Channel 4 F1 vs Sky Sports F1: Your 2017 Verdict Revealed

The 2017 Formula One season was Channel 4’s second year covering the sport, and Sky Sports F1’s sixth season, in a static season on the UK broadcasting front. Of course, that all changes again soon ready for 2019.

This site offered readers the opportunity to comment on all aspects of their broadcasting, along with how Formula One Management have performed this year, following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 24 comments have since appeared, so thanks to all who have contributed.

Inevitably, it is difficult for broadcasters to keep things fresh in their second season with higher expectation, but readers such as Oskar and Jamie believe that Channel 4 continued to impress. I agreed especially with Peter‘s comment about their coverage:

I’ve found the Channel 4 team to be a real delight. Steve Jones is a really affable and light hearted presence to a sport that can sometimes take itself too seriously. I really didn’t know what to think of Jones when he was announced as C4’s lead presenter two years ago but to me he’s been a real gift. Coulthard, Webber and Chandhok are quite simply superb – intelligent, informed, eloquent and all with a great charisma and humour to them. Susie Wolff talks sense all the time and acts as the perfect foil to Jordan’s somewhat interesting perspectives.

The verdict was negative towards Jordan from a number of readers, more so than in previous years, with michaelpassingham saying that Jordan is “doing damage to Channel 4’s reputation”, and their Formula 1 coverage as a result.

Andy and Jonathan Teague felt the same way about Jordan, the former going further by saying that F1 is not one of Channel 4’s good programmes. Others believe that Channel 4’s coverage continues to remain on-top:

Sport to them is scarce, yet sacred. Of course they neglected it at times, like in Brazil, but when live, it’s clear to see the enthusiasm they have for Formula 1, because they’re new to it. – Max Turner

I’ve subscribed to Sky F1 since its launch, but watch Channel 4 EVERY time they have a race live as their presentation and team have, for me, a much fresher and entertaining feel. – SDA

One thing that Sky has which Channel 4 does not is Martin Brundle, and that remains the number one reason for many readers continuing to watch Sky’s coverage. Alessio Dimaria says that Brundle “still has the same enthusiasm and passion as he did when he first started.”

Dimaria also noticed Nico Rosberg’s punditry during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, noting that it was “a breath of fresh air” to have him part of Sky’s output

Overall, I prefer Lazenby’s gang to the Jones gang. David Croft is an able commentator, and is well supported by Anthony Davidson and Paul Di Resta in the practice sessions. Ted Kravitz is unsurpassed in the pit lane and paddock, and his Notebook is one of the highlights of the weekend for me. For the race I usually switch on in time for Martin’s gridwalk, and he is still the best in the business when it comes to co-commentary. – PhilR

1: Brundle, knows what’s happening and has the right broadcasting demeanour for every occasion. The grid walks are getting more tricky but that’s probably more to do with FOM directives on drivers than anything else. And 2: Ted Kravitz. How anyone can spend 30 minutes walking through a busy paddock looking at a notebook, being distracted and making an entertaining piece of TV every time always leaves me in awe. – ToneXIR

2017 was Liberty Media’s first covering the sport, and Max Turner believes that Sky failed to sufficiently refresh their coverage to reflect the new ownership and direction. As Turner eloquently says, “Solid becomes boring and the viewer looks elsewhere — and there is somewhere else for half of the season.”

I’m not sure if that’s their style personally, or whether it’s the Sky tendency to turn everything into a ‘saga’. I’m sorry to say I genuinely don’t think Simon Lazenby and Paul Di Resta entertain. I’m sure they’re decent guys trying to do a decent job, and their stuff is informative. But I just don’t think it quite works. And despite their considerable resources, it’s the Sky team that looks a bit threadbare compared to 2012. – Lesmo

Not everything agrees with Lesmo on Lazenby, PhilR believes he has “much improved over the last two seasons.” Elsewhere, the Formula Two commentary pairing of Davide Valsecchi and Alex Jacques received much deserved praise from Max Turner. Stateside, Jeff Bartenslager believes that the move of Formula 1 from NBC to ESPN will turn out to be a “big mistake” for the sport.

As always, the above is just a taster of what readers are discussing, and to be honest, there are a plethora of good opinions worth reading.

 

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Word cloud generated using WordClouds.com.

Formula 1 to remain on free-to-air television in Germany

Formula 1 will remain on free-to-air television in Germany for the next three seasons, after Formula One Management (FOM) and RTL signed a new contract.

Historically, RTL and pay-TV broadcaster Sky Deutschland have shared television rights, with their existing deal expiring following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This evening, RTL have confirmed that Formula 1 will remain on their network for the next three years, until the end of the 2020 season at least.

As part of their announcement, RTL also confirmed that Nico Rosberg and Timo Glock will join the network as pundits, replacing Niki Lauda, who stepped down from his duties at the end of the 2017 season.

Speaking on Tuesday, RTL’s Manging Director of Programmes, Frank Hoffmann said “We have made Formula One great here, it has thrilled an audience of millions and has become an important component of our brand. The owners of Formula 1 have an economic interest in the fact that the sport is seen by many people and we stand here as a free-TV broadcaster in general and RTL in particular.”

Ian Holmes, Formula 1’s Director of Media Rights, said “Germany is one of the most important countries for Formula 1, where motors sport has deep roots, and RTL Television has been a fantastic and loyal partner for many years.”

“The extension of the agreement comes as a natural consequence of such a strong and mutually fruitful relationship and will guarantee that our fans in Germany will continue to watch Grands Prix on free TV. The agreement is part of our strategy that aims to increase and strengthen television coverage on a worldwide basis, whilst tailoring it to the characteristics of each TV market.”

The pay-TV rights that Sky Deutschland previously held now hang in the balance, and it appears that Sky could well end up losing the television rights in Germany altogether to Eurosport, a fascinating development if it comes to fruition. One reason for the delay may be the change in management recently at Sky, with Martin Turner, who oversaw Sky’s F1 operation globally, including in Germany, leaving Sky during the Summer.

This is the third key market where Liberty Media have signed a television deal. In France, it was agreed to bring F1 back to free-to-air and air key races live on TF1 (a free-to-air station) from 2018, whilst in America, rights switched from NBC to ESPN, in a move aimed to boost Formula 1’s digital presence from 2018 onwards.

You cannot talk about trends with such a small data set, but you get the impression that Liberty are not signing rash pay-TV deals like their predecessor did.

MotoGP’s UK audience rises thanks to Channel 5 switch

MotoGP’s viewing figures in the UK rose during 2017, because of the move of its highlights programming to Channel 5, overnight numbers show.

Background
As regular readers will know, MotoGP aired on the BBC until the end of 2013, regularly averaging around one million viewers. With pay-TV money arguably more important to MotoGP than it is to other forms of motor sport, Dorna left the BBC at the end of 2013, instead choosing BT Sport as their new home, the rights fee rising considerably as a result.

BT Sport has been the sole live broadcaster of MotoGP since 2014, with free-to-air highlights airing on ITV4 from 2014 until 2016. This season, Channel 5 took over the baton on that front, exposing MotoGP to a larger audience in the same Monday evening time slot. The one down side is that Channel 5 also have the rights to some England cricket highlights, which caused MotoGP to air in a midnight time slot for the British round in August, a less than ideal situation.

In 2017, the MotoGP championship battle between Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso went down to the wire in Valencia, with Marquez coming out on top. This was the second season finale championship decider that BT have aired live, the first being the controversial tussle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in 2015.

The BT Sport picture
Throughout 2017, BT Sport’s live coverage of race day, around five hours of coverage in total, has averaged 100k (1.7%), a decrease of around 12 percent on last year’s audience average of 114k (1.9%). BT’s average audience is their lowest since their opening year in 2014, which averaged 90k (1.4%).

All figures in this article are overnight audience figures (live, plus VOSDAL supplied by Overnights.tv, and exclude viewers who watched via BT Sport’s online platform, nor does it include fanatics who may have ventured towards the official MotoGP app to consume their coverage.

The patterns presented above repeated themselves for the other two key metrics: the MotoGP segment and the peak audience. The 18 races, using the 90-minute slot covering 30 minutes of build-up and a small wrap-up at the end, averaged 165k (2.6%), a slightly smaller drop of 9 percent compared with 2016’s equivalent audience of 181k (3.1%). In 2015, BT Sport’s coverage of each MotoGP race averaged 212k (3.6%), meaning that 2017’s numbers represent a 22 percent drop.

BT Sport’s coverage throughout 2017 peaked with 223,000 viewers for each race, a drop on last year’s peak audience of 245,000 viewers. The picture is the same throughout the trends, with BT Sport’s coverage of 2017 slotting in below 2015 and 2016, but ahead of 2014, despite this year’s action going down to the wire. In comparison, live coverage of British Superbikes peaks with around 130,000 viewers on Eurosport, inflated to 190,000 viewers if you include viewers watching on Quest. Contrary to popular belief, British Superbikes does not bring in higher audiences than MotoGP.

Marquez versus Dovizioso not a draw for UK audiences
In 2015, the season finale in Valencia recorded BT Sport’s highest ever audience for a MotoGP race, peaking with 433k (3.9%), a figure that has yet to be beaten. Whilst low compared with the BBC days, the figure showed that there was clearly a portion of the audience who do not normally tune into MotoGP, yet chose to watch the race on that day.

Fast-forward two years, and the 2017 season finale in Valencia peaked with 254k, not far above the season average, and not the highest peak audience of the season either. Live coverage of the season finale across the five hours of coverage from 09:30 to 14:15 averaged 125k (1.5%), with the MotoGP segment averaging 173k (1.9%). The programme average was 25 percent above the season average (and their highest programme average since Austin in April), but the MotoGP element was lower than the likes of Austria and San Marino just a few months earlier.

You normally expect a noticeable boost for any championship decider, yet such a boost did not materialise this year, suggesting that the battle between Marquez and Dovizioso did not appeal to BT’s audience. To put it another way, you may argue that BT not market the battle very well to their audience in other popular junctions (such as football). In 2016, Cal Crutchlow’s two victories helped BT Sport, Britain’s first premier class wins in over 30 years.

Channel 5’s highlights boosted compared to ITV4’s numbers
Highlights of MotoGP averaged 406k (2.4%) on Channel 5 this season, an increase of 42 percent on ITV4’s average audience from 2016 of 285k (1.4%), a pleasing rise. ITV4’s audience dropped across their three years, meaning that compared with 2014’s ITV4 number, Channel 5’s average audience is up 18 percent.

Channel 5’s highest audience in 2017 came with the Australian round of the season in October. The thrilling race, which arguably was the one which helped decide the destination of the championship, with Marquez winning and Dovizioso down in 13th, averaged 487k (2.6%) for the free-to-air broadcaster, peaking with 636,000 viewers. Audience figures like that show why MotoGP needs a free-to-air presence of some form after 2018.

Despite the promising numbers in some areas, Channel 5’s broadcasts lost steam after the Summer break, averaging 365k (2.3%) for the second half of the year, compared with 446k (2.5%) for the opening phase of the season. This impacted on the overall combined figures for the season…

Final thoughts and combined audiences
The switch to Channel 5 helped MotoGP bring in its highest combined audience since leaving the BBC, with an audience of 571,000 viewers watching. As noted above, the second half of the season struggled, with the phase from Austria through to San Marino struggling on Channel 5. An average of 632,000 viewers watched during the first half of the year, dropping to 509,000 viewers for the second half.

The Grand Prix of the Americas from Austin in April brought in a combined average audience of 701,000 viewers (split 475,000 to 226,000), peaking with 951,000 viewers (split 668,000 to 282,000). Including the BT Sport and MotoGP app, it is highly likely the peak audience will have exceeded one million viewers, a major achievement.

Aside from Britain, the Austrian Grand Prix was the low-light, averaging 456,000 viewers, whereas every other race before it had averaged 544,000 viewers or higher.

If the ITV4 trajectory is to go by from 2014 to 2016, then Channel 5’s audience figures might see a second-year dip in 2018. Next year will be fascinating on the MotoGP broadcasting front, as the destination of the series for 2019 onwards should be known, with BT Sport’s contract expiring.

Speaking to this site earlier this year, Dorna did not give anything away, but did say that they were happy with BT’s coverage and in negotiations with them post-2018. But do not rule out Sky or Eurosport snapping up the rights, with the latter becoming a more prominent player in the market. Where MotoGP ends up in 2019, is anyone’s guess.

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F1’s UK television audience stabilises in 2017

Formula 1’s viewing figures dropped slightly year-on-year, following on from last year’s significant decline, overnight audience numbers show.

> Both Channel 4 and Sky record marginal drops
> Anti-climatic championship fight hurt audiences
> Combined audience lowest since 2006

2017 was Formula 1’s second season on Channel 4, coverage was shared with Sky Sports. The viewing figures in this article are overnight average audiences supplied by Overnights.tv for Channel 4’s and Sky Sports’ broadcasts, including Sky Sports Main Event and Mix where applicable. Sky’s numbers are for their three-and-a-half-hour broadcast covering ‘Pit Lane Live’ and the race itself from 12:00 to 15:30, or applicable. Channel 4’s numbers broadly follow the same pattern, excluding their post-race reaction show.

Viewing figures presented in this piece exclude viewers who watched via the likes of Sky Go, Now TV and All 4. The numbers also do not include audiences who did not watch Formula 1 on the same day. Overnight audience figures are known in the industry as ‘Live + VOSDAL’ (video on same day as live). So, if you chose to record Channel 4’s highlights programme to watch on a Monday morning, you are excluded from the overnight audience numbers. Overnight figures are still important, especially for sports programming which fans view live, or as close to live as possible.

Radio audience figures are reportedly separately by RAJAR, and use a different methodology compared to television, meaning that you cannot compare BBC’s 5 Live audience figures with the television figures presented in this piece.

Channel 4’s overnight figures
In 2017, Channel 4 aired ten races live, with the remaining ten races airing in extended highlights form. Their race day coverage in 2017 averaged 1.87 million viewers, a decrease of 4.5 percent on last year’s average audience of 1.96 million viewers. Their live programming averaged 2.13 million viewers, with their highlights shows bringing 1.62 million viewers to the channel. Year-on-year, Channel 4’s live shows dropped by just 2.5 percent, whilst their highlights output decreased by 8.1 percent.

The season highlight for Channel 4 came towards the end of the season, with live coverage of the United States Grand Prix averaging 2.78m (12.8%) in peak time. One week later, Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth world championship, resulting in an audience of just 968k (13.0%) watching Channel 4’s Brazilian Grand Prix highlights programme in mid-November.

Channel 4’s problem in 2017 was with the way they started the season, with double-digit drops for four of the first ten races. Once you start off from a low base, it is very difficult to recover that position. For the first half of the year, only Spain and Europe were the stand-out races compared with 2016, both increasing their audience figures by around 10 percent. The post-Summer break period offered more promise as Channel 4’s race day programming increased for five races on the bounce from Italy through to USA.

An average peak audience of 2.63 million viewers watched Channel 4’s programming, a decrease of 4.5 percent year-on-year. For the first time since Channel 4 started their coverage, however, the broadcaster recorded a peak audience of over 4 million viewers, with the US Grand Prix. USA was the stand out, with all of Channel 4’s other peak audiences below 3.5 million viewers, a disappointment considering three races were above the same last year. Behind USA, were Bahrain and Malaysia, both peaking with 3.42 million viewers.

Sky’s overnight figures
Now in its sixth year as Formula 1’s main broadcaster in the United Kingdom, Sky Sports’ viewing figures continued to ebb and flow, with little upsurge. Live coverage of Sky Sports’ race day programming in 2017, excluding Paddock Live, averaged 652,000 viewers, a slight decrease of 2.5 percent on last year’s average audience of 669,000 viewers.

An average of 699,000 viewers watched Sky’s exclusive coverage, whilst 605,000 viewers watched Sky’s programming when shared with Channel 4. In the pecking order for Sky, 2014 stays on top with an average audience of 790,000 viewers watching Lewis Hamilton’s third world championship; 2012 a distant second on 709,000 viewers. Sky’s other four seasons remain closely clustered together between 635,000 viewers and 670,000 viewers.

The highlight for Sky in 2017 was the Mexican Grand Prix, which averaged 1.09m (4.8%) in prime time, helped by Hamilton winning the championship on that day. Like Channel 4, Sky had a strong mid-season run, with eight consecutive races from Canada to Singapore peaking with over one million viewers, a strong run for the pay-TV platform. As a result, an average peak audience of 1.03 million viewers watched Sky’s programming across the season.

For Sky, it is likely that their Now TV and Sky Go platforms have seen increased demand compared with 2016 and before, although figures for these platforms are not available in the public domain. With only one year left though before the major switch over to pay-TV, there are no substantial signs that viewers are migrating over from Formula 1’s free-to-air product to Sky’s pay-television product despite having the access to do so.

Overall audiences
During 2017, a combined average audience of 2.52 million viewers watched Formula 1’s race day action across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, a decrease of 4.0 percent on last year’s average audience of 2.63 million viewers. F1 has lost exactly a third of its UK television audience since it left the BBC in 2015. The BBC’s television audience in 2015 was 3.74 million viewers, meaning that 2017 results in a 33 percent drop. Like last year, this year’s audience will be the lowest for Formula 1 since at least 2005.

A year that promised so much failed to deliver a spectacular championship decider. The headlines do not tell the full story, and I feel that is the case here. The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel enticed viewers, with Spain (up 6%) and Europe (up 10%) proving that point. However, their on-track battles were too infrequent to have an overarching impact. To go from a sizzling race in Baku to a cold race in Austria was to the detriment of the championship.

2016 started off on a low-note, with Formula 1 victim to a warmer Spring than usual in the UK: the season opening Australian Grand Prix lost 17 percent of its audience year-on-year. Sometimes audiences take time to arrive, and you need several good races for fortunes to turn. After Baku, the following four races failed to bring in the viewers. It was not until the Italian Grand Prix where viewing figures increased compared with 2016. And then, came the Singapore Grand Prix which ultimately decided the outcome of the championship.

What followed Singapore was a brief resurgence as Hamilton strolled his fourth championship, but audiences plunged for the final three races in Mexico (down 43%), Brazil (down 23%) and Abu Dhabi (down 20%). If you were to, hypothetically speaking, add 30 percent to the audience for the final three races, viewing figures across the entire season would be equal with 2016. One move decided the fate of the season, and with it probably sent millions of viewers around the world switching off their television sets for the final hurdle in the Formula 1 season.

However, where Formula 1’s viewing figures drop, it remains firmly head and shoulders above the rest of the motor racing pack thanks to its exposure which no other series has in this country. On four wheels, only Formula E comes close with live coverage on Channel 5, and as documented elsewhere on this site, it is struggling to pick up a significant following. To put it into context, F1’s 2017 season average of 2.62 million viewers is ten times higher than Formula E’s 2016/17 season average of 280,000 viewers.

Is Formula 1 set for a shock in 2018?
We talk about a ‘new era’ every season, it feels like. 2019 on the broadcasting front in the UK heralds a new era with Sky Sports taking full control of Formula 1’s television rights. Before then, there is the small matter of 2018 to plough through. And with that, the Halo. Safety first, aesthetics second in this instance, with the much-derided cockpit protection system coming into force from the 2018 season.

F1 has survived, and flourished, upon major rule changes. But, arguably, the Halo is the biggest aesthetic change that F1 has seen in generations, changing the ways that cars fundamentally look to fans at home. I can write words about Hamilton versus Vettel: Part II all I want, but if the reaction is negative by media and fans, I fear that viewing figures could be set for another shock in 2018.

Halo is not meant to look attractive, that is not its purpose (you can read about the positives of the Halo elsewhere, this is not the place for that). From a broadcasting perspective however, are casual fans less likely to watch Formula 1 because of this system? The answer, in my view, is likely to be yes.

How many viewers will turn off Formula 1 because of the Halo in 2018, we do not know. But, the viewing figures for the Australian Grand Prix next March may give Liberty Media an unpleasant surprise…

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Sky F1’s Christmas schedule takes shape

Three new review shows will be part of Sky Sports F1’s Christmas festivities in the forthcoming weeks along with two feature length interviews. Following on from their main review which first aired on Sunday 3rd December, the following shows will also air over Christmas:

– The now-regular Journalists Special airs on the F1 channel on Wednesday 13th December from 20:30 to 21:30. Will Buxton, Chris Medland and Jonathan McEvoy are the guests.
– A special in-depth interview will air with 2017 Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton over the festive period. The show, entitled Lewis Hamilton: My 4th World Title, premieres on Christmas Day from 14:00 to 14:30.
– The Sky Sports F1 team gather together for a Sky F1 Christmas Special, which first airs on Christmas Day from 16:00 to 17:00 (simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event).

The airings listed are the first linear television airing, but expect the three programmes to turn up on Sky’s On Demand service prior to their linear showing.

Sky are also airing special interviews with Zak Brown and Adrian Newey over the festive period. The two shows receive a linear television première on Boxing Day at 11:00 and 11:35 respectively.

Between now and Christmas, Sky are replaying every race session from 2017 in full, with classic races also airing in a variety of time slots. Formula Two takes pride of place in Sky’s schedules between Christmas and New Year, with races airing daily from 11:00 between the 26th and 30th December.

Elsewhere, BBC Radio 5 Live is host to two specials:

– Jennie Gow hosts a special focusing on the role and future of Grid Girls. The show airs on Thursday 14th December from 20:00
– The one-hour 5 Live F1 Season Review premieres on the radio station on Christmas Eve at 11:00

Further details will be added to this post as they become available.

Updated on Wednesday 20th December.