Can BTCC capitalise on F1’s reduced free-to-air presence from 2019?

As the curtain draws on the 2018 British Touring Car Championship this weekend at Brands Hatch, attention will quickly turn to the 2019 season.

Next year is significant from a broadcasting perspective, as BTCC stands with Formula E as being the last two motor racing series with a major live free-to-air presence on UK television. From 2019, only one F1 race will air live on free-to-air television. But, can BTCC take advantage of the opportunity that lies in front of them, and grasp it with both arms?

On-track, the championship is in an excellent position, and has been for many years. “The BTCC has been in a dominant position in this country since the early 90’s. We’re going through a real boom period currently, with a full grid of 31 cars,” series director Alan Gow tells me.

“We’ve struck a terrific combination of the way our technical and sporting regulations all work, we’re delivering what people want to see. The series is absolutely in rude health.”

The BTCC headlines a packed weekend of action, with a variety of support races on action to whet the appetite. Whether it is the Renault Clio Cup, the Porsche Carrera Cup, or the single-seater British Formula 4 series, there is plenty on offer for everyone.

“There’s a lot of entertainment, and it is great value for money,” Gow says. “A family can come along and be thrilled and entertained all day from 9 till 6!”

Although BTCC is the main attraction for fans, ITV4 covers all the action, including support races, as it has done for the past decade. On Sunday’s, the broadcaster airs the three touring car races live, with support races covered either live or on tape-delay, helping the profile of the underclass events immensely.

> 60 years of British Touring Cars: the broadcasting story

Inevitably audience figures ebb and flow throughout the season, with rounds dented by the presence of Formula 1. In yesteryear, the championship did try to avoid the Grand Prix, but this is no longer a consideration.

“In the old days, I used to wait until the F1 calendar was out and then try to avoid the races, but I don’t bother any more. There’s too many of them! We put our calendar out in May, well before the F1 does. The only thing we do avoid is the British Grand Prix,” explains Gow.

Analysis of overnight audience figures supplied by shows the impact that Formula 1 has on BTCC’s viewership. This site analysed audience figures for eight rounds so far this season, Croft the exception as it clashed with England’s World Cup game versus Panama.

Two of those eight rounds, Oulton Park and Snetterton clashed with F1 races that aired exclusively on Sky Sports. The full ITV4 programmes averaged 219k (3.0%) and 305k (3.1%) respectively. A further four rounds clashed with races that aired live on Channel 4, averaging 173k (1.6%).

In other words, live F1 on free-to-air television can wipe around 30 percent off ITV4’s programme audience for BTCC.

Regardless of whether there is a clash between touring cars and Formula 1 or not, the former regularly peaks with over 350,000 viewers each race day.

The peak metric does not fluctuate as much as the programme average, as the final BTCC race of the day takes place long after the F1 has concluded meaning that the audience level by that stage is similar across the season.

The highest peak of the season so far came with the second Snetterton race in July, which peaked with 529k (5.6%) moments before the Hungarian Grand Prix started.

The audience figures suggest that live F1 predominantly moving to pay-TV will boost ITV4’s touring car numbers somewhat. “Every time we come up against a Grand Prix in our time zone, our numbers in the afternoon will take a bit of a dent for that two-hour period while the race is on, and then increase afterwards,” Gow tells me.

“I think the F1 change will drive more people to the BTCC. We’ll be the only live major motor sport on mainstream TV. The audience that Sky gets for Formula 1 is so much less than what Channel 4 gets, so it will have less of an impact on our audience.”

2018 Silverstone BTCC
Bumper-to-bumper racing always the order of the day for British Touring Cars, here during the second race at Silverstone.

Gow, who himself had interest from Sky in the mid-1990s, takes viewers over the potential financial incentive. “I’m old schools, I want the eye balls, I want people to watch our motor racing, it’s what makes it attractive for teams, for sponsors, manufacturers,” Gow says.

“Taking the money and putting it behind a pay wall just doesn’t sit well with my old school way of thinking. I’m sure our attendances would drop behind a pay wall. That’s what sets us apart from others, the accessibility of it, you don’t have to pay to watch it on-screen.”

Whilst the championship is in the right place within the ITV family due to the presence it provides, is there an argument to suggest that, some touring car action should air on ITV’s main channel?

From the outset, shifting all the action to ITV’s main channel is a non-starter, given that ITV is a general entertainment channel. However, in addition to the current ITV4 programme, airing race three live on ITV’s main channel in a two-hour programme from 16:30 to 18:30 on a Sunday evening could appeal to a wider family audience.

It is not like ITV (1) has forgotten about sport. This year alone, the main channel has aired live horse racing, cycling, and coverage of the Goodwood Revival. Notably, ITV placed a lot of effort behind the resurrection of the popular World of Sport Wrestling brand, which was a household name in yesteryear.

However, audiences reacted negatively to the wrestling show. The first episode aired in a Saturday evening time slot at 17:00, attracting around one million viewers. Audience figures quickly slumped by half, with ITV slowly moving the show further into a daytime slot.

Prior to its launch, WOS Wrestling benefited from cross-promotion on ITV’s daytime shows, such as Good Morning Britain and This Morning, as do many of their other sports brands that air live on ITV’s main channel. Why does BTCC not get the same level of attention?

With live Formula 1 primarily on pay television from 2019, now is a good a time as any to experiment more with touring cars and to give it a bit more love and attention across the ITV network. To the contrary, one might argue that, ITV’s BTCC coverage is fine as-is, so what is there to fix?

Whether ITV’s higher-ups beyond the sports division have fallen out with motor sport, giving motor racing a wide berth from their main channel where live coverage is concerned (see also: Formula E), is unclear. For the moment, Gow is clear that BTCC will remain on ITV4.

“We take a lot of air time on ITV4, and you can’t take seven or eight hours out of ITV,” Gow continued. “We want to make ITV4 the destination for touring car fans. ITV shows our highlights programme, and that gets good numbers. Of course, if ITV said to me ‘we’d like to do this,’ I wouldn’t say no, but there’s absolutely no plans at all to do it.”

Gow is happy with BTCC’s current partnership with ITV. “We have such a great relationship with ITV, and I’m very proud of that relationship. At the time they’d signed it, they had never signed a five-year sports deal, so it was a ground-breaking thing for them. They had the faith in us, and were confident in dealing with us.”

“We never relax, but importantly it means the teams know what the championship looks like for the next five years. They have the comfort of knowing what the broadcast arrangements are so they can build their teams and build their business, and that’s really important.”

It is an impossible question as to how many people, if any, new or old, are likely to seek out BTCC again because of Formula 1 moving to pay-TV. ITV commentator David Addison says that touring cars cannot fill the gap ‘like for like’, but for very good reason.

“You are comparing two very different categories, a race that can be up to two hours against one that is 20 minutes. BTCC is elbows out, crash and bash, push and spin, nudge and overtake, drama, tyres, reverse grids, heroes and villains, it’s a bit like apples and pears comparing F1 with touring cars, that’s perhaps why we can’t fill that gap like for like,” Addison comments.

“But if you want to watch motor racing on a Sunday afternoon, I think more people these days come away buzzing about a touring car race than an average Grand Prix.”

Can BTCC capitalise on Formula 1’s live free-to-air demise? They, and ITV, would be foolish not to…


“No plans” for live BTCC to air on ITV’s main channel in 2019

Live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship is set to remain on ITV4 in 2019, with no plans currently for live programming to move to ITV’s main channel, according to the man who heads up the series.

All the action currently airs live on ITV4, as it has done since 2007, with up to eight hours of programming on race day hosted by Steve Rider. A cut down 90-minute highlights show airs in a mid-week time slot late at night on ITV’s main channel.

With a gap in the market as a result of live Formula 1 predominately airing on pay television from 2019, it raises the question of whether the domestic touring car series can capitalise in any way on the television front.

Speaking exclusively to this site ahead of this weekend’s season finale at Brands Hatch, series director Alan Gow says that he is happy with the current television situation. “We have such a great relationship with ITV, and I’m very proud of that relationship.”

“We take a lot of air time on ITV4, and you can’t take seven or eight hours out of ITV,” Gow continued. “We want to make ITV4 the destination for touring car fans. ITV shows our highlights programme, and that gets good numbers. Of course, if ITV said to me ‘we’d like to do this,’ I wouldn’t say no, but there’s absolutely no plans at all to do it.”

The championship has a deal with ITV taking the series through to 2022, which offers all involved long-term security. “At the time they’d signed it, they had never signed a five-year sports deal, so it was a really ground-breaking thing for them,” Gow tells me. “They had faith in us, and were confident in dealing with us.”

“We never relax, but importantly it means the teams know what the championship looks like for the next five years. They have the comfort of knowing what the broadcast arrangements are so they can build their teams and build their business, and that’s really important.”

On the racing front, organisers may extend the third and final race at some meetings next year, following in the footsteps of Snetterton this season. “We have a meeting with the teams in October and that’s when we will discuss potential options. It’s certainly on the cards,” says Gow.

Keep an eye on this site in the next few days for further analysis on what lies in store for British Touring Cars next season.

David Croft to remain part of Sky’s F1 team in 2019

David Croft will remain part of Sky’s Formula 1 team in 2019, the broadcaster has confirmed.

The broadcaster issued the statement to this site after F1 journalist Joe Saward reported rumours, through the Missed Apex Podcast last night, that Croft could be axed from Sky’s team in 2019. Sky strongly deny the rumour.

Speaking to The F1 Broadcasting Blog, Sky said “David [Croft] remains a part of the team and he’ll be with us when we become the exclusive home of Formula 1 in 2019.” In their statement, Sky did not confirm, and did not elaborate on, whether Croft would remain in his current lead commentator role.

Croft has commentated on Formula 1 coverage in the UK for over a decade. He started his F1 career as commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live in 2006, before moving to Sky Sports in 2012 as part of the shake-up of coverage at that time.

Whilst at Sky, Croft has taken on additional duties, such as presenting The F1 Show on occasion, as well as his #AskCrofty post-race segments.

A rumour, quickly followed by denial
In my article last week, I referenced potential changes to Sky’s line-up for 2019, noting that paddock sources expect some form of change, with Scott Young now leading the production team.

I also noted that I was unwilling to elaborate on the paddock rumours, as “at this stage they are just that, rumours.” One of the snippets of speculation was that Croft’s future at Sky could be in jeopardy, which Saward reported publicly on the podcast. As the information had entered the public domain, I tweeted out what Saward reported, which Sky quickly denied.

However, Sky’s statement does not confirm whether Croft will continue in his current role. This may infer that Croft is moving to a different role within Sky’s F1 team, although that would appear unlikely.

Top-class motor sport commentators are in limited supply, and finding someone who is up to the job is a difficult task. One paddock source claimed that Sky approached another commentator to cover Formula 1 in 2019, however the commentator in question quashed this piece of information.

Update – Priestley confirms his departure from Sky’s F1 setup
Shortly after writing the above block on Croft, former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestley confirmed his exit from Sky’s Formula 1 team on Friday 29th September.

Priestley has worked both in front and behind the camera at Sky at various points since 2013, regularly appearing on the F1 Report since 2016 until it ended earlier this year as well as working on the production side of things.

Speaking on his YouTube channel, Priestley said “I have been freelance for a number of years, and as many of you know, I have done around half of the races each season, most of them with Sky Sports.”

“Sky is changing the way they do things over the next year and coming years as they go exclusive. They’ve got a new boss in town, and as things stand, I don’t think I am part of their future plans. It’s been an absolute honour and pleasure, and an education to work with such a high calibre organisation.

“The Formula 1 product at Sky I believe is second to none. There’s no hard feelings with Sky, so I will be spending less time with them, but who knows what the future will hold.”

More stories such as Priestley’s may emerge soon. His departure is likely a combination of the F1 Report ending, plus the need for fewer people to be on-site for Sky as they move increasingly towards a ‘remote production’ setup.

Scheduling: The 2018 Russian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton aims to leave this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix with one hand on the 2018 Formula One championship, as the paddock heads to the Sochi Autodrom for round 16 of the season.

The race airs exclusively live on Sky Sports, and with it there are some changes to usual proceedings. Martin Brundle steps aside for Russia, as well as the Japanese round next weekend. His replacement is unconfirmed as of writing, but expect Paul di Resta to step up again to commentate alongside David Croft for qualifying and the race.

On the scheduling front, Sky have again demoted the first Formula Two race of the weekend, as they did in Hungary, in favour of The F1 Show. The action airs on a tape-delay instead, which when you consider that two British drivers are battling for the championship shows how little some elements of Sky F1 care about the series.

There is no sign yet of Formula Two appearing live behind the Red Button, but I will update this article if the situation changes. A feature with di Resta and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo from Singapore gets an extended cut on Sky Sports F1 over the Russian weekend, first airing on Thursday evening.

Tom Clarkson joins Channel 4’s team for the weekend, substituting for Lee McKenzize, who is winding down her F1 commitments. Over on 5 Live, coverage is primarily on Sports Extra throughout the weekend due to the Ryder Cup. Also, a reminder for anyone watching the F1 race live, it starts earlier than usual at 12:10 UK time.

Outside of the Formula 1 circles, the British Touring Car Championship ends its season at Brands Hatch, whilst the British Superbike season continues its Showdown phase over in the Netherlands for its annual Assen pilgrimage.

Channel 4 F1
29/09 – 16:30 to 18:30 – Qualifying Highlights
30/09 – 18:45 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
28/09 – 08:45 to 10:55 – Practice 1
28/09 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2
29/09 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
29/09 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
=> 12:00 – Pre-Show
=> 12:55 – Qualifying
30/09 – 10:30 to 15:10 – Race
=> 10:30 – Pit Lane Live
=> 11:30 – On the Grid
=> 12:05 – Race
=> 14:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
27/09 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
27/09 – 16:00 to 16:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
27/09 – 18:30 to 19:00 – When Daniel Met Paul
29/09 – 14:35 to 15:05 – The F1 Show

BBC Radio F1
27/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
28/09 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
28/09 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/09 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/09 – 12:55 to 14:55 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/09 – 12:00 to 13:55 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

British Superbikes – Assen
29/09 – 14:00 to 16:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 10:30 to 14:15 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 15:15 to 17:30 – Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
03/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

British Touring Car Championship – Brands Hatch (ITV4)
30/09 – 10:30 to 18:30 – Races

Formula Two – Russia (Sky Sports F1)
28/09 – 10:55 to 11:45 – Practice
28/09 – 14:50 to 15:30 – Qualifying
29/09 – 15:05 to 16:20 – Race 1 (tape delay)
30/09 – 09:15 to 10:20 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Russia (Sky Sports F1)
28/09 – 15:45 to 16:25 – Qualifying
29/09 – 08:10 to 09:05 – Race 1
30/09 – 08:00 to 08:45 – Race 2

World Superbikes – Magny Cours
28/09 – 08:40 onwards (Eurosport 2)
=> 08:40 to 09:30 – SBK: Practice 1
=> 10:45 to 12:15 – SBK: Practice
29/09 – 09:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 14:15 to 15:15 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
04/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Cup – China (Eurosport 2)
30/09 – 03:00 to 04:00 – Qualifying
30/09 – 07:00 to 09:00 – Races
=> 07:00 – Race 2
=> 08:00 – Race 3

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Further details emerge about Channel 4’s 2019 Formula 1 coverage

Channel 4’s Formula 1 highlights in 2019 will have a slightly different feel to them compared with the past three years, information obtained by this site reveals.

Shorter highlights on the table for Channel 4
The free-to-air UK broadcaster covering Formula 1 has specific restrictions that they must abide by regarding their highlights programming. From 2012 to 2015, this applied for the BBC, and has applied since 2016 for Channel 4.

One of the restrictions imposed on them concerned the scheduling of the highlights. The 2012 to 2018 contract stipulated that the gap between the race ending and the highlights edit starting must be equal to, or greater than, two hours.

For 2019’s new deal, following a request from Sky, that gap is extending to three hours, meaning that Channel 4’s highlights edit for European rounds cannot start until around 18:55 UK time.

As Channel 4 currently airs highlights for most European rounds from 18:45 to 21:00, this is unlikely to present them with any major problems. However, if Channel 4 wanted to use this time slot or similar in 2019, they do not have significant wriggle room in the event of a red flag situation (although force majeure may apply in that scenario).

A bigger problem comes with the Canadian, USA and Mexican rounds. Based on the 2018 start times, Channel 4’s highlights edit for those races will not start until nearly midnight, a less than ideal scenario.

In this situation, one possibility in my view would be to repeat the highlights programme on Monday in a friendlier time slot, but I do not know if Channel 4’s agreement with Sky allows for this. Depending on how timings shake out, Bahrain and Brazil will also not start until after 22:00.

In addition, Channel 4’s highlights edit will be slightly shorter than previous years, with around seven fewer minutes of action per race.

Whilst frustrating, given the other restriction imposed on them by Sky, the change could allow Channel 4 to air highlights for European rounds from 19:00 to 21:00, 15 fewer minutes than the typical length in 2018 to accommodate the shorter edit.

Whisper set to retain C4 production contract, but changes expected at Sky
This site has learnt that Whisper Films are expected to retain production rights for Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2019, although firm confirmation on both them and the talent involved is unlikely until the Winter.

A full tender process is also unlikely, with the terms of the agreement expected to be a formality between Whisper and Channel 4.

Elsewhere, multiple industry sources have indicated in recent weeks that on-air changes are expected to Sky’s Formula 1 team in 2019. What is unclear is the scale of the change, whether we are looking at a wholesale revamp of the line-up (as one source described the outlook), or a few adjustments around the edges.

As anticipated from the outset, Scott Young, Sky’s new Head of F1, is looking to bring fresh talent into the line-up.

Sky appointed Young to the role ahead of the 2018 season, succeeding Martin Turner, meaning that 2018 has been – to a degree – a transition year as Young analyses what in his view is working, and what needs to change.

We should remember that Sky’s team, apart from Paul di Resta and Nico Rosberg, has remained relatively static since their coverage started in 2012.

One name linked to Sky is Young’s fellow Australian compatriot and former Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who currently works with Channel 4 and has done since 2016. The expectation is that Whisper will not need as many on and off-air talent covering Formula 1 in 2019, and it is plausible that Webber will be on the market come the off-season.

There are other rumours on the grapevine, however at this stage they are just that, rumours. The consensus is that most people expect some form of change at Sky, but no one knows the scale.

Nevertheless, if even some of the rumours floating around have any semblance of truth, the next six months will be very interesting indeed…