Looking at MotoGP’s Video Pass

Normally, when I mention the need for a Formula 1 over-the-top service, the first comparison is with the WWE Network, which launched in 2014. But, there is a comparison that can be made with a service much closer to home. Enter the MotoGP Video Pass.

Pricing
For the 2016 season, fans in the UK have only had access to the premium option due to the television contract in place with BT Sport. The option costs €199.00 across the whole season, dropping pro rota as the season progresses. The remaining four races (Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Valencia) costs the customer €44.95, or £40.41. The standard pass costs €99.95, but is not available to UK readers.

With 18 races a season, this currently works out as:

  • Premium: €11.06 / £9.95
  • Standard: €5.55 / £4.99

Across the year, this works out as the following per month:

  • Premium: €16.58 / £14.91
  • Standard: €8.33 / £7.49

In comparison, the WWE Network costs £9.99 a month. Netflix ranges from £5.99 to £8.99 a month for their premium option. Amazon Prime at most costs £7.49. If anything, the MotoGP Video Pass is slightly on the expensive side considering the range of content that you receive with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. If anything, a third tier is perhaps needed for the MotoGP Video Pass: retain the high-end Premium pass, but drop the standard pass slightly and introduce an in-the-middle pass.

motogp-video-pass-four-way-screen
One feed, two screens, a three-way or four feeds open all at once: the MotoGP Video Pass leaves the customisation choice down to you.

However, there is a major problem with the MotoGP Video Pass. It is a one-off payment for the full season, not a monthly subscription. Not everyone wishes to pay ~£160 out in one go, and instead would prefer to pay it monthly with an option to cancel. The fact that there isn’t an option to do that is surprising. I imagine Amazon and Netflix’s subscription numbers would be lower if consumers were forced to pay the full amount out at the start of their contract instead of a rolling monthly payment.

It is also worth noting that the customisation is not available for the standard Video Pass, only the premium pass, which should not be a surprise when you see the respective prices. In any case, I’ve parted with £40.41 now for a premium subscription which will run out on November 14th. The main reason for this is so I can watch Motegi and Philip Island without the fear of walking into spoilers a few hours after the race has finished. Half way through the registration I’m reminded what is included: live and on demand coverage, six live feeds, audio mixer, classics and the extensive video library, amongst many more things. Sounds pretty good, time to dive in!

Layout and usability
It is astonishing how easy it is to get the UI of a website wrong by failing to follow basic standards. There are some basic principles to follow when designing a website from page layout to the colour scheme used. The interface needs to be reactive for all devices. The best phrase I’ve come across in this fora is KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. When someone has paid to access the Video Pass, in return they should get an interface that is neat, and does what they expect. Anything that falls short of the minimum standard, and the customer will be expecting a refund.

motogp-video-pass-navigation-strip

The MotoGP Video Pass is aesthetically pleasing from the get-go. There are seven drill down pages which can be accessed from the navigation bar:

  • Best of: This is the landing page, consisting of video content generated for this weekend’s race, but also historical content that has relevance on this day. For example, the landing page contains content related to Toni Elias’ win in the 2006 Portuguese MotoGP and the 1992 Japanese Grand Prix which was Dorna’s first MotoGP race.
  • Live: The live World Feed. At the time I’m writing this, the feed is not active, the next session due to start is in eight hours’ time for the Moto3 warm-up. Heading to this page also gives you a detailed history of the most recent sessions that have. happened, which may be useful if you had to dip out of something half way through.
  • 2016 Season: Video links to every single session from the 2016 season so far. This page contains a relatively spoiler-free screenshot of each section. But Dorna have appreciated that fans may want to just see a chronological listing of every session without any context, which is where the next tab comes in…
  • No Spoiler: A simple idea well executed. A no-frills, spoiler free page which lists every session going back to 2002. Want to watch the 2004 season without any context whatsoever? Not a problem. Each video page has a different layout depending on whether you wish to watch with or without spoilers.
  • Show: An in-depth look inside the world of MotoGP, from technology insights to off-track gossip.
  • Past Seasons: A mirror of the ‘2016 Season’ page, but instead for every season from 1992 to 2008.
  • All videos: Everything that has been uploaded to the MotoGP video vault.

It is a straightforward process, and everything is accessible within three or four clicks, as it should be. For example, to access the 2004 South African Grand Prix, it is a case of pressing ‘Past Seasons’ on the navigation bar, clicking ‘2004’, scrolling down to the foot of the page (it was race one) and pressing ‘MotoGP Race – Full session – betandwin.com Africas´s Grand Prix’. It is that simple, as it should be.

One element I’m struggling to see is a way to quickly watch and organise, for example, Marc Marquez’s classic races. Can I bookmark six races to watch later at a time convenient for me? The organisation is excellent and well thought through, but tailored ‘driver’ pages with all their best races in would be a nice addition. Anyway, the main reason I’m here is to watch the MotoGP qualifying session from Motegi. So let’s get to it.

The video interface
Remember that for every session from 2002 onwards, there are two entry points: a spoiler option and a no-spoiler option. With that, you’re presented with two different interfaces when you load up the video. The no-spoiler option takes you straight into the session.

MotoGP Video Pass - video window.png
The MotoGP Video Pass window ahead of the 2016 Japanese MotoGP qualifying session.

The spoiler option presents you with three different options:

  • Full Video: Identical as the no-spoiler option, except the spoiler interface contains bookmarks of all the key moments.
  • Condensed Video: Plays all of the pre-selected bookmark moments only.
  • Customize Session: Allows you to select which of the bookmarked moments to play in full.

The condensed versions are nice to have, but I couldn’t imagine using them if I was using the Video Pass in anger, simply because the condensed video clips are likely to have been uploaded to social media in a much quicker time frame. However, they may be useful if you’re watching a historical event and only want to watch the key battles for the lead.

The interface itself, and the customisation available is immense. Going from left to right:

  • Settings (toggle): Choose between low, 360p, 540p, 720p and Auto for video quality.
  • Updates: Session updates as you are watching. This was blank for me irrespective of which option I chose, so I think this is active only during the live World Feed.
  • Highlights: Switch to the key moments in the session. This is blank if you’ve chosen the no-spoiler option, but shows the bookmarks if you’ve chosen the spoiler options.
  • View: This is where the customisation really begins. Choose your choice of six possible multi-screen options. Once you’ve chosen your multi-screen option, drag in the cameras you wish to choose from the options available.
  • Cameras: Choose from the World Feed, four on-board options, live timing and live tracking.
  • Volume
  • Audio Configuration: If you want to watch MotoGP without commentary, this is the place for you. Mute the commentary, choosing the ambient sound only, or the on-board of your choice (assuming you’re watching the on-board feed in question)

In essence, if you wanted to watch the Japanese Grand Prix qualifying session from the perspectives of Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez, with the World Feed in the background without commentary, you can do that. The live stream might be different, but not once did the interface crash with the amount of tweaks I was performing to the layout on-screen.

My experience so far is excellent with the Video Pass. There are no glaring omissions as far as I can see, nor any usability mishaps. It highlights how far behind Formula 1 is with their online offering. The pass is everything a MotoGP fan would want, and perhaps a little bit more as well.

Japanese Grand Prix averages fewer than two million viewers

An average audience of fewer than two million viewers watched the Japanese Grand Prix across Channel 4 and Sky Sports yesterday, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Comparisons with previous years are slightly more complex as Sky’s live coverage was shared with the BBC from 2013 to 2015, whilst the time slot has also varied over the years.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast across Sky Sports 1 and F1, averaged 316k (14.8%) from 05:00 to 08:30. The dedicated channel averaged 277k (13.0%) with Sky Sports 1 adding a further 39k (1.8%). Last year’s Sky programme averaged 276k (10.9%), so there is a slight jump year-on-year. Sky’s F1 channel peaked with 522k, with Sky Sports 1 peaking with 90k, resulting a combined peak audience of around 600k.

Highlights on Channel 4 averaged 1.65m (17.2%) from 13:30 to 15:30. According to Channel 4’s press office on Twitter, the programme peaked with 2.2m and won the slot in the key demographics. Given the lack of sporting competition yesterday afternoon, this is a disappointing number, there was an opportunity to sweep up a few extra viewers with no Premier League competition which didn’t materialise. It is Channel 4’s second lowest number of the year, only ahead of Canada.

The Japanese Grand Prix has traditionally recorded poor numbers, although there have been exceptions along the way, notably 2011 and 2014. When the early season viewing figures for Australia and China came in, I feared that we would see a combined average audience of less than two million viewers at some point. The Japanese Grand recorded a combined average audience of just 1.97 million viewers, down 25.6 percent on last year’s average of 2.65 million viewers. The 2006 Italian Grand Prix was the last Formula 1 race to average under two million viewers.

Qualifying and some Hamilton analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 236k (7.4%) from 06:00 to 08:45 on Saturday morning across Sky Sports F1, 1 and Mix. Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.01m (12.9%) from 12:30 to 14:00. The combined audience of 1.24 million viewers is the lowest of the season so far.

Whilst there were a few battles during the Grand Prix itself, the battle that dominated attention was off the track: billed as Lewis Hamilton versus the media. I covered this briefly on Friday, but it continued to be a talking point as the weekend progressed. The trajectory of the viewing figures in recent years makes the next sentence abundantly clear.

With Jenson Button taking a sabbatical at the end of this year, if Hamilton chose to do the same thing, then Formula 1 in this country will turn into a minority sport quicker than anyone thinks or anticipates. How long Hamilton chooses to stick around will dictate the future trajectory of viewing figures. Hamilton’s replacement is not waiting in the wings like he was ten years ago.

The 2015 Japanese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Formula E sparks back to life with new graphics suite

The third season of the electric Formula E series made a splash with a new graphics set debuting at the Hong Kong ePrix.

The series has now decided to follow Formula 1 and MotoGP’s lead, amongst others, with its more simplistic and less stylish graphics set. Whilst their previous graphics set was a good starting point, it had two major problems: an overly complex speedometer which made that particular graphic difficult to decipher for a casual viewer, and the graphics set looked ‘blocky’ when watching in standard definition.

Their new graphics set solves both problem areas, but also retains many of the characteristics from their first iteration, such as battery power levels.

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Formula E’s new graphics set, launched at the 2016 Hong Kong ePrix.

I really like the new suite. Of course, there are things that could be improved going forward. As I’ve mentioned before, a ‘race off pit lane’ graphic is needed. It still feels like two separate races before and after the car swaps, which shouldn’t be the case. There’s work to be done on that front I feel, the new graphics need to convey the information better. The commentators rely on the TV graphics as well as the timing screens, so any changes to the TV graphics set to help the changeover will be beneficial going forward.

Also receiving a face lift for the season three opener was the championship’s signature titles, which now uses real footage from seasons one and two instead of pure CGI car footage. I’m a big fan of the titles, the closing shot into CGI and then the Formula E logo is cleverly done. “Let’s Stand Together” continues to be a winner for the closer (even if Channel 5 did cut this off, see below). Furthermore, the Segway starting sequence remained, with floating virtual graphics, a nice addition.

A new commentary duo is born
Out goes Jack Nicholls and in comes Martin Haven. ‘Axing’ is the wrong word, because Nicholls is committed to BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 coverage, so could not be part of Formula E’s team in Hong Kong or Marrakech next month. Going forward, expect to see the Haven and Dario Franchitti duo to continue, at least on a part-time basis.

Based on today’s evidence, Haven and Franchitti will live up to the Nicholls and Franchitti partnership from before it. Haven’s style is a natural fit for Formula E, and I’m glad that the combination of him and Franchitti appears to be working from the get-go, it is not always guaranteed that will be the case and requires commitment from both sides.

> In conversation with MotoGP commentator Steve Day

I’m pleased that Haven has got his big break as well. For years, as long as I can remember (at least 10 to 15 years, probably more), Haven has been commentating on a variety of events for Eurosport from single-seater to endurance racing. Most of these have been from off-tube in London instead of actually on-location, so it is great to see Haven lead the World Feed commentary for an international motor sport event. If Nicholls is unable to commit going forward, I hope Formula E stick with Haven and Franchitti instead of swapping and changing (where schedules allow).

Channel 5’s coverage gets off to a shaky start
The Hong Kong ePrix was Channel 5’s first live motor racing event since 2002, when the channel aired the MotoGP series. The main positive is that the race aired without interruption and that it was live free-to-air. In a parallel universe, Channel 5 could have passed on Formula E, leaving it on either BT Sport or Eurosport in front of an even lower audience. So I think we need to applaud Channel 5 for showing Formula E in the first place when the series failed to build any meaningful audience on ITV or ITV4.

As expected with no studio coverage, it was clear that Channel 5’s budget for Formula E was very low, if not approaching zero. The pre-race segments were nicely done given that it was the first race of the new contract, with a tailored cut-away to Nicki Shields to take into account the necessity of commercial breaks. The timing of the post-race ad-breaks however was the overwhelming negative, with the first break taken immediately as Sebastien Buemi won the race, no breathing space was given. The remaining breaks were clunky, with viewers missing a significant amount of post-race content along with the “Let’s Stand Together” closure.

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Clever or tacky? Formula E’s grid graphics for the segway grid walk, on display at the 2016 Hong Kong ePrix.

I don’t know whether this was deliberate or whether the producer had no motor sport experience (and therefore was simply doing as directed). But either way, it wasn’t great and is a lesson to learn for Marrakesh in my opinion. Channel 4 run their live F1 coverage without adverts for around 105 minutes whilst BT Sport regularly run MotoGP races without adverts so it can be done properly. An alternative solution would be for Channel 5 to run a longer post-race segment, staying on air longer, meaning that they can cover everything from the World Feed (i.e. from 08:30 to ~11:00 in Hong Kong).

Viewing figures better than season two
Live coverage of the Hong Kong ePrix was in-line with Channel 5’s Sunday slot average and some of Formula E’s best non-London numbers in the UK since season one. From 08:30 to 10:30, Formula E averaged 206k (3.3%). In the same slot for the past two weeks, children’s programming has averaged 228k (3.4%) and 215k (2.8%) respectively. When you consider that Formula E haemorrhaged viewers wherever it was placed on ITV or ITV4, these numbers should be considered good.

The Beijing race in 2015 averaged 88k (1.4%), peaking with 168k, so Channel 5’s coverage comfortably beats that number. It is down however on Formula E’s inaugural race in September 2014 which averaged a strong 266k (4.0%) live on ITV4. Spike’s replay yesterday averaged just 27k (0.4%) from 11:00 to 13:00, a poor number overall.

Channel 5’s audience started with 244k (4.8%) at 08:30, but quickly dropped to a low of 150k (2.6%) at 08:50 as the kids’ audience dispersed. Viewing figures picked back up to 258k (4.1%) at 09:05, reaching a peak of 294k (4.4%) at 09:25. Around 240k were watching when the race finished, with 122k (1.9%) sticking around until the end of the programme.

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Are FOM set to release driver briefing footage publicly going forward?

Footage from driver briefings will be released to TV stations for the first time from the Japanese Grand Prix onwards, it has been reported by Motorsport Total and Auto Motor Und Sport today (October 5th).

Previously, TV stations had never had access to the footage from the driver briefings, but Formula One Management are now planning to make this available widely to broadcasters. It is possibly the first small, but noticeable footprint that Liberty Media is making with Formula 1. Driver briefings have always been filmed, so that aspect is not changing.

As the Motorsport Total article references, driver briefings played a key part in the ‘Senna’ film, showing the various debates between Ayrton Senna and then FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre. Without that footage, the documentary would not have been as powerful as what it was. In my opinion, this is a positive move and opens the inner workings of Formula One out to the wider public which is exactly what Liberty Media want to do.

It should help showcase the personalities, however there is a caveat. In the past, drivers knew that footage would be kept ‘private’, out of the media spotlight. Now that the relationship appears to be changing, will the driver briefings become a watered down ‘fake’ TV version as a result? I hope not, otherwise it will simply become a glorified version of the drivers’ press conference.

I’m looking forward to seeing the footage, if it emerges this weekend, or if Japan turns out to be a trial for 2017 to gauge feedback from broadcasters and drivers. Will we see the whole briefing, or snippets? I’d be wary if we see snippets as clips can be manipulated to suit an agenda.

The death of the drivers’ press conference?
The pre-race weekend FIA press conference has been a thing for years, with six drivers facing questions from the media. This was never played out in the public spotlight on television, it was just the drivers and the media asking questions. If an interesting snippet was said, it would have got words in an article somewhere, but nothing beyond that. It was, and still is, a medium for the written ‘Fleet Street’ media to do their bit.

The relationship changed in the early 2010s. The emergence of Sky Sports F1 and pay-TV meant that there was a growing desire to cover just about everything related to Formula 1 from testing to the first moment a driver walked into the paddock onto the last activity on a Sunday evening. Sky started covering the press conferences in 2012. At first it was a nice to watch thing, but four and a half years on, it is just ‘there’. It is easy to see why it was never broadcast on television in the first place, its simply of very little interest to anyone outside of the paddock. Does it still fulfill its remit?

https://twitter.com/LewisHamilton/status/783993912557989888

Broadcasting the pre-event press conference on television exposes the fact that it is very dry and frankly dull as dishwater, or at least the F1 version is. This is really interesting for me, because I attended all the MotoGP press conferences when I went to the British MotoGP round last month. I can’t claim to religiously watch the MotoGP conferences. But, what I discovered is that the line of questioning felt more intelligent and the reactions felt more ‘human’. Is this an F1 problem, or is it a MotoGP problem as well?

So, should the press conferences be ditched, perhaps in favour of airing the Friday driver briefings (which would give media more juicier ‘lines’ to take) or Fan Forum events? Lewis Hamilton made his feelings clear on Friday in the press conference itself and on Twitter. Anyone who dismisses his tweets and Snapchats as being ‘disrespectful’ is frankly being naive and ignoring the problem that is staring at everyone in the face.

What Hamilton is, quite rightly saying, is that the FOM presser questions are the same week in, week out, which is a view echoed by many. Funnily enough, this problem may only get worse with the takover of AUTOSPORT from Motorsport.com (more on that in a separate piece soon possibly), reducing the number of journalists possibly in the paddock. If the questions journalists ask are dull, that in turn means the output is dull. That might not be the fault of the journalist – if the information and video content they themselves have access to is ‘dull’, then their questions may be dull. It is a vicious cycle.

It does show and prove the point that the output as a whole from a driver interaction standpoint needs to be reinvented, which is where the driver briefings and the like come in. Sky, the BBC and Channel 4 have done fantastic work on that front. Now, FOM need to step up the game.

Update on October 8th – No footage from yesterday’s briefing has yet appeared online. There was a discussion during Sky’s coverage of practice three regarding the driver briefings, Anthony Davidson noting that “most of the time it wouldn’t make for very good television.” It is clear that there have been discussions about the footage been released, just that FOM have decided not to release the footage just yet.

Record low audience tunes in to Malaysian Grand Prix

A record low audience watched Daniel Ricciardo win a memorable Malaysian Grand Prix across Channel 4 and Sky Sports this past weekend, overnight UK viewing figures show.

Race
Comparisons with previous years are slightly more uneven than usual due to the ever-changing time that the Sepang race occurs at in the UK, varying from a start time of 07:00 (2006 and 2008), 08:00 (2007, 2013, 2015 and 2016), 09:00 (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014) and 10:00 (2009). Nevertheless, a valid year-on-year comparison can be conducted, which unfortunately for both Channel 4 and Sky, does not look good.

Live coverage on Channel 4 averaged 1.30m (21.1%) from 07:00 to 10:45. The audience peaked with 2.11m (24.6%) as Ricciardo clinched a Red Bull one-two. Both metrics are down around 35 percent on BBC One’s audience of 2.03m (33.6%) and peak audience of 3.23m. I think Channel 4’s live number is as good as you expect. However, the re-run number of just 747k (4.8%), peaking with 1.00m (5.8%) at 18:30 is disappointing. I would have hoped for the re-run to grab a few more viewers, the race itself was excellent but that didn’t materialise into generating more repeat viewers later on. In hindsight, I think Channel 4 should have aired the re-run earlier so it didn’t clash with the early primetime line-up.

Over on Sky Sports, their live coverage simulcast across the dedicated Formula 1 channel and Mix averaged 382k (4.2%) from 07:00 to 10:30, significantly down on last year’s average audience of 473k (7.4%). It is one of the very few times that Sky’s average race day audience has slipped below 400k since they started covering the sport in 2012. Split out, Sky Sports F1 averaged 293k (2.9%), with Mix adding a further 89k (1.3%). Early morning time slot or not, that is a really low number and doesn’t bode well for Japan next weekend, which Sky will be airing exclusively live. Sky’s audience peaked with 625k (7.6%) at 09:15 as Lewis Hamilton retired from the race.

The race audience across Channel 4 and Sky climbed from 2.14m (36.1%) at 08:05 to 2.34m (33.6%) at 08:30. Numbers stabilised at around 2.3 million before picking back up to 2.46m (31.1%) at 09:00. The number continued to climb… until a Mercedes went bang. The combined live peak audience of 2.69m (32.8%) came at 09:15. Ten minutes later (i.e. after Hamilton retired), 2.57m (31.7%) people were watching, meaning that around 119,000 viewers tuned out. A much bigger proportion bailed out of Sky’s coverage at that point: 33,000 tuned out of Channel 4’s coverage, with 86,000 turning over from Sky F1 and Mix.

The combined audience of 2.43 million viewers is the lowest for the Malaysian Grand Prix on record, by a large margin. It is also slightly lower than the season average so far, and continues the dip in numbers that Formula 1 has experienced since the Summer break. The combined peak audience of 3.69 million viewers is also the lowest on record and below the season average. Malaysia has previously rated well, due to its favourable early slot in the calendar and the effect of bringing casual viewers in for the afternoon re-run.

Qualifying
As with the race, comparisons are uneven with qualifying varying from a start time of 06:00 (2006 and 2008), 07:00 (2007), 08:00 (2012 to 2014) 09:00 (2011, 2012 and 2015) and 10:00 (2009 and 2016). A later live time slot, plus the added benefit of a late-afternoon re-run should have helped viewing figures.

Live coverage of qualifying, broadcast on Channel 4 from 09:00 to 11:30, averaged just 811k (11.4%) peaking with 1.22m (15.7%) at 10:55. The number is down around half on BBC One’s 2014 and 2015 live qualifying numbers, a larger percentage drop than usual. BBC One’s Saturday morning line-up is usually Breakfast and Saturday Kitchen, meaning that when the F1 usually moved into that slot for early morning qualifying session, it mopped up a larger number of viewers than anticipated, which has helped the numbers across the years. Not that the above argument is any excuse – Channel 4’s live number is still poor.

Sky Sports F1’s live programme averaged 278k (3.9%), peaking with 488k (6.3%) at 10:55. Despite the better slot year-on-year, Sky’s numbers are down around a quarter on 2015’s average of 395k (5.5%) from 08:00 to 11:00. It is Sky’s lowest numbers for a Malaysia qualifying session on record. Later in the day, Channel 4’s replay averaged 658k (4.8%) from 16:30 to 18:30, peaking with 987k (6.5%).

The combined audience of 1.75 million viewers is the lowest for the Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying session since 2008. The audience for qualifying (excluding for 2013 which had a snow-uplift effect in the UK and an unusually high 2015) was down around 24.1 percent on the usual audience of around 2.3 million from 2009 onwards. The combined peak audience of 2.70 million is the lowest since 2009 but reasonably close to other numbers recorded, so the audience there is not too bad.

The 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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