Hitting the apex, but who does it better?

A theme across BBC’s and Sky Sports F1’s recent output has centered around racing cars, both single seater and rally cars. You might be thinking that the previous sentence is ‘captain obvious’ given that this sport is about fast cars. Developing a VT that actually features their own personnel racing around a track takes a bit more thought. The who, the what, the which and the why all play their part.

The first question is who. For the BBC, it is bound to be David Coulthard, with Martin Brundle part of Sky’s piece. But, to avoid sameness, could it be someone else who is part of the VT, maybe either alongside Coulthard or in place of Brundle, for example, Johnny Herbert or Damon Hill. Okay, we’ve identified who want to take part in the feature. But what about the car? If you were to conduct a piece with Hill, having Hill drive one of his old Wiliams cars would make for a fantastic feature. Next year is twenty years since Hill won his only championship, and a great feature would be him driving his championship winning Williams FW18 around Silverstone. You could then spruce that into a longer VT with insights from Sir Patrick Head and Sir Frank Williams, again focussing on the who.

That leads us into the which, specifically which circuit should filming take place at. And most importantly: why? “Because fast cars” is not a suitable explanation if there is no back story. We can have ‘fun’ pieces, but the viewer needs to be invested in the product at the same time. There is a lot more that goes into a VT, but those are your basic principles if you want to get a good feature with solid foundations off the ground. BBC and Sky struck different approaches to their most recent features.

Interviewee: David Coulthard
Personnel: Jenson Button
Filming Date: August 26th (1, 2)
Broadcast Date: October 10th
Link: BBC website

Jenson Button has a go in one of his Dad's old rally cross cars...
Jenson Button has a go in one of his Dad’s old rally cross cars…

Airing during the Russian Grand Prix weekend, Jenson Button’s feature with David Coulthard focussed on Jenson’s Dad John as the subject. The VT started with the two analysing John’s rally cross races from the 1970s, with commentary from Murray Walker playing. From there, Button raced round in his Dad’s rally car with Coulthard as passenger, before the two raced each other. The VT touched on the emotional aspect towards the end, with intertwining shots of present day Jenson and archive footage of John, both with Walker’s distinctive commentary in the background. Like the feature with the Verstappen’s in August, this clocked in at eight minutes. It was another high quality, superb piece from BBC’s F1 team which made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. As you may expect during the current deal, BBC take quality over quantity. I would happily take five pieces that are eight minutes long which focus on the subject in detail than six or seven four minute pieces which may skim over the subject, but do not get the viewer emotionally invested in the piece. At eight minutes in length, it allows the piece to breathe around the sixty minute build-up.

The Button and Verstappen pieces are memorable. Viewers will look back at these pieces in time and think 'wow'. They stand out from the crowd, and that is a credit to the team that meticulously slice the feature together. Pieces like this are lifeless, they do not have an expiry date. Aside from VT's, BBC's latest output is a new 30 minute show called F1 Focus. Airing on Thursday evenings live from the paddock on the Red Button and presented by Tom Clarkson, the show looks ahead to the race weekend. To date, it has only aired for USA and Mexico, and on both occasions, it was an informative preview. I think this is a trial run for 2016, with the intention to get rid of Inside F1, but we will see. Obviously someone somewhere has decided that a Thursday night preview show is worth doing. It also helps improve Clarkson's presenting skills, which is important should anyone in the current line-up wish to move on any time soon.

Sky Sports F1
Presenter: Martin Brundle
Filming Date: October 6th (1)
Broadcast Date: October 25th
Link: Sky Sports website

...as Martin Brundle took the Mercedes W06 for a spin around Silverstone.
…as Martin Brundle took the Mercedes W06 for a spin around Silverstone.

Over on Sky Sports, Martin Brundle hit the big 40. Not age, but the number of Grand Prix cars the commentator has driven in anger. There are not many better ways to hit number 40 than to drive this year’s championship winning car, the Mercedes W06. As always, it is fantastic to see Brundle driving these cars, irrespective of age. At the Italian Grand Prix, it was the BRM P160. Both that and the Mercedes piece, which was broadcast during the United States Grand Prix weekend, showed off some wonderful camera angles, both internal and external. In both cases, it is easy to see the beauty of the machinery, thanks to the angles used. The BRM feature was part of a wider range of segments focussing on the 1971 Italian Grand Prix story with Peter Gethin victorious for the only time. Italy was a good weekend for Sky’s F1 team, the channel opting to stay on air until 17:00 to cover Mercedes’ potential disqualification from the race, which is exactly what a dedicated service should do. The channel was endlessly filling time in Austin last weekend as well, again they should be applauded for staying on air.

Unfortunately, the inherit problem with some of Sky’s VT’s is the lack of storytelling and choosing to run shorter VT’s so that they can fit multiple trailers around it. Time should not be a limited resource, and we should not be in a scenario where the time hyping a specific feature is longer than the actual length of said feature. Whilst Brundle driving the Mercedes was a very good feature (more so considering the weather was not in their favour), I am not convinced it justified the hype that Sky gave the segment beforehand. Arguably, it is a better when a feature creeps up on you and amazes you rather than one that turns into a let-down. I’m not saying Brundle’s feature was a let-down by any means, but it is something I have noticed with Sky this season.

Looking at the dates outlined earlier in this piece, an interesting observation that Brundle’s feature was turned around in three weeks, whereas BBC’s feature went to air six weeks after being filmed. Is this simply a result of where BBC’s live races fall in the year, or is it because Sky attaching more resource to their features so that they can be turned around quicker? Following up on that line, does it mean Sky’s features are of a lesser quality than BBC’s features as a result?


Controversy helps MotoGP sizzle

A spectacular MotoGP season hit the tipping point in Sepang this past Sunday, with BT Sport rewarded as a result, overnight numbers show.

Marquez vs Rossi – TV reaps the rewards
The battle off the track between Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi soon became an on-track battle, the two colliding in sensational fashion in Sepang. A one-minute peak audience of 300k (8.2%) at 07:15 witnessed the drama come to a head on Sunday morning on BT Sport 2. Live coverage of the race, from 06:30 to 08:00 averaged 186k (5.0%), the 5-minute peak was 269k (7.5%) at 07:15. BT Sport opted to extend their post-race broadcast until 09:00, the extra hour bringing a solid 110k (1.6%). Their entire broadcast from 03:45 to 09:00 averaged 101k (4.4%), this number including the Moto2 and Moto3 broadcasts.

As documented on these pages, BT’s MotoGP ratings upswing comes at a time when TV ratings are heading downwards. Last year’s coverage from Sepang averaged 68k (1.9%) from 04:45 to 09:15, with a 5-minute peak of 179k. Again, 2015’s viewing figures are significantly up on 2014. I think BT have been incredibly lucky to have the season that they have had this year. Over on ITV4, highlights from 20:00 to 21:00 averaged a further 301k (1.3%), recording a 5-minute peak of 384k (1.7%), also up on last year’s figure of 257k (1.1%).

Combined, the two channels recorded an average of 443k, which compares with the BBC’s live and repeat combined average in 2013 of around 1.1 million for Malaysia. You would expect more of a drop off for the fly-away races than the European rounds, the key for BT Sport and ITV is to continue in the right direction for 2016 and not make 2015 a ‘one hit wonder’, as it were. I could say the scale of the drop off is poor versus 2013, and it is as I have mentioned before, but the signs from 2015 so far have been very, very positive for MotoGP. I’m intrigued to see how the Valencia programming performs. It should be BT Sport’s highest ever MotoGP ratings, but as we saw this past weekend with the US F1 Grand Prix, what we expect to happen and what actually materialises are two different things.

Is Formula E about to suffer second season syndrome?
Over in the electric world, the picture was less than rosy. After a strong finish to season one in Battersea Park, Formula E stumbled for the start of season two in Beijing. The ePrix, airing live on Saturday morning on ITV4 from 08:00 to 10:30, averaged just 88k (1.4%) – the third lowest for the series, only behind Putrajaya and Moscow from season one. The Beijing number is significantly lower than the average audience of 266k (4.0%) for the inaugural race in September 2014.

The 5-minute peak of 168k (2.4%) was also down on the equivalent peak figure from 2014 of 477k (6.8%). In my opinion, it is a disappointing figure. On one hand, you could say that the drop was because last year was the inaugural race and all the hype that surrounded that, but on the other hand, did Formula E not gain any new followers from Battersea Park airing on ITV’s main channel in June? The fact that the season started on the same weekend as both Formula 1 and MotoGP running will have dented the numbers though, it should be noted, the lowest three numbers have all been when the series has held a race on the same weekend as Formula 1.

Highlights on ITV’s main channel performed okay with an average of 244k (3.1%), peaking with 321k (4.2%) at 10:00, up on ITV4’s highlights number from one year ago. The number is below the slot average and was beaten by three of the other four terrestrial channels. The combined live and highlights average of 332k is down on last year’s inaugural number of 426k, or down nearly a quarter. Moving the highlights to ITV’s main channel has helped reduce the deficit.

Ratings and scheduling aside from the series as a whole, advertising of the series has been poor from ITV. I watched multiple hours of the Rugby World Cup the weekend before last, which attracts a core male audience, and I did not see one trailer for Formula E. A series cannot attract a wider demographic without advertising, ITV need to realise that for the series to draw bigger numbers. ITV did produce a trailer for the season opener. If this was F1, you would expect to see the ITV pre-season trailer multiple times across a week. I didn’t see Formula E’s trailer once (anecdotally, of course). The problem we have: ITV won’t advertise > ITV’s viewing figures stay low > ITV won’t pay Formula E any more money as a result > Formula E want more money > Formula E can’t go to pay-TV otherwise figures would be embarrassing. Of course, Formula E could take the series to pay-TV, but if you are only attracting 300k on free-to-air television, you are looking at below 50k on BT Sport or Eurosport.

Time will tell how this plays out, but for Formula E’s sake, numbers cannot settle at a lower level than last year, in my opinion.


Hamilton’s title victory peaks with 1.7m on Sky Sports

A peak audience of 1.7m watched Lewis Hamilton become a triple world champion live on Sky Sports, overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, simulcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1, attracted a weighted average of 1.13m (5.0%) from 18:00 to 21:30. Sky Sports 1’s airing from 18:55 to 21:30 averaged 313k (1.3%), with Sky Sports F1 averaging 900k (4.0%) over three and a half hours. Year-on-year, Sky Sports 1’s number is up slightly due to the channel only taking the race itself rather than the pre-race aspect. Despite it being a championship decider, Sky Sports F1’s number dropped just over 100k year-on-year, a decrease of 12.4 percent. It is worth noting that the race aired live an hour later last year, the race starting at 20:00 UK time instead of 19:00, but this is unlikely to make a significant difference to the total TV viewing audience.

The race started with 1.41m (6.7%) at 19:00 across both Sky Sports channels. Despite the quality of the race being one of the best of 2015 so far, the audience failed to nudge up to 1.5 million viewers until 20:20, showing that prime time races of pay-TV struggle to bring in a casual audience. Eventually, the audience peaked with 1.70m (6.9%) at 20:50 as the race came to a conclusion, with the audience split 1.21m (5.0%) on Sky Sports F1 and a further 487k (2.0%) on Sky Sports 1.

The peak of 1.70 million is down on 2014’s peak audience of 1.93m (7.5%). 2014’s race was also simulcast live across Sky Sports 1 and F1. In comparison, yesterday’s Manchester derby, broadcast live also on Sky Sports 1, secured a 5-minute peak audience of 2.39m (18.6%). In my opinion, Sky had to have expected some kind of boost with the expectation that Hamilton was going to secure a third championship. The fact that Sky’s numbers dropped is alarming. The fact that Sky failed to bring any casual viewers to the Grand Prix is not good. In their fourth year of broadcasting Formula 1, Sky have still failed to bring a peak audience of over two million viewers to any race.

Unfortunately, BBC’s figures are no better. Sunday’s race highlights programme on BBC One averaged 2.15m (22.4%) from 22:30 to 00:00. That figure is down on both 2012 and 2014. 2014’s highlights programme averaged 2.51m (22.9%), meaning that 2015’s number is down 14.2 percent. Again, that is a very disappointing number in the context of the race. Overall, it means a combined average for BBC and Sky of just 3.28 million, down significantly on 2014’s number of 3.84 million and down slightly on 2012. For a normal race, that number is on the low end of expectations. For a potential title decider, involving a British driver, the number is disastrous.

Disastrous may sound like an exaggeration, but last night was the first time a Drivers' Championship had been decided exclusively live on pay-TV since the current BBC and Sky deal came into effect at the beginning 2012. Compare the 3.28 million average, and a peak of just shy of 4 million with these figures. Last year's title decider the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which was screened live across BBC One and Sky Sports F1, peaked with 7.89m (50.9%), whilst Hamilton’s first championship victory at the 2008 Brazilian peaked with 13.1m on ITV. It is the lowest rating for a title decider since 2004. Data is available back to 2006, whilst 2005’s title clinching race was Brazil and averaged 4.3 million. It should be noted that we have been lucky in recent years with last race title deciders, whereas we have three rounds left in 2015.

How high would the US Grand Prix have peaked had it been live on free-to-air television? I think we can go back to 2009 to find an answer. Jenson Button won the championship at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix. The race was not the last round of the championship, yet peaked with 9.09m (40.3%). I’m not saying it would have been that high, but you just get an idea of what could have been achieved yesterday, in different circumstances. Do viewing figures really matter? It is a question I get asked regularly. The more eye-balls the better. The more popular you are, the more attractive the product is to advertisers. We don’t want Formula 1 turning into a minority sport in this country.

As always, the figures above excludes viewing on internet based services such as Sky Go, Now TV and BBC iPlayer. My opinion is that those platforms would not make up the year-on-year difference of around 600k. BBC Radio 5 Live could make up the difference, but those figures are collected separately and I believe the methodology for radio, collected through RAJAR, is significantly different. Lastly, we have illegal streaming, however we can’t begin to estimate how much they may add, plus you would argue that the streaming is not legal and therefore should not count. The opposition year-on-year was largely the same: The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey was again the main opponents last night.

To conclude, the numbers are bad, for both channels. For BBC, because their highlights programme failed to gain any viewers whatsoever. For Sky, because they failed to peak with over two million viewers. If they couldn’t bring a two million peak audience to watch Formula 1 on their platform last night, they never will. Whether the viewing figures show anything about Lewis Hamilton’s popularity in this country remains to be seen. If Hamilton was more popular, you would think that more people would have followed the race live on Sky Sports, evidently that was not the case.

Where we go from here, I don’t know.

Update on October 27th – A repeat of BBC One’s highlights programme on Monday afternoon on BBC Two at 13:00 averaged 364k (5.2%), peaking with 484k (7.0%) at 14:10 according to overnight viewing figures.

The 2014 US Grand Prix ratings report can be found here. Peak audience figures quoted in this article are five-minute numbers.


Scheduling: The 2015 Mexican Grand Prix

For the first time in over twenty years, Formula 1 returns to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City for round 17 of the 2015 Formula One season.

With both championship battles now over, the ten teams and 20 drivers are fighting for pride more than anything else in the remaining three rounds of the championship.

As in America, Sky Sports have exclusive live coverage of the racing from Mexico, with BBC broadcasting highlights on Saturday and Sunday in the fringes of primetime. The main piece of programming from Sky aside from their live action is a new edition of Tales from the Vault, focussing on the original Lotus team.

Below are all the details you need…

31/10 – 22:45 to 00:00 – Qualifying Highlights (BBC Two)
01/11 – 22:30 to 00:00 – Race Highlights (BBC One)
02/11 – 13:15 to 14:45 – Race Highlights (BBC Two)

BBC Radio
29/10 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
30/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/10 – 19:55 to 21:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
31/10 – 15:55 to 17:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
31/10 – 18:55 to 20:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
01/11 – 18:00 to 21:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Sky Sports F1
30/10 – 15:45 to 17:50 – Practice 1
30/10 – 19:45 to 22:00 – Practice 2
31/10 – 15:45 to 17:15 – Practice 3 (also Sky Sports 1)
31/10 – 18:00 to 20:45 – Qualifying
01/11 – 17:30 to 22:15 – Race
=> 17:30 – Track Parade
=> 18:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 18:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
29/10 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Driver Press Conference
29/10 – 23:00 to 23:15 – Paddock Uncut: Mexico
30/10 – 22:00 to 22:45 – Team Press Conference
30/10 – 00:00 to 01:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky Sports 1)
01/11 – 22:15 to 23:15 – Tales from the Vault: Lotus
04/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report

If anything changes, like Austin last weekend, I will update the schedule.

Update on October 28th – An adjustment to Sky’s schedules. The edition of Architects of F1, featuring Flavio Briatore, has been moved to after coverage of the Brazilian Grand Prix. In its original post-Mexico slot is a new episode of Tales from the Vault.

Updated Schedule: The 2015 United States Grand Prix

Following the postponement of the 2015 United States Grand Prix qualifying session until Sunday, it means some significant changes to both BBC’s and Sky’s Formula 1 schedules.

After covering the announcement that qualifying was going to be moved to Sunday live on Saturday evening, BBC Two will air highlights of Sunday’s qualifying session at 17:00.

25/10 – 17:00 to 18:00 – Qualifying Highlights (BBC Two)
25/10 – 22:30 to 00:00 – Race Highlights (BBC One)
26/10 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race Highlights (BBC Two)

BBC Radio
25/10 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/10 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Sky Sports F1
25/10 – 13:45 to 15:30 – Qualifying
25/10 – 17:30 to 22:15 – Race
=> 17:30 – Track Parade
=> 18:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 18:30 – Race
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live
=> simulcast on Sky Sports 1 from 18:55 to 21:30

If anything changes (again!), I will update the above.