Looking ahead to 2018

Heading into 2018, there are several stories which promise to keep bubbling away during the next twelve months, some of which have significant relevance to UK readers.

new look Formula 1 will greet fans at the start of the 2018 season, both on and off the track. On track, we say hello to the Halo. Will the introduction of the cockpit protection system cause a ratings drop worldwide for F1, or will audiences continue to be enticed by the machinery on offer?

Off the track, F1 unveiled its new branding at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will be rolled out across all forms of media at the start of 2018. How will fans react to the new visual on-screen look? Friendly, more playful is the intention, we wait to see if fans like what they see come Melbourne, if not earlier.

Also, Formula 1’s new over-the-top services are highly anticipated, which should launch in a number of countries. Sean Bratches publicly confirmed the service during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but early 2018 will see firm details unveiled, such as pricing and content. Will an entry level tariff allow F1 to reach new fans and markets? Will the platform make a noise to start with if the initial user base with access is low?

With an over-the-top network comes personnel. Will Formula One Management poach personnel from their existing broadcasters’, or bring new pundits into the sport? Will we see the likes of Will Buxton and Jason Swales (both part of NBC’s former F1 line-up) play a part?

In the UK, as readers are aware, Sky Sports hold exclusive television rights from 2019 to 2024, marking a significant shift in the market. However, is there appetite from them to sublet a highlights-only package to a free-to-air station, allowing Formula 1 to continue to reach the masses? As it stands, 2018 will be Channel 4’s third and last season covering Formula 1.

We should also in the first half of 2018 find out which UK broadcaster will air MotoGP from 2019 onwards. BT Sport’s contract expires at the end of 2018. They are expected to retain the rights, but it is not a nailed on certainty, and Eurosport could still steal back the premier motorcycling sport.

So many questions unanswered as we head into 2018. If you love your broadcasting news, do not change the channel…


Rosberg highlights strong end to 2017 for Sky’s F1 coverage

Gone are the days of Sky being the new kids on the block. 2017 marked Sky Sports’ sixth season covering Formula 1. Simon Lazenby again led the presentation team, alongside the likes of David Croft, Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle, a situation that has remained status quo since 2012. But, has Sky’s coverage improved since their early years?

Regular readers of this site will know that I have been critical of Sky’s Formula 1 coverage historically past from time to time. Like everything in life, you have your difficult periods, the times where you need to regroup and refocus. Sky launched their F1 channel at the beginning of 2012, but efficiency savings have restricted what the channel can offer in recent years. Sky axed the studio editions of The F1 Show, whilst F1 Legends is currently on a hiatus.

The savings inevitably have had a downstream effect on the weekend product that Sky’s F1 team could offer to viewers. However, the latter half of 2017 saw a notable uptick in the quality of Sky’s broadcasts, with emphasis on taking viewers behind the scenes, with a fresher punditry line-up complimenting their coverage.

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The reasons for the quality increase are likely two-fold. As noted recently, there have been changes at the top of the Sky F1 hierarchy, with their Executive Producer Martin Turner retiring. In situations like this, new creative talent rises to the top and fresh ideas generally come to the forefront, which may be the case here. That is not to dismiss the excellent work that happened previously, merely to acknowledge that changes at a senior level influences those further down the food chain.

In addition, Liberty Media’s takeover of Formula 1 may have loosened the red tape where broadcasters are concerned. It is unusual that, in year six of Sky’s coverage, a burst of creativity emerged. The impact of Liberty’s takeover means that broadcasters can be more creative in their overall output, and the viewer wins as a result.

Following the Summer break, Sky teamed up with Sauber, filming their every move from Spa Francorchamps to Monza between the Belgium and Italian races. The aim was to show how Formula 1’s teams transport equipment between races. Billed as ‘The Race Between Races’, a short VT aired during Sky’s weekend output, whilst a feature-length 30-minute episode aired prior to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

But that was not all from Sky: they also went behind the scenes with the FIA Medical Team in Singapore, inside the FIA stewards room in Japan, and then dived into the Formula One Management (FOM) production truck during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend. It felt as if someone had given Sky the magic keys, and they took advantage immediately.

Yet, the problem with some of their features is the “so what?” test, otherwise known as the memorability test. Sky’s pieces varied in quality: the Sauber segment and the medical team piece both hit the mark. The latter deserves more than a few words, because it is an element rarely covered by broadcasters. Sky righted this wrong, with a brilliant piece of television that made you fully appreciate the job that the medical team performs week in, week out.

In comparison, the stewards room and the FOM production truck pieces were not as memorable, and felt rushed in comparison. A few years ago, Formula E uploaded a fantastic piece to their YouTube channel showing how a TV recce works. At eight minutes in length, an equivalent F1 piece might not be appropriate as one cut in a television broadcast, but it would work split across two different shows, something Sky should have considered doing with the production truck piece.

The Sauber piece stands out alongside Guy Martin’s Pit Stop Challenge in terms of quality. Martin’s documentary, which aired on Channel 4, was enough to breathe outside the of the confines of the usual race day coverage. A lesson for Sky is that their pieces should go into ample detail, and not scrape over the surface to fit a given time limit. The BBC used to do this on occasion, with Top Gear style pieces, but it is something that we have lost somewhat with F1 now on commercial television.

Rosberg’s punditry allows for new perspective
Sky’s coverage took on a new element during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend when 2016 Drivers’ Champion Nico Rosberg appeared as a pundit during their qualifying and race day programming.

When Sky first announced this, I was worried that the hype would be unfulfilled, with only short appearances on-screen. As it turned out, Rosberg went the extra mile than what you may expect, appearing as a fully fledged member of Sky’s line-up alongside Lazenby, Brundle and Anthony Davidson. Japan was arguably Sky’s strongest team of 2017 as a result, and Rosberg’s contributions did not disappoint.

A bit of variety never hurts broadcasting, and that was the case here. Rosberg was keen to give his expertise and opinion on current events, whilst also reflecting on his own title challenges prior to last season. His rapport with the current Formula 1 line-up was evident throughout the weekend live interviews, notably with Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, only strengthening Sky’s coverage more.

My only minor criticism is that Sky did not manage to get Rosberg behind the scenes in the Mercedes garage, maybe interviewing one or two of the people who Rosberg worked with during this time there. As much as I would like to see Rosberg return, RTL have snapped him up instead for 2018, which is unfortunate from a UK broadcasting perspective, but brilliant for RTL and the German audience.

Pat Symonds was also a fresh face with Sky for 2017, appearing sporadically throughout the season. Fresh off his stint with Williams as technical director, Symonds helped strengthen Sky’s output throughout the year. Symonds assisted with Sky Pad analysis alongside Ted Kravitz, ensuring that Sky was the place to be for technical coverage.

One person who was not with Sky as much as in previous years was Johnny Herbert. Eagle eyed readers will have spotted him working with FOM, both during the race build-up and around their Esports output towards the end of 2017. Unconfirmed, but Herbert may well end up with FOM a little bit more than just ‘occasionally’ in 2018.

Overall, I think Sky have made encouraging strides in the latter half of 2017, with new voices appearing, and exposing areas previously hidden. But, some areas remain formulaic (such as the usage of ‘Coming Up’ trailers), and need to change for 2018. Nevertheless, I am hopeful the wave of creativity from Sky continues into 2018. If there was ever a year to try to hook new viewers into their broadcasts, 2018 is the year….

The top 10 posts of 2017

New beginnings, and the end of an era in at least one respect, 2017 had both. #AlonsoRunsIndy caused a major traffic spike for The F1 Broadcasting Blog in April and May, with record numbers reading about the Indianapolis 500. Elsewhere, it was also the end for two legendary MotoGP commentators. Here is what you read most out of the content published during 2017.

10. BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP – August 29th
One of the key broadcasting stories that is likely to conclude early in 2018 is the destination of MotoGP’s live television coverage from 2019 onwards. This writer spoke to Dorna during the 2017 British MotoGP weekend, and with it found out that BT Sport are likely to retain MotoGP beyond 2018.

9. UK – Alonso’s Indy 500 exploit peaks with 203,000 viewers – May 29th
Fernando Alonso’s participation in the Indianapolis 500 was a huge driver for a large portion of readers visiting this site during May. His stint in the famous race provided BT Sport with a major boost, increasing their Indianapolis 500 audience year-on-year by 975 percent!

8. Channel 5 to continue World Rally Championship coverage in 2017 – January 12th
Remaining on four-wheels of a different kind, it emerged straight after the Winter break that the World Rally Championship will remain on Channel 5. MotoGP would soon join the series on Channel 5…

7. ITV and MotoGP part company ahead of 2017 season – February 16th
…after they parted company with ITV, who had been covering highlights since 2014. The move came as a surprise given that MotoGP was an easy schedule filler for ITV4 and was rating reasonably well for the broadcaster in that slot.

6. Liberty Media helps bring F1 social media strategy on-track – August 20th
Amazingly, the only Formula 1 article to make the top ten. Relatively speaking, there have been no major news for UK fans from Liberty Media. The piece that did make the top ten surrounded Formula 1’s social media strategy, with an increased following because of the additional resources poured into the platforms.

5. Channel 5 secures MotoGP highlights package – March 15th
The parting of ways between ITV Sport and MotoGP prompted some chatter around whether Channel 4, Channel 5, or even the BBC would swoop in for the MotoGP highlights package. In the end, it was Channel 5 that secured the deal, announced shortly before the season opener in Qatar.

4. Scheduling: The 2017 Indianapolis 500 – May 17th
I posted the finalised Indianapolis 500 schedule on this site half way through May. Disappointingly though, no free-to-air broadcasters aired the event, which had significantly more attention than usual this year due to Alonso’s appearance. And, this is not Indy’s last appearance in the top ten either…

3. Discovery threatens to pull channels, including Eurosport, from Sky platform – January 25th
A spat between Discovery and Sky started off 2017, and escalated rapidly with Discovery threatening to remove their channels from Sky’s platform. The movement gained traction on social media, but in the end the two sides agreed a deal, ensuring Eurosport remained on Sky.

2. Julian Ryder to bow out of MotoGP commentary role following 2017 season – November 9th
One of the lessons of covering this site is to expect the unexpected. That was the case in November when news emerged that Julian Ryder was to hang up his MotoGP commentary gig, following Nick Harris into pastures new. Whoever is alongside Keith Huewen in the BT Sport commentary box in Qatar will have big shoes to fill.

1. The 2017 Indianapolis 500: how, and where you can see it in the UK – April 12th
There was immediate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as soon as news came out around #AlonsoRunsIndy. Reacting straight away, the number one post of 2017 outlined how viewers in the UK could watch the 101st running of the famous event, which formed part of the 2017 IndyCar series season.

Alongside the top ten posts, there are a few other posts from across the year that I want to highlight. In September, I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes look inside the British Superbikes outside broadcast (OB) truck (here and here). If you are at all interested in how motor sport television broadcasts are produced, I strongly encourage you to have a read of both of those pieces.

Elsewhere, I have also interviewed numerous motor sport personalities this year, ranging from former ITV F1 pit lane reporter Louise Goodman (here and here) to Sky’s Formula 1 presenter Simon Lazenby, and onto Motorcycle News (MCN) writer Simon Patterson, amongst others throughout the racing year.

The 2017 top ten only featured one Formula 1 post, however I suspect that there will be a lot more on the broadcasting side to discuss in 2018 where F1 is concerned…

The magic 2017 numbers

Whilst 2017 may not have attracted as many hits as 2016 due to the novelty factor around Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage disappearing, The F1 Broadcasting Blog readership was still dispersed between a variety of countries.

The main year-on-year increase comes from the USA, whose percentage share has nearly doubled since 2015, heading from 3.8 percent in 2015, to 5.4 percent last year and now 6.4 percent this year, a sign of increased interest in the sport from state side. The UK percentage continued to drop marginally, now down to 72.2 percent from 75 percent in 2014. Elsewhere, Australia suffered a significant drop compared with 2016, falling behind Ireland as a result.

Top 10 Countries – Percentage of all hits
01 – 72.2 percent (2016: 72.7) – United Kingdom
02 – 6.4 percent (2016: 5.4) – United States
04 – 2.4 percent (2016: 2.3) – Ireland
03 – 2.2 percent (2016: 2.7) – Australia
05 – 1.6 percent (2016: 1.8) – Netherlands
07 – 1.3 percent (2016: 1.0) – Spain
06 – 1.3 percent (2016: 1.6) – Canada
09 – 1.1 percent (2016: 0.9) – Germany
10 – 1.1 percent (2016: 0.8) – Italy
08 – 0.9 percent (2016: 0.9) – France

Generally, any breaking stories receive immediate attention via social media, which was the case in 2016. With less major stories in 2017, the social influence decreased compared with 2016, Reddit halved year-on-year showing the volatility of social media platforms.

Search engines benefited as a result, with casual fans who do not normally follow this site heading here to find out more information around the Indianapolis 500 and Julian Ryder’s MotoGP departure.

Top 5 Referring Websites
01 – 73.8 percent (2016: 63.1) – Search engines
02 – 18.6 percent (2016: 21.8) – Twitter
03 – 3.4 percent (2016: 6.0) – Reddit
04 – 2.7 percent (2016: 3.5) – Facebook
05 – 0.2 percent (2016: n/a) – AUTOSPORT Forum

The shock departure of Ryder, announced at the start of MotoGP’s final 2017 weekend, dominates the search tallies, with not much else getting a look in.

Top 10 Search Queries
01 – julian ryder
02 – f1 broadcasting
03 – f1 broadcasting blog
04 – formula 1 f1 broadcasting blog
05 – amazon
06 – f1 braudcasting
07 – list of channel 5 motogp commentators
08 – julian ryder motogp
09 – f1 viewing figures
10 – motogp commentators

The numbers ebb and flow depending on what is flavour of the month. Outside of the top 10 search queries listed above, readers were also interested in details about the UK’s World Rally Championship coverage and the Indianapolis 500.

An odd search term that appears just outside of the top 10 is ‘a1 grand prix’, as this article written in 2014 about the defunct World Cup of Motorsport series is number one in Google’s search rankings! 2018 will no doubt see more surprises, and traffic spikes to go with it, along the way.

Statistics compiled and correct as of December 18th, 2017.

Merry Christmas from The F1 Broadcasting Blog

2017 has been a positive year for top-flight motor sport worldwide, with a competitive championship battle for three-quarters of the Formula 1 season, whilst the MotoGP title went to the wire in Valencia. State side, Fernando Alonso attempted the Indianapolis 500, drawing more attention to the event in the UK than it usually would have had.

For me, I have tried to build on the strengths of 2016, bringing you closer to the broadcasting side. By attending the AUTOSPORT Show, the British MotoGP round and looking behind the scenes with the British Superbike championship, I hope I have achieved even a tenth of that goal.

It has been a pleasure to interview some famous faces in motor sport, and I am hopeful that 2018 will continue in the same regard. Unlike many motor racing websites out there, I run this site alongside my day job (also involving data, the horror!) so I may not update it as frequently as other sites out there, but nevertheless it is always a pleasure.

This holiday season, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thanks for all the positive comments and thoughts throughout this year on here and on social media, my fifth full year running the site. Stay safe, wherever you are heading.

Owner of The F1 Broadcasting Blog