The first two parts of the 2013 verdict looked at and analysed the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams, suggesting possible improvements in both areas. Parts three and four switches the focus from the personnel to the programming.
Part 3 will look at BBC’s Formula 1 programming. The new deal from 2012 onwards has meant a reduction in what the BBC serves up. Unsurprisingly, some parts of the programming have been affected since, both due to that but also due to personnel changes as I will look at in this piece.
The look of practice changed significantly on the BBC this year. From 2009 to 2011, BBC shown every practice session live via its Red Button service. This halved from 2012 with the revised contract, but the raw coverage was the same. The broadcaster was simply taking the Formula One Management (FOM) World Feed from the five minute sting to five minutes after the session with Radio 5 Live’s commentary. For 2013, that changed thanks in part to the significant reductions to the Red Button, which meant that practice was heading to BBC Two.
At the time, they touted this as ’40 extra hours of network output’, whilst technically true, of course the raw hours they were showing was not increasing, merely changing stations. It did make me wonder how many people were completely oblivious to them showing practice between 2009 and 2012 behind the Red Button! In any case, the change to BBC Two meant that it had to become a proper programme, start titles, end titles with proper presentation from Suzi Perry and A.N. Other (mostly Gary Anderson).
I guess this was okay for what it was, although I was somewhat wondering what the point was when sometimes they only had five minute intro and outro. I can understand having a proper programme if they had more air-time, as they did after the session in Canada, one great example where they had half an hour on BBC Three. I imagine they will continue with proper presentation in 2014, but hopefully they manage to get five or ten more minutes post-session to go with that, instead of rushing off the air.
One of the minor parts of BBC’s Formula 1 coverage since 2009 has been the ‘Inside F1’ show. The show has typically aired on the BBC News Channel on Friday’s and Saturday’s at 18:45 during race weekends. It has more recently been fronted by Lee McKenzie on location. Normally, every Formula 1 show has some kind of purpose. Considering its timing, you would say Inside F1 simply aims to wrap up the on-track action for Friday and Saturday respectively. Which is, fair enough, considering its fifteen minute slot. The utter confusion for me comes with one word: Why? And more importantly: Who?.
Why is BBC’s F1 team still filming this show, and secondly, who is this show actually aimed at? The main purpose appears to be that it is only there to fill air-time on the BBC News Channel. Again, it comes to the question of why Formula 1’s target audience would be watching at the time. The answer is that they simply would not be. It does follow after Sportsday, but I’m not sure what it achieves. Yeah, its a harmless show in nature, but it could be much better. BBC Three, 19:00, 30 minutes. Why not? It makes a fair bit more sense than the BBC News Channel in my view.
The BBC Three programming, instead of Inside F1, could bring a different demographic towards Formula 1, which is needed to try and reverse the difficult ratings patch as of late. In effect, I’m saying scrap Inside F1, and bring in a new show. Make it a hybrid Friday review with a different slant. The other option (for Saturday’s) is to have a BBC One tea-time show for live races, which could work in a similar way to Murray and Martin’s ITV F1 Specials in the late 1990’s. Either way, BBC need to be open to new ideas, and a new F1 show to cater to a different demographic is an interesting perspective.
One of the points that has largely remained the same since 2009 is the length of both the Qualifying and the Race build-ups. For live races, this has consistently been between 50 and 60 minutes irrespective of location. I’ll begin though with the highlights, as the format is largely formulaic: a quick intro, Qualifying wrap up, maybe an interview feature, grid interviews and then onto the race. It doesn’t need to be anything more for the highlights show, and given the programme length of between 90 and 120 minutes there is not much room for manoeuvre anyway.
It’s the live programmes where all of their energy goes into. Starting with the positives, the quality of their VT’s are unmatched. From a technical standpoint, the team still produce some jaw dropping VT’s, whether it is a particular race retrospective, or throwing some old McLaren’s around Silverstone. It is great to see too that there is still a bunch of talented people behind the camera and that the BBC and Sky deal did not rip the production team apart. In front of the camera, the show has still been good.
Good, but not great. Partially, this has not really been their fault in the latter half of the season with stories drying up. Nevertheless, it hasn’t quite felt ‘must watch’ for me at several stages this season. Assuming we have a championship battle, and with Suzi Perry in her second season, I do think things will rebound. I’ll allude to this a bit in the Sky piece too, but broadcasters’ thrive with a championship battle with stories bouncing from pillar to post and possible angles to take. When that disappears, so does possible content. Hopefully 2014 is a more competitive year for all concerned.
The only real negative for me comes with BBC’s post-session coverage. From 2009 to 2011 we had a high quality forum, which was generally very highly regarded. Quality dipped in 2012, but appears to have plunged for 2013. This is not an issue for highlights show, but for the live races it is a major issue. For those that didn’t watch, between 2009 and 2011 the forum consisted of a hybrid of chit chat and good, solid in-depth analysis. This did vary a bit from sitting down outside with guests, or inside a motor home, or later on walking along.
Changing presenters does not help thanks to the very nature of the forum, but what has not helped at all for BBC is that this is where Sky have made the biggest strides, particularly this year. And it is one area where I feel Sky are now actually better than the BBC. BBC mastered the forum from 2009 to 2011 and it is quite sad to see it go downhill. Does it still have its good, great TV moments? Of course. But it appears to be just a few people wandering around now, meaning that the entire feel of the forum has changed for the worse since a few years ago.
Thankfully, for BBC, this is a simple fix. All they need to do is to watch a tape of a 2013 forum and compare it to a 2010 forum and analyse where things have changed, and more importantly, do they think the changes are for the better. Personally, I don’t think the changes have been for the better and Sky’s improvements in their post-race show just highlight it further for me. I hope the forum does get back on track, because when it is good, it is easily the best piece of Formula 1 television during a race weekend. Let’s get the house back in order, please.
2013 has been a year of stability for the broadcaster, although the change of presenter has been highlighted significantly. Don’t get me wrong, the BBC is still one of the best, if not the best Formula 1 broadcasters in the world. I hope 2014 sees some programming changes and tweaks in order to improve the product further. I fear that BBC risk falling into the trap of complacency and resting on the laurels. 2014 looks set to be an exciting Formula 1 season on and off track, and I hope BBC’s coverage reflects that after what has been a solid, but unspectacular 2013.