F1 Esports Series Semi-Final to be streamed live online

Formula 1’s first major foray into the world of Esports is to be streamed live online across a variety of platforms.

The inaugural F1 Esports Series is at the Semi-Final stage, which takes place takes place on Tuesday 10th October from the Gfinity Arena in London. The event features 40 competitors vying for a chance to head to the grand finale.

Live coverage will air from 18:00 to 22:30 UK time across via the Formula 1 eSports website, Facebook Live and Twitch. Sky Sports are also covering the event live on their Formula 1 television channel and their free-to-air Mix channel.

The Semi-Final features a series of heat races around the Silverstone and Interlagos tracks. The 20 drivers who accrue the most points over these races will qualify for the F1 Esports Grand Final, which forms part of the build-up to the 2017 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 24/25. – official website quote

Jack Nicholls, who is a familiar voice to motor racing fans through his Formula E and BBC Radio 5 Live F1 work, will provide commentary alongside Formula Two commentator Davide Valsecchi.

There are a variety of stars involved in the presentation line-up, which is led by Gfinity host Tom Deacon. WTF1’s Matt Gallgher and Channel 4’s F1 expert Karun Chandhok will be analysing the action, with Alexandra Legouix the pit reporter for the event.

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F1’s digital strategy unfolds as conflict with TV model takes centre stage

ESPN are to broadcast Formula 1 in America from 2018, it has been confirmed today, ending NBC’s existing partnership.

The reasoning behind the split between Formula One Group and NBC is clear, based on a press release issued by NBC today. The broadcaster says, “Although we take great pride in having grown Formula One’s visibility and viewership since we became its exclusive U.S. media rights holder in 2013, this will be our last season with the series.”

“In this case, we chose not to enter into a new agreement in which the rights holder itself competes with us and our distribution partners. We wish the new owners of F1 well.” The key phrase “competes with us” is ominous. Not specific to NBC, but an example of this may be interpreted as Formula 1 uploading full classic races to YouTube.

Formula 1’s digital strategy, which encompasses social media and a new over-the-top platform, has consequences for the more traditional broadcast deals that Liberty Media wish to sign with the likes of NBC. Clearly, if a new over-the-top platform is to launch in territories such as America, new broadcast contracts must align with the new approach.

Clearly, higher-up decision makes in the NBC chain were unwilling to buy into a situation whereby F1’s own over-the-top network would be screening the same live broadcast as NBC’s product. I have referenced in the past WWE’s over-the-top Network. The wrestling franchise also airs on the USA Network in America. USA, is also part of the NBC stable of channels, so there is a parallel situation.

The key difference? WWE’s weekly flagship shows ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown’, which air live on USA, are not added to the WWE Network until a month after the traditional transmission date. A simulcast was not an option for NBC: it dilutes the value of their contract significantly. However, WWE also has special events every four weeks, such as ‘SummerSlam’ and ‘WrestleMania’ (outside of the NBC deal), which justifies the existence of the network.

A new F1 Network, without live racing action, is not a viable product. For the Formula One Group, live action on their over-the-top network is an absolute must. But, as outlined above with the WWE situation, it is not in NBC’s interests, hence why F1 is heading elsewhere as FOG were keen to retain the over-the-top rights.

ESPN’s coverage will air across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, marking the first time that Formula 1 has aired on their portfolio of channels since 1997. ABC will air the US and Mexican rounds of the championship live, with the Monaco Grand Prix on tape-delay. The remaining races will air on ESPN or ESPN2.

According to SportsBusiness Journal, ESPN are not paying Formula One Group a fee for the deal, and there will be no supplementary coverage on ESPN outside of the World Feed, even if the network are airing practice, qualifying and the race itself.

Whenever a split like this happens, I always ask the question about who needs who more. Does F1 need NBC more than NBC needs F1? Personally, I think so. Viewing figures for NBC’s programming were on the rise. If ESPN is only providing World Feed coverage without wrap-around, it is fundamentally a step backwards for Formula 1 state side, even if audience figures do increase as a result.

Elsewhere, last week it became official that Formula 1 was heading to pay-TV exclusively with immediate effect in Australia. Because of financial difficulties for Channel Ten, FOX Sports’ new rights kicked in from the Malaysian Grand Prix onwards.

The future for NBC’s F1 team
If we are to assume that ESPN’s American coverage does not have an on-air team, and instead takes commentary from elsewhere (such as Sky), it leaves several highly-rated figures in the motor racing broadcasting world currently without roles for the 2018 season.

Leigh Diffey is NBC’s lead Formula 1 commentator currently, with David Hobbs and Steve Matchett alongside him. The two figures relevant to UK readers because of their past are Jason Swales and Will Buxton.

Prior to joining NBC, Swales’ was BBC’s Radio 5 Live producer for their Formula 1 coverage, whilst Buxton was lead commentator for GP2 and GP3 before stepping down from the role at the end of 2014. Swales is NBC’s F1 producer, but also appears on-screen regularly as a double act alongside Buxton, who is NBC’s pit lane reporter.

Swales and Buxton are likely to be in high demand by other broadcasters covering motor racing given their experience and popularity with fans state side and in the UK. The problem that both have is that there are unlikely to be many vacancies for 2018.

A vacancy might appear if the BBC decide they are unhappy with Jack Nicholls only doing part-time duty as lead commentator for their 5 Live F1 coverage and look elsewhere, given his decision to commit to Formula E for their 2017-18 season.

A plausible opportunity for Swales might be to take up the role as Head of Sky Sports F1 following Martin Turner’s retirement. However, the latest on that from Charles Sale of the Daily Mail indicated that Matt Bishop, formerly of F1 Racing magazine and McLaren, may take up the post. Saying that, if Sky hired Bishop, he may decide to hire Swales and Buxton to the team.

The alternative is that the former NBC team ends up jumping to Formula One Group’s new over-the-top network, whichever format it ends up in. Whether we see a version of that for 2018, I do not know. But, clearly FOM are placing more emphasis on the overall World Feed product before and after the races, with Rosanna Tennant conducting the interviews.

If ESPN puts together a small team, they have personnel internally to hire from: the likes of Jennie Gow and Maurice Hamilton currently produce and record material for the ESPN website, so it will be intriguing to see where they fit into the wider picture.

There is a huge amount of talent around now, at the BBC, Channel 4, Sky Sports, NBC, and other broadcasters. I do worry slightly that, if Liberty’s strategy does alienate broadcasters, we might see a situation in some territories where the diverse opinions become replaced in favour of a standardised approach, at lower cost to those buying in.

Who knows what the future holds moving forward, but one thing is for certain: an over-the-top network is coming, and it might be sooner than we think…

Update on October 5th – ESPN have issued a statement exclusively to this site. “We will not air additional pre and post-race coverage on television. It’s been our experience that the overwhelming majority of motorsports viewers tune in for the race itself.”

“We want to attract new audiences for F1 by drawing ESPN fans from one program directly into race coverage. We will not have any ESPN announcers involved in the telecasts.”

Continuing their statement, ESPN note “The F1-produced world feed that we will use will have announcers (to be named). We feel that the television product produced by F1 is very good and will serve our viewers well.” ESPN’s statement certainly makes it a more realistic possibility that the over-the-top network for Formula 1 will launch next season.

Verstappen’s Malaysian victory peaks with 4.1 million viewers

A peak audience of 4.1 million viewers watched Max Verstappen claim a surprise victory in the final Malaysian Grand Prix, overnight UK viewing figures for the show.

Race
Live coverage of the race aired on Channel 4 from 07:00 to 10:40, and averaged 1.22m (18.7%), slightly down on last year’s programme average of 1.30m (21.1%) across the same time slot. The decrease in audience share is a result of the total TV audience building faster across the 09:00 and 10:00 clock hour compared to the same day last year.

Alongside Channel 4, Verstappen’s victory aired across three Sky Sports channels: F1, Main Event and Mix. An audience of 361k (5.6%) watched via the F1 channel from 07:00 to 10:30, with 98k (1.5%) and 31k (0.5%) watching via Main Event and Mix respectively. Sky’s combined average of 486k (7.5%), accounting for the shorter run-time on Sky Sports Mix, is an increase of 104,000 viewers on last year’s audience of 382k (4.2%).

Channel 4’s highlights programme performed well later in the day, averaging 941k (9.2%) from 13:30 to 16:10, an increase on last year’s figure of 747k (4.8%), last year’s programme airing much later in the afternoon. The combined audience of 2.64 million viewers is lower than both Italy and Singapore before it, but is a healthy increase of 9 percent on last year’s average of 2.43 million viewers.

The race itself started on Sunday morning with 1.94m (35.8%) at 08:00, growing throughout to a peak audience of 2.88m (33.2%) at 09:30. At the time of the peak, 2.15m (24.8%) were watching on Channel 4, with 730k (8.4%) watching via Sky’s three channels. However, Sky’s coverage peaked earlier in the race: at 08:45, an audience of 739k (10.0%) were watching their broadcast. The peak audience for the live broadcast is up on last year’s peak audience of 2.69m (32.8%)

A peak audience of 1.26m (11.6%) watched Channel 4’s highlights programme, resulting a combined peak audience of 4.15 million viewers, a strong peak to end Sepang’s stay on the Formula 1 calendar. The recent viewing figures have been positive for Formula 1, with increases at the last three rounds compared with 2016, a trend that will hopefully continue with the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend.

Qualifying
A similar number of viewers watched Lewis Hamilton’s pole position effort compared with 2016, audience figures show.

Live coverage of the session on Saturday morning aired across Channel 4, Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event. Channel 4’s broadcast averaged 782k (11.6%) from 08:55 to 11:45, slightly down on last year’s audience of 811k (11.4%) over a slightly shorter slot.

A combined average of 329k (4.8%) watched Sky’s programming, with 274k (4.1%) watching via the dedicated F1 channel and a further 59k (0.9%) tuning into the premier Main Event channel. The slight difference is because Main Event cut away from the F1 to football at 11:30, whereas the live show on the F1 channel ran until 11:40. Sky’s audience is up on last year’s figure of 278k (3.9%).

Later, an audience of 514k (6.8%) tuned into Channel 4’s highlights broadcast from 13:35 to 15:30, down in audience but up in share on last year’s number of 658k (4.8%). The combined audience, across live and highlights of 1.63 million viewers is a decrease year-on-year of around 100,000 viewers.

The live qualifying session peaked with 1.76m (24.7%) at 10:55 as Hamilton clinched pole position. At the time of the peak, the audience split 68:32, with 1.21m (16.9%) watching on Channel 4 and 555k (7.8%) watching via the pay-TV broadcaster.

Channel 4’s highlights programme peaked with 710k (9.2%), resulting in a cumulative combined peak audience of 2.47 million viewers, a drop of 226,000 viewers year-on-year.

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

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Scheduling: The 2017 Japanese Grand Prix

The eyes of the motor sport media will be on two places this weekend: Suzuka and Jerez, both circuits the site of Formula 1 championship deciders of years gone past.

Suzuka plays host to round 16 of the 2017 Formula One season. Whilst we will not see the champion crowned this weekend, the events of Sepang means that Lewis Hamilton now has one hand on his fourth championship. Meanwhile, in Jerez, rising star Charles Leclerc could claim the Formula Two title at some stage during the weekend.

Formula Two and the GP3 Series normally play support to Formula 1. This weekend, Formula Two is the lead category at Jerez, with GP3 Series and the Euroformula Championship (broadcast on BT Sport in the UK) supporting acts. I assume Alex Jacques will be on lead commentary as usual for Formula Two and GP3, but do not expect to see Davide Valsecchi alongside him as he will be with Sky Italia in Suzuka.

Channel 4’s coverage from Suzuka will not feature Lee McKenzie, who travelled back to the UK after the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
07/10 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying Highlights
08/10 – 15:00 to 17:15 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
06/10 – 01:45 to 03:50 – Practice 1
06/10 – 05:45 to 08:00 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
07/10 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Practice 3
07/10 – 06:00 to 08:40 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
08/10 – 04:30 to 09:15 – Race
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 05:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)

Supplementary Programming
04/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
05/10 – 07:00 to 07:30 – Driver Press Conference
05/10 – 21:15 to 21:30 – Paddock Uncut
06/10 – 08:00 to 08:50 – Team Press Conference
06/10 – 08:50 to 09:20 – The F1 Show
11/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
04/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
06/10 – 01:55 to 03:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06/10 – 05:55 to 07:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 03:55 to 05:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08/10 – 05:30 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Euroformula – Jerez (BT Sport/ESPN)
07/10 – 11:30 to 12:30 – Race 1
08/10 – 11:30 to 12:30 – Race 2

FIM CEV Repsol – Aragon (BT Sport/ESPN)
08/10 – 09:45 to 14:45 – Races

Formula Two – Jerez (Sky Sports F1)
06/10 – 14:30 to 15:00 – Qualifying
07/10 – 12:55 to 14:25 – Race 1
08/10 – 12:55 to 14:15 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Jerez (Sky Sports F1)
06/10 – 13:00 to 13:30 – Qualifying
07/10 – 09:55 to 10:55 – Race 1
08/10 – 09:55 to 10:45 – Race 2

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 2)
07/10 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

World Rally Championship – Spain
06/10 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 22:00 to 22:30 (BT Sport 1)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
07/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 3)
07/10 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 00:30 to 01:00 (BT Sport 1)
08/10 – 07:30 to 08:30 – Stage 2 (BT Sport 3)
08/10 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Power Stage (BT Sport 1)
08/10 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 01:30 to 02:00 (BT Sport 1)
09/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

As always, if anything does change, I will update this post.

Update on October 4th – In what can only be described as a fairly major coup, the reigning Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg will be joining the Sky Sports F1 line-up during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. Rosberg will be part of Sky’s output in the UK, Italy and Germany. This weekend, Anthony Davidson is also part of Sky’s line-up, so a really strong presentation team overall.

Update on October 5th – Further great news is that Louise Goodman is Lee McKenzie’s super sub on Channel 4 for this weekend.