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.