Analysis: “Sky silences critics and wins over grid”

Yesterday, The Times newspaper published an article, which also appeared in their newspaper, focussing on Sky’s Formula 1 coverage and how they had “won over the paddock”. Instead of just blogging and regurgitating about the article, I thought I would dive deeper inside, because there appears to be a few inaccuracies. The article, written by Kevin Eason, notes that Barney Francis, the managing director of Sky Sports, is in Austin this weekend. Although not mentioned, it is assumed that this is linked to why James Murdoch was seen in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, even if none of the mainstream Formula 1 media picked up that particular story.

The first Francis quote suggests that Sky Sports could replace Formula One Management as producers’ of the World Feed, although one suspects that Eason asked the question hoping to run the story with the answer. Francis says “Would we take it on and do it? We would challenge ourselves to do any sports production. We are well tuned, we have good individuals at the top and farther down the chain. It is a hypothetical question and would need FOM [Ecclestone’s F1 business] to suggest they don’t want to do it any longer.” It is an interesting thought actually, and one that I would be quite interested in seeing to see how Sky Sports revolutionise Formula 1 coverage around the world. At the best of the times, some of the Formula One Management angles can be unimaginative and does not capture the speed that well at times in my opinion. Whilst they do a very good job, no doubt about it, I think Sky Sports could step things up a gear, say if Formula One Management handed over the British Grand Prix World Feed reigns to them. Let us not forget that it was Sky Sports that produced this five-minute trailer at the last few Grand Prix’s last year to promote their new channel which beautifully shows the raw speed, something which the FOM shots do not always do. Personally, I rate Sky Sports’ coverage of events (ie the events during the 90 minutes of a football game/cricket match) top notch.

Moving on, Francis’ says “We would love to do it – 3D would look sensational for Formula One. It will be on the agenda for the conversation we have at the end of the season with FOM. But there has to be a will and there has to be a market, and right now other markets more economically challenged than the UK have put it on hold.” My judgement may cloud me here, but I have zero interest in 3D. Views vary wildly on this, but my opinion is that 3D television is a waste of money and resources when those two things would be better focussed elsewhere. 3D also is not very popular over here and looking at the television ratings appears to still be niche.

A third quote of Francis’ appears to be riddled with inaccuracies and spin doctoring. Francis, talking about the television ratings goes on to say “We know two things: demographically, it is a younger set on Sky than the BBC. We also know that in households where viewers have a choice – Sky and the BBC – and we are simulcasting, we are getting 58 percent of that audience. There are more people watching Formula One than ever before, and that is certainly the case.” The demographics point I don’t quite understand, is that a good thing? I am not quite sure. Does it matter? The fact that Francis singles it out suggests that he considers it significant, but considering their audience base is low as it is, I don’t consider it significant. Let us take the two examples below, on the basis that “demographically, it is a younger set on Sky than the BBC”

– BBC One peaks with 5 million viewers. It skews with 20 percent in the 16-34 age bracket.
– Sky Sports F1 peaks with 1 million viewers. It skews with 25 percent in the 16-34 age bracket.

For example purposes, we will use that. Both seem fairly realistic when you consider that ITV1’s coverage of the UEFA Champions League coverage on Wednesday 7th November had a 21 percent skew in that demographic (836k out of 4.04 million total viewers). Using those numbers above, that means 1 million viewers in that demographic are watching on BBC One, with 250k watching on Sky Sports F1. For me, I really do not see why that is anything to point out. BBC One brings in more casual viewers, therefore it has an older skew. Even so, their programme still brings in more 16-34 viewers than Sky Sports F1. If the audience gap between the two was closer, then yes that would be worth pointing out, but when Sky Sports F1 has had low audiences this season comparatively speaking, I don’t particularly see it as something worth mentioning.

Working on a 800k million peak figure [excluding Virgin Media, see below for why], the “58% percent of that audience” thing is interesting. Which means that about 579k are watching BBC One, but could watch Sky Sports F1. That total is 1.38 million viewers. So 1.38 million viewers in the total amount of people with either the Sky Sports package or Sky HD package on the Sky platform that watch Formula 1. I knocked off Virgin Media at the start by deducting 0.2 million from the Sky Sports F1 peak figure. The Sky corporate document shows that 4.47 million people subscribe to Sky HD. This report from The Independent says that 5 million people subscribe to Sky Sports. Whilst you cannot simply add them together, because you get a lot of people who fall into both categories, it is a fair assumption to say the number is around 6 to 7 million people. So why do less than a third of the people that have access to Sky Sports F1 choose to watch a race then? Surely that figure would be higher had Sky brought more people to the sport, as they appear to be claiming.

The idea that “more people are watching Formula One than ever before” is quite frankly, wrong. The viewing figures do not lie. Singapore: down, Japan: down, Korea: down, India: down. Abu Dhabi reversed the worrying trend, thankfully. I ran some analysis in the Summer break and concluded that viewing figures were at their lowest since 2008. If Sky are working on reach figures, which is possible, then I would be wondering why is the reach so high and the averages low? Why are those people that tune in for only three minutes not tuning in for longer? That is the question they need to ask.

Outside of the quotes, there are some further inaccuracies, such as the total amount of the contract. The article states that Sky Sports are paying £25 million for Formula 1, with BBC paying £7 million per year until 2018. A similar article in June said that same amount for Sky, but double for BBC. As I noted in that blog post, BBC are believed to be paying between £15 million and £20 million with Sky paying £40 million. One thing I did not put in that post was that we learnt that from what Mark Thompson (former BBC Director General) said at the Culture, Sports and Media Select Committee meeting last December. I quote: “The effect will be to save the BBC well over £150 million between now and the end of the contract”. If it was £7 million per year the contract, then the saving would be £231 million over seven years. ‘Well over’ £150 million can be defined in several ways, I interpret it as between £150 million and £175 million. Also, I would be extremely surprised if Bernie Ecclestone accepted losing £8 million a year, which is £56 million over 7 years.

Finally, the article notes that the Sky team have won over the grid. Is that because they think the product is good, or because the teams are getting more money as a result? I say that, because the teams did nothing at all for the fans last Summer. As always, it was about the money. FOTA did not step in, the teams did not care, Martin Whitmarsh pretended to care and now believes the deal was good for Formula 1. Apparently fans are also accepting the move. I still see race after race on Twitter fans still wishing that the coverage was on BBC. If anything, the article in yesterday’s The Times smacks of poor journalism and a back handed ‘high five’ from one side of News Corporation to the other. Better journalism would be to ask how to make the product Sky put out better for 2013, how to entice more fans into watching for 2013, how to make Sky Sports F1 better outside of race weekends for 2013. That is what people really want to know. I guess, though, that was too much to ask.

9 thoughts on “Analysis: “Sky silences critics and wins over grid”

  1. Got to say I do agree with parts of your article and there should be not place of back slapping on the massive scale as I do agree with Sky Sport f1 has improved since the start there are MUCH more work to be done espaclly in 2013 where there should be MORE original programming in the midweek so the subscription would make it worthwhile for people to pay..

    As for people saying that they wanting the coverage on BBC are slightly deluded as yes it would be great to be how it was before this season but they have to accpect that it will not happen especially the mess the BBC is in now.

    I do feel so sorry for those who work at the BBC as they are lovely people who got sold down the river by the management

    It would be great to see Mark doing the gig in 2013 as I think he will do it justice but my feeling it will not last long and before people have to decide IF they want to pay to watch F1 or just give up watching the sport for good….

  2. “In households where viewers have a choice – Sky and the BBC – and we are simulcasting, we are getting 58 percent of that audience.”

    Sky are not, Sky are getting in some cases 18% (ish) of the BBC audience, as for races like Monaco.
    Also in Households where he BBC show F1 live at the same time as Sky, nearly a third of people who subscribe to Sky, choose to watch the race live on the BBC … The figures are there for all to see.

    “There are more people watching Formula One than ever before, and that is certainly the case.”

    No there isn’t, there is currently 17% less people watching F1 than in 2011, and if you take unique viewers into account it’s nearly 22% less.

    As Sky’s spin gets ever wilder, people dislike them ever more … I used to get annoyed when Jake tweeted the peak figures for the BBC races, but Sky’s spin is verging on outright lies, or sheer incompetence from senior Sky staff.

    1. I interpreted Francis’ quote as saying that in households where people have access to both BBC One and Sky Sports F1, 58 percent choose Sky Sports F1 and 42 percent choose BBC One for the live race.

      So to put that against your sentence Karen:

      “Also in Households where the BBC show F1 live at the same time as Sky, nearly a third of people who subscribe to Sky, choose to watch the race live on the BBC … The figures are there for all to see.”

      42 percent is more than a third, not nearly a third. Unless the figures differ significantly on Virgin Media, which is presumably included in Francis’ quote?

  3. If you pay for something you’re more likely to feel obliged to use it, so even interpreting his statement as above, shows that 42% of people that pay for Sky’s service don’t watch it when an alternative is available, which if I worked for Sky I would find shocking.

    What I meant was Sky’s exclusive race audience shrinks when the BBC has live racing at the same time.

    For some races like China the defection rate was about 45% from the exclusive Malaysian race beforehand … I was being generous to Sky by saying a third, simply so as not to come across as anti-Sky, as some people think if you level any kind of criticism at Sky it’s just because you’re anti-Sky.

  4. I am a sky had subscriber and a massive f1 fan. I truly did not want the bbc to lose any f1 coverage, as I used to like the slightly silly intros and banter with jake et al before the races. However, I have not watched a single race that the bbc have shown since last season, choosing instead to watch solely on sky. The actual race content is obviously the same, so clearly it is to do with the presenting team, commentators and general punditry. I used to hate watching Simon lazenby as I am a huge fan of jake Humphrey and think he is a genuinely nice lad. However, his knowledge of f1 and on screen conduct has improved dramatically over the course of this season, and indeed, so has Georgie Thompson. I used to think she was just there as eye candy, but she too has dramatically improved her knowledge of the sport and personnel behind the scenes. I think the main reason that I watch the race coverage on sky is Martin Brundle, having listened to the annoying voice of the bbc commentator, I would rather stab pencil into my ears for two hours. Instead listening as Crofty takes the lead, a job he does brilliantly, with Brundle chipping in on race days and Ant providing a really interesting driver’s eye view of the task on the track. The sky pad is another really useful tool that the bbc “sort” of had with Brundle for a limited amount of races last year. I do not miss having to press the red button on the bbc for after race coverage as I felt the bbc were saying; “enough is enough, you have had the tv for 3hrs, now go talk amongst yourselves where you won’t annoy the others”. If the bbc had ALL of the races, I still would not watch them as I do not think that they are producing the same standard of show that they were when all the now-sky staff were there. My mother who is a hardened f1 fan, comes over to watch all the non bbc races with me, and whilst she likes the job jake humphreys is doing, has noticed a dip in quality, with an increase of infighting between Jordan and coulthard. She will never pay to watch anything, but had said that given the choice of the two, she would watch the sky coverage every time! I am by no means a sky fanboy, indeed I think the way that sport has now been dissected because of their power is appaling, but in this instance I am with sky, and this is where I shall remain!!

  5. As kid i use to watch the boxing. Sky got all the boxing rights. No longer watched boxing. Can’t name the world champions and struggle to name any boxers to.

    F1 needs to be very carefull this does not happen to them. Uk is releative rich market to loss. I can remember when i was at school and i was telling my school mates about the grand prix i seen on tv the day before and none of them knew what i was talkign about.

    1. It’s a very interesting point you make, the ‘slippery slope effect’. I think F1 has to have terrestrial television presence, absolutely as a must. Whether it is highlights or live. I think it would struggle if Sky took all of the rights, to be honest.

      1. One of the first grand prix i watch was 1988 mexican grand prix highlights. Back then it was not reported on news, there was no internet, there was no pops on smart phone. You had no means finding out what happened. So watching the highlights was good to watch.

        Now in this digital age it is almost impossibe to find NOT to find out who won or anything unusal at happened and once you know it very hard to watch the highlights with any enthusiasm.

        Example . i wil l watch the live football match on tv tv wednesday night but i turned of the match of day highlights this morning and i still not even bothered watch the qualifing in usa grand prix tonight.’i do know what happened though’.

      2. That will ONLY happen IF BBC does not give up on F1 as it has done on other sports in the past 😉 People seems to forget that IF the BBC had not rescinded on its contact than it would be showing ALL 20 races this season 😉

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