News round-up: Two countries lose F1 FTA; Berger subject of Ofcom complaint

There’s a few broadcasting related bits of F1 news that are making the rounds that there is little point me adding to other than what is already out there, but worth me blogging about in one summary piece.

The first point is that Formula One Management produced their first 4K feed over fibre during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend. There’s a video below from Tata Communications for anyone who wants to know more.

Now, whilst I don’t know enough about 4K to answer this, the thought that always comes into my mind is whether 4K is another ‘fad’, and if so, is money being wasted here? Doing a few quick Google searches, the consensus appears to be that 4K is better than 3D (if the two can really be compared). Since Sky screened last year’s final test from Barcelona live and in 3D, the experiment in the UK has began to disappear. The next piece of news from further afield in Europe is that Czech Republic and Slovakia fans will have to subscribe to pay-TV stations to watch Formula 1 from next season. The AMC Networks International Central Europe deal is an exclusive one, including GP2, GP3 and also Sky Sports F1’s Legends series as well.

And lastly, in their bi-weekly bulletin published three weeks ago, Ofcom have cleared Sky Sports over an incident that happened during the Austrian Grand Prix race day programme involving Johnny Herbert and Gerhard Berger. The relevant bit on page 37, notes that Berger uttered the words “fuck” and “shit”, which, despite Herbert apologising at the end of the piece, resulted in one person complaining to Ofcom (not me, for the avoidance of doubt!). Sky said that it “deeply regrets the use of inappropriate language during any of its live broadcasts and takes the issue extremely seriously indeed”, and that the rest of the programme structure was adjusted so that Berger did not appear in the remainder of their live programming. Ofcom considered the matter resolved, in any case.

On a separate note, the eagle eyed of you may notice that I am now a student again, final year undergraduate for anyone interested (more on the ‘About‘ page). I’ll try and keep the blog updated throughout the next eight months, but just in case there are periods of inactivity, that is why!


Scheduling: The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix

The 2014 Formula One season has just five stops left, the first of which is at the legendary Suzuka circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix! Both channels are broadcasting both this and the Russian Grand Prix live and, as noted earlier this week, BBC are not screening either USA or Brazil live.

Over on Radio 5 Live, Jack Nicholls will be in the box as lead commentator for his third race of the year. I don’t think Natalie Pinkham will be with Sky again in Japan, so expect Rachel Brookes to be doing Pinkham’s usual duties. The F1 Show is a Team Principals special on Friday morning, so that should be good to watch.

Thursday 2nd October
07:00 to 07:45 – F1: Driver Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
16:00 to 16:15 – Gear Up for Japan (Sky Sports F1)
20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 3rd October
01:45 to 03:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
01:50 to 03:40 – F1: Practice 1 (BBC Two)
05:45 to 08:00 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
05:55 to 07:35 – F1: Practice 2 (BBC Two)
08:00 to 08:45 – F1: Team Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
10:00 to 11:00 – The F1 Show: Team Principals Special (Sky Sports F1)
18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Saturday 4th October
02:45 to 04:15 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
02:55 to 04:05 – F1: Practice 3 (BBC Two)
05:00 to 07:30 – F1: Qualifying (BBC One)
05:00 to 07:45 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
07:45 to 08:45 – GP Heroes: Mika Hakkinen (Sky Sports F1)
13:00 to 14:30 – F1: Qualifying Replay (BBC One)
18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Sunday 5th October
05:30 to 10:15 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 05:30 – Track Parade
=> 06:00 – Race
=> 09:30 – Paddock Live
06:00 to 09:15 – F1: Race (BBC One)
09:15 to 10:15 – F1: Forum (BBC Red Button)
13:15 to 15:15 – F1: Race Replay (BBC One)

Wednesday 8th October
20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report (Sky Sports F1)

Classic F1 on Sky Sports F1
27/09 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 2008 Canadian Grand Prix
28/09 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix
29/09 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1987 British Grand Prix Highlights
30/09 – 21:00 to 22:45 – 2005 Japanese Grand Prix
01/10 – 21:00 to 23:30 – 1998 Japanese Grand Prix
02/10 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1988 Japanese Grand Prix Highlights
03/10 – 09:00 to 10:00 – 1975 Season Review
03/10 – 21:40 to 23:10 – 1989 Japanese Grand Prix Extended Highlights
04/10 – 21:15 to 22:15 – 1996 Japanese Grand Prix Highlights
05/10 – 21:00 to 22:15 – 1994 Japanese Grand Prix Highlights

As always if anything changes, I’ll update the schedule above.

The current BBC and Sky arrangement and championship run-ins

The 2014 Formula One Drivers’ Championship battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton is, more likely than not, going to be decided at the season decider in Abu Dhabi with five races to go. However, should reliability befall either of them in any of the next two or three races, then the Brazilian Grand Prix could end up being a title decider. Okay, double points makes that unlikely, but let’s assume for the sake of this piece that bad reliability does befall Rosberg and that Hamilton walks into USA and Brazil with one hand on the title. The chances of that happening are low, however it is a possibility.

On the broadcasting side of things, this is the first time that a British driver has been in championship contention since 2010. 2011 and 2013 were walkovers from Sebastian Vettel whilst Vettel battled Fernando Alonso in 2012. It poses some interesting thoughts, when you consider how the final five races are structured in this current landscape:

– October 5th – Japan (Suzuka) – BBC and Sky live
– October 12th – Russia (Sochi) – BBC and Sky live
– November 2nd – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Sky live; BBC highlights
– November 9th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky live; BBC highlights
– November 23rd – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – BBC and Sky live

My first thought is how, on reflection, BBC’s decision to choose Canada over Brazil as a live race may turn out to be an utterly catastrophic move. The pick process begins with BBC choosing three races to broadcast live, and Brazil was not one of them. The problem I see with the way the picks worked out is that you cannot build any momentum whatsoever heading into the season finale. It’s brilliant having all these races in European primetime, but if you’re going to go down the pay-TV road with a 50/50 split, then it wipes out any positive effect that it may well have on viewing figures. Japan and Russia can do brilliantly, but the moment USA comes along, momentum goes as the BBC highlights will be on at 22:30 at night.

I’m going to paint a hypothetical scenario. Heading into the Brazilian Grand Prix, these are the standings, with the Russian, Japan and USA results in brackets:

1. Lewis Hamilton – 302pts (1st/2nd/2nd)
2. Nico Rosberg – 271pts (2nd/DNF/3rd)

Do I think that is going to happen? No. Would I go to the bookies to place a bet on for those results? Absolutely not. But chances are, one of the other will suffer reliability problems before Interlagos. And if Hamilton escapes Texas with a points gap of 25 points or bigger, then there are some fascinating questions. The idea of a British driver winning the championship exclusively live on pay-TV is something I have not mentioned in the two and a half years since I began writing the blog, simply because the possibility has never arose. After the results of Singapore, which swung the championship back into Hamilton’s favour, that possibility has just increased.

A peak audience of 13 million viewers watched Hamilton’s title victory on ITV in 2008, Formula 1’s biggest ever audience in this country. A race, which could end up with a British driver winning the World Championship, is an event of national sporting importance, and one which, in my view, should be screened live on terrestrial television. No ifs. No buts. Brazil could be that race. The Brazilian Grand Prix at the moment is scheduled to be a highlights race, presumably on BBC Two at about 21:00 or 22:00. Whether any room for negotiation could occur would depend on how watertight the contract is, and whether force majeur could be applied. I’m not sure it can in any case: the process for picking races was fair and Sky would quite rightly not be happy if BBC could go and screen a race live that they [Sky] originally picked as an exclusive race for themselves. Such a move would make a mockery of the contract, unless there is a clause that allows BBC to screen any “title deciding races involving a British driver live”.

One thought, and a potential compromise should the Brazilian Grand Prix become a bonafide title decider would be for BBC to begin their highlights programme whilst the race is happening, at about 16:30 UK time, joining the closing laps as live if needs be. Whilst this exact scenario has not happened, jumping into a race halfway through from highlights to live has happened before, as Mark Wilkin, BBC’s F1 producer at the time, noted from the 1990 Mexican Grand Prix: “It became clear while we were playing out the early highlights of the race that the latter stages were going to be really exciting. We had an edit of what had happened so far on a tape that was going to air as the excitement was building live. I felt it was more important to be live for the closing laps than it was to show the highlights of the missing laps. That was when Prost got into, I think, second place. And so the programme jumped forward.”

“The explanation offered by James Hunt was ‘now we can go live’. Modern technology would make it easier to have seamless coverage even in those circumstances but we simply couldn’t shorten anything once it was on air in those days (because it was on a physical tape) so the choice was to miss everything live (and probably incur an overrun) or get live. That meant at least we were live for Mansell’s amazing pass of Gerhard Berger around the outside of Peraltada”, Wilkin continued. Another possibility, if the above was not an option, would be for Sky to simulcast the Brazilian Grand Prix live on Sky1 for those without access to the F1 channel. Cricket and golf fans reading this blog will know what it is like to have events of a national importance behind a pay wall, notably The Ashes and the Ryder Cup.

Personally, as I said at the outset, I don’t think the championship will be won until Abu Dhabi thanks to double points, but if the momentum continues to swing towards Hamilton, both broadcasters better be prepared to make some contingency arrangements, or face criticism, heading into Interlagos…

Update on October 18th – So with both Japan and Russia now gone, Lewis Hamilton has two more wins to his name, with Nico Rosberg having two more second places, meaning that Hamilton has extended his gap to 17 points. Daniel Ricciardo is now effectively out of the title race. For Hamilton to win the championship in Brazil, he needs to leave Interlagos with at least a 50 point gap, meaning he needs at least a 25 point margin coming out of USA for that possibility to occur. Note that exactly a 50 point gap out of Brazil would be good enough, as Rosberg has only four wins to Hamilton’s nine as of writing.

So, what needs to happen in USA for Brazil to potentially become a title winning race for Hamilton?

– Hamilton needs to win and Rosberg to finish in 3rd or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 2nd and Rosberg to finish in 5th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 3rd and Rosberg to finish in 7th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 4th and Rosberg to finish in 8th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 5th and Rosberg to finish in 9th or lower
– Hamilton needs to finish 6th and Rosberg to finish outside of the points

Anything else, and the championship will definitely go to Abu Dhabi. A retirement for Rosberg in America and all of a sudden the possibility of Hamilton clinching the title in Brazil is a more realistic possibility. We shall have to wait and see what actually does happen.

Singapore soars to record highs

The Singapore Grand Prix attracted record viewing figures in the UK across the weekend, as both BBC and Sky enjoyed their highest numbers for Formula 1 in recent memory.

Live coverage of the race, screened exclusively on Sky Sports F1, averaged 961k (10.5%) from 12:00 to 15:45 according to unofficial overnight figures. That number in my opinion is particularly good considering what was happening in the Leicester City vs Manchester United game over on Sky Sports 1 at the same time, no doubt there was a lot of channel hopping during yesterday afternoon. It is also up nearly 200k on the 2013’s figure. BBC One unsurprisingly also recorded an increase year-on-year. The highlights programme from 17:00 to 18:30 averaged a strong 3.72m (23.9%), comfortably BBC’s highest highlights figure of the entire year.

The combined average of 4.68m is easily the highest ever for Singapore, beating the previous best of 4.43m (35.7%) in 2010. In comparison, last year’s average was 3.94m, so a year-on-year increase of 19 percent. For a European time-zone round, it is the highest figure for over a year. It is a brilliant number, and one that was desperately needed given the well known ratings difficulties that Formula 1 has had this year. The peak figures are just as impressive. Sky Sports F1 peaked with 1.46m (13.9%) at 15:00, whilst BBC One’s highlights programme peaked with 4.75m (28.9%) at 18:10 as the race edit came to a conclusion, a combined figure of 6.22m. In comparison, the 2011 race peaked with 5.74m (41.6%), admittedly there are some people in the 2014 figure who may have watched both channels, but the exact number who may have chose to do that is impossible to know.

BBC One’s highlights of qualifying averaged 2.45m (17.9%), with Sky Sports adding 509k (5.9%). The 2.96m combined figure is also the highest ever figure for a Singapore qualifying session. As always the case, the numbers exclude Now TV, Sky Go, BBC iPlayer and the such like. In the UK, numbers for the remaining rounds should all be up year-on-year, given the slump we seen at the back end of last season. It looks like that the Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg title battle is starting to draw in casual viewers, in the UK at least.

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

F1’s Twitter page finally hits the 21st century

One of those things that you’re not quite sure will ever actually happen… except today, it finally has. About time! I’ll update this throughout the Singapore Grand Prix weekend no doubt, but for the moment, how wonderful is it to see Formula One Management (FOM) treating social media as a promotional tool rather than a threat.

Retweets! Pictures! @F1 has landed in the year 2014! I think it is important to note that, as of writing, FOM does not have a presence on Facebook. Should they choose to turn this into an official page, they will automatically have over three million likes, triple than their current Twitter total.

Just before practice one, we had a fantastic infographic (see above), which as of writing has had over 300 retweets. The simplest ideas go far, and this is something that I have advocated in the past, simple things such as that can help introduce a new fan to the sport. Throughout the remainder of the session, the Twitter feed tweeted out World Feed images, such as Kimi Raikkonen’s brake fire and Nico Rosberg tearing apart his wing mirror. Unsurprisingly, Pastor Maldonaldo was the first person to appear on the feed with a smashed up car during practice two. Both of them have been retweeted a lot, and it goes to show how much difference images make to the interactivity that a Twitter feed can have, I’m sure @SkySportsF1 can advocate to this. I do wonder if Sky will still be tweeting out World Feed images going forward, or whether that is now in FOM’s hands, we will find out come tomorrow…

A point I made early on in practice one was that the #SingaporeGP should be integrated into the World Feed. Coincidentally I’m sure, less than two minutes later, that actually happened! It’s something that I hope will continue throughout the weekend, as I mentioned in the tweet, its important for Formula 1 to drive the conversation online, to get a new generation of online fans involved. The more the World Feed and Twitter are integrated going forward, the better. Messages, such as the #SingaporeGP in that respect, works. That continued into practice two, infographics becoming a popular trend with the official Twitter handle looking at the battle between team-mates throughout the session.

The message “Join the Conversation: #SingaporeGP” was more frequently seen throughout practice three and qualifying. Useful, and as mentioned above helps direct traffic online, it is worth remembering now that Facebook is adopting hashtags. In that sense, it is a social media platform neutral message, as it does not directly refer to either Facebook or Twitter.

Unsurprisingly, infographics were featured less on their Twitter as we headed into the more frenetic part of the weekend, instead images from their World Feed were tweeted out at various points. In response to a point I made above, @SkySportsF1 were also tweeting out World Feed images, so there is no change going forward there. On occasion, I have on this blog looked at how F1 has interacted with Twitter during qualifying sessions, with various images on Twitter, the last analysis on here was from Austria in June. The picture there is significantly different to the one I posted on Twitter above. I called @F1 “the gateway to Formula 1” with good reason. With nearly a million followers, you can see why FOM needed to exploit Twitter, and it is brilliant to see that happening.

Michael in the comments below wonders if we could see video clips appear on their Twitter feed, perhaps in the form of seven second Vine’s. I don’t see that happening as broadcasters’ pay out millions for the rights to the World Feed content, for this year at least. Images are fine, but when we’re talking about video, it is a completely different ball game. Take Sky in the UK, for example. They’ve paid, in the region of £45 million for the rights to broadcast Formula 1. Would the cost of the rights be diminished significantly if FOM decided to start posting video clips on Twitter? I don’t know, and I suspect that is a longer term question for both broadcasters and FOM.

FOM took a different approach to their Twitter on Sunday for the race, with not one screenshot from the World Feed in sight.

All of the images on the Twitter feed during the race were data driven, either lap charts as seen above or fastest lap tables. I don’t know how well this worked really, and would have probably benefited from one or two World Feed images instead of all the content being data related. Either way, that concludes FOM’s first weekend in the social media world, and as noted above, it is great to see them finally using Twitter to their advantage, something that really should have happened several years ago.