“Geniune interest” from Sky for Chandhok to join ahead of 2019

Sky Sports F1’s newest recruit Karun Chandhok says that there was a “genuine interest” from the broadcaster for him to join ahead of the 2019 Formula One season.

Following his departure from racing in F1, Chandhok initially joined Sky’s F1 team in a supplementary role from 2012 to 2014, before joining Channel 4 in 2016 as their regular pit lane reporter. Now, Chandhok is back with Sky, although he says the decision to switch was not straightforward.

“It wasn’t an easy decision [to join Sky] because I’ve enjoyed my time at Channel 4,” says Chandhok, talking to me at the Autosport Show. “We’ve had three fun years, the people were lovely, and they all knew each other from the BBC days. I was the new person lobbed into it, but they were very welcoming.”

“I really enjoyed working with them, but when I started speaking with Sky around the middle of last year, I realised that there was a real genuine interest in wanting me to join the team. Scott Young [Sky’s Head of F1] made a really good case for wanting me there, and really made me feel wanted.”

“For me personally, I was going back to a team that I knew, that I’d worked with in the past, they’re all people who I call friends, even when I was with Channel 4. I’m looking forward to working with them again.”

The former F1 driver joins Sky’s existing roster of talent for 2019, which this year also includes 2009 Drivers’ Champion Jenson Button, who joins Sky for five races after a one-off appearance with them at last year’s British Grand Prix.

Chandhok, who says that he will be with Sky at most races this season, added that Channel 4 were aware of his negotiations with Sky early in the process, and was complimentary of the Channel 4 team on his exit.

“I signed a three-year deal with Channel 4 at the start [in 2016], so it’s a natural point, it’s not like there is any breaking of contract. As far back as the British Grand Prix in the Summer, I told Mark Wilkin, Sunil Patel, and Stephen Lyle at Channel 4 that I was talking with Sky, so they already knew.”

“I left things in a good way, Sunil sent me a lovely Christmas present for my little one, and I still trade texts with Mark [Wilkin] and DC. I’ve left on good terms, which for me is very important, it’s like changing race teams.”

“You’ve built up a relationship as friends,” he added. “There is a professional side, you make decisions for your professional life, but there’s also the personal side. While I’ve changed professionally from one side to the other, personally I’m still friends with these people.”

“At the very first race in 2016, I said to Mark [Wilkin], ‘I don’t want to know what I’m doing well, tell me what I’m not doing well’, and DC was like that, he would never want people to praise him, he only wanted people to tell him what he was doing wrong.”

“I think that’s the same with most racing talent, you come into the pits, you look at the data. You don’t look to see what you’re doing well, you look at the data to see the bits you need to improve on, and I think in many ways racing drivers carry on that same mentality to everything they do in life.”

Ahead of 2019, Sky’s first year of their new contract which runs until 2024, Chandhok is excited at the potential that Sky has to offer.

“Sky’s resources are amazing. We’ve got opportunities to do stuff with historic F1 cars,” he said. “Sky are really embracing the history of F1 through new marketing material that is coming out soon. They’ve got such a massive team of resources that we can tap in to, there’s great potential for great television and we have the air time to do that.”

“If you look at it today, Sky are the biggest investors in F1, bigger than any sponsor. To be a part of that programme, you know your part of something that’s in it for the long-term and believe in the sport.”

“They’ve been doing a great job ever since they arrived in F1 in 2012, if you’re a keen fan, and you’ve paid to be a subscriber, then I think Sky tick a lot of the boxes. There’s always opportunity to juggle things up, and I think in some way that’s where I come in, just to change it up. It’ll be interesting to see what we make this year.”

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No UK free-to-air coverage for WRC as Channel 5 deal ends

As the first round of the 2019 World Rally Championship concludes in Monte Carlo, it looks increasingly unlikely that the championship will have a presence on free-to-air television in the United Kingdom this season, this site can reveal.

The championship has enjoyed mixed success in the UK over the years. The series was a mainstay on BBC’s Grandstand in the 1990’s, before moving over to Channel 4 and then ITV1 in the early 2000’s. Viewing figures dropped off as the series switched from ITV1 to ITV4 in 2007, and then onto Dave one-year later.

Audiences continued to slip on Dave, leading to the championship’s exit from free-to-air television beginning with the 2011 season, arguably its lowest ebb. It was not long before WRC returned to free-to-air television however, ITV4 picking up the action from the third round of the 2013 season. Liking what they saw, Channel 5 snatched the rights at the start of 2016, airing highlights in the week following the event at 19:00.

However, sources close to the situation have told this site that there will be no extension to the Channel 5 deal. It is the second time in recent months that Channel 5 have not renewed one of their motor racing contracts (either through choice or not), the first being Formula E last November.

Since moving to Channel 5, an average audience of around 300,000 viewers have watched the WRC highlights programme, according to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv. In 2016, an audience of 337k (1.8%) watched highlights, but figures have dipped in the past two seasons to 275k (1.5%) and 281k (1.6%) respectively.

Although the viewing figures are much higher than what WRC attracted than when the series was not on free-to-air television, the viewing figures are below Channel 5’s average audience in that slot. Perhaps crucially, WRC’s figures are below what MotoGP has attracted in the same slot in recent years, the bike series regularly attracting more than 400,000 viewers.

It is currently unknown if MotoGP highlights will air on Channel 5 this season. It may be that Channel 5’s bosses have simply fallen out with motor sport and have decided to head in a different direction rather than WRC wanting to seek other alternatives.

I understand that WRC’s organisers are happy with their new multi-year contract with BT Sport, and that a new deal with a free-to-air broadcaster currently looks unlikely. Of course, that is subject to change, as we saw in 2013 when ITV4’s deal kicked in from round three onwards.

Aside from BT Sport, and WRC’s over-the-top All Live platform, the free alternative online is Red Bull TV which has highlights of each day on their website, and has had for many years.

As fantastic as these platforms are, in my opinion the sport still needs that one-hour free-to-air television shop window for those viewers who want to dip in and out of the action throughout the season. If the championship does not secure a slot soon on one of the main Freeview channels, I will be very surprised.

But, for the moment, rallying is again without a free-to-air home in the UK. Both Channel 5 and WRC were unable to offer further comment.

 

How All Live is changing the face of rallying: production

Whilst many motor racing publications tend to focus on Formula 1 or MotoGP’s broadcasting exploits, elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, a quiet revolution has been taking place that deserves far more attention than what it has received.

To discover more, this writer took a trip up to Deeside for the 2018 Wales Rally GB to see what the fuss was about for a three-part series. If you missed the first two parts, head over here and here

On track, 2018 was an amazing year for the World Rally Championship, with a three-way battle between Sebastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak going down to the wire in Australia. Neuville and Tanak faltered, with Ogier coming away as champion for a sixth consecutive season.

For the fans watching the action at home, 2018 was just as good, with the introduction of All Live, WRC’s over-the-top service that aimed to bring fans closer to the action by airing every stage live.

Although All Live arguably revolutionised rallying for its core fanbase, WRC’s Editor in Chief Kevin Piper emphasises that other outlets, such as the traditional highlights programme, are still important.

“The other content is still crucially important for the territories and broadcasters that rely on those. Recently social media has become far more important over the past five or six years, so you’re feeding that as well,” Piper tells me.

“The News [segments that we release] we appreciate is massively important because that’s bite-size, free-to-air content that major broadcasters may pick up on if there’s been a big moment, that’s great exposure. All Live has come on top of all of that, and added a whole new dimension for the rally fans and hopefully wider audience.”

The rotating army
On-air, All Live featured an array of talent during 2018, with different people coming in and out of the setup during each rally weekend. The studio team rotated throughout, with Abi Griffiths, Kiri Bloore and Alex Legouix sharing presenting duties. The three of them also doubled up as a reporter alongside Molly Pettit during the Service Park gaps.

Similarly, Becs Williams, who is All Live’s lead commentator, also interviewed the key players. The likes of Jon Desborough, Julian Porter, Nicky Grist and Ben Constanduros joined Williams in the commentary booth, and Piper is happy with the strength of what he calls a “versatile” team.

“One of the greatest strengths of this team, and we played our part in thinking about who comes to work for us, apart from the expertise, the experience, the motivation and the enthusiasm is we’ve got, partly by design, partly out of natural evolution, partly necessity, a group of versatile people who are capable in different disciplines,” Piper says.

“We have people who can produce, script and voice. We look for people who can do a bit of everything. We try to make each event unique, here for GB, we’ve had Nicky Grist and Robert Reed, who have added fantastic value to the co-commentary alongside Becs.”

The multilingual team is necessary in a multilingual paddock, which plays into the commentary throughout the weekend.

“I think we’ve been very good when Becs is commentating,” says Marko Viitanen, WRC’s television director. “We have different nationalities in our team who can always translate a language, if there’s something wrong with the Finnish guys I can always translate and get that back up to her, we have Swedish, German, Spanish, French, we can get those little insights.”

“I think All Live to a certain extent has changed the whole sport, because now the drivers cannot hide anything. They can’t say ‘we just overshot a corner’, when it never happened, so that’s changed a lot.”

As covered earlier, the All Live setup also allows the on-air team to speak to people from outside of rallying during the service breaks, such as former football player Sammi Hyypia, with a similar setup expected for this upcoming season.

The numbers game
In-Car Cameras – 48 cameras

45 – On-Board (3 x 15)
3 – Exta FX GoPro On-Board

Action Cameras – 24 cameras
15 – Highlights
9 – TV Live (Line Cut at SS)

Other Cameras – 14 cameras
7 – All Live (4 with RF kits)
4 – Manufacturer Area Fixed
2 – Drones
1 – Helicopter Cineflex

Behind the lens, there is an army of people putting the All Live product together, as Viitanen explains.

“There’s between 70 to 80 people in the crew in total, in operations at one time for All Live, it’s a crew of 50 to 55 people. You always see the cameramen, when you come into the production truck, you see guys doing slow-mos, mixing the pictures, you see those in action.”

“But there’s a lot of guys on the RF (radio frequency signal) and plane side that you never see or hear from, and All Live would not be possible without them. We cannot afford to put 10 or 20 cameras on every stage, across a whole event that would be impossible to manage, so the RF guys are really the heart of the operation.”

86 cameras, 1 event
Although rallying covers a wide amount of terrain, all the production for All Live is done back at Service Park.

“We’ve changed our production dramatically. Rallying is kind of a remote production, all of our production happens here at base,” explains Viitanen. “We get the ground cameras, the on-boards, the heli, the RF cameras, back via either the plane or via satellite, and the whole programme is combined here to create the package that fans see. We put graphics, slow-motions and the like, all that on top of it here.”

In total, there are around 86 cameras per event, although some shots are not available to use live. Special shots, such as the drone and various action angles, are utilised exclusively in the non-live wrap-up programme. The quality of the RF images is critically important to the success of All Live, meaning that the RF team must position the plane accurately during each stage.

“We’re doing over a 100km stretch here as well on the Saturday, the stages are so far away, so there’s more than a hundred kilo meters from base that we actually have the plane flying,” Viitanen explains. “We have two pilots in the air and two technicians, then there is one guy here who controls the plane, so he tells them from the ground where they should fly.”

“His job is to position the plane in a way so that he can receive the start camera, the finish camera, the on-boards and the helicopter. It’s always a combination of how the weather is up there, how much wind there is, what kind of stage you have, if you have mountains on this side or that side, so you have to move the plane from start to finish.”

“We’ll learn from everything this year [2018]Β and come back next year [2019] with more knowledge,” Steve Turvey, WRC’s Location Director adds.

“You’ve got to remember that every single event we are doing is brand new for everybody. The level of return we are getting now is absolutely staggering, we’re all amazed. To get that amount of data back, three signals from each car with telemetry, everything out in the right order is just a phenomenal achievement.”

Looking forward to 2019
Heading in 2019, what do Viitanen and Piper make of their first year of All Live?

“I think All Live has really succeeded on the way that we have put the technique to work for us, and I think that’s one of the highlights of the production, still with limited technical resources,” says Viitanen. “I have friends who’ll do F1, they cannot believe how much smaller the technical resources that we have compared to them.”

“You can compare the production style to the Tour de France, but the bikes don’t move as fast as rally cars, so that gives us a bit of a headache!”

“AllΒ Live has made this whole operation even more interesting, more complex from a technical point of view,” Piper adds, excited for what the future holds. “It’s a great challenge, a great new adventure, and after being involved in sports journalism and broadcasting for more years than what I can remember now, this is the icing on the cake.”

2018 has been year one for All Live. For fans worried that All Live was a one-year experiment, fear not. This weekend in the south of France, and at every rally in 2019, the team go again, but with the knowledge of 2018, this year promises to be even better for rallying fans.

F1 to broadcast the first pre-season test live in 2019

Formula 1 will broadcast the first pre-season test of 2019 live, one of the championship’s main broadcasters has confirmed.

The test, which takes place from Monday 18th February to Thursday 21st February in Barcelona, will air live via F1 TV’s premium tier service in its entirety. For UK fans however, coverage will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, but only the afternoon element.

Across the four days, F1 TV Pro will cover the full test, with every second of on-track action covered. In comparison,Β Sky are airing twenty hours of coverage, with their broadcast running from 13:00 to 18:00 each afternoon. For the first four hours of Sky’s programme, on-track action will be the centre of attention, with special guests throughout the coverage.

Following the conclusion of each day an hour-long review show, Welcome to F1 2019, will air from 17:00 to 18:00 on both Sky F1 and F1 TV Pro. As of writing, it is unclear whether the on-air team will consist of purely Sky personnel, or whether the coverage will be a hybrid of Sky and FOM personnel. Sky’s newest recruit Karun Chandhok will be involved in coverage.

Given the different lengths, with Sky on-air much later than the World Feed, it is possible that Sky’s programme will be completely bespoke. Formula One Management (FOM) are providing a feed for the first test, however sources close to the situation say that this is a one-off move to inform future decision-making, hence why both Sky’s and FOM’s article contains no reference to the second Barcelona test.

Most extensive coverage of F1 testing ever
The foray back into the live testing scene means that the first Barcelona test will be the most extensive for a Formula 1 test ever. But it is not the first-time F1 testing has aired live.

In 2013, live coverage of the second Barcelona test aired on Sky Sports F1, although it was designed to promote Sky’s 3D offering, and was largely a Sky production. Nevertheless, the broadcaster provided two and a half hours of live action each day, half the amount that Sky are airing this year.

Back then, combined over the live airing and the repeat showing, audience figures peaked with just over 100,000 viewers, a good number for pre-season testing and on a similar ballpark to GP2 (as it was then), GP3 and IndyCar, although that excludes devices such as Sky Go. Numbers may suffer this time round, with no weekend action to draw fans in.

One of the great things about Sky’s live coverage in 2013 that I mentioned at the time was hearing from new voices from down within the pit lane, back then it was Marc Priestley getting some on-air screen time alongside Ted Kravitz.

Airing testing live gives Sky an opportunity to experiment, see what works and what does not, which should inform their main coverage this year. The same applies for FOM, testing may be an appropriate time to test a new graphic or camera angle to see what gets a good reaction on social media, and again what does not.

The main industry argument for not airing testing: it is dull. Airing eight hours of on-track action each day would make for terrible television, and I agree with that view-point. However, the ‘2013 model’ which Sky ran with, airing the last two hours live, interspersed with the best bits from earlier in the day, worked extremely well in my view.

Although I will be watching with interest what the ‘2019 model’ has to offer, my initial gut feeling is that five hours per day is a little tooΒ much. Three hours at a push maybe, but five hours may become repetitive fast, especially if rain hits any of the four days. But who knows, maybe five hours is the optimal amount, we shall see.

How much analysis FOM and Sky can get out of the product will be intriguing to see, considering how restrictive teams tend to be at each of the F1 tests.

MotoGP have covered testing live in some format for years, so this is not new for motor sport. The post-season test from Valencia has aired live for several years, with full World Feed treatment, helped by the fact that all their facilities are already on site from the final race weekend a few days earlier.

The championship gives the pre-season Sepang test coverage from their hub in Spain, with pre-recorded bike shots from the track interspersed within the studio chatter, purely on the grounds of cost. Clearly, they feel there is a small audience for it, but not enough to justify sending the full crew to Sepang for the test.

Inevitably, the whole testing argument boils down to cost. If the metrics simply do not add up, then there is little point continuing with the experiment, which will determine whether FOM push ahead with airing testing live again beyond 2019.

Update on January 23rd – I have modified portions of the article as F1 has today confirmed that the entirety of the first test will air live on F1 TV Pro, with Sky airing the afternoon element only.

Whilst F1 TV Pro is the most logical place for testing in full, I do think FOM would have been wiser to air some of the test for free via social media and YouTube, because I do not see subscriptions to F1 TV Pro spiking, just to watch testing. Relatively speaking though, it should be a hit with existing subscribers.

FOM’s release also covers those countries receiving F1 TV Pro for the first time in 2019, including Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.

Scheduling: The 2019 Rally Monte Carlo / Santiago E-Prix

Every stage, of every rally, live. All Live is back for year two, with the Monte Carlo rally opening the 2019 World Rally Championship!

The rallying curtain raiser takes place from Thursday 24th January through to Sunday 27th January. Every stage is not only available via WRC’s over-the-top service, but for the first time ever is also available on BT Sport.

BT are airing the main All Live feed via their Red Button service throughout the 2019 season, offering rallying fans an alternative way to view the action. BT’s existing 2018 commitments remain, with a select number of stages (WRC’s live World Feed content) airing on their linear channel as well as the daily highlights packages.

Further west, Mexico City plays host to the Race of Champions this weekend. The action airs live on Sky Sports F1, with Will Buxton and Neil Cole on commentary, and David Croft and Jennie Gow reporting from the pit lane.

Elsewhere, Formula E heads to Santiago for the third round of the season, with BBC, Eurosport, BT Sport and YouTube covering the race live.

Race of Champions – Mexico City (Sky Sports F1)
19/01 – 19:00 to 22:00 – Nations Cup
20/01 – 19:00 to 22:00 – Race of Champions

Formula E – Santiago
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying also air live on YouTube…
25/01 – 18:15 to 19:00 – Shakedown (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Practice 1 (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Practice 2 (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 14:45 to 16:15 – Qualifying (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 17:45 to 18:30 – Qualifying Delayed (Eurosport 2)
26/01 – 18:30 to 20:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms
=> live on BT Sport 3
=> live on Eurosport 2
26/01 – 18:30 to 20:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
27/01 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights (Quest)

World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo (All Live – BT Sport Extra 1)
Every stage also live via WRCPlus.com
24/01 – 09:45 to 11:00 – Shakedown
24/01 – 17:30 to 18:15 – Opening Ceremony
24/01 – 18:30 to 20:45 – Stages 1 and 2
25/01 – 06:15 to 17:15 – Stages 3 to 8
26/01 – 06:45 to 14:30 – Stages 9 to 12
27/01 – 06:45 to 12:45 – Stages 13 to 16

World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo
24/01 – 18:30 to 19:30 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 1)
25/01 – 21:45 to 22:15 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Stage 12 (BT Sport 1)
27/01 – 00:45 to 01:15 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
27/01 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 16 [Power Stage] (also BT Sport 3)
27/01 – 19:15 to 19:45 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)

Eagle eyed readers will spot zero reference to World Rally Championship’s free-to-air highlights programme. That is because there is currently no word on who is airing the package, and there is no sign of it in Channel 5’s current schedules either. As and when – or if – the schedule updates, I will update this article.