A look behind the scenes at FOTA: Part 2

Last week, I had the chance to talk to the former secretary general of the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA), Oliver Weingarten. In part one, Weingarten spoke about a series of subjects, including how he felt the FOTA fan forums went and whether Formula One Management (FOM) is behind the times where new technology is concerned.

In the second and final part, I quizzed Weingarten about the current state of Formula 1, and also about whether Formula 1 moving to pay television is really the right thing for the sport. Part 1 can be found here.

The F1 Broadcasting Blog: Formula 1 is all about politics. Do you think some teams wanted FOTA to fail without thinking about the greater good?

Oliver Weingarten: There were factions in the sport that wanted [us] to fail, and there were those who perceived it [FOTA] no longer had relevance. However the majority of teams were in favour of FOTA, and recognised the benefits of having an organisation which could conduct matters on their collective behalf, and also provide an infrastructure where they could coalesce as and when needed, and also have the ability to respond in a swift manner with a unified voice. The fact is that FOTA conducted matters also on behalf of teams that were not members of FOTA, such as testing agreements [with circuit owners], and negotiations with Pirelli, whilst most generally wanted to be involved in fan forums. Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso [in 2013] was the star of the UK fans’ forum!

F1B: We’re seeing more often than not motor sport going down the pay TV route, of course the BBC and Sky deal from a few years ago and more recently, MotoGP to BT Sport. Whilst I know that you’re not part of the two wheeled paddock, do you think eventually we will see Formula 1 in the UK and the other territories go pay TV only? Do the teams feel that pay TV is the way forward in order for the sport to flourish? [note: I asked OW this question before it was announced that MotoGP was going to have a highlights show on ITV4]

OW: In my opinion, and those of the teams when I was at FOTA, the belief may not have matched the market reality. Free to air has its inherent benefits, in respect of generally obtaining more eyeballs and exposure for sponsors, but there has to be a recognition that the trend for sports rights over the years has seen a migration to pay TV. Public service broadcasters have seen severe budget controls imposed which has impacted on their ability in markets to obtain sports rights.

F1B: …even with the BBC budget cuts though, for example, that doesn’t mean we should completely forget the free to air viewer. I’d argue that a bit of both [free to air and pay TV] may be the best solution.

OW: A mix of free to air and pay TV can work well. In the UK, arguably more people watched the [2013] Malaysian Grand Prix via a mix of Sky Sports F1’s excellent live coverage and thereafter BBC highlights, as opposed to if it had just been on the BBC in the early hours of the morning. The competition amongst broadcasters has also improved the offering for consumers. Accordingly I believe sponsorship deals are not conducted anymore in F1 just on the basis of the amount of exposure on free to air. Sponsors are becoming a lot more sophisticated and understanding of the business model.

F1B: Lastly, do you have any regrets from the past few years, and what do you think Formula 1 has learnt about itself as a result of FOTA, if anything?

OW: My biggest regret is not achieving what I was hired to achieve, or at least provide assistance to achieve. The landscape changed dramatically within two months of my employment commencing. Teams had resigned, were arguing over cost control, the Geneva office was being closed down, and most significantly teams struck individual deals with the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH), meaning that the idea of collectively bargaining to achieve a better commercial position, was made redundant. The perception of FOTA became negative, and whilst there were a lot of positives, these were never championed loudly, and sometimes not even publicly. A lot of ideas I had from my previous role, were therefore never utilised. The teams recognise that whilst there is so much competitiveness and self-interest across the paddock, it makes it difficult for FOTA to operate on contentious issues, particularly when the structure of the CRH is as it currently is.

A look behind the scenes at FOTA: Part 1

One of the biggest Formula 1 stories to occur over the Winter break was the disbanding of the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA). The association aimed to “promote the development of Formula 1 and enhance its worldwide image and reputation” whilst also promoting a united front towards the FIA when debating future rules, sporting and technical regulations.

Sadly though, after nearly six years, self interest soon got in the way of the greater good, and on February 28th, FOTA announced its intention to officially disband. So what good, if anything, came out of FOTA? I caught up with Oliver Weingarten, who was the secretary general of the Formula One Teams’ Association, and is currently in the process of trying to dissolve FOTA. Weingarten previously worked for the Premier League, where he was General Counsel responsible for commercial and IP issues for 7 years. Over two parts, Weingarten talked to me about social media, the controversial double points plan and whether FOTA did really make any change for the better, amongst other subjects currently surrounding the world of Formula 1.

I began by asking Oliver about the FOTA fans’ forums and his opinion on how they went.

The F1 Broadcasting Blog: One of the success stories of FOTA were the fan forums that were held periodically. How easy were these to set up, and also did any broadcasters ever show an interest to televise these forums?

Oliver Weingarten: If I am honest, these were very stressful generally to organise. From finding a date that suited the teams, to ensuring there was the right mix of team personnel and ex-F1 personalities, to finding the correct venue, advertising and managing the registration process, seeking funding, and liaising with broadcasters, procuring branding for the forum, organising AV (audio/video) companies were all very time consuming.

F1B: Sounds like that you were very glad then when the day itself came around!

OW: To be fair, on the day, I was always concerned namely in respect of two issues. Will the teams turn up? How many fans will attend? I was always relieved when they concluded, and the feedback from teams and fans alike was generally very positive, which provided a genuine sense of satisfaction and achievement. My aim was to bring the fans closer to the sport, therefore [that was] the reason for introducing live streaming, and the Twitter interactivity, where on numerous occasions, we had #FOTAFORUM trending worldwide on Twitter, and fans watching on-demand after the Forum.

F1B: It’s funny you mention Twitter, because from an outsiders point of view, it feels like Formula 1 is behind the bend with new technology. The move to high definition was several years later than other sports including the Premier League, whilst Formula One Management (FOM) are still in 2014 running an automated Twitter feed. Do you think some within the paddock are ‘old school’ and don’t appreciate the value of social media?

OW: I can see why that might be the view, but [I] actually believe that F1 has tried to keep up and satisfy the broadcasters’ demands, and you only need to look at Sky’s output to see this. The second screen has become a phenomenon, and the use of virtual advertising is at the heart of technological developments to enhance revenue via tailored territorial advertising. I do not disagree that FOM should be more embracing towards social and digital media, and inevitably this will have to evolve, but concentration on the live output is the core principle that is enshrined, and anything else has to complement that and ensure the broadcasters and consumers receive the requisite offering.

F1B: Whilst on the subject of social media, I want to ask about double points. Over the past few months we have seen the backlash concerning double points, however it feels that fans view points are being ignored. If anything the loss of FOTA has meant that one of the last bridges between the paddock and fans has disappeared.

OW: During my tenure, when there were issues affecting all teams, we would generally try and discuss them in a cordial manner ahead of the respective meetings. Sometimes there was an agreed position, and often there was not. Unfortunately double points was presented by the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH) initially to the Strategy Group and thereafter to the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC). The reasoning was presented to the teams and they had their own reasoning for voting in favour. This was not an issue we discussed at FOTA level, given the status of FOTA at that point in time, when most discussions were focused on the requirement (or otherwise) to retain an association. Time will tell if the reasoning to introduce double points is strong enough to outweigh the fans’ voice, which as you point out, was a severe rebuke for the Teams. There was a plan for a series of fan “surveys” to be conducted globally online in 2014 under the auspices of FOTA, and this is certainly one issue which could have been addressed.

F1B: If we may just for a second go back to the new technologies point above, video sharing websites such as YouTube have been around for a decade. MotoGP has a YouTube channel, the IndyCar Series has a YouTube, yet Formula 1 doesn’t.

OW: Why don’t they have a YouTube channel? I know from my Premier League days that they wanted to prevent their content being uploaded and this was to protect the value of the broadcasters’ rights. There is an argument that there should be more tailored content available, whether that is on FOM’s website or YouTube. You have to also remember how the broadcasting deals are structured.

Interestingly, since I chatted with Weingarten, there have been a few interesting developments concerning FOM. The premium version of the official F1 Timing App includes exclusive team radio and English commentary. Furthermore ‘Formula One Digital Media Limited‘ was registered as a new company at Companies House on February 27th, whilst a video explaining the rule changes and giving a season preview was uploaded to the official Formula 1 website on March 10th, with archive footage included. Are FOM finally beginning to realise that the digital future is here, and now? I hope so.

In part two, myself and Weingarten continue chatting about Formula 1, as our focus switches towards the current television broadcasting model and whether FOTA was doomed to fail from the get go.

Sky’s fortunes increase as BBC’s Australian Grand Prix ratings drop

The Australian Grand Prix weekend saw a change in fortunes for both BBC and Sky Sports. In a stark contrast to last year’s viewing figures, Sky Sports F1 recorded an increase for both Qualifying and the Race, but BBC dropped year-on-year.

A quick note to start with. I’ll be using the Sky ‘race show’ slot to compare with previous years for the entire season, but will use the exact timeslot in the previous years data to do comparisons. Do not expect me to compare a full programme average (in 2012 or 2013) with a ‘race show’ average for 2014, because such a comparison would be invalid.

BBC’s highlights programme on BBC One on Sunday afternoon averaged 2.88m (25.4%), unofficial overnight viewing figures show. This figure is up on 2012 which averaged 2.73m, however, is down on the 3.05m that the programme averaged last season. Its not a major drop, but a drop nonetheless. I think the F1 has been lost in the shuffle this weekend on the BBC, due to the Six Nations taking up the majority of BBC One on Saturday. It meant that less people watched Qualifying with the broadcaster than normal, thus potentially affecting Sunday’s rating too.

Interestingly, and the first time I have said this in a long time, Sky’s coverage was up year-on-year. From 05:00 to 08:30, Sky Sports F1 averaged 594k (21.1%), peaking with 945k (21.5%) at 07:35. This compares with 517k (20.9%) in 2013 and 621k (26.8%) in 2012. The ‘split show’ appears to have worked if the intention was to bring in more viewers, although I think it will only have a bigger influence for the early morning rounds, where more people are bound to record the action.

This brings us to a combined average of 3.47m, down on 3.57m. The issue here is that, yes, a Sky gain of 73k is great for them, but if BBC loses nearly 200k, it eradicates whatever gain Sky is made. Due to the audience levels, if BBC lose or gain, it will flip flop massively either way, which is unlikely to happen with Sky. An issue with the BBC overnight ratings for the past few years is that the Scottish Cup final has meant that the F1 has been displaced to BBC Two. The BBC One overnights in this piece include Scotland viewers, so if the Scottish Cup final was lower profile than last year, that may have had an affect too. Also, whilst a combined average of 3.47m is ‘okay’ versus 2012 (which averaged 3.35m), it is a far cry from the BBC exclusive figures from 2009 to 2011, which I feel is important to remember.

Note that there are no comparisons with last year, given that the session was red flagged on the Saturday, which depleted the averages all around. As for 2014, Sky Sports F1’s coverage of Qualifying performed well in the early hours of Saturday night. The live programme, from 05:00 to 07:45 averaged 307k (15.5%), peaking with 549k towards the end of the session. The average looks healthy because it is, in fact higher than their 2012 viewing figure which was below 300k. So, they have good reason to be happy with that.

On the flip side, Sky1’s simulcast added only 32k (1.6%) during the timeslot, which shows how poorly the simulcast was promoted. It begs the question of what the purpose of the simulcast is if no promotion is going to be given. Had there have been ample promotion for the Sky1 simulcast, I’d bet that 32k being at least three or four times higher.

Later on, BBC F1’s highlights coverage on BBC Two from 14:55 to 16:25 averaged 1.35m (12.1%), peaking with 1.62m (14.1%). The combined average is therefore marginally down on 2012, but also the lowest since 2007. Whilst very disappointing, the reasoning for that in my opinion is due to mitigating circumstances, specifically the Six Nations which took a big slice out of the Formula 1 audience.

The 2013 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


ITV4 to screen inaugural Formula E season

ITV4 is to screen the inaugural Formula E season exclusively live, it has been confirmed. The championship confirmed that the channel will be screening all ten rounds live, and more importantly where the success of the series is confirmed, free to air. The dates of the ten rounds are as follows, all on Saturdays, UK time listed:

– China (Beijing) – September 13th, 2014 – 09:00
– Malaysia (Putrajaya) – November 22nd, 2014 – 08:00
– Uruguay (Punta del Este) – December 13th, 2014 – 18:00
– Argentina (Buenos Aires) – January 10th, 2015 – 19:00
– tba – February 14th, 2015 – tba
– USA (Miami) – March 14th, 2015 – 20:00
– USA (Los Angeles) – April 4th, 2015 – 00:00
– Monaco – May 9th, 2015 – 15:00
– Germany (Berlin) – May 30th, 2015 – 15:00
– United Kingdom (London) – June 27th, 2015 – 16:00

Ali Russell, Chief Marketing Officer at Formula E, said: “We’re delighted to be announcing this partnership with ITV today and to be securing live, free-to-air coverage of all Formula E races for our UK fans – of which we’re confident there will be many. The UK is widely considered the home of motor sport and a very important market for Formula E. As such, with its unrivalled commitment to motor sport, ITV provides the perfect platform to showcase our new fully-electric series – which will also be racing in London in June 2015 – and to appeal to a new generation of motor sport fans.”

ITV’s coverage will contain a pre-race build-up with practice and qualifying highlights along with post-race reaction and the podium, all in a 90 minute standalone programme. Given that the races are set to last an hour, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for manoeuvre, but I suspect things can be extended if necessary. I’m not sure how the Saturday slots will do from a ratings point of view, but three races are in primetime later this year so I’ll be fascinated if they can get near to a million viewers potentially. Niall Sloane, ITV’s Director of Sport said: “I’m delighted ITV4 will be able to bring viewers the opportunity to see this innovative new series – which promises top-level open-wheel racing with the iconic backdrops of some of the world’s most famous cities. The coverage of this series adds another new dimension to ITV4’s motor sport portfolio.”

Even though I am unsure that the electric formula will appeal to me, this is simply fantastic news for motor sport fans. I’ve made several comments about ITV4 and motor sport, but in my opinion, this cements ITV4 as the home of motor sport. And its brilliant news for Formula E too, dare I say a coup. It was reported back in December that BT Sport and BSkyB were in the running to screen the series. I’m happy that hasn’t happened. Because if it did happen, Formula E would have sunk without trace. This news gives Formula E a big platform to start with and the potential to build from there. AUTOSPORT says that the highlights will be shared with a pay-TV channel, not that it particularly matters at this stage given the ITV4 news.

It will be interesting to see what happens with regards a potential line-up, whether ITV Sport add their touch, as alluded to above, or whether they will just take the main Formula E feed. ITV4’s motor sport portfolio now is as follows:

– Formula E (live)
– British Touring Car Championship (live)
– MotoGP (highlights)
– British Superbikes (highlights)
– World Rally Championship (highlights)

Along with cycling, including the Tour de France. You can’t argue with that, can you? Four wheels, two wheels, tarmac, gravel, ITV4 has it covered. A good news day if you’re a Formula E fan.

Schedule details last updated on September 14th, 2014.

Scheduling: The 2014 Qatar MotoGP

A new dawn begins this Thursday as BT Sport’s live coverage of MotoGP begins, having secured the rights from BBC and British Eurosport. Whilst it means that MotoGP is not live on terrestrial television, the news is not all negative: last week this blog broke the news that ITV4 would be screening highlights on Monday evenings. Even now I’m still miffed and confused as to why it happened in the way it did (why was ITV’s deal not announced earlier?), why BT Sport promoted their coverage as exclusive (without the ‘live’ addendum), but it is what it is.

So, who is on BT Sport’s team? The bad news is that it is not Toby Moody alongside Julian Ryder. The good news instead, harking back to their Sky Sports’ days in the mid-1990s, is that it will be Keith Huewen alongside Ryder. Neil Hodgson and James Toseland will analyse and give their opinion on the action, with Matt Birt and Gavin Emmett also taking part in proceedings. Presenting it, a surprising name: Melanie Sykes. In a poll conducted on this blog, the response was negative, however a lot of people were willing to give it a chance before forming an opinion on the line-up. It looks like BT will have formal presentation on each day, although on what scale is unclear, whether we will see the line-up before and after every session or just around the MotoGP sessions and at the start of each programme. The same applies to ITV4’s highlights programme, no idea at this stage if it is just MotoGP or whether Moto2 and Moto3 will be covered too.

In terms of viewing figures, time will tell just how much MotoGP stands to lose from the deal. I know those in the paddock will argue that this deal is good because of the increased revenue teams will get as a result. For me, personally, yes, of course, quality plays a part, but you need to have bums on seats. If that isn’t happening, you have to question the entire logic of the deal. Personally, I think ~200k on BT Sport and ~500k on ITV4 would be great numbers, and definitely something I will be basing my Qatar viewing figures post on. I do wonder why the opening race is on BT Sport 2 though. If you want to reach the biggest amount of viewers, you put it on the main channel, even if it does mean a channel switch beforehand. The jury is still out on whether this really is good news for motorcycle racing, as you risk making it a niche sport again instead of having that terrestrial television platform to reach out to the masses. Hopefully with the addition of ITV4’s highlights we have the right mix for the deal to succeed. We’ll see what happens.

What I think needs to be said is that BT have a fantastic line-up of shows heading into Qatar, with a lot of MotoGP films on offer. I don’t know however if they are BT created films or Dorna created films. The reason why I say that is obviously when comparing with Sky Sports F1, Formula One Management have not created any documentaries for them, so it would be interesting to compare. As for the here and now, below are all the scheduling details you need for Qatar. I don’t plan to do the MotoGP schedule for each race, but given that this is the start of a new broadcasting era, it is definitely worth detailing what BT have in store for viewers. For the classic MotoGP details, please click here.

Monday 17th March
22:00 to 23:00 – Films: MotoGP 2013 Review (BT Sport 2)
23:00 to 00:00 – Films: Moto2 & Moto3 2013 Review (BT Sport 2)

Tuesday 18th March
15:30 to 16:45 – Films: Head to Head (BT Sport 2)
16:45 to 18:00 – Films: The Route to Glory (BT Sport 2)
18:00 to 20:00 – Films: A Decade in MotoGP (BT Sport 2)
20:00 to 21:00 – 2014 Season Preview (BT Sport 2)
21:00 to 22:30 – Films: Great Moments (BT Sport 2)
22:30 to 00:00 – Films: Jorge (BT Sport 2)

Wednesday 19th March
16:15 to 17:30 – Films: The Age of 27 (BT Sport 2)
17:30 to 19:00 – Films: Rookie 93: Marc Marquez Beyond the Smile (BT Sport 2)

Thursday 20th March
15:00 to 19:45 – Practice (BT Sport 2)
– 15:00 – Moto3 – Practice 1
– 15:55 – Moto2 – Practice 1
– 16:55 – MotoGP – Practice 1
– 17:55 – Moto3 – Practice 2
– 18:50 – Moto2 – Practice 2

Friday 21st March
14:50 to 19:00 – Practice (BT Sport 2)
– 15:00 – MotoGP – Practice 2
– 16:00 – Moto3 – Practice 3
– 16:55 – Moto2 – Practice 3
– 17:55 – MotoGP – Practice 3

Saturday 22nd March
14:30 to 19:00 – Practice / Qualifying (BT Sport 2)
– 15:00 – Moto3 – Qualifying
– 15:55 – Moto2 – Qualifying
– 16:55 – MotoGP – Practice 4
– 17:35 – MotoGP – Qualifying

Sunday 23rd March
15:00 to 17:15 – Moto3: Race (BT Sport 2)
17:15 to 18:45 – Moto2: Race (BT Sport 2)
18:45 to 20:30 – MotoGP: Race (BT Sport 2)

Monday 24th March
20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

As always, I will update the schedule if anything changes.