The best and worst of Sky’s F1 coverage in 2014

Sky Sports F1’s ratings have increased 23 percent on 2013, according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. Alongside this, the consensus amongst blog readers is that the product has improved on 2013, suggesting that things are definitely heading up for the team.

As with the BBC, there are areas of Sky’s product which have been superb. However, there are still a few points in my eyes which could be tweaked, or should be changed altogether.

Revolutionary features
When it was announced that Sky Sports would be launching their own Formula 1 channel, they promised to push the boundaries of what would be possible with the coverage. That did not happen, in my eyes. Some of the features produced were longer in length than BBC’s, but not necessarily better (Martin Brundle driving a Ferrari one of the early examples). 2013 was not great for the team, but this season, they have taken a significant step forward where the quality of features are concerned. Normally, Sky’s pre-race build-up contains Martin Brundle’s grid walk, but Sky went down a different avenue at Monza.

For Italy, Sky went behind the scenes with Williams, tracing their every step from garage all the way to the starting grid. It was something that I had never seen before, it was superb television viewing. Sometimes, a viewer does not appreciate just how much effort goes into the start procedure, the feature with Williams and Brundle really brought the build-up into the viewers home and gave the viewer a perfect insight into what happens before the race begins. I hope we see more features like this during 2015.

Ted’s Notebook
Rain or shine, Ted Kravitz’s Notebook continues to be a cornerstone of Sky Sports F1’s coverage, both on TV and online. Kravitz’s Notebook began when he was with the BBC, although the quantity has increased in the past few years on Sky Sports F1. You could argue that quality is more important than quantity, normally, I would agree with that statement, but the Notebook is a different kettle of fish.

I don’t watch the Notebook for the best technically produced product, I watch it to see Kravitz going up and down the paddock giving the viewer information along with a mixture of gossip and behind the scenes information. It is completely different to the rest of the output on Sky Sports F1 which makes it stand out from the rest of the channel.

A great way of creating debate on social media, #AskCrofty has once again been an interesting read in 2014. Sometimes I laugh and despair at the questions asked, however I appreciate the openness of doing something of that nature over social media. In some instances, the questions have influenced their live TV broadcast, as the reaction to Adam Parr’s tweet in September showed. #AskCrofty led to David Croft doing a live show based on the hash tag at the end of the season, which was brilliant to watch, generating more reaction on social media than your typical episode of The F1 Show.

US Grand Prix build-up
I wanted to make this point a separate blog at the time, but sadly time constraints meant that I was unable to. The US Grand Prix build-up was probably Sky’s worst of the entire year. The actual features in a standalone context were good, with Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill trying out NASCAR and a selection of sports stars focussing on the psychology. The problem was that both features were completely out of place on a weekend when only 18 cars lined up on the grid. 90 percent of the programme was focussed on the Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg title battle.

The entire race programme was simulcast on Sky Sports 1, in an attempt to capitalise on a Super Sunday football game prior to it and to bring some casual fans into the picture. You can understand from that perspective why Sky developed features to cater for those who may not be regular Formula 1 fans. I know they talked about Formula 1’s issues in the qualifying show, but even so, the issues facing Formula 1 on race day were brushed under the carpet as a result of the simulcast.

With financial issues being a key talking point throughout the season as a result of the new formula, Sky have not been helped by having too many pundits that are former drivers. Whilst the Brundle piece with Peter Windsor debating potential changes for 2015 was a good feature later in the season, not having any ex team bosses or ex team personnel in their programming hurt them. Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill may be okay to talk about driver issues, but when it comes to issues off the track, the programming is hurt as a result of not having enough variety.

A separate issue to do with the punditry, but under the same banner concerns the bias surrounding Lewis Hamilton, which was noticeable during the US Grand Prix build-up as mentioned above, however the bias that Sky may have shown pales in comparison to that displayed in other countries in recent years.

Sky have made some fantastic improvements, their programming feels more ‘fluid’ than it once did. Their features overall have improved as well. But there is something about the majority of their VT’s that does not click. Some of the VT’s come across as a ‘cartoon’-like in nature whilst the poetry aspect in the end of season VT seemed out of place. This is one area for me where Sky still languishes behind the BBC. I don’t feel as much connection with the VT’s that Sky Sports produce compared to the VT’s that BBC produce.

There are a few other points worth making, such as the scheduling, it would be great if GP2 was more integrated into the programming, but I think that boat sailed a long time ago. Overall, Sky Sports F1 has made some major strides forward in 2014, which has been reflected in the viewing figures. If there is a British driver in the 2015 championship race, there is no reason why the viewing figures cannot continue to improve, with the quality of Sky’s broadcasts improving alongside it.

The best and worst of BBC’s F1 coverage in 2014

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.

Suzi Perry
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.

UK F1 viewing figures record slight year-on-year drop

Lewis Hamilton’s championship victory may have brought joy to both BBC and Sky Sports F1’s ratings in the latter half of the season but despite this, viewing figures are down year-on-year according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. Whereas 2013’s figures dropped sharply after the Summer break, the 2014 season has seen the opposite occur.

> BBC average figures drop year-on-year
> Sky record highest figures since channel launch
> Numbers still down on 2009-11 figures

As always, for those that are new to the blog, it is best stating what figures we are comparing here. For Sky Sports F1, all the viewing figures are for the three and a half hour race day slot: one hour before the race and approximately 45 minutes after the race. I have used the equivalent slots for 2012 and 2013 to present a fair and complete picture, there would be little use in presenting a skewed picture, so all data is for the equivalent timeslots. Over on BBC, I have used their programme averages, whether it be live or highlights, irrespective of whether the highlights were shown on BBC One or BBC Two, as was the case for Bahrain and Austria this year. Repeats are taken into account for Asian-based races that the BBC showed live. As always, viewing figures are for TV only. iPlayer, Sky Go and the such like are not included.

The 2014 story
It is worth a reminder that, in my Summer post, I stated that the UK’s audience for Formula 1 had “dropped to their lowest level since 2008.” Luckily, that has not happened. Thanks to a British driver winning the championship, numbers have increased. Crucially though, have numbers increased as much as expected, and has the scheduling hit the numbers badly?

Sky Sports F1’s race day programme has averaged 790k from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent across 2014. That number is up a massive 23.4 percent on 2013’s figure of 640k and up 11.1 percent on 2012’s figure of 711k. Whichever way you spin that, for Sky, those are very positive numbers. Things were not looking good for Sky during 2013 with numbers falling, but this year, they have turned it around, and then some more, to record an average higher than both 2012 and 2013. Back in the Summer, I was taking about a “meagre 22k.” The numbers bandied around above are much bigger than 22k, and in my opinion is definitely something worth recognising.

So, why the increase? Better picks? Absolutely. Having both USA and Brazil exclusively during the title run in would have done the average wonders. But even then, it is more than just that. In fact, 14 out of 16 races recorded increases between 2013 and 2014 on Sky Sports F1 (the other four didn’t take place), so even the races where Sky shared coverage with BBC did the numbers increase. That suggests to me that viewers are liking the product that Sky are putting out, otherwise they would not be tuning in to their pre and post-race shows. The substantial increase correlates with feedback on this blog to suggest that people are liking Sky’s race day show more than previously. Sky’s figures are no fluke, in my opinion.

The BBC’s figures dropped year-on-year by 5.9 percent, recording an average of 3.22m versus 3.42m in 2013. Numbers are up slightly on 2012’s average of 3.21m, although those two numbers are within the margin of error to be statistically insignificant. Scheduling was not great. Bahrain and Austria were both screened on BBC Two in highlights form, USA and Brazil, two races bound to draw big audiences if shown live, were shown as highlights. Under this current agreement, I feel that there will be a yearly discussion about what things could/could not have been done differently as a result. With USA, Brazil and Mexico back to back in 2015, BBC will not be able to screen all three live, although at least one of the three will be screened live.

Still down on BBC only days
The combined average of 4.01m is up 2.3 percent on 2012’s 3.92m, but down 1.3 percent on 2013’s average of 4.06m. What is fascinating to me is the closeness of those three figures despite the complete parallels that each of those three seasons faced. 2012 had a battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso until the end. 2013 arguably peaked in Malaysia from a fan perspective, with figures tumbling in the latter half of the season. In contrast, 2014 started with backlash from the wider media over the sound, or lack of, developing into a rivalry between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, inevitably helping the British figures in the final half of the year due to Hamilton’s involvement. I would suggest that it is a coincidence that the three years line up next to each other, although astonishing at the same time.

However, the 2011 season averaged 4.5m, a 10 percent drop. In fact, 2009, 2010 and 2011 all averaged higher than 2014. It will be, for me, an age old question of whether figures are really down 10 percent versus 2011, or whether more people are now watching Formula 1 via tablets, smart phones and as thus not being included in those figures. I don’t know. I’m not sure whether FOM even know the exact answer to that statement. For some people, 2009 through to 2011 will always be the barometer of Formula 1 coverage in the UK. Whether a group of fans bailed out of watching every race live at the end of 2011, I don’t know. I think it should probably be noted that a lot of shows have dropped year-on-year (the majority of ITV’s schedule is just one example), so in comparison, F1 has done well to hold onto the majority of its existing audience.

My own opinion is that viewing figures are down versus the BBC only days. That is an undeniable fact. When you include other devices, I think 2014 would close the gap in on 2011 slightly. Not significantly, as it seems clear to me that people have moved on. Sadly this is something that you cannot prove statistically, but anecdotally. If you were to grab a few people who have watched F1 at some stage in the past few years, chances are they would tell you that they are watching less F1 than when every race was live on BBC One, because it is not as readily available now as it was previously.

Heading into 2015
Whilst the overall picture is not exciting, the movement of viewers between BBC and Sky is somewhat interesting. There has been a 10 percent shift from BBC to Sky, although whether these are new viewers watching Sky’s coverage, or returning viewers to the channel from 2012, it is impossible to tell. It will be intriguing to see if Sky can continue the upwards swing heading into 2015, or whether BBC can claw back a few viewers off Sky that they have lost during 2014.

A BBC spokesperson said “In what has been a fantastic year with a wealth of sport available to watch on the BBC including the Winter Olympics, World Cup and Commonwealth Games we’re delighted with our F1 coverage this season which reached an impressive 26.1m people. This was undoubtedly helped by a brilliant season finale – Abu Dhabi was the most watched race of the season, with 6.5m people tuning in.”

Official F1 feeds heading to YouTube and Facebook

The latest news in the ongoing Formula One Management social media cycle was revealed today, as it emerged that FOM will be creating official F1 channels on both YouTube and Facebook in the near future.

As noted in a detailed Q&A session with Bernie Ecclestone and Marissa Pace (FOM’s Digital Media Manager) on the Forbes website, Pace noted that the plan for FOM is to begin with Twitter, as happened back in Singapore, moving onto YouTube and eventually Facebook. “We are rebuilding and from Singapore onwards you may have noticed we have taken a more active role in social media so, starting with Twitter, we started in Singapore carrying on through to Youtube in the future and eventually Facebook when we get it past the legal team”, Pace said.

Pace, who was part of Kangaroo TV, noted that the “impressions were over 80 million from Singapore until the end of the season. Impressions is anybody who has seen the @F1 content that we pushed out”, whilst lastly confirming the news that James Allen revealed last month, stating that the official Formula 1 website is being rebuilt from the ground up. The new website will contain a membership area, Pace did not specify whether the membership area would be free or pay to use. If it was pay, I can’t say I would be enticed to sign up unless there were some valuable extras, for example access to (present or past) some of FOM’s archive which has been hyped up a bit given that it was part of the F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize, the winners of which were announced today.

The YouTube content, according to Pace, will be similar to the content currently on the app, something that Ecclestone agreed with, Ecclestone himself noting that content such as the driver pen interviews would not “hurt anybody and it’s good and interesting because it’s instant.” Ecclestone rejected the notion that their YouTube channel would contain any race action, which should not be too much of a surprise given the nature of the current broadcasting contracts. It is difficult to know when the YouTube and Facebook will happen, I hope FOM has presence on both platforms in time for the 2015 season.

It is clear, as has been the case before, that Ecclestone himself does not understand social media. “People in here tell me that we need social media because it is good for us. It’s better than Aspirin. Since people have been breaking my balls about social media I have been looking at this Twitter thing and I can’t see anything on there except [Mercedes motorsport boss] Toto Wolff and one of my daughters and I thought people put things on there, how does that help Formula One?”, Ecclestone says in the Q&A.

Commenting further on social media, Ecclestone said “If it works, the whole point about this I believe, is to encourage people to watch television. I’m not sure, and I have always thought ‘does it actually do that’ and I don’t know. So probably in a year’s time I shall be looking for figures to see what has happened. The only trouble about that is that if there are more people watching television is it because of this or because there are more people watching television?”

An interesting line from the piece is that their social media team only has eight people. I would assume that does not include the people developing the app and the website, otherwise that would be an extremely small group of people. As I’ve said before, it is good again to see FOM heading in the right direction with social media, and this is just further evidence. Whether they are moving as quickly as some people would like, that is up for debate…

Alonso boosts McLaren’s social media profile, but still behind Mercedes

Fernando Alonso’s move to McLaren has boosted their social media profile across Facebook and Twitter, but the boost is not enough to overhaul Mercedes, thanks to their mammoth Facebook following.

As discussed previously, the numbers below are not unique, however the eight million people that follow Mercedes on Facebook is almost double McLaren’s entire social media offering! With a combined 16.6 million followers covering team and driver, Mercedes offering is comfortably ahead of McLaren’s 9.8 million followers.

F1's social media statistics as of 11th December 2014.
F1’s social media statistics as of 11th December 2014.

On Facebook, Mercedes portfolio is almost triple McLaren and Red Bull, the latter not helped at this stage by Daniel Ricciardo’s and Daniil Kvyat’s relatively small following. Ferrari also are not helped by neither of their drivers involved in social media for 2015, both Vettel and Raikkonen absent from social media platforms.

The low positioning of Williams may surprise some given their stellar year, although it has to be said that Lotus, who are above them in both have a fantastic social media offering and it is easy to see why they are ahead of Williams in this regard.

Further down, Toro Rosso are tail enders, as has been the case for a while, as they do not have an identity and are simply treated as ‘Red Bull #2’ rather than their own unique outfit.