Sky Sports F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict

The first two parts of the 2013 verdict looked at both the BBC and Sky Sports teams, as I looked at each individual’s contributions. The third part focussed on BBC F1’s programming, and suggested potential improvements. Part four switches attention again to look at Sky Sports F1’s programming over the course of the season, whilst the final part will cast an eye into the future as 2014 draws ever nearer.

Although the programming during a race weekend has largely stayed the same, it is the schedule outside of the race weekend which has seen the most movement. Before a Formula 1 weekend gets under way, Sky screen the Thursday FIA press conference, along with a ‘Gear Up for…’ programme which is a summary of the interviews precluding a race weekend. Their main action, however, begins on Friday’s with live coverage of practice.

Sky’s coverage formally begins with live coverage of all three practice sessions. The build-up for each session is typically 15 minutes long (Australia FP1 the exception at 30 minutes) with Simon Lazenby hosting the Friday sessions and Natalie Pinkham hosting third practice on Saturday morning. During the session itself, Sky take the World Feed, except this season they have done things a bit differently compared with 2012. Many would have noticed Sky cutting away from FOM’s feed in last season. In comparison, this season they have adopted a split screen approach, which I personally prefer as long as it is not overused.

There was nothing more annoying than Sky cutting away from the World Feed, so the split screen was a good replacement. As the season went on, I feel that they did get the balance near enough to okay, just got to make sure that when split screen is used, there is a justifiable reason to use it. Another addition to the practice coverage, and in general was Sky putting captions over FOM’s graphics, which was a nice addition from time to time. The actual look and feel aside from the above did not really change: David Croft and Anthony Davidson were on commentary and the issues surrounding practice three and going off air earlier remained.

Martin Brundle did stand at a corner of the circuit explaining differences he sees in car vs car and driver vs driver, but as I noted in part two, this really could benefit with a camera being down there with him. Like I said though, I’m not sure how possible this is. The only annoyance for me is Sky still rushing off air after practice three for no apparent reason, sometimes only three or four minutes after a session has ended. Aside from that, the coverage Sky provide for practice is good and not much more can be suggested here.

The F1 Show
Throughout 2012, The F1 Show was live on Friday’s, from either a race track or the studio, with Ted Kravitz and Georgie Thompson presenting. It was by far the best part of Sky Sports F1’s coverage, with Kravitz and Thompson presenting week in and out a high quality show. The duo were great together with a lot of rapport and were liked by viewers. Despite being on the initial Sky Sports F1 advertising for 2013, Thompson took the decision to head for pastures new, meaning it was Natalie Pinkham alongside Kravitz for the first ‘The F1 Show’ of 2013.

The majority of editions in 2012 were must see, with some good discussion points. 2013 has not been as good for the show, with the Midweek Report showing it up on occasions. Yes, there have been some good changes, for example featuring GP2 and GP3 more, but I’ve been left feeling that watching some editions has been a chore rather than must watch. Being on Friday’s for non race weeks does not help. I know it was following multi-21, but the highest rated edition was actually aired on a Thursday.

Sky appear to be persisting with the Friday slot for 2014. I just don’t think a Friday night works at all when most of its core audience are probably out and not wanting to watch F1. Interestingly, for one episode they did have a heavy social media presence, with people being invited to tweet their thoughts in. Whether that was a test for something in 2014, I don’t know. As it turns out, I really enjoyed that particular episode, but there have not been a huge amount of highlights this year for The F1 Show. I enjoy it still, just not as much as I did in 2012.

Unlike in 2012, Sky’s race day programming now has three distinct parts. The track parade tends to take up the first twenty to thirty minutes of the build-up, whilst the remainder of the build-up is discussion and VT based. However, it was always signalled on the EPG as one part, that was until the Indian Grand Prix when the decision was made to have formal introductions for each of the three parts, thus splitting it into three parts. Some say that this was a ratings influenced move and they may well be correct…

One complaint last season was that the pre-show just did not have the right flow to it, thankfully the pre-show in 2013 feels more polished and overall a better feel than what it did this time last year. The VT quality has slightly improved as well, with the Sand Grand Prix actually turning out surprisingly well, one of the few things that Sky have hyped this year that have delivered to expectation. On the same level, the mundane VT’s wrapped around breaks have remained, and don’t look like disappearing any more. As thus, expect Foals to be getting a lot more playouts in 2014!

The Sky Pad has been used more than ever before in the build-ups, but very effectively too. As I noted previously, moving the Sky Pad outside was probably one of the best decisions Sky made this season, and it paid dividends for them with more attention being paid to drivers’ taking themselves around a lap of a particular circuit in these segments. I don’t think they need to change a thing with the Sky Pad segments for 2014, because they’ve turned something good from 2012 into an absolute gem in 2013 with Anthony Davidson at the helm.

Throughout the 2012 season, Sky typically went off an air between 90 and 120 minutes after a race had finished. At the beginning of 2012, the difference between Sky and BBC was alarming, as Simon Lazenby and Damon Hill were not the best duo, and the post-race show just felt completely wooden. It did improve a bit, but felt like they were a level below BBC’s previous efforts. They shortened the length slightly for 2013, consistently going off air at about 16:15 for European races. It turned into formally being called ‘Paddock Live’ from India onwards.

Whilst the pre-show has undoubtedly improved, it is the post-session coverage that has reaped the rewards in 2013. The post-show is 2012 was fairly structured, but now, with a bit of reworking, I think they have crucially got the structure right. Segments at the Sky Pad with Anthony Davidson looking at key moments from the race, discussion and analysis, and Ted Kravitz’s Notebook now means that Sky Sports F1’s post-race analysis is a step above BBC’s. Obviously, it helps them that BBC have a change in presenter, but credit to them nevertheless.

The Notebook’s in 2013 have been better than ever, from testing through to the last race in Brazil. Within the post-race show, the Notebook is normally five to ten minutes long with an extended version on the website. I do think the programming would be significantly weaker without his contributions, as the Notebook makes up a fair chunk of the post-race. Looking ahead to 2014, and I hope the post-race programming continues in the same vein. It is better than BBC’s post-race forum at the moment, so hopefully Sky don’t change for the sake of change.

Midweek Report
I was debating whether or not to include the Midweek Report as a separate section, but given that it has been a regular in the Sky Sports F1 schedules for the majority of the year, I thought it was necessary to give it its own section. Last year, Sky Sports did not have a midweek Formula 1 show. This year, the Midweek Report started online for the first few rounds with Anna Woolhouse presenting. It was pretty clear how cheap the budget was immediately, the show was filmed in the tightest of studios possible, and against a green screen!

Which does not really do it justice. It soon moved to the channel itself from April, which made complete sense. Irrespective of who’s budget the programme comes from, it is an F1 based programme made by Sky Sports, therefore it should be screened on the channel, simple as. The show itself is 30 minutes and is chit chat and discussion with two guests. And the difference between the Midweek Report and The F1 Show is simple. The F1 Show’s ‘guests’ are actually not really guests, but members of Sky’s team. The Midweek Report actually has proper guests.

Obviously for its low budget, the guests are not always fantastic (having someone from Planet F1 scraped the barrel), but on other occasions it hit a top note in a big way. After Abu Dhabi, they had Will Buxton and James Calado on. The discussion in that particular show was fantastic, because the guests were actually expressing opinion and not towing any line! It was brilliant and great to see. Midweek Report should continue in 2014, with a bigger budget, proper studio and who knows, maybe it will fully overtake The F1 Show too. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Other programming
Starting at the start, Sky’s 2013 contributions began with a few launches, kicking into gear further with live testing. I really enjoyed the testing coverage from them, with general chit chat and also insight from Mark Priestley. I normally would say that I hope live testing returns for 2014, with testing more critical than ever next season. Three letters, one word: FOM. If Sky want to screen testing live, once again they have to go through them. As always, FOM give Sky access, Sky can’t just walk in and around a live F1 circuit with cameras and start filming. So, we’ll see what happens.

Classic F1 has also began on the channel this season, with Sky screening near to 100 classic races. I’ll admit to not watching them all, but it was a much needed addition to the channels schedules and helped fill the gap between races. Hopefully the classics continue for 2014. GP2, GP3, Fast Track and Weekend in Stills have all continued on the channel. In particular, GP2 and GP3 have had a great year, with more fantastic commentary from Buxton and, at times Alex Brundle. GP2 and GP3 are back on Sky Sports for 2014.

One problem has continued though: advertising. I’ll keep this to this paragraph, but GP2 and GP3 need advertising. Desperately. How much does it take to knock a 30 second trailer together and air across multiple Sky Sports channels to get the message out? Similar arguably applies for the Midweek Report and Classic F1, although those are more of a case for the Sky social media team to get the message out given that I would expect neither of them to be advertised on-air. I’m hopeful this will improve, but who knows. All good advertising F1, but there is other programming too.

From a programming stand-point, Sky have improved leaps and bounds, albeit most of the changes have come outside of the race weekend. Which is good, after all we are talking about a channel here and not one individual programme or airing. The scheduling needs to change on some of the programming (original programming shouldn’t air beyond 23:00 or midnight), but 2013 has improved significantly on 2012’s baseline.

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