Channel 4’s F1 highlights coverage draws record audience

Formula 1 continued its ratings resurgence in the UK during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
As with last year’s coverage, live action aired on Sky Sports F1, with Channel 4 airing highlights later in the evening.

Channel 4’s highlights programme aired from 18:00 to 20:00 to an excellent average audience of 2.33m (15.6%). Astonishingly, it is the highest audience for an F1 highlights programme on free-to-air television since the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, which averaged 2.77m (16.5%) across a shorter 90-minute time slot.

A peak audience of 3.00m (18.0%) watched the highlights show, comfortably the most watched commercial channel in the time slot, only behind BBC One. Again, this is the highest for an F1 highlights programme since Singapore 2015.

Earlier in the day, Sky’s race broadcast, which aired from 13:00 to 16:30, averaged 653k (8.4%), their highest average for Spain since 2015. It is Sky Sports F1’s highest average audience since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix peaked with 1.01m (13.8%) at 14:25, the first five-minute segment following the opening Safety Car period, Sky’s highest for Spain again since 2015. Had the race been more exciting, there is a good chance that the peak might have been around 1.2 million viewers.

As it turned out, the audience settled just under one million viewers for most of the race, which is a solid number considering that the Premier League final day fixtures kicked off half way through the race.

The combined average audience of 2.99 million viewers is the highest average audience of 2018 so far, and an increase of 12.6 percent year-on-year. It is the highest average since last year’s US Grand Prix, and the highest for a free-to-air highlights race since the 2016 German Grand Prix.

The peak audience of 4.01 million viewers is an increase of 6.1 percent on last year’s peak audience of 3.78 million viewers, although not quite the highest of 2018, that honour remains with Azerbaijan.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 from 13:00 to 15:35 averaged 322k (4.6%). Channel 4’s highlights programming averaged 1.33m (10.9%) from 17:00 to 18:30, both figures comfortably up year-on-year.

The combined average for qualifying of 1.65 million viewers is the highest for Spain since 2015, with the combined peak audience of 2.46 million viewers following in the same footsteps.

It has been many, many years since Formula 1 recorded consistent year-on-year increases over a sustained period. For the first time, in possibly five or six years, F1 has momentum, and viewers are starting to view the sport, as opposed to deserting it. Whether these are genuine new viewers, or lapsed viewers from yesteryear, we do not know apart from looking at anecdotal evidence.

The concern for Liberty Media however is that it was Channel 4 that saw a record audience on Sunday, and not Sky. Channel 4’s contract concludes at the end of this season, with Formula 1 moving exclusively to Sky, although the free-to-air element of Sky’s contract, and where that will turn up is unclear.

Why the sustained increase? We have been lucky so far in 2018 in that three of the five races have been excellent. Australia did not quite deliver, and nor did Spain, but not everything can be a thriller.

In the last two or three years, we have had great battles, but momentum disappeared in the intervening races. Three great races on the run may have resulting in Spain’s numbers bouncing higher than expected. There is also the increased promotion from Liberty Media across a variety of platforms: are their efforts reaping the rewards?

Next up is the Monaco Grand Prix, which begins a critical phase of the F1 season as the sport begins to battle with the football World Cup and other events for column inches. If Ferrari and Red Bull turn up in Monaco and Canada, the momentum should continue through the early Summer, even if it is at a reduced rate of knots.

The 2017 Spanish Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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F1 TV launches, UK fans get access to rich archive

F1 TV has this evening (Wednesday 9th May) launched for fans worldwide, with fans in the United Kingdom gaining access to Formula One Management’s (FOM) rich archive.

The over-the-top service comes in two forms: a Pro version where fans can watch live 2018 race action, and a basic Access version, where fans can access archive material. UK readers have access to that basic product, but not the premium level tier.

At launch, 72 races are available to watch in their entirety for viewers on a near worldwide basis:

  • 2017 – Bahrain, Spain, Azerbaijan, Belgium, USA
  • 2016 – Spain, Austria, Malaysia, Brazil, Abu Dhabi
  • 2015 – Bahrain, Britain, Hungary, USA
  • 2014 – Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Abu Dhabi
  • 2013 – Australia, China, Bahrain, Britain
  • 2012 – Spain, Abu Dhabi, USA, Brazil
  • 2011 – Monaco, Canada, Italy, Japan
  • 2010 – Australia, Turkey, Canada, Belgium, Abu Dhabi
  • 2009 – Australia, Germany, Belgium, Brazil
  • 2008 – Britain, Italy, Belgium, Brazil
  • 2007 – Canada, USA, Brazil
  • 2006 – Bahrain, Turkey
  • 2005 – San Marino, Monaco, Europe, Japan
  • 2004 – Bahrain, USA, France, Belgium, Brazil
  • 2003 – Australia, Malaysia, Brazil, Britain
  • 2002 – Malaysia
  • 2001 – Malaysia, Brazil, Austria
  • 2000 – Germany
  • 1999 – France, Europe, Malaysia
  • 1998 – Belgium
  • 1997 – Hungary

Every race from 2002 onwards has highlights on F1 TV, taken either from the DVD season review of the time, or more recently from highlights uploaded to the F1 YouTube channel.

The archive starts to shrink prior to 2002 with only a few archive races present, but this will no doubt increase over time. Outside of the documentaries, the earliest archive footage is from the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Each of the races covered runs from the start of the five-minute introduction, through to the end of the press conference, with UK commentary provided (ITV until 2008, BBC from 2009 to 2011, and Sky from 2012 onwards).

Alongside the race archive, F1’s over-the-top service also contains documentaries that Sky have aired on their UK channel since 2012, such as Legends of F1, Tales from the Vault and Architects of F1. However, these documentaries are only available to those outside of the UK and Ireland.

Fans in the UK can purchase F1 TV Access for £2.29 a month, or a discounted £17.99 across the whole year.

Better than anticipated for UK fans
When F1 TV was first announced in February, it was unclear whether UK fans would have any access to the over-the-top service. As it turns out, UK have access to the rich archive at least.

The full-length races that FOM have added are like those Sky have aired as part of their Classic F1 strand of programming, although there are some differences. Over time the number of classic races will increase, in the same way that WWE’s Network has grown substantially since launch.

Uploading every classic race from 1981 onwards in the very beginning would be bad business from FOM. The logical method to upload the races would be through a series of ‘drops’, based on the season or a given theme (i.e. every race in the 1999 season, or every Malaysian Grand Prix).

This way, F1 can promotion the uploads via their social media channels, driving attention towards the service. At some stage, F1 needs to strongly consider having a @F1TV social media presence to promote content, especially as the service matures. The launch so far appears to be deliberately low-key.

Every click gives F1 access to viewing statistics, including not only the video watched, but also how long the fan continued to watch the video for, helping FOM to influence future content additions further down the line. There are some key additions that need to occur (such as the ability to search based off tags and a no spoiler option).

It is great to see F1 TV off the ground, both Access and Pro, for those have access to the latter. Now, it is time to see the platform grow and mature…

Casting an eye over the F1 media landscape

The Formula 1 community is filled with journalists from all corners of the globe, with the sport covered in a variety of languages, catering for a range of different audiences, from the hardcore aficionados to the person wanting a quick five-minute summary of everything that is going on.

From a United Kingdom perspective, there are eleven entities that make up the Formula 1 media landscape, covering both heavyweights and outlets further down the chain:

  • Official F1 website
  • BBC
  • Crash Media Group
  • ESPN Media Group
  • ‘Fleet Street’
  • Motor Sport Magazine
  • Motorsport Media Services
  • Motorsport Network
  • Racefans
  • Reuters
  • Sky

Most entities above are primarily web-based, although some straddle into both television and print. So, how do the entities break down, and which groups splice off into sub-divisions?

The leading quartet
For most readers, four outlets are instantly recognisable, and hold control of the Formula 1 media landscape. Others will be unknown to the naked eye, until you look below the surface and see why they are listed.

The BBC and Sky are two of the UK’s biggest broadcasters, the latter now pan-European. Whilst the BBC no longer covers Formula 1 on television, its website, led by Andrew Benson as it has been for the past two decades, still produces insight and opinion.

Since their television coverage started in 2012, Sky’s UK arm have operated an expansive F1 website. As well as their news articles, the UK site provides a variety of columns, from behind the scenes paddock insight via Rachel Brookes, to technical analysis from commentary box director Mark Hughes. Although Sky’s UK and Italian television crews share content occasionally, this is more unusual online with a specific website for Sky Italia.

If you have purchased a copy of Autosport recently, or read an article via James Allen’s website, you might think that the two are owned by separate entities. Why would the passing punter think any different? That is where Motorsport Network, led by McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown, comes into the equation.

Initially consisting of just Motorsport.com, Motorsport Network have expanded their portfolio the past two years. First on the agenda was Haymarket Media Group’s motor racing outlets (including Autosport and F1 Racing), which moved under Motorsport Network’s ownership in late 2016.

Allen’s website and GPUpdate.net followed, with Motorsport Network closing GPUpdate.net’s English site, diverting resources towards their existing channels. Editorial resources covering Formula 1 across Autosport and Motorsport.com are becoming rationalised, with the same content, appearing on both platforms.

Autosport also runs an Academy for budding journalists, allowing them to exploit a wide range of opportunities across the Motorsport Network portfolio, both on print and television (Motorsport.tv, which was Motors TV, is also part of the Network).

Up until recently, the official Formula 1 website ran a skeleton news operation, reporting only information and not engaging in the rumour mill or analytical pieces. The frequency of news has increased since Liberty Media’s takeover of F1, with the likes of Lawrence Barretto (ex-BBC and Autosport) and Chris Medland joining the team.

Alongside the news articles, there are now regular features on the site, such as the F1 Inbox, and F1 Power Rankings with other FOM personnel such as Will Buxton contributing to these articles.

The mid-pack
The leading contingent above are significantly larger than some of the mid-pack runners, one might think of this as a ‘manufacturer’ versus ‘independent’ situation.

Previously known as F1 Fanatic from 2005 until the start of this year, Racefans is an independent website covering Formula 1, although it has started to branch out to cover other championships recently. Dieter Rencken, who was part of Autosport’s offering for 25 years, defected to Racefans at the start of 2018, bolstering their paddock presence.

Like Rencken, journalist Joe Saward has attached himself to an independent site. His musings are hosted on Motorsport Week, part of Motorsport Media Services’ outlets. Whilst the relationship is a little less formal than that between Rencken and Racefans, it goes to show that not every established journalist is within Motorsport Network’s portfolio. Motorsport Week has been around since 2008, historically known as The F1 Times and Grand Prix Times.

Another F1 rights holder with a website presence is ESPN. However, its Formula 1 website is largely independent of the US television coverage, having being around for several years. Laurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders lead the web output, with familiar faces to UK readers such as Mark Gallagher and Jennie Gow contributing to video content. Instead of giving their US coverage a distinctive voice, ESPN and FOM decided to give US viewers Sky’s UK coverage meaning that the ESPN website remained independent of the TV output.

As well as writing and contributing to Sky’s F1 coverage, Mark Hughes also writes regular columns for Motor Sport Magazine. Now in its 94th year, if you are after a more in-depth outlook on current affairs, as well as a reflection on yesteryear, Motor Sport Magazine is the place for you. Best of all, their entire magazine archive has been digitalised, putting many classic moments at your fingertips, written by those who were there on the day.

Slightly younger than Motor Sport Magazine at 18 years, Crash Media Group (CMG) is now an established name in the motor racing media circles (one can only guess if this group is on Motorsport Network’s radar or not). CMG goes beyond Crash.net, as the group also owns a motorcycling website (Visordown) and a golf website (GolfMagic). Crash has a working relationship with Bike Sport News, but does not currently own the entity.

News agencies and foreign outlets
Reuters is primarily a news agency, meaning that it is unlikely that fans go to Reuters’ directly for their news. Instead, news from Reuters’ resident Formula 1 correspondent Alan Baldwin will more than likely make its way through to other sites, such as the BBC for example.

The ‘Fleet Street‘ contingent has reduced over the years, but there are still some UK newspapers reporting on Formula 1 from the races. Bec Clancy leads the way for The Times, having succeeded Kevin Eason as their motor racing reporter. Other sites, such as The Independent and The Guardian, but very few have someone dedicated to F1 like in yesteryear. As one might expect, the expense of sending someone on site outweighs the amount of readers likely to view or read the following article.

The main non-English website to mention is German website Auto Motor und Sport, which regularly reports F1 stories before its English counterparts through its main reporter Tobi Gruner.

There are countless more websites that I could mention, but I have tried to avoid including sites that regurgitate content already out there. The further down the motor racing pyramid you go, the more sites you see that specialise in a specific series, as accreditation is more straightforward than at the top.

Plus, you have a higher probability of speaking to contacts, breaking an exclusive Formula E story for example, and getting your foot in the door than an equivalent in F1, , increasing your reputation. As the saying goes, you must start somewhere…

Are there any major websites that I have missed out? Do the sites listed cover everything you look for in Formula 1 reporting? Have your say in the comments below.

Scheduling: The 2018 Spanish Grand Prix

Off the back of a thrilling start to the season, Formula 1 heads back to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix!

The race weekend is the first time F1’s full revised offering is on offer this season. F1’s on-track sessions start an hour later than in 2017, with the race starting a further ten minutes later at 14:10 instead of 13:00. The changes do not stop there: GP3 qualifying moves to Friday evening, allowing the feeder series’ first race to take place on Saturday morning.

Formula Two retains its existing post-F1 slot on Friday and Saturday, but like F1 takes place an hour later than last year. Sky are taking advantage of the changes FOM and Liberty Media have made, staying live on-air from 13:00 to 17:25 on Saturday, in a block consisting of F1 qualifying, Formula Two’s first race and The F1 Show. I am hopeful the block of programming will flow from one to another without an unnatural break in proceedings to better retain viewers throughout the afternoon.

In addition, Sky’s build-up for both practice one and three will be 30 minutes long, for Spain at least. Channel 4’s highlights programming airs slightly earlier than year. Of course, Spain also sees the long-awaited launch of Formula 1’s new over-the-top service. UK viewers may get access to the basic, non-live tier but no further than that due to the existing and future television rights agreements.

Elsewhere, Quest have picked up live coverage of the Historic Monaco Grand Prix weekend from Motorsport.tv, who previously aired the event under their previous Motors TV guise in 2016. On two wheels, Eurosport are giving World Superbikes additional treatment in 2018, with live coverage of practice on Fridays, which I am adding to the scheduling pieces from this race onwards.

Not specifically related to this weekend, but it looks like no one has grabbed highlights of the World Endurance Championship super-season, perhaps surprisingly considering highlights aired on Channel 4 in 2016, and ITV4 last year.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
12/05 – 17:00 to 18:30 – Qualifying Highlights
13/05 – 18:00 to 20:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
11/05 – 09:30 to 11:55 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
11/05 – 13:45 to 15:50 – Practice 2
12/05 – 10:30 to 12:15 – Practice 3 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
12/05 – 13:00 to 15:40 – Qualifying
=> 13:00 – Pre-Show
=> 13:55 – Qualifying
13/05 – 12:30 to 17:10 – Race
=> 12:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 13:30 – On the Grid
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
09/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Preview
10/05 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
10/05 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
12/05 – 16:50 to 17:25 – The F1 Show
16/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – The F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
11/05 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/05 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12/05 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12/05 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
13/05 – 14:00 to 16:30 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Formula Two – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
11/05 – 11:55 to 12:50 – Practice
11/05 – 15:50 to 16:30 – Qualifying
12/05 – 15:40 to 16:50 – Race 1
13/05 – 10:25 to 11:25 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
11/05 – 16:45 to 17:25 – Qualifying
12/05 – 09:10 to 10:05 – Race 1
13/05 – 09:20 to 10:05 – Race 2

Historic Grand Prix of Monaco (Quest)
12/05 – 13:00 to 17:00 – Day 1
13/05 – 12:30 to 16:30 – Day 2

IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Indianapolis (BT Sport/ESPN)
12/05 – 20:30 to 23:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
13/05 – 11:40 to 12:25 – Race

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 3)
12/05 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

World Superbikes – Imola
11/05 – 08:40 onwards (Eurosport 2)
=> 08:40 to 09:30 – SBK: Practice 1
=> 11:25 to 12:20 – SBK: Practice 2
=> 13:55 to 14:55 – SSP: Practice 2
=> 14:55 to 15:55 – SBK: Practice 3
12/05 – 09:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
13/05 – 10:00 to 15:00 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
15/05 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – Nurburgring
11/05 – 16:30 to 17:30 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
12/05 – 10:00 to 11:00 – Race 2 (Eurosport)
12/05 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 3 (Eurosport)

As always, if anything changes, I will update the schedule.