A big day for MotoGP

Today is a significant day for those involved in the running of the MotoGP World Championship. It, with the British Grand Prix, marks the first time that a MotoGP race has been broadcast live in Ultra HD. The race action today, along with yesterday’s qualifying sessions are being broadcast live on BT Sport’s new Ultra HD channel.

Ultra HD is four times the resolution of normal HD, hence the name ‘4K resolution’. It means that there are two separate teams controlling and directing the action this weekend, in turn meaning that BT Sport have two commentary teams. Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder have been commentating as usual on the normal World Feed, with Toby Moody and James Haydon commentating on the 4K Ultra HD feed. It is the first time that Moody has been brought into the BT fold since they started their coverage last season.

Dorna say that the operation consists of 19 Ultra HD cameras, “including a High Speed, Super Slow Motion Camera and the world´s first live wireless 4K cameras”, which compares to 141 HD cameras that Dorna normally take to each round. The addition of Ultra HD means that MotoGP will have 160 cameras focussed on the action this weekend, a record number for the series. It is the world’s largest 4K outside broadcast to date.

It is too early to say whether 4K will be the next big thing, or whether it will turn into 3D and become a gimmick. I suspect it has a better chance of taking off than 3D. Readers may remember that Sky Sports showed F1 testing live in 3D in 2013, an experiment never to be repeated. Where 4K is concerned, BT Sport seem to be pushing it a lot at the moment, whereas Sky are not, hence why the MotoGP from Silverstone is being covered in 4K. Saying that, SkyQ is believed to be coming which will offer Ultra HD capability, but Sky have not officially confirmed this yet.

My lasting thought, however is that HD is not the norm yet, because providers are insistent on charging extra for customers to access content in HD. In my opinion, until HD becomes the norm, I’m afraid Ultra HD will not get off the starting grid, in this country at least. But, you have to start somewhere…


Scheduling: The 2015 Italian Grand Prix

The last race of the European season comes from Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. It marks the first BBC highlights race since Austria, nearly three months ago thanks to the absence of the German Grand Prix.

As in Belgium, Sky are not simulcasting their shows on any other Sky Sports channel. I think it is fair to assume, for the moment, that the simulcasts we saw in June and July was just a Summer thing rather than anything more, but we will see if anything more turns up in the schedules as we head into the Asian and American races.

The usual schedule details are below. I’ve not included Sky’s classic races, as there are no new races to the channel in the schedule, whilst I think we are safe in saying that the F1 Legends strand of programming is not returning to the channel this year sadly. I have, however, included the World Series by Renault from Silverstone which BT Sport are giving extensive live coverage to this weekend. Abi Griffiths and Gemma Scott will be presenting the coverage, with Keith Collantine, Johnny Mowlem and Oliver Webb alongside them.

05/09 – 17:00 to 18:10 – Qualifying Highlights
06/09 – 17:05 to 18:35 – Race Highlights

BBC News Channel
04/09 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1
05/09 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1

BBC Radio
04/09 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
04/09 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05/09 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
06/09 – 12:30 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Sky Sports F1
04/09 – 08:45 to 11:00 – Practice 1
04/09 – 12:45 to 15:00 – Practice 2
05/09 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
05/09 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
06/09 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
03/09 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
03/09 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Italy
04/09 – 16:00 to 16:45 – Team Press Conference
04/09 – 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show
09/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report

GP2 Series – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
04/09 – 11:00 to 11:50 – Practice
04/09 – 14:50 to 15:30 – Qualifying
05/09 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
06/09 – 09:30 to 10:45 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
05/09 – 08:45 to 09:20 – Qualifying
05/09 – 16:10 to 17:10 – Race 1
06/09 – 08:20 to 09:20 – Race 2

British Touring Car Championship – Rockingham (ITV4)
06/09 – 10:45 to 17:45 – Races

World Series by Renault – Silverstone
05/09 – 11:00 to 18:15 – Races (BT Sport 2)
06/09 – 11:00 to 16:15 – Races (BT Sport 1)

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

Poll: Will ITV broadcast season two of Formula E live?

Formula E testing from Donington Park has come and gone. Now, the long journey begins for the 40 cars to head to Beijing in time for the 2015-16 season opener on Saturday 17th October.

On the track, many questions remain about the pecking order, and these questions will not be answered until the first qualifying session of the season has finished. Off the track however, one question remains for UK readers. Who will be broadcasting season two of Formula E? As of writing, nothing has been officially confirmed. The most likely outcome is that ITV will continue to screen live coverage. Mentions of Formula E remain in ITV Sport’s Twitter bio, whilst ITV’s Formula E website has been giving testing updates over the past few weeks, although there was no ITV presence at Donington. So, why has there been no official announcement? I think there are three main reasons.

The first potentially contentious point surrounds whether a London ePrix will take place next June. As noted previously, the London ePrix weekend is taken up by the British Grand Prix. AUTOSPORT says that an early July slot is likely, but that’s yet to be made official. Were the London ePrix to be dropped, then this makes Formula E less attractive to UK broadcasters, given that the big season finale would instantly disappear from their radar. A peak audience of 1.2 million viewers watched the season finale on ITV’s main channel, a point Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag emphasises in his AUTOSPORT interview.

The second stumbling block is money. In order to get Formula E on free-to-air television for its inaugural season, I imagine ITV paid peanuts to broadcast it. It was an unknown entity, nobody knew what was going to happen. Now that we’re heading into season two, it is not unreasonable to expect that Formula E may well want a few more pounds off ITV in order to broadcast the series. If the figure ITV wants to pay and the figure Formula E thinks it should get are not in the same ballpark, that could be the source of some contention. Okay, this is mostly conjecture, but new motor sport series live and die off money, whether we like it or not. An extra million off ITV could be vital for Formula E’s health in the long term, however the investment off Liberty Global and Discovery Communications is believed to help Formula E enormously.

The third issue is pay-TV. I doubt Sky Sports would be interested, they have Formula 1, GP2 and GP3 for single-seater action. Formula E would add nicely to BT Sport’s portfolio, bearing in mind that the channel did show delayed highlights last season. However, the biggest link for me is between Formula E and British Eurosport. Eurosport are owned by Discovery Communications who, as mentioned above, have a minority investment in Formula E. I think, this early in its life cycle, it would be an absurd move to put Formula E live on pay-TV, and it would go smack in the face of Formula E’s ethos to be accessible to the public. I don’t think ITV4’s numbers for Formula E were big enough to attract major pay-TV interest, that could change though in the future if Formula E stayed on ITV to an increased number of viewers.

As of August 6th, an ITV spokesperson told this blog that the 2015/16 broadcast rights were still “to be decided.” In reality, I would be surprised if an agreement is not announced between ITV and Formula E soon. Last year’s deal was announced in March. But until that time comes, there is always a chance that another broadcaster could swoop exclusive live rights to Formula E.

Update on September 8th – No news to report publicly. Provisional schedules for the week commencing Saturday 17th October are released on Thursday 1st October. We should hear something before then, I’d be really surprised if we don’t.

Update on September 9th – Looks like we have an extra week to play with now that Beijing is on Saturday 24th October.

Belgium draws identical audience year-on-year

The Belgian Grand Prix, won by Lewis Hamilton, drew an identical audience year-on-year, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the Grand Prix on BBC One, which aired from 12:10 to 15:30, averaged 2.44m (22.5%), peaking with 3.38m (27.5%) at 14:25 as Hamilton won. Last year’s race aired across the same timeslot to an identical audience, albeit a different share: 2.44m (26.4%), with a peak of 3.27m (31.8%) as Daniel Ricciardo won. The trend, the same audience but lower share is repeated over on Sky Sports F1. Their race day show, from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 470k (4.3%), peaking with 768k (6.2%) at 14:05. Last year’s Sky coverage averaged 475k (5.1%), peaking with 784k (8.3%) at 13:05.

It is not often you get an identical audience year-on-year, let alone an identical channel breakdown. The combined average for 2015 of 2.91m is the same as 2014, and the combined peak of 4.15m is up on the peak of 4.04m. Unfortunately, because the 2015 average is lower than 2014 (2.9065m vs 2.9103m), it does mean that the 2015 Belgium Grand Prix now holds the unwanted statistic of being the lowest rated European round since the 2008 European Grand Prix. That race went up against the Olympic Games closing ceremony from Beijing.

There are multiple reasons though why I don’t think Belgium’s numbers are anything to worry about. Alongside the warm weather, Belgium was up against a lot of sporting opposition. Premier League football on Sky Sports would have taken away a chunk of the audience, and The Ashes cricket no doubt played a factor as well. The biggest opposition though came from Usain Bolt running in the 100m final at the World Athletics Championship in Beijing. Screened live on BBC Two, the athletics hit 3m (24.4%) at 14:15. During the same five minute period, the F1 dropped to 3.12m (25.7%), showing the effect that Bolt had, albeit a very short effect given the length of the 100m race!

Looking ahead, the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks time should bring in a good number. It is a highlights race, and as we saw with 2012, should draw a big number in comparison to previous years.

The 2014 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


Dissecting Bernie Ecclestone’s latest BBC F1 quotes

There are multiple websites this morning reporting quotes attributed to Bernie Ecclestone, made yesterday during the Belgium Grand Prix weekend, with relation to the current BBC and Sky deal that is due to expire at the end of 2018.

The quotes, which can be attributed to the Telegraph, AUTOSPORT or the Daily Mail, have Ecclestone saying: “I hope [BBC] continue. We’re not interested in the money, we’re interested in entertaining the public and doing a service. That’s what we’re there for. I think it would be good [to continue as we have at the moment]. It’s works at the moment, so there’s no reason why it should change. Sky have done a super job. They’ve lifted the level and lifted the BBC up.”

In relation to whether BT Sport are interested in Formula 1, Ecclestone said: “Let’s see. They’ve not been in to see me, but then even if they had I wouldn’t tell you.” The quotes were made in response to the news that RTL have extended their current deal in Germany to cover both 2016 and 2017. The price quoted by the Daily Mail for the RTL deal is 25 million per season (I’ve adjusted this sentence, Karol296 in the comments section notes that this is €25m, which is £18m, a bargain). The Daily Mail also say that it is £25 million per year for the current BBC deal, although I have in the past put that number at between £15 million and £20 million. You won’t find any information about the exact number in the public domain, but both RTL and BBC are definitely paying less than previously.

All three websites have also reported a factual inaccuracy. The current BBC and Sky deal does not expire as the end of 2017 as the three websites note. It expires at the 2018, as the BBC say themselves on their website. Where 2017 comes from, I have no idea, but I would have thought ‘end of 2018’ is a basic fact in the story. By bringing that date forward a year, you are changing the complexion of the story somewhat. I talked about what could happen in the future last month. If BBC want to stay in Formula 1, then they will enter negotiations with Sky and Formula One Management earlier than expected. A BBC spokesperson told this blog last month “We remain committed to our existing contracts for Formula 1.”

We’re not interested in the money, we’re interested in entertaining the public and doing a service. – Bernie Ecclestone (August 21st, 2015)

The majority of Ecclestone’s quote is your normal talk and nothing out of the ordinary. The only line, in my opinion, that is worth discussion is the one I’ve put in the block quote above. Coming from Ecclestone, it is difficult to look at a quote of that nature with a straight face. Every other sporting contract in the recent past has seen their value jump such as the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. The last F1 contract renewal which started the current arrangement was completed before BT Sport entered the fray. Fact is, if someone throws Ecclestone a bundle of money at the table, he is unlikely to reject it. That is just my opinion, after all Formula 1 is more a business than an entertainment franchise.

If money is no object either, then why is every race not live on free-to-air television? If RTL are paying £25 million to cover every race live, is there not precedence for saying that the BBC should be able to cover every race live by paying the exact same amount? If money is no object, then you may as well invite ITV or Channel 4 to the table and come up with a deal similar to the recent Six Nations deal that was announced. For a business built, and skewed, around money, that quote is surprising. What I think the quote does show with certainty that Ecclestone wants BBC to stay in the game. Maybe it shows that he is concerned that BBC could exit Formula 1 soon, but I’m not sure as no doubt that quote applies to RTL as well.

The earliest in my opinion that we will hear any news is the middle of next year, but that is only if BBC want to renegotiate. If they want to continue in the same vein as now, then I don’t expect to hear any news until 2017.