The ratings picture that I published a few days ago showed that BBC’s Formula 1 viewing figures have dropped 5.9 percent on 2013, despite Formula 1 crowning a British World Champion.
But, why has that happened? There are several reasons why people have tuned out of BBC’s product in my opinion. However, on the other hand, there are some areas where the BBC continue to excel in. Instead of doing a blow-by-blow review of each individual member of BBC’s F1 team, and then again with Sky, I’m going to pick out the best and worst parts of their coverage this year, mainly to keep the content fresh, but also because of time constraints on my behalf. As mentioned previously, I’d like to cover NBC’s Off the Grid and The Road to Mercedes in the next few weeks, if time allows.
Yesterday, I was having a quick flick through the BBC’s 2013 F1 Preview magazine. In it was a section with Ben Gallop, BBC’s Head of F1, who explained that, when picking Jake Humphrey’s successor, they did not want a “Jake 2”, but rather someone who would bring something fresh to the table. I said that Suzi Perry’s 2013 season was mediocre, also noting that there should be big improvements in 2014.
For me, Perry has been much better on the microphone this season, and has built great rapport with David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan throughout the course of the season. I think it has helped significantly that a British driver has been in the championship race instead of having one driver dominate proceedings, as this helped bring a new spark to proceedings, which no doubt spurred the team on. With Perry recently confirming that she would be with the BBC team for 2015, things should continue to improve as next year progresses.
As in 2012 and 2013, I have again enjoyed the commentary of Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. Edwards is still the best motor sport commentator there is out there, whilst Coulthard is a good analyst alongside Edwards. I don’t think Coulthard has had any stand out moments this year, however he is still a very valuable asset to the BBC that they cannot afford to lose. The only blot on their copy book for me is Japan, when both Edwards and Coulthard both failed to realise that Jules Bianchi had dropped down the timing screens. I think it was about 10 minutes before both realised that Bianchi was involved in the accident.
Over on 5 Live, Jack Nicholls was a revelation for the four races he did, as I noted earlier this year. I imagine that his role as Formula E lead commentator will limit what he can do – if anything – for 5 Live in 2015, but I hope we do hear him commentating on a Formula 1 race again in the near future, whether it is on TV or on radio.
Once again, the quality of the VT’s that the BBC have produced has been top notch. From the Hamilton sky dive at Silverstone to the Jenson Button career retrospective, the VT’s produced have always delivered. There is not much more to say here, except that it is important to recognise that fact. Despite the reduction in content with the new deal, in year three, the VT’s are as good as ever.
Between 2009 and 2011, the BBC F1 forum used to be the highlight of any Formula 1 weekend. Even if the race was as dull as dishwater, you could always rely on the forum to have some great discussion with a selection of guests discussing the current issues in Formula 1. Sadly, in the past few years, the forum has fallen off the cliff, and Sky’s improvements in their post-race programming only serves to highlight this further. I understand the need and want to convey the pit lane atmosphere, especially now they only have ten forums in a year, but I also think that something needs to change.
It may be worth going back to the ‘motor home’ setting like they did in the early days of the coverage, interspersing that with Tom Clarkson and Lee McKenzie roaming the paddock. Furthermore, there really should be a short forum for the highlights shows (20/25 minutes long) to wrap things up, and to show the interviews that did not make the main show. Again, I point to the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix forum, that being a highlights race, as one of the best, but simplest, pieces of TV in that year. When the forum is at its best, it is the best in the business by far, before that can happen again, it needs to be steered back onto track.
Lack of Gary Anderson
Normally when 95 percent of your audience agree that a mistake has been made, chances are that it means you’ve made a catastrophic error of judgement. According to Anderson, the BBC believed that their viewers were not interested in technical analysis, hence the mutual decision to part company. The void that Anderson left was filled by Tom Clarkson, although no one was brought in to directly replace Anderson.
2014 began with a barrage of criticism directed towards Formula 1 because of the new V6 power trains. The BBC needed someone like Anderson to explain to the viewers why the new power trains were brought in, and what the key technical innovations were compared with 2013. As good as Clarkson and Allan McNish are, neither of them have the technical experience and expertise that Anderson has. I maintain now, nearly a year on, that BBC made a huge mistake in parting company with Anderson. Their loss was Formula One Management’s gain.
I know this is not a problem that the BBC F1 team can solve, but rather a problem for the wider BBC scheduling team. If you are having to schedule a highlights programme on BBC Two, that is not good for Formula 1 as it automatically reduces the reach. Bahrain was a stunning race, but was shown in highlights form on BBC Two, as was Austria. I know that Sky probably sometimes take the self interest approach, but both broadcasters when scheduling should work together to bring the best possible product to the viewer – which means having highlights programming on BBC One and preferably with consistent timing.
In my opinion, BBC’s product went into reverse during 2014, even when considering the fact that they only screen half the races live. The forum is an easy fix with some simple tweaking. Whether they could bring Anderson in on an ad-hoc basis again, I don’t know. But I hope their product improves again during 2015 back to how it once was. Coincidentally, 2015 will mark the half way part of their current contract with Sky which runs until 2018.