In the third and final catch-up, news on the identity of the GP2 Series lead commentator and a look at NBC’s continuing Formula 1 ratings rise.
Jacques becomes new GP2 and GP3 commentator
The news towards the end of 2013 that Will Buxton would no longer be lead commentator for the GP2 and GP3 Series caught many by surprise, with Buxton choosing to prioritise his duties with NBC Sports over commentating on the feeder series’ for Formula One Management (FOM). There were not many stand-out candidates for Buxton’s replacement, I noted last November that the replacement depended upon whether FOM wanted to “breed new talent or rely on a veteran figure”. In the end, the corporation went for the former approach.
Alex Jacques was officially announced as lead feeder series commentator for GP2 and GP3 on Thursday 16th April, prior to the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. You probably are, like I was at the time, wondering who Jacques is. And, to a degree, I am still wondering who Jacques is. Google brings back very little about his past commentating exploits, whilst Jacques has no profile on social media. The nearest information we have about Jacques is that he may have done BBC local radio commentary covering football in the past few years, but apart from that, there is nothing concrete in the public domain.
The reaction on social media has been positive towards Jacques. From the action that I’ve watched, Jacques does sound a bit stilted from time to time, but on the other hand I haven’t heard any howlers from him, yet. What is apparent though is that Jacques is trying to be the first Alex Jacques and not the second Will Buxton. That’s more than good, there is nothing worse than trying to act and be like another commentator or presenter and fail at the first hurdle, so it is good to see Jacques bringing his own style to proceedings.
Sticking with GP2 and GP3, the graphics set for the feeder series’ have stayed the same, unlike its bigger brother, which means that they have been using the same graphics set for a decade now. There have been a few tweaks, such as the timing bar at the bottom of the screen, which has been present in the F1 coverage since at least 2008. Behind the scenes, it was confirmed earlier this month that Tata Communications would be supplying the live broadcast signal for GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Supercup via fibre optic and satellite. James Allen said that the move “is clearly a trial run for both F1 Management and Tata with a view to one day transmitting F1 Grands Prix this way.”
NBC’s F1 ratings continue to rise
In an ongoing story, Formula 1’s television ratings in the United States are continuing their upward curve with coverage on NBC Sports. Following a brilliant number for Malaysia in late March, the Bahrain Grand Prix benefited hugely from a mid morning start time in the US. An average audience of 630k watched Lewis Hamilton win, making it the most watched race ever for NBC Sports Network, and the most watched non-domestic F1 race on cable in eight years.
As I’ve said before, it is unbelievable that the numbers are increasing further in the States when you consider that figures have largely stagnated and even dropped worldwide. The unfortunate thing for Formula 1 is that it is coming from such a low base, meaning that there is still a ton of work to do to get viewing figures over a million, if possible, for mid morning races such as Bahrain.
How WEC can grow, if it wants to
With two rounds of the 2015 World Endurance Championship completed, the series has been receiving more plaudits, comparisons are again being made between it and Formula 1. As Edd Straw said in an editorial on the AUTOSPORT website (£) a few weeks ago, pundits should not use the series as a battering ram to attack Formula 1 with given that the two are distinctly different.
WEC races are typically six or 24 hours long, whereas a Formula 1 race lasts just under two hours, meaning the latter is much more likely to attract a bigger audience. Also, Formula 1 has the luxury of free-to-air output on BBC and Sky. The endurance series however is on Motors TV with a much lower reach than the remainder of the Sports portfolio, including Sky Sports and BT Sport. The Silverstone round peaked with 24k according to unofficial overnight viewing figures.
The buzz at the moment for WEC is just within the motor sport circles, at the hardcore level. How can that be changed to bring in a casual audience, whilst not alienating the hardcore audience, if possible? I think it is important to point out that, in the mid to late 2000’s, the last few hours of the 24 Hours of Le Mans were screened live on ITV4, which should happen again. Why the series also doesn’t have a highlights package either is confusing to me. Both of these are easy method of increasing audiences, demand and reach. Yes, it is great to stream live online and the like, but you need to have a good reach on traditional platforms as well, which WEC does not have.
It could be argued that it would be difficult to package together a six hour race, plus practice and qualifying into a 45 or 90 minute highlights programme (excluding commercials) without completely losing the flow and story of the race, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be attempted. Elsewhere, in a big story from a broadcasting perspective, all TV cameras will be active for the entire 24 Hours of Le Mans, according to Graham Goodwin, the editor of DailySportsCar.com. In previous years, the majority of TV cameras were switched off overnight, with a limited number of cameras running alongside CCTV cameras to pick up any incidents. A lot of action was missed as a result, with incidents and crashes occurring off camera, but it looks like that won’t be the case for this year’s race.