Higgs happy with current BSB UK TV deal

A leading figure in the British Superbikes series believes that the championship currently has the right balance in terms of television coverage in the United Kingdom. The comments came from Stuart Higgs, who is the series’ director for the MCE British Superbikes championship.

Currently, the series airs exclusively live on Eurosport, with highlights broadcast on ITV4. Higgs believes that Eurosport’s presentation of the championship has improved since they first started exclusive coverage in 2008. “We joined Eurosport at a time when they were not taken very seriously, this was before Discovery took them over.”Their presentation standards have massively improved, at the start, the EPG, and the pictures that you were watching would not always match up! Now, they have some serious rights, the US Open tennis, the Olympics, and we are a big part of their platform.”

The most recently development has been with Eurosport’s over the top Player service, where exclusive BSB content has aired on the service since the Cadwell Park of the championship. “We’re very happy with the mix. The premium sports fan gets their fix on Eurosport with qualifying and the race. More of our races are now free-to-air on Quest, which is important for us, getting us back to the position that we were in 2007 [when ITV stopped covering the series live].”

“To have live free-to-air, live premium sport, and tight highlights on a premium-brand free-to-air channel on ITV4, it’s on balance stronger than just being on BT. BT’s presentation values are excellent, but we would be pigeon-holed below MotoGP.”

Higgs appreciates that there is a major challenge for the championship, and other series, when the next round of television rights begin in 2021, with the media landscape radically changing. “The new and emerging sports fans of 2021 are 13 to 15 years old at the moment. I’ve got a twelve-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t watch television, not interested. She’s busy watching things on YouTube or talking on social media. The critical thing for all sports is how to engage and make your product more engaging, more understanding.”

“Television is the most important visibility platform that we have and it will be for the foreseeable future. Integration between social media and other delivery platforms is the challenge. Some sports are massively advanced in that area, you’re seeing live sport appear in weird places like Twitter or Facebook. There is an expectation now from people that you click on something, and you see it, which conflicts with the pay-TV model where you pay to view it. The whole monetisation of sport, content, and broadcasting, I don’t believe anyone has the right answer. There’s a number of theories, and you’ve just got to see what works for your audience.”

> Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the monitor wall
> Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the key roles and responsibilities

According to overnight viewing figures supplied by overnights.tv, highlights of the British Superbikes series on ITV4 have averaged 155k (0.8%) in a Wednesday evening slot this season up until and including August, peaking with around 200,000 viewers. Live coverage of race day across Eurosport and Quest has averaged 98k (1.0%), peaking with 182,000 viewers.

Is BTCC’s live ITV4 programming in need of a refresh?
Higgs also commented on the British Touring Car Championship, which follows a similar schedule to the British Superbikes series. Higgs believes that the BTCC programming on ITV4 needs a refresh.

Since relinquishing Formula 1 at the end of 2008, the touring car series has aired live on Sundays on ITV4 for around seven hours from 11:00 to 18:00. The marathon broadcast contains live coverage of all three BTCC races, with live coverage of the support series’, including the Ginetta Juniors and the Porsche Carrera Cup.

But Higgs claims that this style of broadcast outdated. “It’s not a bad show when it comes to the racing, but their programme is like watching paint dry,” Higgs says. “You’ve got to inject some excitement and personality into it. Being live for seven hours on a free-to-air channel I don’t think works any more.” British Eurosport’s BSB programme is typically presented by Matt Roberts, James Whitham and James Haydon, whereas ITV4’s BTCC coverage is fronted by Steve Rider, Louise Goodman and Paul O’Neil.

An alternative approach suggested by Higgs is a short live programme, with both race one and two of the day airing on tape-delay. “They’d be better off by doing a tight edit of race one and race two, then coming live for race three, with a big build-up and big audience. In this day and age, people’s lifestyles have changed. Not many people have the luxury of staying in on a Sunday afternoon for seven hours, your wife will be nagging you, the kids will be bored,” claims Higgs.

Viewing figures for the British Touring Car Championship dipped to a low of 154k (1.7%) in 2016 live on ITV4. However, audiences have rebounded so far this year, bringing in an average of 200k (2.2%), peaking with 370,000 viewers per race.


News round-up: Harris to hang up his microphone; F1 heading back to FTA in France

In the news round-up, fans of MotoGP will hear a slightly different tone to broadcasting from 2018 onwards, whilst Formula 1 is making a return to free-to-air television in a key territory.

Formula 1 returning to free-to-air television in France
The return of the French Grand Prix in 2018 is not the only good news for Formula 1 fans in France. Earlier this month, it emerged that the sport would also be returning to free-to-air television, in the first major deal signed by the F1 Group under Liberty Media’s ownership.

For the past few years, Formula 1 has stagnated in France with the sport hidden behind a pay-wall, exclusively on Canal+. Now, Liberty have signed a deal with free-to-air broadcaster TF1 for three years from 2018. TF1 will air four Grand Prix live, including Monaco and the home race at Paul Ricard, with all other rounds covered in highlights form.

Some outlets interpreted the deal as a new direction for Formula 1. Not quite. Article L333-9 of the French Sporting Code states that “sporting events of major importance shall be retransmitted under the conditions laid down in Articles 20-2 and 20-3 of Law No 86-1067 of 30 September 1986 on freedom of communication.”

And Article 20-2, referenced above, explicitly says “Events of major importance can not be retransmitted exclusively in a way that deprives a significant portion of the public of the possibility of following them live or delayed on a free-to-air television service.” In other words, there was an obligation for the F1 Group under French law to offer the French Grand Prix to a free-to-air broadcaster, it was not by choice.

The other three races and the remaining highlights were by choice, although Liberty might have been in a weaker position here if TF1, or any other broadcaster, were unwilling to play the French Grand Prix without any other races alongside it. Either way, the narrative painted by the mainstream media has missed a significant fact.

However, the deal signed by the F1 Group and TF1 does align with quotes from F1’s Managing Director for Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches earlier this year, who suggested a 30-70 relationship where free-to-air and pay-TV were concerned.

Harris to retire from MotoGP duties at end of the season
The big broadcasting news from the Aragon MotoGP weekend is that their World Feed commentator Nick Harris will retire at the end of the year. Harris has been in and out of paddocks, pit lanes and various other fora for 36 years. The paddock came together on the Thursday prior to Aragon to celebrate Harris’ career at the Alpinestars motor home.

I have not spoken to Harris during my stints in the MotoGP paddock, however Harris seems respected and liked by just about anyone you speak to within the paddock. 36 years is an astounding career, I imagine he has many stories to tell post retirement, whatever the future may hold for him!

Harris currently commentates on MotoGP alongside Matt Birt and Dylan Gray in pit lane, with Steve Day leading on Moto2 and Moto3. I imagine Day will lead on MotoGP commentary as well from 2018, unless Dorna bring in someone from the outside to take on Harris’ duties.

Carrasco’s win generates headlines
Elsewhere on the motor cycling front, Ana Carrasco helped generate significant headlines for the Supersport 300 Championship, a feeder series to the Superbikes World Championship. Last weekend’s Supersport 300 race at Portimao saw Carrasco’s maiden victory at world motorcycle level, the first woman to achieve that feat.

Outlets in the United Kingdom and abroad reported on Carrasco’s victory. In the UK, The Guardian and the BBC reported Carrasco’s achievement, whilst aboard, outlets such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone covered her achievement.

Scheduling: The 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix

The 2017 Formula One season heads into its last third, with the final running of the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Sepang circuit has been a fixture on the calendar since 1999, initially in an October slot, before moving to March in 2001. Last year, the race returned to an October slot, but that was not enough to save Malaysia from the axe as attendances have dropped in recent years.

The final Malaysian round will air live on both Channel 4 and Sky Sports. Mark Webber and Susie Wolff are alongside Channel 4’s usual line-up fronted by Steve Jones and David Coulthard. Over on Sky, Rachel Brookes remains on the sidelines due to knee injury, Brookes out of both the Malaysia and Japanese Grand Prix next weekend. Sky’s coverage is simulcast across both Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Mix at various points during the weekend.

Elsewhere, this weekend marks the end of the British Touring Car Championship season, its final round taking place at Brands Hatch.

Channel 4 F1
29/09 – 03:40 to 05:40 – Practice 1
29/09 – 07:55 to 09:35 – Practice 2
30/09 – 06:55 to 08:25 – Practice 3
30/09 – 08:55 to 11:45 – Qualifying
30/09 – 13:30 to 15:30 – Qualifying Replay
01/10 – 07:00 to 10:45 – Race
=> 07:00 – Build–Up
=> 07:35 – Race
=> 10:00 – Reaction
01/10 – 13:30 to 16:15 – Race Replay

Supplementary Programming
30/09 – 08:25 to 08:55 – F1 Meets… Nigel Mansell

Sky Sports F1
29/09 – 03:45 to 05:45 – Practice 1
29/09 – 07:45 to 10:00 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/09 – 06:45 to 08:10 – Practice 3
30/09 – 09:00 to 11:40 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
01/10 – 06:30 to 11:15 – Race
=> 06:30 – Track Parade
=> 07:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 07:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event and Mix)
=> 10:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports Mix)

Supplementary Programming
27/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
28/09 – 08:00 to 08:30 – Driver Press Conference
28/09 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
29/09 – 10:30 to 11:15 – Team Press Conference
29/09 – 11:15 to 11:45 – The F1 Show

BBC Radio F1
28/09 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
29/09 – 03:55 to 05:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/09 – 07:55 to 09:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/09 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/09 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
01/10 – 07:30 to 10:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

British Superbikes – Assen
30/09 – 14:30 to 17:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
01/10 – 11:15 to 12:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
01/10 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
04/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

British Touring Car Championship – Brands Hatch (ITV4)
01/10 – 10:30 to 18:35 – Races

Euroformula – Monza (BT Sport/ESPN)
30/09 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1
01/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2

International GT Open – Monza (BT Sport/ESPN)
30/09 – 15:00 to 16:30 – Race 1
01/10 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race 2

World Superbikes – Magny Cours
30/09 – 09:15 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
01/10 – 10:00 to 11:15 – Support Races (Eurosport 2)
01/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
03/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Rallycross Championship – Germany (Motorsport.tv)
01/10 – 13:00 to 15:05 – Race

As always, the above schedule will be updated if anything changes.

Full-length classic F1 action heading to YouTube

For the first time ever, Formula 1 will upload a classic race to YouTube in full, in Liberty Media’s latest move to bolster the series’ social media presence.

To mark the nineteenth and final Malaysian Grand Prix, fans are being asked via the official Formula 1 website for their favourite Sepang race. Voting is open on both the website and Twitter, with 2001, 2003 and 2012 the three choices.

In a sign that Formula One Management (FOM) are testing the waters at this stage, a caveat is that the classic race will only be available for fans to watch for 19 days. Formula 1 follows in the footsteps of the IndyCar Series and MotoGP who have uploaded full-length races to social media for several years.

For UK fans, it is the first time that full-length races have appeared legally on a platform such as YouTube. From 2009 to 2011, the BBC uploaded a selection of their ‘Grand Prix’ highlights shows from 1982 to 1996 onto their website, again based on fan voting, with shorter edits for ITV races from 1997 onwards.

Since 2013, Sky Sports F1 have aired classic races during the season primarily in a 21:00 time slot, but the last classic race ‘new’ to the channel aired two years ago, with the same races on rotation since. Races after 1996 are covered in full, with the races from the original BBC era covered in highlights form. Of course, whilst the classic races help fill a lot of air-time for the channel, the audience for races behind a pay wall in that timeslot are minuscule.

There are two points of interest with the upload, depending on the chosen race: the feed and commentary used. For 2003 and 2012, the answer is simple, the UK commentary with the World Feed. In the case of the former, James Allen and Martin Brundle will be the voices fans hear, with David Croft and Brundle expected for the latter.

However, in 2001, FOM had two feeds: the F1 Digital feed and the local World Feed, which most viewers saw. In terms of commentary, there are three options: the ITV commentary with Murray Walker and Martin Brundle, a re-dubbed version of the race, or just the raw sounds. I hope we hear the ITV commentary, but that may be complicated if FOM want to use the F1 Digital feed, as the pictures will not match the commentary. Either FOM could splice the pictures together to create a hybrid feed, or re-dub the commentary.

From a strategy perspective, uploading a complete classic race to YouTube is a significant step from Liberty Media, as they continue to exploit Formula 1 on social media. There is no doubt that FOM will be chewing over the YouTube numbers as demand (or lack thereof) will dictate whether we see more of this content. Broadcasters’ such as Sky will have approved the latest change from FOM.

If numbers are strong, but those viewers are on average watching an hour of the race, truncated versions may appear in the future. It also helps Liberty plan their future over-the-top platform. Is there genuine demand for full classic races, or is the demand exaggerated in certain quarters? The viewing figures are key for FOM in many respects.

Formula 1 conducts successful live 360º video trial
Elsewhere, on the Formula 1 spectrum, a successful live 360º video experience was conducted during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend.

Historically for sport, the latency between 360º video and the television feed has been greater than 30 seconds. However, the prototype from Tata Communications and FOM during Singapore has reduced the latency to zero, with the 360º pictures completely in sync with the other feeds, something that the official F1 website is promoting as a world first in any sport.

Two 360-degree cameras were present during the race weekend, one in the paddock and one situated track side. The new development could allow fans to follow the action live in the future via 360º feeds on an over-the-top platform.

“In a sport like F1 where every millisecond matters, there are huge opportunities to empower fans to take control of key Grand Prix moments and create their unique, personalised race experiences through the powerful combination of live TV and 360º video,” said John Morrison, Chief Technical Officer, Formula 1.

“We want to unleash the full potential the F1 fan experience through the latest digital technologies,” said Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations, Formula 1. “Through this proof of concept, we’ve explored how live 360º video, and next VR, could transport fans from across the globe to the middle of the thrilling world of F1 and enable them to immerse themselves in each Grand Prix like never before.”

Nearly four million viewers watch Hamilton take control

A peak audience of nearly four million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton’s victory in a dramatic Singapore Grand Prix, overnight UK viewing figures show.

Channel 4’s live build-up coverage, followed by the race itself, averaged 2.29m (22.1%) from 12:00 to 15:30. Thanks to the long race length inflating the average, it is marginally the broadcasters’ highest average of the year, just ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from June, and their highest average since last year’s Mexican Grand Prix.

Because of the early drama, Sky extended their race show until 15:50 before switching to Paddock Live until 16:30. Sky’s coverage across the dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports Mix averaged 723k (7.0%), their highest audience for Singapore since 2014. The audience was split 585k (5.6%) versus 139k (1.4%) in the F1 channel’s favour, or 81:19.

The combined average audience of 3.01 million viewers is amazingly identical to the last round of the championship in Italy! Compared with 2016, the audience is up by a massive 625,000 viewers, the largest year-on-year rise of the season so far. Furthermore, the 2017 average is not too far away from the 2015 number of 3.45 million viewers, although the 2015 race faced tougher competition from the Rugby World Cup.

An audience of 3.91m (38.5%) watched Ferrari’s Marina Bay meltdown, otherwise known as the race start, at 13:05. Sky’s audience peaked at this stage, with an audience of 1.06m (10.5%) watching the start via their two outlets. Only in two other five-minute segments did their audience increase beyond a million viewers, at 13:20 (just before Arsenal versus Chelsea) and 14:25 (during half-time of said game).

The combined Sky and Channel 4 audience dropped to around 3.6 million to 3.7 million viewers, dipping to a low of 3.55m (32.7%) at 13:50. The audience pattern followed the football, rising during half-time and dropping again afterwards, eventually peaking with 3.97 million viewers (35.9%) as Lewis Hamilton won the Grand Prix. At the time of the combined peak, 3.03m (27.4%) were watching on Channel 4, with 942k (8.5%) watching via Sky, a split of 76:24.

The gap between the average and peak is not as large as other live races, simply because the audience did not grow throughout the race like other live races have done previously, instead it simply flat lined as the outcome was largely known as soon as the first corner accident occurred. It is the worst trajectory we have seen for a F1 race on free-to-air television since last year’s Spanish Grand Prix. The conclusion: start-line accidents at the front not only wipes out leading drivers, but it also takes out some of the casual audience as well.

Qualifying and Speed with Guy Martin
Live coverage of qualifying aired on Channel 4 from 12:55 to 15:45 to an audience of 1.16m (13.8%). Sky Sports F1’s programme added a further 294k (3.5%) from 13:00 to 15:45, bringing in a combined average audience of 1.45 million viewers. The average audience is down around 150,000 viewers year-on-year, and the lowest on record for a Singapore qualifying session.

The qualifying session peaked with 2.20 million viewers (24.8%) at 14:55 as Sebastian Vettel clinched pole position. At the time of the peak, 1.74m (19.6%) were watching on Channel 4, with the remaining 460k (5.2%) watching via Sky, a split of 79:21. Sky’s programme did peak five minutes earlier, with a slightly higher 469k (5.3%). The combined peak audience of in-line with last year’s peak audience of 2.21 million viewers.

Guy Martin’s second Formula 1 documentary did not draw as many viewers as his first one did last year, but still performed solidly for Channel 4. The documentary, focussing on his role with the Williams team during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, averaged 2.12m (10.4%) from 20:00 on Sunday evening, a good number for the broadcaster in that timeslot.

The 2016 Singapore Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.