The magic 2019 numbers

2019 has been another busy year for Motorsport Broadcasting, the first year under the new branding, with fans from nearly 200 countries accessing the site this year.

But why have visitors headed to the site this year? We dive into the stats to see if we can identify any trends…

As Motorsport Broadcasting has grown since its inception, the demographics and location of those visiting the site has changed slightly too.

Top 10 Countries – Percentage of all hits
01 – 71.3 percent (2018: 76.4) – United Kingdom
02 – 7.0 percent (2018: 6.0) – United States
03 – 2.5 percent (2018: 2.0) – Australia
04 – 2.0 percent (2018: 2.1) – Ireland
05 – 1.7 percent (2018: 1.5) – Canada
06 – 1.5 percent (2018: 1.1) – Netherlands
07 – 1.1 percent (2018: 1.3) – Germany
08 – 1.1 percent (2018: 0.8) – Spain
09 – 0.9 percent (2018: 0.9) – France
10 – 0.8 percent (2018: 0.7) – Italy

An interesting top ten, with some noticeable shifts. From a proportion perspective, the UK has dropped to its lowest level. For me, that is a good thing as it means the site is reaching a wider base abroad. In contrast, 7 percent of readers now come from the USA, the largest ever amount, with Australia also returning to their 2016 high.

The US increase is two-fold in my view: Netflix’s Drive to Survive helping to increase interest stateside, as well as the fact that ESPN take Sky Sports F1’s full-length coverage, meaning that the Sky F1 analysis that I publish is not just relevant to UK readers anymore, but also increasingly to readers overseas.

Outside of the top 10 sit Portugal, South Africa, and Finland, all clustered around 0.5 percent. South Africa is on the rise, having accounted for just 0.09 percent of the readership in 2013 and 0.33 percent in 2016. Hello to everyone from South Africa reading this piece!

Top 5 Referring Websites
01 – 66.8 percent (2018: 77.9) – Search engines
02 – 22.6 percent (2018: 15.3) – Twitter
03 – 3.5 percent (2018: 1.5) – Facebook
04 – 1.3 percent (2018: 2.1) – Reddit
05 – 1.2 percent (2018: n/a) – Autosport Forums

A few things here which buck the trend. Twitter rises to its highest referral rate ever, Facebook climbs back to equal its 2016 high, but Reddit falls for the third year running to its lowest level since 2013. The reason this is odd is because the Formula 1 sub-reddit has grown massively since 2016, so you would expect the number of referrals to at least be stable, if not increase further.

Irritatingly, WordPress does not break down the referrers by article, so it is impossible to say what made the most noise on Twitter (although the top 10 articles of the year post, coming up next week, gives a big clue…).

Top 10 Search Queries
01 – motorsport broadcasting
02 – where is martin brundle
03 – martin brundle missing
04 – motorsport broadcasting blog
05 – martin brundle
06 – f1 broadcasting
07 – channel 4 f1 coverage 2019
08 – where is martin brundle this week
09 – f1 broadcasting blog
10 – why is martin brundle not at f1 today

He is at home. Probably.

Many people consider Martin Brundle an integral part of Sky’s Formula 1 offering, and the top 10 search queries to this site during 2019 make that abundantly clear once again. The first non-F1 related entry comes in fourteenth position with ‘wrc 2019 tv coverage uk’, as fans wondered which UK station the World Rally Championship would end up this season.

2019 was another intriguing year on the broadcasting front, and 2020 promises more of the same.

Statistics compiled and correct as of December 15th, 2019.

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F1 surges towards MotoGP in the social media stakes

Motorsport Broadcasting has dissected social media figures over the past six years, looking across the landscape at what has happened, and what we should be looking out for next.

As always when analysing social media data, it is not about the month-by-month changes, but rather looking at the longer-term trend across the year, and in some cases several years. Across the social platforms, the trend from a motor sport perspective remains the same: Instagram is ever more important, Facebook is stable, whilst Twitter is on the decline.

How well are stakeholders reacting to the change? We take a deep dive below the headlines to see what we can find…

A little health warning to begin that the three sections below use different time periods for the comparisons:

  • Championships – comparing data from December 20th, 2018
  • Teams – comparing data from July 1st, 2018
  • Drivers – comparing data from April 6th, 2019

We use publicly available data for this analysis, such as the number of followers. Whilst the figures presented do not give a reliable indicator as to the engagement per series, the figures do give an idea as to whether a championship or team is attracting a new audience, which is critical for the growth of the sport moving forward.

F1 set to overtake MotoGP in 2020
The big news is that Motorsport Broadcasting predicts that Formula 1 will overtake MotoGP to become the biggest motor sport series on social media in the latter stages of 2020, a remarkable achievement considering how far F1 has come in recent years in comparison to the bike series.

In the past year, F1’s following across the three main social media platforms has increased by 28.9 percent from 16.73 million to 21.56 million followers. In contrast, MotoGP’s following has increased by 11.5 percent, from 22.20 million to 24.76 million followers, which is still strong in isolation.

MotoGP’s following skews towards Facebook, whereas F1 is more split across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. F1 is clearly hitting the right buttons on social media, attracting a new audience to their social channels, and rightly so given the amount they are investing in it.

The challenge for MotoGP is to adapt their social media offering. F1’s social media offering in 2019 is distinctly un-corporate, almost making MotoGP look old school which is not an observation you would make even two years ago.

Second best is not a bad position to be in, and MotoGP would be far ahead of every other motor racing series in that scenario. But, now is probably the time for the leading bike series to overhaul their offer heading into the 2020 season. The same statement applies for NASCAR…

Social media - December 2019 - F1 vs MotoGP vs NASCAR.png

2019 has been another excellent year for the World Rally Championship, with their reach increasing by 15.8 percent, from 3.59 million to 4.16 million followers. An increased focus on Instagram helped their audience swell by 59.5 percent to 1.17 million followers, pushing the championship ahead of NASCAR on the image-sharing platform.

Formula E also gained massively during 2019, jumping by 47.8 percent from 1.65 million followers to 2.44 million followers, overtaking World Superbikes, the World Touring Car Cup, and the IndyCar Series.

However, Formula E’s following has stalled at around 1.6 million likes on Facebook (unusual considering the significant growth directly preceding it), although Instagram continues to grow solidly for the electric series.

The series has made significant noise in recent days with the announcement that they are teaming up with South Korean boy band BTS.

A tweet announcing the collaboration generated over 80,000 retweets and 150,000 likes, by far the largest ever motor sport related tweet. It will be interesting to see if the announcement results in any new followers for Formula E.

Further down the pecking order, Formula Two had a good year on social media, but there is a sad explanation behind the gain.

The F1 feeder series has seen their following double from 265,000 followers to 536,000 followers, but additional analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting shows that traffic towards their channels surged following the death of Anthoine Hubert during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend in August.

Williams and Racing Point on-track struggles hurt social performance
A poor year on-track for the Williams and Racing Point Formula 1 outfits has continued off the circuit, with little social media growth, despite Poland’s Robert Kubica returning to F1 for the former.

The teams, based at Grove and Silverstone respectively, have seen their portfolio of channels grow by just 400,000 followers (or 19 percent) across the past 18 months. As a result, Racing Point have dropped behind Toro Rosso (soon to be re-branded AlphaTauri), with Alfa Romeo now snapping at Racing Point’s heels.

On Instagram, Racing Point’s growth is the lowest of the whole grid, whilst Williams hold that stat over on Twitter.

It is unlikely Toro Rosso could overtake Renault any time soon however, as Renault sit in Class 1.5 on their own, six million followers behind the top four, but over two million followers ahead of Williams.

Social media - December 2019 - F1 teams.png

The gulf between Class 1 and Class 2 shows no sign of slowing, with Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren continuing to record healthy social media growth. The four teams have each increased their total following by between 2.5 and 3 million followers in the past 18 months, dwarfing the rest of the field.

What is fascinating is the profile of the four teams across social media. On Facebook, Mercedes is comfortably king with 11.31 million likes, but Red Bull continues to record sizeable increases, jumping from 9.05 million likes to 10.24 million likes since Summer 2018.

Over on Instagram it is McLaren setting the standard, increasing their following by 91.8 percent, jumping from 2.60 million followers to 4.98 million followers, numbers undoubtedly helped by both of their drivers having a large presence on the platform.

Hamilton continues to reign supreme
Threatened by lawyers in the previous era, one driver continues to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

Since April, Lewis Hamilton’s Instagram following has jumped by 3.26 million followers, from 10.47 million to 13.73 million, a simply staggering amount of growth.

Only Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc could claim to be remotely close in terms of raw growth (from a much lower base too), moving the needle from 1.01 million to 2.60 million followers, an increase of 1.59 million.

In his second season, Leclerc is already the fourth most popular driver on Instagram, behind Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Daniel Ricciardo, with much more growth possible for the Monegasque driver.

Across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Hamilton’s 23.56 million follower tally is greater than the next seven F1 drivers combined, covering Ricciardo, Verstappen, Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas, Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz. It is ever more pertinent that rivals challenge Hamilton harder than ever for his crown in 2020.

Instagram is the main contributor to Hamilton’s social media growth, with little gains for the six-time champion on Facebook or Twitter.

Social media - December 2019 - with and without Hamilton.png

Leclerc is the fastest growing driver on Facebook, but with an increase of only 91,000 likes since April, whilst McLaren rookie Lando Norris takes the honours on Twitter, increasing by 211,000 followers. Intagram is clearly the place to be for personality driven content, as the figures show.

Moving forward, Norris and Leclerc are the drivers to watch, having grown in total on social media by 1.12 million followers (or 280 percent) and 1.89 million followers (or 144 percent) respectively. Both are very young, and immensely popular with their fan bases on Instagram.

In comparison, Verstappen’s following has increased by 941,000 accounts. Whilst consistent, Verstappen’s growth is way behind the brand that Hamilton has built up over the past ten years.

Hamilton’s brand is awesome for F1, but could become detrimental if he retires on top, devaluing the rest of the competition in the process. In my view, dethroning Hamilton is important to elevate someone beyond the glass ceiling in the eyes of the wider public.

2020 looks set to be a fascinating year on the social media front, with F1 set to usurp MotoGP on top, Formula E continuing to make strong gains, and the new generation making an impact on the F1 front. It is all to play for…

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Whisper’s C4 F1 highlights package shines in new era

Earlier this week, news broke that Whisper would continue to produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 free-to-air coverage in 2020, as the broadcaster enters a new three-year deal with Sky Sports to air the sport.

2019 was a year of change for the UK’s free-to-air viewers of F1, as fans accustomed themselves to life without live action. Only the British Grand Prix aired live on free-to-air television, with every other race airing exclusively live on Sky.

Across the year, Whisper produced highlights of every qualifying session and race, as well as live coverage of the Silverstone round. Including commercials, Channel 4’s highlights package consisted of 90 minutes for qualifying and 120 minutes for the race. Slicing off commercials takes both totals down to around 72 and 96 minutes respectively, giving fans a chance to view the action.

John Curtis led Whisper’s F1 production team for the first-time, replacing Mark Wilkin as their producer.

How well have Whisper managed to manoeuvre the obstacles placed in their way this year? We look at how their F1 coverage has fared…

A variety of vantage points on offer…
Although Channel 4 did not air live coverage throughout 2019, Whisper played to their own storytelling strengths with high quality VT’s.

The opening vignette for their Abu Dhabi race day coverage featured a powerful voice over of six-time Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton telling his story, as viewers watched Hamilton tackling the final lap of the US Grand Prix from his helmet-facing camera angle. It was simple, yet innovative, unusual, and effective.

Whisper’s VT’s stretched across the full grid, meaning that fans still saw the personalities behind the helmets even if Channel 4 were unable to offer live coverage outside of Silverstone. Steve Jones’ sit-down interview with Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen in Canada helped get beneath the bones of Raikkonen’s character and was one highlight of their year.

There is no doubt that losing Karun Chandhok to Sky hurt Channel 4’s coverage on the technical front. But, with only Silverstone airing live on Channel 4, his loss was not as significant as it could have been. Channel 4 and Whisper covered up his departure through rotating their punditry throughout the season (a possible result of restrictions from a personnel quota perspective).

Pleasingly, Whisper utilised their complete cast of on-air talent during their pre- and post-race programming (including new for 2019 podcast On the Marbles), from Mark Webber, through to Billy Monger, and onto Ben Edwards.

Edwards’ own post-race segment, aptly titled “Ben’s Bible” helped shine a light on the midfield teams, wrapping up stories from pit lane. It was awesome to see Whisper use Edwards more – his broadcasting talent extends far behind the commentary box, and it is only right that we see him utilised more on-screen.

Monger excelled in his first season with Channel 4, gelling straight into his role with the team. As a fan, you could feel a natural on-screen connection between the likes of Monger, George Russell and Lando Norris, all young Brits, and that made the interview segments much easier to watch in my view.

Throughout 2019, Whisper strived to show viewers more than just the paddock, taking advantage of the fact that they were not live on-air, whether through choice or not is a different question.

For example, Whisper presented the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying opening segment from the smog of the Shanghai city, taking viewers to the heart of the city. Sky do not have the same luxury for good reason, they need to be in the paddock surroundings for their live broadcasts, airing their live programming outside of the paddock would make little sense.

…but inflexibility hampers programming
For all the effort that Whisper went into to make their programming distinctive, and they did a good job at that, the restrictions in their contract meant that things were perhaps not as great as they could have been.

The race edits were generally slick across the season, but inflexibility did not help. Each race had a 45-minute edit allocated to it, meaning that the likes of France were on an equal billing as Germany, even though the latter was far more exciting than the former.

Over on the BBC’s weekly Premier League football highlights programme Match of the Day, highlights of a game can vary from anywhere between five to ten minutes, although admittedly that is within the context of one show. But it shows that flexibility does exist within the remit of a highlights-based sporting contract.

Is there a world where Sky require Channel 4 to air an average of 45 minutes per race across the season, but ‘flexed’ that so that they can air between 35 and 55 minutes each race?

This would allow Channel 4 to air a 55-minute edit for Germany and a 35-minute edit for France. Each would still need to fit in a 96-minute slot (excluding commercials), but it at least gives Channel 4 flexibility. And, if Channel 4 make a wrong decision and the last few races of the season turn out to be more (or less) exciting – tough.

Two other aspects that would improve the highlights edit itself would be the ability to play out interviews in a picture-in-picture format during the race. If a midfield driver retires from the race, it makes sense from a storytelling standpoint to play out the post-race interview there and then, as opposed to after the race.

The spoiler previews prior to each ad-break did not sit well with me either, although I understand the logic in it to keep the audience hooked for later in the race.

At several races in 2019, Whisper opted to present their commentary off-tube, but not as you would expect. Whilst co-commentator David Coulthard remained on-site, Edwards stayed back at Whisper’s base in Ealing, which feels like an odd way to deal with the situation. If you want to commentate off-tube, fine, but at least go the full way instead of a 50/50 approach.

The Canadian Grand Prix weekend saw this scenario unfold, but the delay between Coulthard and Edwards was significant, leading to disjointed commentary, as if someone stitched it together from two separate sources. Whilst of some frustration, if the alternative was having no Edwards at all, then maybe this is the best of a bad situation.

I could criticise Whisper for other elements of their highlights programming: no grid interviews, and few post-race driver interviews. But, as a broadcaster and production company, you can only do what the contract stipulates. And, as we well know (Silverstone aside), Channel 4 were banned from the grid, and forced to take Sky’s post-session interviews from the interview pen.

Channel 4’s Formula 1 viewing figures may have dropped significantly on 2018, but that in my opinion is not a reflection on the quality of programming that Whisper have aired this year.

There are things that could change, both inside and outside of Whisper’s production contract. But overall, free-to-air viewers of Formula 1 in 2019 have had a high-quality highlights package that they can rely on.

The situation is not ideal for those without Sky, but it also serves as a reminder that, without Whisper on-board, the package on offer could be significantly worse.

For the next few years, expect the status quo to remain – with Channel 4 set to remain in the F1 fold until at least 2022.

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Whisper fends off competition to retain C4 F1 production contract

Whisper will continue to produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2020, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

The production house, led by ex-BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Sunil Patel, has produced Channel 4’s offering since they entered the sport in 2016.

Following Sky’s successful bid to cover the sport exclusively from 2019, Channel 4 grabbed free-to-air highlights of every round and live coverage of the British Grand Prix – both elements sub-let from Sky.

Channel 4 accepted Whisper’s bid to produce their 2019 offering, and now the organisation will produce their 2020 coverage. Motorsport Broadcasting understands that Whisper fought off competition from North One Television to retain the production rights.

Neither Whisper or Channel 4 have made an official announcement, although industry magazine Broadcast are also reporting the news. 2020 is a big year for The Whisper Group, as they are also producing Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage from Tokyo.

The wording of the Formula 1 tender from Channel 4 meant that the number of interested parties would always be light on the ground.

Channel 4 stated that they would only consider proposals from parties with “extensive experience of production in the motor sport arena,” reducing the prospect of a new party entering the market.

Whisper qualify as the incumbent, whilst North One qualify having produced BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage since 2014, as well as collaborating with Aurora Media Worldwide on Formula E.

Given the positive reception to Whisper’s coverage of F1 on Channel 4, it is unsurprising that Channel 4 have maintained the status quo for 2020.

What is unclear is whether the production contract between Channel 4 and Whisper covers 2020 only, or whether it covers the full length of Channel 4’s deal with Sky until the end of 2022.

Barring an approach from Sky for any of their talent, it is highly likely that Whisper’s Formula 1 coverage on Channel 4 will have the same look and feel in 2020.

Expect Steve Jones to continue to front their coverage for his fifth season in F1, alongside the likes of Ben Edwards, David Coulthard and Mark Webber.

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Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2019 Verdict

The chequered flag has fallen on another year of Formula 1, and with it the end of the 2019 motor racing season.

Despite both MotoGP and F1 having a relatively predictable outcome, the journey to the destination has been enticing throughout. From the thrilling German Grand Prix on four wheels, to Alex Rins beating Marc Marquez at Silverstone by milometers on two wheels, there was something for everyone this year.

Off track, 2019 has been a year of change for fans of F1 in the UK. Live coverage of the sport aired exclusively on Sky Sports for the first time ever, following in the footsteps of MotoGP which moved to BT in 2014. Only the British Grand Prix aired live on free-to-air television.

In the social media space, F1 continues to make excellent strides in an ever-changing world, whilst others have had to rethink their strategy to work out how best to engage with their audience.

Now, Motorsport Broadcasting wants your opinion on the past twelve months. Which personality has shone in 2019 and deserves a bigger presence in 2020? What was the low-light from a broadcasting perspective for you this season? And, if there was one thing you could change next season, what would it be?

As always, the best thoughts will form an article on this site over the festive period.

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