Scheduling: The 2019 Sanya E-Prix

Formula E remains in the far east for the second leg of its Asian tour, as the championship heads to China for the Sanya E-Prix.

After its one-off appearance on BBC Two last time out in Hong Kong, the series returns to BBC’s Red Button on Saturday, with World Feed only coverage returning. As always, Vernon Kay and Nicki Shields preside over proceedings, with Bob Varsha, Jack Nicholls, and Dario Franchitti in the commentary box.

On the radio side, Tom Gaymor, Claire Cottingham and Marc Priestley will commentate on the action for Formula E Radio as well as BBC 5 Live Sports Extra.

Over in the west, the Circuit of the Americas plays host the IndyCar Series. Barring any technical difficulties, the race itself will run without commercials for UK viewers on Sky Sports F1, a stark contrast to the first race in St Petersburg when the UK programme followed the same ad-break pattern as their US counterparts.

Formula E – Sanya
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying also air live on YouTube…
22/03 – 07:45 to 08:45 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
22/03 – 23:15 to 00:15 – Practice 1 (BT Sport 1)
23/03 – 01:30 to 02:15 – Practice 2 (BT Sport 1)
23/03 – 03:00 to 04:45 – Qualifying (BT Sport 1 and Eurosport)
23/03 – 06:30 to 08:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms
=> live on BT Sport 1
=> live on Eurosport
23/03 – 06:30 to 08:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
24/03 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Quest)

Formula E Radio – Sanya (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/03 – 03:15 to 04:50 – Qualifying
23/03 – 06:45 to 08:20 – Race

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Sanya (BT Sport 1)
23/03 – 00:15 to 01:00 – Qualifying
23/03 – 04:45 to 05:45 – Race

IndyCar Series – Austin (Sky Sports F1)
23/03 – 19:00 to 20:30 – Qualifying
24/03 – 17:00 to 20:00 – Race

If anything changes, the schedule will be updated.

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Australian Grand Prix peaks with 1.4 million viewers across Sky’s TV platforms

A peak audience of nearly 1.4 million viewers watched the season opening Australian Grand Prix across Sky’s portfolio of television channels, overnight viewing figures show.

The figure includes those who watched either live, or one of Sky’s repeat airings before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.

As always, this site reports overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv. The figures include those who watched between live and 02:00 the following morning, known in the industry as Live + VOSDAL (live and ‘video on same day as live’).

The audience figures reported exclude those that watched the programming via platforms such as All 4, Sky Go and Now TV.

For 2019, to present an equal measure across years, this site will continue to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s coverage, covering 70 minutes before lights out, to around 50 minutes after the chequered flag. This covers the last half of Pit Lane Live, all of On the Grid, the race itself, and the first half of Paddock Live.

Race – Sky live
Sky aired live coverage of the race across their F1 channel, Main Event and Sky One from 04:00 to 07:30 on Sunday morning.

An average audience of 441k (31.5%) watched the broadcast, a strong increase on last year’s figure of 344k (18.4%), and their highest Melbourne average since 2015. 291k (20.7%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 66k (4.8%) and 84k (6.0%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.

Impressively, the broadcast hit a five-minute peak of 803k (38.0%) at 06:35, an increase of 43 percent on their 2018 number of 562k (20.4%), and their highest peak audience for Australia since 2014.

The peak audience increased proportionally more than the average because Sky’s wrap around segments have rated lower in recent years than compared to their 2015 numbers.

For Sky, the story does not stop there.

Race – Sky repeats
Following the race, the broadcaster aired five repeats of the race, before Channel 4’s highlights show aired at 14:00. The first repeat began at 08:00 across the same three channels, with another repeat across F1 and Sky One afterwards.

Normally, repeats do not make a statistical difference to the overall picture, and therefore go unreported. However, the difference for Australia is significant enough to report. Accounting for the different time slots, the five repeats recorded a combined peak of 574,000 viewers as Valtteri Bottas won the Grand Prix.

In totality (from a television perspective), Sky’s audience for Australia peaked with 1.38 million viewers, around double their audience from twelve months ago, and in-line with their peak audience from 2012, including repeat airings.

Sky One is the biggest contributor, as their two re-runs peaked with 382,000 viewers collectively. It is very rare for a sporting event on pay television to add that many viewers, the early start for the race more than likely contributing to the high repeat audience.

Some of the viewers that watched the race live may have watched one of the repeats later, but that number is unlikely to be significant enough to make a major difference. Overall, the viewing figures are fantastic for Sky, and bodes well for them moving forward.

Race – Channel 4
Despite Sky’s strong gains, Channel 4 remained the biggest Formula 1 broadcaster in the UK over the weekend, but with damaged goods.

Highlights of the race averaged 1.38m (13.3%) from 14:00 to 15:55, peaking with 1.81m (17.9%). Both figures are down significantly on last year’s average of 1.71m (16.8%) and peak figure of 2.15m (18.2%).

Given Sky’s strong audience figures, the transition of viewers appears to be from Channel 4 to Sky, as opposed to fans tuning out altogether, which is good news for the sport. The drop is of concern, the highlights programme struggling to pick up any additional casual viewers.

If you look at the live airings only, the combined average and combined peak audiences of 1.83 million and 2.61 million viewers respectively are the lowest on record for Australia. In isolation, the figures paint a very bleak picture, but on this occasion, it is also a false negative.

As referenced earlier, repeats add 200,000 viewers at its limit across multiple airings. Australia was different, with it being the start of a new broadcasting contract as Formula 1 heads into a new era primarily live on pay-TV.

Adding the five repeat airings together (considering the different slot lengths) increases the combined average to 2.09 million viewers, and combined peak audience to 3.18 million viewers, a significant increase, and in-line with the past three years.

Qualifying
Sky’s live coverage of qualifying from 05:00 to 07:30 brought in an average audience of 283k (16.4%) across their F1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky One, an increase on last year’s audience of 252k (15.2%) over a slightly longer time slot.

The F1 channel averaged 190k (11.3%), with Main Event and Sky One bringing in 29k (1.6%) and 65k (3.5%) respectively. It is Sky’s highest audience for Melbourne qualifying since 2015, when 339k (16.4%) tuned in to watch.

Their programme peaked with 528k (22.9%) at 06:50 as the start of the final qualifying segment started, again Sky’s highest since 2015.

In comparison, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.02m (11.8%) from 12:00 to 13:25, a decrease of 157,000 viewers on last year’s average of 1.18m (15.1%). Channel 4’s coverage reached a high of 1.37m (14.5%) at 12:55, also down on last year’s figure of 1.62m (20.2%).

The dent in Channel 4’s qualifying audience is likely due to stronger competition from ITV, the free-to-air channel airing live coverage of the Six Nations rugby tie between France and Italy.

The combined audience of 1.30 million viewers is down by around 100,000 viewers year-on-year and the lowest on record, whilst the combined peak audience of 1.89 million viewers is the lowest for Australia since 2006. Neither trend changes when including Sky’s repeats before Channel 4’s highlights programme started.

Final thoughts
A better result than Sky could have ever expected.

The worst case scenario here was that Sky struggled to increase their audience year-on-year, despite splashing the cash on blockbuster trailers. To double their audience year-on-year is a major success.

One of the drivers behind the increase was Sky One, which on its own added over half a million viewers. The first three races are airing live on Sky One, but what happens to those viewers when that disappears?

If Sky One’s viewers migrate over to the F1 channel to follow the sport, then that is great news for Sky. Similarly, the opposite is true if Sky One’s audience returns back to Channel 4’s highlights package from Baku onwards.

Australia is always one of the lowest rated races, with viewing figures tending to pick up in Bahrain, where F1 heads to next. The Sakhir race has aired live on free-to-air television since 2015, and will be a good indicator of how Formula 1’s viewership could change moving forward.

Update on March 18th at 20:10 – Not long after I posted this, Sky’s F1 lead commentator David Croft posted on Twitter that Sky’s coverage reached 2.1 milllion viewers, and combined Sky and Channel 4 reached 3.5 million viewers. For those unaware, that is the amount of viewers that watched three consecutive minutes of coverage.

The 2018 Australian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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New opening themes for Sky’s and Channel 4’s F1 coverage

Both Sky Sports and Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2019 opened with a new theme in Australia, stepping away from their previous efforts as a new era of broadcasting began down under.

Outlands in, Just Drive out at Sky
For Sky, Alistair Griffin’s Just Drive has been a fixture of their opening titles since their very first show in 2012. After seven years, Just Drive steps aside for Outlands by Daft Punk, the song most famous for featuring in Tron: Legacy back in 2010.

The new titles, an effort spanning multiple creative agencies and over 40 people, are six months in the making. As with Sky’s new Formula 1 pre-season trailer, their in-house Creative Agency steered this project from initial concept to delivery.

By Sky’s side were The Mill, Trim and Envy, responsible for visual, edit and sound respectively. The 2019 opening sequence shows the weekend build-up to a crescendo, utilising a ‘left to right’ movement throughout, giving it a ‘big time’ feel.

The intro is a significant improvement on previous efforts where the opening sequence inter weaved Sky’s own personnel with the racing action.

Writing on his Behance profile, Chris Sharpe, Design Director at Sky Creative takes us through the titles. “The new title celebrates the raw and visceral aspects of the live sport. Showcasing the theatre of a weekends coverage, from team preparation to chequered flag, while also encapsulating the story and drama of the previous season’s championship,” explains Sharpe.

“The simple but consistent left to right mechanic weaves its way through the edit, finishing with a spectacular CG move. The sequence signs-off with an unachievable grid moment, leaving the viewer with an unforgettable start of race experience.”

The Mill’s Director for the piece, Ivo Sousa adds “My focus from the offset was demonstrating the importance of the team behind each driver. Each role is essential and preparation is meticulous, every part of the process counts. The engineering details are insanely intricate and yet, in contradiction, the sport is a brutal force.”

The team filmed footage during last year’s US Grand Prix weekend, whilst Silverstone played host to the opening Mercedes shoot. As with all films, some footage did not make the final cut, with the shot described by Rachel Brookes last October featuring Sky’s personnel turning their heads on cue absent.

Genesis in, The Chain out at Channel 4
With Channel 4 unable to secure Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain for 2019, the free-to-air broadcaster too had to look elsewhere for inspiration.

In comes in French duo Justice, with Genesis, which has an opening salvo famous for appearing across many different forms of artwork. The imagery is in a similar style to that of Channel 4’s previous introductions, although a step below the BBC’s efforts from 2009 to 2015.

For both Channel 4 and Sky, the music feels like an afterthought, which is not a surprise considering both broadcasters were hoping to use The Chain as revealed on this site last week. Both tracks are fine, but neither live up to The Chain, admittedly finding a track that does live up to The Chain is a difficult task.

In situations like these, I suspect both broadcasters cut two or three different versions of their respective title sequences ready for use, one with The Chain. If you overlay The Chain over the top of Sky’s visuals, you get a good match. The race for The Chain has resulted in better visuals than sounds in my opinion, on both sides.

Elsewhere, Formula 1’s own opening titles received a makeover. Brian Tyler’s F1 theme remained for a second consecutive season, with his evocative track. This year’s introduction from F1 is an example of where the imagery does not fit the sound, whereas last year, the timing was on point.

However, this year’s effort focusses on each outfit in a logical order, starting with the lower six teams, before moving on the top four teams, whereas there was no logical order to last year’s introduction. With that in mind, if the intention of the 2019 piece is to help newer fans get into the sport, then it is a job well done.

Stefano Domenicali joins Channel 4’s F1 team

Former Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali will be part of Channel 4’s Formula 1 team for the upcoming 2019 season, the broadcaster has announced.

Domenicali, who was Ferrari’s team principal between 2008 and 2014, will join the team “as a pundit and analyst for a number of races” this season. Adding Domenicali to the line-up adds a new perspective to the line-up outside of the cockpit, helping to keep Channel 4’s offering fresh this year.

Given Domenicali’s historical links with Ferrari, I am hopeful that this opens both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel more to a UK audience this year, allowing UK fans to see more of their characters away from the track.

Channel 4’s line-up now consists of eight people in total. Steve Jones continues as lead presenter, with Ben Edwards as lead commentator. David Coulthard joins him in the commentary box, whilst Billy Monger, Mark Webber, Eddie Jordan and now Domenicali will provide analysis throughout the year.

Lee McKenzie continues at some races as interviewer, however, she will not be in the interview pen…

Restrictions placed upon C4
The BBC’s Andrew Benson is reporting that various restrictions have been placed upon Channel 4’s highlights programming by Sky, which this site can confirm.

I understand that Channel 4 cannot interview anyone on the grid before the race, nor can the broadcaster access the pit lane during the race itself. In addition, Benson notes that Channel 4’s interviews from the interview ‘pen’ must come from Sky.

As revealed last September, Channel 4’s highlights will be shorter this season, and begin a minimum of three hours after the race. The highlights package for the race will be two hours long including adverts, with qualifying clocking in at 90 minutes.

The race edit itself will be slightly shorter than previously years. In September, I wrote “around seven fewer minutes of action per race.” This will vary across the season, with races such as Australia this weekend hit the hardest.

In other words, Sky has a significant amount of control over what Channel 4 can and cannot air as part of its programming. It will be intriguing to see how Whisper Films works around the tight restrictions that Sky have enforced on them as the season progresses.

Elsewhere, fans will hear a different theme from the get-go on Saturday, with Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain no longer Channel 4’s signature theme. Channel 4 have yet to announce a new theme.

Hong Kong E-Prix peaks with 355,000 viewers on BBC Two

A packed weekend of motor sport to kick start the traditional season saw Formula E lead the way on its BBC Two debut, overnight viewing figures show.

Formula E makes BBC Two debut
As part of their commitment to air one race on linear television, BBC aired the Hong Kong E-Prix live on BBC Two this past weekend. The race brought in a solid audience, according to audience numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.

An average of 229k (4.6%) tuned into the broadcast from 07:30 to 09:30. Sunday’s audience is an improvement on the last two seasons for Hong Kong, when the race aired on tape-delay on Channel 5.

In a positive sign, the BBC’s race coverage saw consistent growth throughout the broadcast, increasing its audience in most of the five-minute segments between 07:35 and 09:05. The race peaked with 355k (6.5%) at 09:00 as the race concluded.

It is Formula E’s highest UK audience for an Asian-based race since their first ever E-Prix in 2014. Back then, live coverage of the Beijing E-Prix on ITV4 averaged 266k (4.7%) and peaked with 477k (6.8%).

BT Sport and Eurosport make negligible difference to the overall picture, averaging 5k (0.10%) and 8k (0.16%) respectively, if anything showing the importance of free-to-air for Formula E.

For me, Formula E’s audience is solid, whether it is enough to convince the BBC to move the series off the Red Button for the latter half of the season, I do not know. If the peak was nearer to 500,000 viewers, I think the decision may be easier, that is if there is even a discussion here.

Last weekend’s race was Formula E’s first on a mainstream television channel since June last year, so expectations from a viewing figures perspective are lower as a result. With a bit of promotion, a European race could peak at around 800,000 viewers on BBC One, potentially. Time will tell if the BBC genuinely considers that a viable option this season.

MotoGP’s return peaks with 249,000 viewers on BT
A new season of MotoGP kicked off on BT Sport 2 with the Qatar GP. The leading bike series was unaffected by tough football opposition on Sky.

The race brought in an audience similar to previous years. The 90-minute MotoGP slot averaged 190k (1.3%) from 16:30 to 18:00, a slight decrease on last year’s figure of 211k (1.5%), but an increase on the 2014 and 2017 averages.

A peak of 249k (1.6%) watched as Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso went wheel-to-wheel over the finish line for the second year running. The peak audience is in-line with the past two years, which peaked with 247k (1.3%) and 255k (1.9%) respectively.

Free-to-air highlights of the championship moved from Channel 5 to Quest, with the audience dropping significantly year-on-year. Quest aired two highlights shows at 18:00 and 23:00 respectively. Their premiere airing averaged 140k (0.9%), with the repeat bringing in 50k (0.8%).

The combined Quest audience of 190k is down 58 percent on Channel 5’s highlights audience for Qatar last season of 456k (2.5%). It is lower than all bar three MotoGP races on either ITV4 or Channel 5 since the highlights arrangement started in 2014.

Cumulatively, the drop for the highlights airing meant that MotoGP peaked with 513,000 viewers in the UK over the weekend, when accounting for BT’s live airing and Quest’s two repeats, a disappointing number for the championship.

As with all the figures in this piece, on demand platforms such as BT Sport’s online services and MotoGP’s VideoPass over-the-top offering are not included, which may make a small difference to the total MotoGP numbers.

IndyCar struggles on Sky return as St Pete opener plagued by technical issues
It was not a good Sunday for IndyCar, on all fronts. The series returned for a new season in St Petersburg, and with it came a change of channel for UK viewers, as the championship moved from BT Sport to Sky Sports F1.

Viewing figures struggled, with the race averaging 19k (0.11%) from 16:30 to 20:30, a decrease on last year’s BT audience of 25k (0.16%) over a shorter 200-minute time slot. Sky’s coverage peaked with 56k (0.32%) at 18:40 on Sunday, compared with 56k (0.38%) one year ago on BT.

The season opener faced MotoGP on BT and Premier League football on Sky, which may have impacted figures. Last month, F1 testing brought in a higher audience than IndyCar managed, although testing aired across the F1 channel and Main Event.

Considering the buzz when the IndyCar deal was first announced, Sky’s audience is disappointing. IndyCar, from a UK perspective, failed to move the needle outside of the Twitter bubble. However, IndyCar could benefit from cross-promotion during Sky’s main F1 coverage this year, so the picture could change as the season progresses.

The problems with Sky’s IndyCar broadcast may not have helped audience figures, although I doubt it caused a significant dent given the low base to start with.

IndyCar produces two feeds: a domestic feed for NBC, and an international feed. The feeds contain different graphics set, whilst the former is also not a continuous feed of the racing action. For St Pete, Sky aired the domestic feed ‘as-is’, breaking away to their own commercials when NBC in America went to adverts or went ‘side-by-side’.

What this meant was a downgrade on coverage offered by BT Sport in previous years. It was expected that Sky would take some commercials (@IndyCarUK understands four ad-breaks), but also utilise the feed to stay on the action for most of the race outside of yellow flag periods.

Whether Sky were unaware that the domestic feed was going to break away from the action or not is unclear. Either way, the communication between Sky Sports, NBC Sports and IndyCar needs to be clearer ready for Austin in two weeks’ time.

In a separate issue, IndyCar’s broadcast lost pictures completely for around 15 minutes on Sunday, affecting both the domestic NBC feed and the international feed. IndyStar Sports writer Jim Ayello reports that there was “a power supply failure to one of IMS Productions’ up-links due to two amplifiers overheating,” which caused the feed to go down.

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