Marc Priestley joins Sky’s F1 team

Marc Priestley has joined Sky Sports F1, it has been confirmed.

Priestley, who worked as a McLaren mechanic from 2000 to 2009, has most recently been part of ITV’s Formula E team. He was also part of Sky’s extensive live testing coverage in 2013. The move is a fairly big surprise considering Priestley was one of the possibilities to join Channel 4. The announcement is low-key, with the Sky website article above simply making reference to “Sky F1’s Marc Priestley”.

With Craig Scarborough and Mike Gascoyne part of Sky’s F1 Report programme in a few weeks, it means that Channel 4’s technical expert is either Gary Anderson, Ross Brawn (as suggested in the blog survey last month) or someone else new to F1 broadcasting. It’s an interesting move, Sky’s reinforcements may imply that Channel 4 have got a relatively big name in as technical analyst.

Update on February 19th at 17:40 – Sky’s website article has been updated, noting that Priestley will be a regular pundit on Sky’s F1 Report show, so it doesn’t look like Priestley will be travelling to races.

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Classic F1 returns to Sky F1, but The F1 Show undergoes a major shift

Classic F1 races are returning to Sky Sports F1 again for the 2016 season, provisional schedules show. The strand returns to the channel on Friday 11th March at 21:00, with a race that is yet to be confirmed.

Alongside Classic F1 is an episode of the F1 Report, which appears to have dropped its ‘Midweek’ branding. The one-hour report will air on Wednesday 9th March at 20:30. Entitled ‘Development Special’, the programme will focus on how teams are preparing for the Australian Grand Prix. Craig Scarborough and Mike Gascoyne are the two guests, with Natalie Pinkham presenting.

The biggest absence though from Sky’s schedule is The F1 Show. There were rumours towards the back end of last year that Sky were planning to axe the live audience studio based episodes, although the show was mentioned in Sky’s press release last month. A request sent from this blog to Sky on Saturday 13th February has so far yielded no reply. It could be that Sky are simply planning to not air a pre-season episode, but that seems a bizarre decision to me.

It will be interesting to see what happens, but if Sky do axe the studio editions of The F1 Show then it is further evidence of the downscaling of the F1 operation and channel as a whole.

Update on February 19th – The announcement of Marc Priestley appearing as a regular pundit on the F1 Report notes that there will be an Australian Grand Prix preview show on Wednesday 16th March at 20:30. It therefore looks like that the F1 Report is going to air weekly, in place of the studio editions of The F1 Show.

Update on February 24th – The F1 Show, as we know it, is no more. Half an hour episodes will air on the Friday (at least) of each Grand Prix, starting on Friday 18th March at 08:00 (immediately following the Team Principles’ Press Conference). I don’t think the episodes will be airing live, but cannot confirm that. Obviously this is a clear sign of cost-cutting. I would be surprised if Sky acknowledge the change in format for the show. Confirmation too that the F1 Report will air weekly, 30 minute episodes each Wednesday at 20:30.

Update on February 27th – A half hour Testing Special will air on Saturday 5th March at 20:00, with Ted Kravitz joined by guests in Barcelona.

Update on March 9th – Interesting wording from Natalie Pinkham on Twitter, describing The F1 Show and F1 Midweek Report as merging to form the F1 Report. Normally with a merger, you take the best elements of both, combine them and come up with something better. The F1 Report is the F1 Midweek Report, renamed. There are no elements from The F1 Show that are being merged into it, the studio audience has gone as does any interactivity that went alongside it. It may be a good thing (and I think it will end up having its benefits), but in my opinion describing this change as a merger is inaccurate.

Update on March 18th at 08:10 – Correction to the main body, The F1 Show is indeed live.

Update on March 18th at 08:35 – Okay, so the new style F1 Show contains Friday reaction and analysis, live interviews and reaction with a few VT’s. The lighter content has gone. All in all, it seems a welcome change even if the show length has halved.

Spain and Poland’s F1 reach continues to decrease

As anticipation ramps up towards the start of the 2016 Formula One season, if you live in either Spain or Poland, there is unfortunately some very bad news.

Starting with Spain, the website Mundo Deportivo is reporting that pay-TV station Movistar+ will be broadcasting Formula 1 exclusively, with neither Antenna 3 or TV3 renewing their contracts. Both Antenna 3 and TV3’s contracts expired at the end of 2015. At the last rights renewal in January 2014, it was reported that TV3’s rights contract decreased by 30 percent. I won’t be surprised if TV3 (and Antenna 3) tried to drop the contract value again, only for Formula One Management (FOM) to walk towards pay-TV. There’s only so far you can drop the value before the rights holder walks away.

Meanwhile in Poland, Eleven Sports Network have acquired the exclusive rights to every Formula 1 session across the whole season. The company acquired the rights from MP and Silva who, according to SportsPro Media, won the rights to distribute Formula 1 content in multiple territories in December 2013. The important piece of information here is that Polsat will no longer be showing Formula 1 having aired the championship from 2007 to 2015 – first on their free-to-air channel until the end of 2013 then on their pay-TV sports channel for the past two seasons. Polsat were partially responsible for the rise in viewing figures, alongside the surge of Robert Kubica until his accident at the beginning of 2011. As noted in the comments below, Eleven Sports Network is not available on the largest satellite network, meaning F1 will now have an even smaller audience base in Poland.

It means that the following rights deal have taken effect within the past four years:

– UK (from 2012 – shared)
=> BBC TV out, Channel 4 in from 2016
Netherlands (from 2013)
Italy (from 2013 – shared)
– Poland (from 2014 – full pay-TV)
Czech Republic (from 2015 – full pay-TV)
Slovakia (from 2015 – full pay-TV)
South America (from 2015)
Australia (from 2015)
– Spain (from 2016 – full pay-TV)

In my opinion, shared deals are the way forward. It allows Formula 1 to have a shop window and access to millions of viewers on free-to-air television, whilst also catering to the dedicated fan on pay-TV. Of course, in a perfect world every race would be live free-to-air, but the economics are against that at the moment. I really don’t think a full pay-TV deal achieves anything. It certainly does not get a new generation of fans invested in Formula 1, and I fear for Formula 1 in Spain going forward. Whilst the attendances at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya have been good historically, it will be interesting to monitor them going forward. I won’t be surprised if there is a knock on effect as a result of this deal.

Thanks to Karol296 on Twitter for the heads up regarding the Poland deal.

Update on March 2nd – It looks like there is more to the Spanish story. SportBusiness are reporting that TV3 has agreed a deal with Telelefonica Movistar+ to air the Spanish Grand Prix live, with the remaining 20 races airing on a one-hour tape delay. That does not sound too bad and could have been a lot, lot worse.

Update on March 16th – Sports Pro Media says that TV3’s package is actually for a one-hour highlights package as opposed to airing races on a one-hour tape delay.

Shadowing and preparing

Barring a change of direction or tactics over the forthcoming weeks, it looks like Channel 4’s new Formula 1 presenter will be someone who is completely new to presenting live sport. As stated previously, this writer understands that the name in the frame is Steve Jones.

Channel 4 will not be releasing any further information about their Formula 1 team until early March. However, by this stage, the new presenter (Jones, or someone else) will know by now that they will be the person travelling to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. For anyone in the Channel 4 team who is new to Formula 1, the first time they will walk into the paddock will either be during Barcelona testing or Melbourne itself. The former appears unlikely for anyone in front of the camera (in an official capacity at least) given that an announcement is not expected until early March.

What Channel 4 have to their advantage is that their Australian coverage is not live. Their first live race is round two of the 2016 season in Bahrain. This gives them, and Whisper Films, the opportunity to refine the product, if necessary performing re-takes, so that the perfect product hits the screen, a “dry run”. This all works on the assumption that Channel 4’s highlights coverage is not based in a studio.

Alongside the new presenter will be David Coulthard. With seven years at the BBC, Coulthard is now a veteran broadcaster, and will know what works and what doesn’t, meaning that he should be in a position to make the new presenter feel at ease in the paddock. I’m reminded of when the BBC first started Formula 1 in 2009. We had the fresh faced Jake Humphrey stepping into the limelight as lead presenter of their Formula 1 coverage. Humphrey’s preparation for the Formula 1 role started in Autumn 2008. Following the conclusion of the BBC’s successful Olympic Games coverage from Beijing, Humphrey soon turned his attention to Formula 1.

To get an early indicator of what to expect for 2009, Humphrey, alongside BBC colleagues which included Mark Wilkin, travelled to the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix. Humphrey, met up with Coulthard, as Humphrey briefly watched ITV’s Steve Rider present their live programme from the Shanghai paddock. Rider spoke briefly about Humphrey’s appointment in his book (page 237), Rider saying that he “thought it was an excellent, brave decision, although inevitably many regarded him as just ‘the bloke off kids’ telly’.”

It is interesting to read Humphrey’s perspective on stepping into the Formula 1 paddock for the first time. Humphrey recites this in his book (pages 19-24), and it shows a different angle on life behind the camera for those stepping into the limelight for the very first time. Speaking about his Shanghai adventure, Humphrey said:

My general mood of excitement and impatience suddenly began to give way to a strange feeling of loneliness – it was as if I had been pitched into a party where everyone knew each other except me. I watched the cameramen as they seemed instinctively to know where to wait to get the right photos and video footage of the drivers, while the journalists moved around in a hunting pack, going from team home to team home at set times to get the drivers’ thoughts.

Furthermore, Humphrey described the ITV team of Rider and Mark Blundell as looking “so small, so insignificant and so alone, looking incredibly vulnerable” in the pit lane during the build-up. You almost get the impression that, by going to a Grand Prix beforehand, the expectation increased as a result for Humphrey. But, you can see why it was necessary for him to attend a Grand Prix beforehand. It meant that some of the learning had been completed well in advance of the 2009 season beginning. It meant that some of the key introductions had already been made, and relationships with teams could now be built. Because of the sheer scale of it, Shanghai I can imagine is probably the most daunting paddock to walk into first, something Humphrey admits in his book.

Fast forward to March 2009. Humphrey was again walking into a Formula 1 paddock. This time, he was going live on air to the sound of The Chain. Humphrey described the Melbourne experience as “walking on to a packed platform on the London Underground in rush hour, but in Technicolor.” On March 19th, 2016, another presenter will hear that famous bass riff and the 5-second countdown to go on air in Melbourne.

In essence, Melbourne is Channel 4’s equivalent of “Humphrey’s Shanghai”. Two weeks later, the Channel 4 team will be going live for the first time for Bahrain. For now, the countdown continues…

The Chain remains Formula 1’s signature theme in the UK

The Chain is heading with Formula 1 to Channel 4, it has been confirmed.

The Chain, by Fleetwood Mac, has always been the BBC’s Formula 1 theme tune irrespective of whether the corporation was covering the Grand Prix just on TV, or on both television and radio. Last December, BBC surrendered the television rights, with Channel 4 picking the rights up.

It might be seen as a surprising move considering that ITV did not take The Chain on, and Sky Sports went for Just Drive by Alistair Griffin. In a post last month, blog readers suggested a lot of theme tunes to potentially replace The Chain.

But nevertheless, it looks like Channel 4 and Whisper Films have no intention to break The Chain. I’m happy with the news considering that to some people, The Chain is Formula 1. The reaction on social media to the news has been extremely positive with Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok getting in on the act.

In the words of Channel 4: “Dum der der dum der der dum dum dum dummm…”

Update on February 13th – For reasons unknown, the @Channel4 Twitter account removed both tweets related to The Chain yesterday, but the tweet remains on @C4Press. The news is definitely true, as opposed to a rogue tweet. I suspect they wanted to announce it via @C4Press as opposed to @Channel4, but rolled with it initially when they saw the attention the @Channel4 tweets were getting.