The difficult decisions that lie ahead for Sky

The British Grand Prix marked the half way stage of the 2017 Formula One season, in a championship that is shaping up to be a classic between Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The race from the famous Silverstone circuit also heralded the ‘notional’ half way mark of Channel 4’s current Formula 1 contract. In just a year and a half, Sky Sports in the UK will have the exclusive television rights to Formula 1.

Whilst the change is significant in that Formula 1 will not air live on free-to-air terrestrial television for 2019, the change is also significant because it is the first time that a group of talent has ‘disappeared’ from the UK scene. Yes, ITV’s coverage finished at the end of 2008, but some of their talent headed to the BBC.

Behind the scenes, and in front of the camera, ITV’s television talent moved to the BBC to cover Formula 1. Louise Goodman and Steve Rider may have stayed with ITV to cover the British Touring Car Championship, but the likes of Martin Brundle, Ted Kravitz and assistant editor Steve Aldous moved from ITV to the BBC. There was a natural decision made, no one was axed by the BBC as it was a new talent line-up.

The same happened when Sky appeared on the scene in 2012: talent moved around, talent appeared, but no one vanished. In 2008, there was a total of nine on-air personnel with ITV and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nearly a decade later, and that figure has swelled to around 23 personnel, depending on who you wish to count. In recent years, Gary Anderson, and the BBC parted ways in 2014, with the two parties disagreeing on the future direction of the BBC’s technical output, whilst Georgie Thompson and Sky separated at the start of 2013.

The remaining separations on the UK front have been amicable: Jonathan Legard and the BBC at the end of 2010, Legard since continuing radio and television work with the broadcaster. Jim Rosenthal and Tony Jardine left ITV’s F1 coverage at the end of 2005, but again that was a natural separation having both been part of their coverage since the very beginning.

It is rare in the sporting area for television bosses to bring multiple people in at once at the expense of others. However, if Sky want to make a good impression on new viewers ready for 2019, and bring in the largest possible audience, is it in their best interests to make some tricky and difficult decisions over the next 18 months?

As it stands, talent such as Ben Edwards, Karun Chandhok and David Coulthard will have no Formula 1 television work from the 2019 season onwards, assuming no free-to-air terrestrial television highlights package is available to the large UK broadcasters. This expands to all the Whisper Films crew who are currently working on Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, who arguably deserve to still play a part in Formula 1’s post-2018 output.

Sky’s Formula 1 executive producer Martin Turner recently retired, and one might assume that the new executive producer, whoever they are, will want to start planning for 2019 early. The growing opinion amongst fans, including myself, is that Sky’s television team is becoming tired and dated, with very little change since 2012. There might be an opportunity to start the changes from 2018. It is difficult game of chess, while the current line-up goes about its race-by-race business, it should not be destabilised.

The combination of Ben Edwards and Martin Brundle is one that remains in the eyes of many fans, a ‘dream’ commentary line-up, one that for reasons unknown did not come to fruition in either 2002 when Murray Walker retired or 2009 when Formula 1 returned to the BBC. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for Sky not to bring over anyone from Channel 4’s on-air team over for the 2019 season, but I do not know how likely that is.

The bigger loss will be behind the camera. The majority of Channel 4’s team through Whisper Films, bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. Their portfolio of staff includes ex BBC and ITV staff who have worked on programmes such as Top Gear, whereas on the other hand Sky has been in efficiency saving mode in recent years. It is plausible that some of Channel 4’s F1 talent might move onto an over-the-top service through FOM, should that opportunity arise.

Sky Sports is possibly one of the best F1 broadcasters’ worldwide. However, even the greatest can go stale if they fail to reinvent themselves and their output on a regular basis to stay ahead. Sky’s F1 coverage is falling into this category and actions should be taken, including looking at the personalities involved in their coverage.

Sky can bridge the best of both worlds in 2019, by taking the best talent from both rosters, creating a ‘dream’ line-up. Do they upset the apple cart by creating a fresh new line-up, mixed with the old and the new, or will they stick by their current talent? We shall soon find out…


32 thoughts on “The difficult decisions that lie ahead for Sky

  1. I still can’t believe this is happening. Completely killed my interest when the deal was announced. I wonder what the free to air highlights will be like?

    1. You’re not an F1 fan then? You have at least 18 months of FTA viewing left, the deal was announced about a year ago, so you are saying that you have given up on F1 2 1/2 years before you had to!

  2. The only change I would make is Lee McKenzie for Natalie Pinkham. Crofty gets carried away but if controlled would still be better than Ben Edwards.
    The only C4 coverage I’ve seen was FP1 at Monaco, the start of that was shambolic so I don’t see what Whisper Films have to offer.

    It’s personal taste at the end of the day, Sky have a stable line up whereas C4 have a changeable one, it’s like comparing a well fitted suit to a hire suit.

    1. C4 coverage is brilliant and a real shame it is going. Maybe try to watch their qual and race weekend, it is much better then practice, which is expected on FTA

    2. Monaco was oddly shambolic in parts on C4. Maybe there were technical issues. It was not representative of their F1 output.

  3. In air talent is the least of our problem. I’d be fine with Basil Brush and Michael Portillo if it was on FTA

  4. Given the vast amount of money that Sky have I genuinely have never seen a reason to describe them as one of the worlds great F1 broadcasters. Their output has always been tabloidy trash- not the dedicated, in depth coverage I was led to believe a dedicated channel was aimed to deliver. The style follows very closely the set up established by the BBC when they took the coverage back in 2009, but without the depth of knowledge or warmth. On Presentation, well did they run out of money during the Hungary coverage? Every single year they use the whole build up show as a chance to show the half term report – something that could adequately fill the 4 weeks of no live coverage that will follow on their dedicated channel!

    On personnel- Lazenby is merely a link man… and genuinely doesn’t get it. I’m not saying Steve Jones is any better on C4… but at least he’s enthusiastic and allows his pundits space to ask the tough questions.

    In commentary, Sky will never dump Croft sadly, which is a shame. Ben Edwards has the knowledge and balance, but has lost the edge he had 10/15 years ago. Kravitz now looks bored and a little out of place, and the Sky pundits are getting more and more out of touch. Hill and Herbert are not a strong pair, they let Webber and Chandok slip through, Davidson hasnt pedalled an F1 car for over a decade and DiResta is just dull – but they will milk his Williams drive for all it is worth for the rest of the year! C4 have Webber – who I think would be much better in the comm box, but DC co-owns the company! They could do the show without Jordan and Wolf – but it doesn’t hurt to keep either of them. They have good contacts and some interesting views – and aren’t about that often really.

    Sky need to up their game significantly- and come up with an FTA highlights plan that isn’t on skySports Mix. They need to build an audience – or they will simply kill the audience. The days of races getting 7 million viewers (Brazil and Canada mostly due to prime time) are gone, sadly.

  5. Hi I would like to say about the sky f1 deal it is a shame that it will leave channel 4 in 2019 I live in ireland and don’t work I can’t afford sky no more and I love F1 why can’t they have a discount for people that are not working . I tried those smart boxes where you can get kodi and modbro but everytime I watch it either freeze or stop working so PLEASE CAN ANYONE DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT .

  6. The problem with your assessment that a whole load of talent will be lost in 2019 is that highlights WILL remain on free to air.

    It is in Sky’s interest to sell this package to one of the four main FTA broadcasters as this will help sustain interest in the sport and in turn give Sky subscribers.

    James Allen has analysed this extensively and said he believes a likely place for the highlights to end up will be ITV. Though it could easily be BBC or C4.

    Whether whoever gets it will continue to send presenters and pundits to every race is another matter.

    1. You’re assuming a free to air broadcaster will want to pay £20/30/40m for F1 highlights – which is not guaranteed.

      It’s not guaranteed that Sky will go down that route full stop.

      1. Channel 4 are currently paying £24m according to a well informed F1 journalist so your estimate of £20-£40m for a highlights only package would seem wide off the mark.

      2. Considering that the value of the F1 package is going up from 2019, you don’t think the value of a highlights only package would also increase in value?

  7. Sky are outdated, they had the on-air talent in 2012, but nobody on Sky is of any interest anymore. Even, Martin Brundle has lost his touch – but is still the best member of their team. Wisper should take over, and take their top men with them. The line-up should look something like this:
    Presenter: Jake Humphrey
    Main Pundit: David Coulthard
    4 Optional Pundits: Eddie Jordan, Mark Webber, Karun Chandhok & Jenson Button
    Tech Analysts: Mike Gascoigne & Ted Kravitz
    Reporter: Lee McKenzie
    Commentators: Martin Brundle & David Coulthard
    Extra Features: Marc Priestley & Murray Walker

    1. This is as close to a perfect line up as you can get.

      Telling that most of the useful people are on c4, sky just don’t get it

  8. Simon Lazenby has been less of an irritant lately. I do think he is finally getting it. But Sky is stale. I very rarely watch any of the build up now – personal circumstances have meant I have had to watch races recorded rather than live a lot this year. I did watch a lot of the Hungarian coverage and it was ok. It annoys me that there is little new content outside of a race weekend. What is there has been shown many times before. I would like a change in personnel, just to liven things up. I don’t mind Herbert or Hill. Brundle is ok. I still think Ben Edwards is the best motor sport commentator out there but Croft is reasonable. He makes a lot of mistakes, unchecked by Brundle often. It comes to something when me and the wife notice things on screen well before they get mentioned. The biggest annoyance for me is Paul Diresta. I can’t cope with his poor grammar.

    1. What I miss the most is that cosy feeling you got from the BBC coverage. I used to watch every second, and loved it. Now I too rarely watch pre race stuff and extras.

  9. One more thing, London Live showed just what a great talent Jake Humphrey was for F1. He absolutely adores the sport and it shows. That passion is what Sky are missing.

  10. Fantastic Article and in total agreement with everything you said! May I ask operationally whats going on with Sky and their content when it comes to repeats etc and who is responsible for that? For Instance I remember when if you missed it, you could re watch the full 5 hour broadcast on a Monday or Tuesday or failing that and preferably the same night for those of us like me that do not have Sky +. This does not exist anymore and I wonder why? Surely it doesnt come down to cost to re show a full broadcast hours later or even 24 hours later? Why is it cut down? Especially annoying is I missed the F2 sprint race on Sunday morning and was hopeful and relying on a up to even the last round at Silverstone there was and would be a repeat. To my Dismay and all of a sudden there was no repeat of a 1 hour GP2 race the same day or even the next day. Why? and yet they put on 5 year old tired Legends Of F1 episodes in place of the fresh new content. It makes no sense? Also whats with Staff rotation all of a sudden and not having them all on at once? Johnny Herbert was almost rueful when asked by a user on twitter why he was at Silverstone in Person yet at no point in the whole weekend made an appearance on the TV? None of this is life or death or really important, merely I’m just curious as to why these changes have been made quietly and what the logic is behind them? really bugs me for some reason.. I’d be really grateful if you could investigate if you dont know the reasons or provide an answer if you do! Many Thanks 🙂

  11. Personally found that as the years have gone by Brundle has grown more stale and his once incisive analysis has been replaced by dull, out of depth opinions (his recent tweets regarding Alonso proving so) It’s not a Sky thing as it became apparent when he moved from ITV to the BBC and their extension of coverage on the red button and online meant having to cater for more opinion as opposed to fact and insight which Sky have ramped up 1000 times.

    Sky in general seems to do a lot without really telling us anything. Attempts to reconstruct the on air casualness and team character that did so well for the BBC fails miserably on Sky. I can’t be the only one who cringes when Brundle and co refer to ‘Crofty’ and ‘Pinky’.

  12. “Sky has been in efficiency saving mode in recent years” Yes that is probably because F1 does not pay its way for Sky. The audience is too small,
    it costs too much to have Sky. We already pay for a licence in the UK and paying extra is not possible for much of the established and now ageing F1 tv audience who like me are pensioners.

    The cheapest way to watch on sky is via NowTv but they still do not get it! They offer single days or week passes only. Whereas what we need are three day passes, I will only pay for a NowTv pass if it were say Monaco or Spa or one of the better european races.
    After the Channel4 deal finishes that is it for me F1 is finished. I may still buy Joe Saward’s (plus the team) GP+ online magazine as it is so much more than a race report but as to watching races. It will finally be dead.

    Though of course there is that rumoured clause in the100 year agreement, that F1 must be broadcast on FTA. Bernie danced all round this for years claiming that the highlights fulfilled that clause but apparently he used to include a 15 second news item in the FTA viewing figures, (it is believed). Strange how very quiet it has been on this subject.

  13. I think what has really improved the coverage from the BBC and ITV days is Channel 4’s efforts to incorporate posts from Twitter, something that ITV4 have done for a long time with the BTCC.
    Anyway, it’s genuinely a shame for F1 fans that it is going to Sky exclusively. I think ITV may pay for highlights, though I don’t see the benefit for them really.

  14. I would bring in Ben Edwards as main commentator alongside Martin Brundle.

    Steve Jones- No
    DC- As a main pundit
    Webber- As a pundit
    McKenzie- Most likely to stay freelance
    Jordan- No
    Wolff- Possibly
    Chandhok- More likely Kravitz will stay in the role
    Jones- No

  15. Given how close Brundle & Coulthard are i’d be surprised if he doesn’t get brought over to Sky.

    However I really hope they keep him away from the commentary box as I hate his style of commentary, I hated it when he was alongside Brundle in 2011 (Always used the Croft/Davidson radio commentary instead via the red button that year) & I still hate him alongside Ben Edwards now.
    DC is so dull & monotone & hardly ever manages to get the excitement thats happening across, Just can’t stand him in that role. I think he works OK as a pundit, But in the commentary box, definitely not!

  16. Presenter: Steve Jones
    Main Pundits: DC & Brundle
    Other Pundits: Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Ant Davidson, Suzi Wolff, Damon Hill
    Tech Analysts: Ted Kravitz & Karun Chandock
    Reporter: Lee McKenzie
    Commentators: Ben Edwards & Martin Brundle

  17. If everyone hates the new sky deal post 2019, there should be an organised walkout, organised for say the Belgium GP, where no one tunes into the GP on sky. This could be posted all over twitter and Facebook, in protest to the new deal. Stop watching SKY! And they will stop buying it!

  18. May I reiterate what people are saying on here, Ben Edwards is up there as a top notch motorsport commentator. I know they are not in the same series, but I would put him up there with the ones on BTCC for ITV4. In fact, he did the BTCC commentary. I do love David and Tim, but somtimes I miss Ben doing the BTCC commentary.

  19. I can’t stand Ben Edwards or David Coulthard. Coulthard not knowing the safety car rules in 2011 really annoyed Brundle (“no, of course they can do that!”) and little me! I’d like to see them get James Allen back, and I wouldn’t mind an Allen-Brundle-Webber three-way commentary team if they can all squeeze in the commentary box.

    Eddie Jordan is now just becoming a parody of himself (“If [Hamilton and Rosberg] were driving for Jordan, I would have fired one of them [after Spain 2016]”) and even my mother really dislikes Steve Jones and Karun Chandhok.

    Presenter: depends how much free choice I have. Ideally, Steve Rider.
    Pundits: Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard, Martin Brundle, Mark Webber, (occasionally Eddie Jordan).
    Analyst: Anthony Davidson (I really like him!)
    Pit lane: Ted Kravitz
    Paddock reporter: Lee McKenzie
    Commentators: James Allen (if possible), Martin Brundle, Mark Webber.

    I actually really enjoy Sky’s build-up in the last 35-or-so minutes before the lights go out, it’s obviously low budget but it follows a formula and it works well. Kravitz in the pit lane throws to Crofty in the comm box who throws to Brundle’s grid walk who throws back to Lazenby and all of a sudden it’s 5 minutes until the parade lap.

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