps the feed open for 15/20 minutes so people can ask questions

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

Mondays
14:00 – GP2: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)
15:30 – GP3: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)
16:30 – GP2: Race 2 of previous weekend (repeat)
18:00 – GP3: Race 2 of previous weekend (repeat)
19:00 – Race (repeat)

Tuesdays
20:00 – Weekend in Words (new)
21:00 – F1 Fast Track (new)
21:30 – Weekend in Stills (new)
22:00 – GP2: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)

Wednesdays
20:00 – Cockpit View (new)
21:00 – The Paddock View Live (new)
22:00 – GP2: Race 2 of previous weekend (repeat)

Thursdays
20:00 – Radio Soundbites (new)
21:00 – Hybrid (new)
22:00 – GP3: Race 1 of previous weekend (repeat)

Fridays
20:00 – The F1 Show Live (new)
21:00 – Fanzone Live (new)
21:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
22:00 – GP3: Race 1 of previous weekend (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 (new)

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 (editors note: I said ten back in April, I dread to know the amount 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, unfortunately though it has been left to the other Sky channels leading to embarrassingly low ratings. Three thousand viewers for an IndyCars race? Irrespective of your opinion concerning IndyCars, it should not be getting as low as three thousand viewers in the UK.

One of the things that does slightly annoy me a bit as well is how things are timed ‘oddly’ on the schedule, programmes seem to start at ten past, twenty past, five past, why not on the hour or half an hour like the majority of other TV channels? Most of the above is exactly the same as what I wrote in April, with a bit added here and there. Unfortunately nothing has changed on this subject, aside from Sky trialling “The Paddock Club” and the Classic races from Monaco and Britain. Hence why the majority of the content in this piece has to stay the same. Sadly.

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