Sky Sports F1’s weekend output: The 2012 Verdict

Following on my part looking at BBC F1’s weekend output last week, it is time for the ‘2012 Verdict’ series to move on to look at Sky Sports F1’s output from this past season as the broadcaster embarked on its first season covering Formula 1. Thankfully, last week’s announcements do not affect this particular blog post significantly, although I will reference it from time to time if necessary.

Press Conferences
Sky’s coverage of a race weekend begins with covering the Thursday and Friday press conferences – the Thursday press conference featuring answers from six drivers’ chosen by the FIA, whilst the Friday press conference features answers from six team members’, again chosen by the FIA. The footage is purely from the Formula One Management (FOM) World Feed.

A nice addition to the race weekend and can be a bit hit or miss depending on the weekend and depending on the drivers’ chosen, but it is worth watching as the drivers’ do lighten up some of the time and crack a joke. Anything is better than ‘Your Home of Formula One’ on a rolling loop, and given that the Thursday and Friday press conferences were not readily available before 2012, this is a small, but worthwhile addition to the race weekend.

The first Formula 1 action takes place on Friday with practice, all of which is covered by Sky, albeit the practice is interrupted by commercials. Thankfully there are not too many commercials though, and even so, I do not believe it is particularly valid to complain about practice because the viewer has the option to access Sky Race Control (onboard or pit lane feeds at the push of the Red Button) so the commercials are a good opportunity to press red for a few minutes. One thing that I will say on that subject though is that the constant ‘going off air 7 minutes’ early is particularly irritating, especially after practice three on Saturday mornings, a dedicated channel should not be going off air three minutes after a session has ended.

The commentary itself is mostly fine with David Croft and Anthony Davidson, but as I alluded to in the mid-season verdict and in my earlier posts, I do feel too much emphasis is put on the track action here when in fact the emphasis should be getting viewers’ opinions and thoughts in from Twitter like back when the two commentated with BBC Radio 5 Live. Personally for me it is more about the viewer debate as you do not learn the practice stories until later (why X struggled, why Y was fast) so it is worthwhile to ask for people’s questions during the session.

Before and after the session you tend to have Simon Lazenby alongside Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle. Not much is discussed before the session apart from your usual talking points, although it is difficult to with only seven minutes air-time before commercials and the FOM sting. Back in 2002, F1 Digital+ had more of a relaxed studio based discussion on Friday’s before and after practice and this is something I think Sky should attempt on Friday’s at the circuit. Being down in the pit-lane on Friday does not really serve any purpose as there is no atmosphere, the crowds are sparce and the sun is only just rising. You can have a vibrant studio that comes across well on screen as Sky proved with their fantastic studio and Sky Pad set-up during the Ryder Cup which was on-location.

Also, as I said in my Sky individual team piece, I think Brundle’s role needs to be re-evaluated during practice as well as Sky constantly cutting away from the FOM World Feed, both need to cut down significantly for 2013. If you are going to use Brundle in 2013, then he needs to be used effectively (such as sending him to the fast chicane during FP2 at Melbourne with a pair of binoculars for example to see which cars look more stable and giving his instant live thoughts to a camera). Seeing him interview someone during practice does not do much for me, especially when that interview could be conducted before the session or after the session.

The F1 Show
For the purpose of this piece, I will only focus on The F1 Show during the race weekends. During the race weekends, The F1 Show is normally presented on location with both Georgie Thompson and Ted Kravitz, although ocassionally Thompson has been back in London in the F1 studio. The magazine show normally goes to air two and a half hours after practice, the programme rounding up the Friday action as well as presenting one of two features in the hour long show.

As I have re-iterated before, The F1 Show remains the best part of the Sky Sports F1 weekend. As a duo, Kravitz and Thompson are a fantastic presenting team alongside Johnny Herbert for the show. It is unfortunate therefore that The F1 Show has the unfortunate honour of being the lowest rated output across the race weekend this season that Sky Sports produce, it is an honour that it should not have, or deserve to have in my opinion. I personally would like to see an extra 30-minute F1 Show added on Saturday evenings with Kravitz and (or as an addition) Thompson presenting the show as they wrap up Saturday’s action and talk about any penalty decisions. I always found it a bizarre situation where Sky Sports News were talking about a penalty live (Spain and Abu Dhabi) but Sky Sports F1 was in repeat mode. The show would incorporate Kravitz’s Notebook as well as go in-depth with each team’s Qualifying performance. At the Monaco and British Grand Prix’s, Sky added a Thursday show. I don’t think this is always necessary as all that you can do in these shows is regurgitate pre-race interview material, whereas there is more potential for a Saturday show in my opinion.

Unlike above, where I suggest a studio for practice, I think The F1 Show should remain a paddock based show as there the paddock and pitlane is actually quite busy during the evenings while the show is on air with mechanics repairing cars from Friday practice as the sun goes down for the day. Unfortunately, the poor ratings make it seem unlikely that The F1 Show will be extended beyond a one-hour Friday show for next year, although it is good news to see that it has been recommissioned for 2013 with Thompson presenting, no mention of whether Kravitz will be presenting as well but I suspect he will be.

Support races
As well as Formula 1, Sky Sports F1 has also broadcast the GP2 and GP3 Series this season, focussing on the future Formula 1 hot prospects such as James Calado and Davide Valsecchi. The channel aired every GP2 session alongside the GP3 Qualifying and Race sessions. Sky chose to take the FOM World Feed footage in its entirety, with commentary from Will Buxton and Jerome d’Ambrosio. As of writing, it is not known if Buxton will return to his support race duties for 2013. I duly hope he does though as he is clearly enthusiastic about the feeder series’ which always helps during commentary. Buxton is also outspoken during commentary, something that is rare nowadays (as to not upset anyone higher up) which is great to see. A particularly funny moment this year was seeing Buxton and d’Ambrosio taking a Q&A session live on air during the red flag delay in Belgium.

I’m not particularly fussed as to whom is alongside Buxton, whilst d’Ambrosio is a competent commentator, he is not a major loss if he does not return for 2013, the main thing for me is that Buxton is back in the commentary box for 2013. One thing I am wondering is whether Sky will increase its commitment to the series. Yes, they broadcast every session of both series’ (bar GP3 Practice, but that is as dedicated as you will get, and I believe no commentary is provided for that), but outside of that there is little support series coverage. The only mention it got on Sky Sports News concerned the horrifying crash of Conor Daly’s from the GP3 race in Monaco, whilst it got little coverage outside of that on the Sky F1 channel. My hope for 2013 is that Sky Sports add some presentation and colour to it outside of the World Feed and promote it a lot more, after all this is the future of Formula 1 yet it is treated somewhat shabby at the moment. It does not need to be much, 10 minutes before a race and after a race to introduce us to the faces that exist behind the helmets and to persuade more viewers to watch, like The F1 Show above, the feeder series’ have not drawn many viewers on Sky. ITV4 had on-site presentation in 2008, hopefully Sky Sports F1 can have on-site presentation five years later.

Moving onto Saturday and Sunday, Sky this past season have provided one hour of build-up for each Qualifying session with 90-minutes build-up for each race. Post-Qualifying tends to have about 30 minutes, with the post-race having about 1 hour, 45 minutes of debrief. The Qualifying programmes I thought were mostly fine this season, but one of my main concerns for both of the pre-shows is the pacing. For me, and this is partially due to the commercials, it seems chop and change quickly going from one topic to another without any flow. It is one thing the BBC have done fantastically in the build-up to integrate everything together whereas in my opinion Sky have not done that yet.

Looking at their 2013 sponsorship document, it was stated that three commercials would remain in the race build-up. I think it is worth them having a break directly before the 5-minute sting as in terms of what is covered in those 3 minutes is ‘dead air-time’ and just wrapping things up before the race itself. The benefit also of taking a break here is that it means one less break during the actual build-up which would help the flow significantly in my opinion. Unfortunately though, the sponsorship document states “3 breaks in the build-up, with the last break running no later than 30/60 minutes before the race starts.” meaning you have more breaks constrained to less air-time. From an advertisers perspective, I would have thought having a break 10 minutes before the start would be more valuable as there are more viewers available, but Sky may argue there is a much higher chance of viewers turning over at the particular junction. Although I was not a fan of ITV’s breaks, the break before the start was definitely the most useful!

In terms of the VT features, I have enjoyed the majority of them on Sky, in particular the Nigel Roebuck segments have definitely been the highlight for me. Seeing Jacques Villeneuve driving his Dad’s Ferrari at Maranello was also a highlight as was the Racing Lines segments. One thing I will say about VT’s is that, whilst some VT’s have been fantastic, for a 90 minute show, some that have been produced are too short and not delivered. For a 90 minute build-up, time should not be a pressing factor. I would happily have a longer feature if it meant less of the scenario shots and slow motion montage shots of drivers’ walking through the paddock, the latter has been a particular bugbear of mine as the season has progressed. Okay, slow motion can be good (especially during races) but it is as if someone at Sky has took slow motion as being flavour of the day to the extreme.

On a final note, and this applies for the Post-Race section, I think that Lazenby’s role should be reduced for 2013 and the duties shared more with Thompson as Lazenby is presenting too much which is a detriment to the coverage. Of course, Lazenby should improve for 2013, but the presenting burden should be spread more thinly with Thompson.

The post-race length is similar of that to BBC, but despite being a dedicated channel seems more ‘stricter’ with the length and as thus does not feel as relaxed as BBC. There are definitely stronger areas in the post-race compared to the BBC, for example Ted’s Notebook again is a highlight as Kravitz wanders up and down the pit-lane focussing on each and every team which is always nice to see. Another strength of the post-race is the Sky Pad which allows Davidson and Thompson to focus on the key incidents. This was particularly evident at the Belgian and Japanese Grand Prix’s where their virtual camera allowed them to pinpoint the exact moment where contact was made. I know some are critical of the Sky Pad, but in these incidents the Sky Pad really comes into its element and ‘its own’.

I think by the end of the season Sky had definitely got much better at the post-race section of their coverage, unlike everything else, the post-race is impossible to rehearse as you have no idea what is going to happen. At the start of the season it seemed in a bit of no mans land, but has definitely come on leaps and bounds since.

Looking ahead to 2013, if I was working at Sky, this would be my preferred weekend schedule for European races:

08:30 – Live from the Circuit
– 08:30 to 08:33 – Adverts
– 08:33 to 08:52 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 08:52 to 08:55 – Adverts
– 08:55 to 10:35 – F1 Practice 1
– 10:35 to 10:38 – Adverts
– 10:38 to 10:52 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 10:52 to 10:55 – Adverts
– 10:55 to 11:35 – GP2 Practice
– 11:35 to 11:38 – Adverts
– 11:38 to 11:42 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 11:42 – Off-Air
11:45 – Classic F1
– gives viewers a reason to stick with Sky Sports F1 during the break instead of sticking on another Fast Track repeat
12:45 – Live from the Circuit
– 12:45 to 12:48 – Adverts
– 12:48 to 12:55 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 12:55 to 14:35 – F1 Practice 2
– 14:35 to 14:38 – Adverts
– 14:38 to 14:52 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 14:52 to 14:55 – Adverts
– 14:55 to 15:35 – GP2 Qualifying
– 15:35 to 15:38 – Adverts
– 15:38 to 15:45 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 15:45 to 16:30 – Team Principles Press Conference
– 16:30 to 16:42 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 16:42 – Off-Air
16:45 to 17:45 – The F1 Show
– live from the paddock with Ted Kravitz, Georgie Thompson and Johnny Herbert

The purpose of ‘Studio Chat and Discussion’ segments is so Formula 1 personalities can drop into the studio whether it is past, present or future to discuss all matters F1 and so viewers can tweet or e-mail questions into the studio. The studio would be an ‘extension’ of the Sky Pad studio akin to the Ryder Cup as noted above.

08:30 – Live from the Circuit
– 08:30 to 08:33 – Adverts
– 08:33 to 08:40 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 08:40 to 09:20 – GP3 Qualifying
– 09:20 to 09:23 – Adverts
– 09:23 to 09:35 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 09:35 to 09:38 – Adverts
– 09:38 to 09:52 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 09:52 to 09:55 – Adverts
– 09:55 to 11:05 – F1 Practice 3
– 11:05 to 11:12 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 11:12 – Off-Air
11:15 – Classic F1
– gives viewers a reason to stick with Sky Sports F1 during the break instead of sticking on another Fast Track repeat
12:15 – Live from the Circuit
– 12:15 to 12:18 – Adverts
– 12:18 to 12:30 – Paddock Chat with Simon Lazenby
– 12:30 to 12:38 – Studio Chat and Sky Pad
– 12:38 to 12:41 – Adverts
– 12:41 to 12:52 – Paddock Chat with Simon Lazenby
– 12:52 to 12:55 – Adverts
– 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying
– 14:05 to 14:10 – Press Conference
– 14:10 to 14:13 – Adverts
– 14:13 to 14:20 – Studio Chat and Sky Pad
– 14:20 to 14:27 – Paddock Chat with Simon Lazenby
– 14:27 to 14:32 – Gridwalk
– 14:32 to 14:35 – Adverts
– 14:35 to 15:50 – GP2 Series
– 15:50 to 15:03 – Adverts
– 15:53 to 16:00 – Paddock Chat with GP2 interviews
– 16:00 to 16:03 – Adverts
– 16:03 to 16:12 – Paddock Chat and Gridwalk
– 16:12 to 16:15 – Adverts
– 16:15 to 17:10 – GP3 Series
– 17:10 – off-air
17:15 – The F1 Show
– featuring Ted’s Qualifying Notebook and interviews not featured earlier. Length variable depending on what was and what was not covered.

08:15 – Live from the Circuit
– 08:15 to 08:18 – Adverts
– 08:18 to 08:25 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 08:25 to 09:05 – GP3 Series
– 09:05 to 09:08 – Adverts
– 09:08 to 09:17 – Paddock Chat (GP3 and any F1 news)
– 09:17 to 09:22 – Gridwalk
– 09:22 to 09:25 – Adverts
– 09:25 to 10:35 – GP2 Series
– 10:35 to 10:42 – Studio Chat and Discussion
– 10:42 – off-air
10:45 – Classic F1
– gives viewers a reason to stick with Sky Sports F1 during the break instead of sticking on another Fast Track repeat
11:45 – Live from the Circuit
– normal build-up and post-race as now

Although I have done the above, the reason why the above will never happen is because Sky are too focussed on what the BBC are doing and not much on themselves. It is a channel, therefore it should look and feel like a channel. The above, in my opinion, does that instead of being like a string separated into separate pieces. Sky feel that their Qualifying and Race programme should be longer than BBC. Not really, it should be about bringing content to the F1 fan irrespective of what time of day it may be during the race weekend. There is too much emphasis on being like the BBC and having the content in one or two places when in reality it should be spread across the race weekend. Think of it like a piece of bread, instead of putting all the butter on one corner of the piece (Qualifying and Race build-up), it should be spread more thinly across the bread.

Coming up next will be the Sky mid-week verdict followed up by the ratings verdict. As always your thoughts and comments are welcome!

One thought on “Sky Sports F1’s weekend output: The 2012 Verdict

  1. Sky have a bit more pre’ and post’ on race weekends than the BBC (usually), but waste it by being too rigid, and dropping in and out of the flow with their adverts, VT’s and pseudo programming that’s really another advert or sponsorship sting.

    On numerous occasions I’ve shouted at the screen when an interesting question has been asked, only for Lazenby or one of the other ‘stiff shirts’ to tell us were going for a break. And the break tended to have lots of ‘ways to view F1’ promos, and sometimes they’d cut off an interview to show a montage for the 20th time.

    The way to attract viewers to SkyF1 (and let’s face it they need some), is to be different from the BBC, but there seems a total lack of imagination at SkyF1, and an attitude of ‘let’s copy the BBC output’, even to the extent of luring away BBC staff by waving large amounts of cash in their faces.

    SkyF1 should really be wondering why, if 650k watch the race, why does that figure halve for qualifying, drop dramatically again for FP and the F1 show, the channel doesn’t seem to be attracting the dedicated/avid F1 viewer … I remember tracking down a Money Programme broadcast because it had a 5 minute segment on F1 in it.

    SkyF1 seem to be turning off avid viewers by making the channel the equivalent of moving wallpaper … Too much turkey at Christmas makes you sick of turkey, too many repeats on SkyF1 is turning their output into a turkey.

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