Scheduling: The 2020 Austrian Grand Prix

It will be odd, it will be strange, and it will be weird. But when the lights go out, nothing will sound better than twenty Formula 1 cars blasting their way around a Grand Prix circuit.

After a three-month hiatus, and seven months since the 2019 season ended, F1 is back with the start of the 2020 season, beginning with a double header in Austria.

Sky Sports are the only UK broadcaster presenting their coverage on-site. Simon Lazenby continues to steer the ship, alongside the likes of Ted Kravitz, David Croft and Martin Brundle out in Austria.

Due to COVID-19, Sky’s original plans from a scheduling perspective for 2020 have gone out the window. Both Paddock Walkabout and The F1 Show are missing from Sky’s Saturday schedule, whilst their qualifying and race build-ups have halved.

Current schedules show that Sky intends to have a 30-minute build-up to qualifying, with a 70-minute build-up to the race itself, reminiscent of ITV’s F1 offering in the early 2000s, albeit in very different circumstances.

Sky originally intended to extend their race build-up to 130-minutes for 2020, which appears to no longer be happening, for the early phase of the season at least. The qualifying programme is shorter, as Sky are airing a live Diversity in Motor Sport special in what would normally be the first 30-minutes of their qualifying show.

Given that the social distancing guidelines limit what you can do, it is not exactly surprising that Sky have had to review their programming and go back to basics – including no grid walk for the foreseeable future.

This site can reveal that both Channel 4 and the BBC are remaining in the UK for the opening rounds. Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer form the BBC’s 5 Live commentary team for 2020, with Jennie Gow and Andrew Benson joining them.

Meanwhile, Steve Jones heads into a fifth season as Channel 4’s Formula 1 presenter, joined in their UK studio setting by David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Ben Edwards.

As revealed prior to Australia, Channel 4 are airing more of the race this year than in 2019, with around 60-minutes of the race airing in their edit, compared to 45-minutes last year.

Elsewhere, Sky are airing the Formula Two documentary series Chasing the Dream in the run-up to Austria. For those who do not have F1 TV, this is well worth a watch, the series following the leading contenders during the 2019 season.

Channel 4 F1
04/07 – 18:45 to 20:15 – Qualifying Highlights
05/07 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
03/07 – 09:30 to 11:50 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 09:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
=> 10:00 – Practice 1
03/07 – 13:45 to 15:45 – Practice 2
04/07 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Practice 3
04/07 – 13:30 to 15:30 – Qualifying
05/07 – 13:00 to 17:30 – Race
=> 13:00 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 14:05 – Race
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 17:00 – Notebook

Supplementary Programming
29/06 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (1/5)
30/06 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (2/5)
01/07 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (3/5)
02/07 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Drivers’ Press Conference
02/07 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (4/5)
03/07 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The Story so Far
03/07 – 19:00 to 19:30 – F2: Chasing the Dream (5/5)
04/07 – 13:00 to 13:30 – Diversity in Motor Sport

BBC Radio F1
All sessions are available live on BBC’s F1 website
03/07 – 09:55 to 11:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
03/07 – 13:55 to 15:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
03/07 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
04/07 – 10:55 to 12:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
04/07 – 13:55 to 15:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
05/07 – 13:55 to 16:15 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Formula Two – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
03/07 – 11:50 to 12:40 – Practice
03/07 – 15:55 to 16:30 – Qualifying
04/07 – 15:35 to 16:55 – Race 1
05/07 – 10:00 to 11:05 – Race 2

Formula Three – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
03/07 – 08:30 to 09:20 – Practice
03/07 – 13:00 to 13:45 – Qualifying
04/07 – 09:20 to 10:10 – Race 1
05/07 – 08:35 to 09:35 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Indianapolis Grand Prix (Sky Sports F1)
03/07 – 21:30 to 23:00 – Qualifying
04/07 – 17:00 to 19:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Austria (Sky Sports F1)
05/07 – 11:20 to 12:05 – Race

Keep an eye on this article over the forthcoming week, as broadcasters evolve their plans of the new F1 season.

Updated on June 30th to add details about Sky’s Diversity in Motor Sport special.

Update on July 2nd at 18:05 – As reported by Jonathan Noble over at Motorsport.com, the Drivers’ Press Conference format is radically different – and heavily extended.

Because of the COVID-19 restrictions in place resulting in no media scrums, drivers are being interviewed team-by-team in a secure room. Anyone who has followed the tweets this afternoon from journalists will know it has been a drawn out process, hence Sky opting beforehand to air a 90-minute version later tonight.


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Lockdown life: How broadcasters handled the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that all of us have had to adapt our working practices, some more so than others, everyone adjusting to the new normal.

For me, I am a public sector worker, with this site also one of my priorities. During a typical year, the site content would write itself to a degree: reacting to the action, giving my thoughts, and going behind the scenes, the list goes on.

During a pandemic, that becomes more difficult, and the enthusiasm wanes along the way. Balancing both the day job (where COVID-19 is a key focus), taking time out to do other things (gaming), as well as looking myself and my house (I live on my own) has meant that Motorsport Broadcasting did fall down the list of priorities.

Now, three months after the lockdown restrictions, motor racing is back on the agenda, and we are less than two weeks away from the start of the Formula 1 season. “Lights out, and away we go,” is not far away…

On the broadcasting front
Given my work priorities, I did not consume masses of motor sport content during the main lockdown, sticking to what I am familiar with, primarily in the UK space.

From a pay TV perspective, BT Sport and Sky Sports took different, but equally valid positions over the past three months.

BT focused on quality rather than quantity with their main MotoGP offering.

‘The Greatest Race’ aired on Sunday’s in a four-hour time slot, whittling down 16 of MotoGP’s best races to a final four, with BT’s viewers voting the 2009 Catalunya MotoGP battle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo as MotoGP’s best race.

Intertwined in the race edits each week were live interviews from an impressive calibre of MotoGP legends, such as Valentino Rossi, Sete Gibernau and Max Biaggi. BT’s own presentation team, led by Gavin Emmett, Suzi Perry, and Neil Hodgson, were on hand to ask the questions.

The new content presented a new spin on old classics, generating both social activity during the show, and news stories in the week following.

BT’s remote production model during the pandemic was a major success, not just for MotoGP but across their entire portfolio of shows, including their Early Kick Off football show, and we should applaud the whole team both in front and behind the camera their efforts.

In contrast, Sky opted to air a plethora of material during the pandemic for fans to digest, some hitting the mark perfectly.

At first post-Australia, the broadcaster aired little content, but quickly built it up into April, a wise decision in hindsight to avoid burn out straight away.

The F1 channel has since aired the Sky F1 Quiz, many Vodcasts, classic races in watch along form, as well as other content on the side, such as The Notebook feat. Ted Kravitz with a selfie stick.

Given the amount they aired, I doubt Sky expected everyone to watch every Vodcast and F1 Show, but from what I watched, they do exactly what they say on the tin, with a wide variety of guests from across the F1 landscape.

Irritatingly, the Vodcasts never turned up on Spotify, which was an opportunity missed in my view for those who go on post-work walks and would like a podcast to listen to (others are available, naturally).

A fixture on Wednesday evenings on Sky Sports F1 has been their Classic F1 watch along programming. Unlike their cricket and football counterparts, the F1 team went down the pre-recorded route, opting also to trim the race into a smaller edit.

The decision to air on Wednesday’s in my view was short-sighted: clashing with F1’s in-house classic races on their YouTube channel. Despite these forthcomings, like BT Sport with MotoGP, Sky’s decision to air these helped present a new spin on classic races, with guests relevant to that race.

For example, Sky re-aired the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, but with Felipe Massa and Rob Smedley as guests, getting their view on the events of that weekend.

I hope the channel repeats these over the forthcoming months: for reasons described earlier in this article, I did not watch all the classic races that Sky aired in watch along form.

Over the past few months, Sky have also released features that were due to air during the early pre-race build-ups, releasing interviews between Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton, a Hamilton feature on Monaco and segments filmed for the Australian Grand Prix (also At Home with Sky F1).

In the circumstances, we should be thankful for the content all parties have produced recently, irrespective of quality, to keep us going through this period.

…but what does it mean for the future?
Inevitably, broadcasters have had no choice but to speed up thought processes because of the pandemic.

As this site has covered for years, the industry has begun transitioning to remote broadcasting (or at least thinking about), without any loss of service or quality to the end viewer.

COVID-19 has resulted in the reprioritisation of long-term business objectives into immediate deliverables for the likes of F1.

In January, F1 touted sustainability as part of their Strategic Plan, wanting to “‘minimise the amount of equipment and people sent to each race.” A strategic vision has become a short-term reality.

If you are a broadcaster, who needs to save money (and quickly), why would you not go with the cheaper option if quality is unimpacted?

On an operational level, it may mean motor sport companies begin working on a much smaller footprint than before, with smaller offices, remote working, fewer flights, video conferencing, and so on.

Of course, it is bad news for those in the industry who like the travel associated with the job.

Unless there is a major shift in ideology, it is highly unlikely that broadcasters will revert to the 2019 ways of working, when the past few months has taught the industry that remote production can work.

From a broadcasting perspective, the ‘new normal’ is here, and it is here to stay…


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Sky to air Formula 1 exclusively in Germany in four-year deal

Sky are to air Formula 1 exclusively in Germany for the next four years after agreeing a new deal to cover the sport.

As part of a wider initiative from the broadcaster to “shakeup TV in Germany and take Sky into a new era,” Sky will air every race exclusively live from 2021 to 2024, creating a new channel dedicated to Formula 1 in the process.

In addition, four races will be simulcast free-to-air, with 30-minute highlight shows of every race airing on free-to-air channel Sky Sport News.

F1 says in their press release that this new agreement will introduce “millions of people across Germany to the excitement and thrill of Formula 1.”

Like in the UK, Sky will air every session live, including Formula Two, Formula Three and the Porsche Supercup, equating to around 800 hours of action per season.

It is a big day for the Sky’s Germany arm: the pay TV broadcaster has also announced an extension to their Bundesliga rights deal, taking that partnership to the end of 2025.

Sky replaces free-to-air broadcaster RTL as the main F1 broadcaster in Germany. As reported yesterday, RTL’s press release indicated that another party had bid double the amount RTL were prepared to bid for.

In addition, RaceFans are reporting that Sky’s new contract is in the region of $60 million per year, meaning that the total value of Sky’s contract is around $240 million.

This suggests that RTL are currently paying around $30 million to broadcast F1 per season, which is slightly less than the amount the BBC and ITV were paying from a UK perspective in the mid to late 2000s.

As part of the new deal, access to the premium-tier of F1’s over-the-top platform, F1 TV Pro, will be restricted to Sky Sport subscribers in Germany.

F1 TV Pro will no longer be available to new subscribers who do not subscribe to Sky Sport, however, existing subscribers are unaffected by this change.

What the stakeholders say
F1’s Director of Media Rights, Ian Holmes, said “Formula 1 and Sky have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, working well together to enhance the broadcast offering by providing comprehensive coverage of the sport for our passionate fan base.”

“I am delighted that our work together will continue to build and strengthen the impressive quality of Sky’s programming, as well as their digital reach.”

Devesh Raj, CEO of Sky Germany, added “This will be the best motorsports experience ever.”

“We know motorsport fans love the way we produce F1 and our commentators have fans all of their own, but now with the first channel dedicated to F1 content on German TV ever we’ll give fans more F1 content than has ever been seen on German TV before.”

“With our unique digital content offering and four races free for everyone every year, we will help introduce millions more people to the joy of F1 and help grow the sports across the motorsport country Germany.”

“This exciting new deal shows that Sky is the number one for sports fans in Germany.”

  UK Germany Italy (source)
Contract Length 2019 to 2024 2019 and 2020 2021 to 2024 2018 to 2020
Pay TV All races All races All races All races
Free to Air – Live 1 race All races 4 races 4 races
Free to Air – Highlights Extended highlights n/a 30-minutes Delayed
F1 TV Pro? No Yes Yes [Sky Sports subscribers only] No

The path to exclusivity
Unlike their UK counterparts, the path to exclusivity has not been straightforward for Sky Deutschland.

The pay TV broadcaster walked away from the sport in early 2018, after RTL secured a three-year deal to cover Formula 1, taking their rights agreement through until the end of 2020.

Surprisingly, Sky returned to the fold just four weeks before the 2019 season, getting their foot back in the door.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and now Sky will be airing the sport in Germany, exclusively, for the next four seasons, with RTL eliminated from the picture.

As suggested yesterday on this site, fans should come to expect more pay TV deals initially in the post-COVID-19 era. However, this move does mean that the era of large television audiences in Germany for F1 will come to an end following the 2020 season.

Interestingly, the latest development brings the UK and Germany contracts in-line with one another from a length perspective.

The detail differs underneath the surface as the table above shows: fans in Germany may be able to watch more races live on free-to-air television, but the style of the free-to-air highlights programming between the two markets differs radically.

The next upcoming battleground to keep our eyes on is Italy, where Sky will be looking to extend their current agreement with F1.

Additional context provided by Edmund Wareham.


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German free-to-air broadcaster RTL to exit F1 contract at end of 2020

RTL will cease broadcasting Formula 1 live at the end of the season, the German broadcaster has announced.

The broadcaster first showed live races between 1984 and 1988 and has done so continuously from 1991. In 2017 it renewed its deal with F1 to continue broadcasting until 2020.

Financial reasons lie behind the decision. In a statement, RTL’s Head of Sport, Manfred Loppe, announced on Sunday “When you have competitors in the game who are prepared to offer double as much as you can then you are forced into a position of having to withdraw.”

Loppe stressed that RTL “still obviously wants to try in the future to present attractive sporting events to our viewers. But it is clear that economic limits will play a role, as well as the changing competitive environment.”

“We have broadcast Formula 1 for over three decades with great love and passion, as well as with a plucky readiness for innovation and investment,” Loppe continued. “RTL will forever be associated with the most widely viewed, most emotional, unforgotten moments in the top motor racing series.”

In Germany viewers have had two choices for watching F1: either to pay a subscription to watch uninterrupted coverage on Sky or to watch free-to-air coverage on RTL with advert breaks.

Figures from Motorsport.com show that a peak of 5.26 million viewers tuned into RTL’s coverage of the Italian Grand Prix last year (a market share of 32.3%), whilst a further 450,000 viewers watched on Sky (2.8%). Over the course of the whole of last season RTL was able to secure average viewing figures of just over 4 million viewers.

The managing director of RTL, Jörg Graf, added “Competition for TV rights has changed and the market has in part overheated. As such it has extended beyond our ambitious, but at the same time economically justifiable, limits.”

In January 2020 the company announced it was expanding its football coverage by signing an agreement with UEFA to broadcast the Europa League and the newly created UEFA Europa Conference League from 2021.

Graf confirms that this is where focus for the broadcaster will now lie. “We will now with our power, passion and joy concentrate on football as our number one sport,” he said.

It remains unclear whether Germans will have access to free-to-air coverage going into the 2021 season or whether F1 will consider a model like the UK currently has, with all races airing live on pay TV, and the home race live on a free-to-air channel.

As Motorsport Broadcasting speculated in March, following an interview with RTL’s anchor Florian König, it remained unclear, especially in the current climate, whether RTL would extend its deal.

Today’s decision therefore does not come as a total surprise and is indicative of the changing F1 broadcasting landscape. König, long-standing pit-lane reporter Kai Ebel and the lead commentator Heiko Wasser have yet to react to the news as they now enter their final season of broadcasting live races for the Cologne company.

Analysis – RTL’s decision gives us an insight into the road ahead
Any broadcaster opting not to renew a contract after 30 years is always a big story, and RTL’s decision to not renew their F1 contract falls into that category.

It is, however, not a major surprise.

Interest in Formula 1 in Germany has gradually declined since Michael Schumacher’s heyday in the mid-2000s, although viewing figures remained strong during Sebastian Vettel’s four championship victories.

Now, with Vettel heading out of Ferrari at the end of 2020, there is a distinct possibility that there will be no German drivers on the F1 grid in 2021.

Combine this with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents the perfect storm. RTL, like all free-to-air broadcasters worldwide, will be looking to save money as advertising revenues slump.

The situation is like the one UK broadcaster ITV found themselves in back in 2008. ITV needed to save money following the worldwide financial crisis at that time, and prioritised football over F1, executing a get out clause in the latter’s contract.

RTL’s contract to broadcast F1 is expiring anyway at the end of this year, but the overall business direction from both is identical.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that, in my view, we are likely to see more pay TV deals moving forward. The motor sport industry right now needs money pumping into it, more than ever before, and the crisis has exasperated problems the industry had prior to the pandemic.

Free-to-air and five million viewers will only get you so far. Ask MotoGP for another UK equivalent.

In 2013, the series was struggling with Moto2 and Moto3. Faced with a choice, they brought pay TV broadcaster BT Sport into the fold, who outbid the BBC significantly in acquiring the UK television rights.

MotoGP went with BT Sport. Yes, the fans at the time may not have liked the decision (including me), but that move ensured many Moto2 and Moto3 teams could continue racing to ensure the wider eco system did not collapse.

The optics may not be as severe here, but fans should be prepared for a further move away from free-to-air, not towards as motor sport fights against COVID-19.

There is not one specific reason RTL has opted not to extend its F1 deal. But one thing is for sure: 2020 will mark the end of an era for F1 broadcasting in Germany.

Reporting by Edmund Wareham; analysis by David Nelson.


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Sky Sports to present F1 coverage on location as FIA sets out ‘Return to Motor Sport’ guidance for media

Sky Sports will present coverage of the upcoming 2020 Formula One season on-site, multiple on-air personalities have confirmed.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presented questions as to whether broadcaster such as Sky would present coverage on-site.

Writing on Twitter earlier this week, Sky’s F1 presenter Simon Lazenby confirmed Sky’s plans.

“For those asking, Sky Sports F1 will be on site in Austria, hoping to bring you as close to the action as we possibly can. It’s been a long wait,” he said.

In addition, speaking on The Notebook, Ted Kravitz noted the news separately.

Sky have yet to formally confirm their coverage plans, either through their website or to Motorsport Broadcasting separately.

Last week, this site confirmed that Channel 4 will present the opening phase of the new season from a location in the UK.

Fewer journalists on-site…
Elsewhere, the FIA have set out their recommendations for all working at the race track during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the considerations for media working the event.

The organisation recommends “a separation of two meters between individuals” in areas of the paddock where this is possible.

A key theme throughout the media guidance is that the governing body suggests that media outlets work remotely where feasible.

The FIA recommends that host broadcasters only bring talent who are “essential to the delivery of the TV broadcast” to the circuit, with all other aspects of the broadcast produced remotely.

On the media front, the FIA suggests that a small group of media agencies, covering the largest audience reach, work together to produce interviews, making content available to journalists who are off-site.

The guidance does not name specific media outlets given that each championship has its own set of stakeholders and reach, but the FIA has designed their guidelines to encompass all entities.

…and the end of the media pen
The media pen interviews that are commonplace across motor sport are likely over, for now.

Instead, the governing body recommends replacing the media pen and group interviews with pooled unilateral TV interviews, held in a centralised space within the paddock and distributed to all outlets.

However, the post-qualifying and post-race press conferences for the top three drivers remain, but floor space replaced “with spaces adhering to social distance guidelines,” similar in layout to how the UK government currently conducts its current daily briefing.

Clearly, these changes mean that there will be less on offer in terms of supplementary content across the board, but it is a necessary price as motor sport returns to action.


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