The over-the-top challenge facing motor sport

Over-the-top broadcasting. It is a phrase many visitors to this site will have seen referenced repeatedly, and it is only going to become more prominent as time progresses.

What it means is relatively simple: to deliver a service direct to the customer watching at home, rather than through a third-party satellite television channel or cable platform.

In the modern media landscape that poses many questions as to what the right or wrong approach is to take, if there is such a simple answer.

Motor sport faces a major challenge in not only understanding the landscape, but also exploiting it, satisfying stakeholders, and most importantly broadening the reach of the sport in the process.

An upward struggle
Whether it is MotoGP, World Rally Championship or Supercars over in Australia, most of motor racing’s big entities have an over-the-top platform now of some nature. All vary to different degrees, and hold a different level of importance for each series.

Late to the game and trying to catch up on the digital front, Formula 1’s over-the-top platform went live in May 2018 with F1 TV. However, the platform struggled on the technical front, with a variety of teething problems, leading to suggestions that the platform launched too early.

Speaking in front of industry experts at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, their Director of Marketing and Communications Ellie Norman was unashamed to admit that it has not been the smoothest of starts for F1 in the OTT world.

“It’s been a bumpy ride, I would suggest that we definitely launched F1 TV too soon,” Norman says.

Norman points to a ‘growth hacker’ mentality that F1 now has, the organisation unafraid to try things out to see what works, and what does not, even if it backfires.

“Working within digital is a really different space to working in broadcast, and often you are always in beta mode. But one thing I think we’ve done is, we’ve listened to the fans, and responded quickly by refunding them,” Norman told the audience.

“Twelve months on, the product is more stable, and I think it’s in a much better place now with the fan input, seeing how users engage with it, use it, and what they want for it. And that has been invaluable.”

The battle between pay-TV and OTT
But F1’s roadblocks on the over-the-top front expand far beyond the first twelve months.

Whilst most of the world can access F1 TV’s basic offering, many countries, including the UK, cannot access F1 TV’s premium tier. The only way UK fans can access the live race action is via Sky Sports, thanks to an agreement signed between Sky and ex-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone back in 2016.

For many, this is a source of frustration, with some fans feeling locked out of live F1 for the foreseeable. For F1, and sport in general, the balance is ‘delicate’ between over-the-top and pay television.

Over-the-top pricing
A snapshot for UK fans

MotoGP (live) – £177.26
WRC (live) – £79.76
WEC (live) – £38.99
Supercars (live) – £32.98
F1 TV (archive and non-live) – £19.99

Pricing per year.
WEC covers 2019/20 season.
WEC excludes Le Mans.

Do motor sport brands throw live content onto their over-the-top platform, allowing them to target a different audience directly, but potentially miss a key revenue stream?

Or, do the brands air their content live on pay television, helping the bank balance, but not their reach?

Gernot Bauer, Eurosport’s incoming Head of Motorsport, puts it bluntly. “As a broadcaster, I won’t pay a lot of money if every federation has a competing product because it puts so much challenge on us as a broadcaster.”

For broadcasters such as Eurosport and Sky, the emergence of a new over-the-top platform could cause their audience figures, and therefore revenue streams, to fall.

Having invested £1 billion over six years, unlocking F1 TV in the UK would cause consternation between F1 and Sky.

“Our investment is significant as one of the one of the investments that underpins F1, as all our rights do in every sport,” explained Scott Young, Sky’s Head of F1.

“I think that’s one of the differences between an OTT platform right now and major sporting broadcasters, like Sky and Eurosport, that actually invest a large amount of money that goes into those sports of which they need to help fund the teams to compete.”

Young denied suggestions that Sky’s relationship with F1 had become ‘strained’ because of F1 TV, but warned of the consequences if the balance between pay and over-the-top changed too quickly.

“There’s an ecosystem in there that is quite delicate, and if you unravel it too quickly it can have some lasting effects,” he said.

The NASCAR approach
The World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship are examples of series that are nicely suited to the modern OTT way.

Both are long in duration, meaning that they can play out live in their entirety on OTT, without interruption from other sports on linear television.

Not every championship uses their over-the-top offering for live action though (for contractual or strategic reasons), which leads to the question of just how valuable OTT is without much live content to bring the viewer in.

“As each racing series creates their own OTT product it forces us, and them, to rethink that philosophy,” Bauer says.

“What is OTT, are you an alternative broadcaster for life? Are you a video on demand for archive material, or are you an app where you combine everything from Instagram to Twitter and so on? There is not one answer.”

For NASCAR, the situation is tricky, as all their premium-tier live content is exclusive to Fox and NBC in the US through until 2024, meaning that the series has no choice but to get creative with their domestic OTT offering.

NASCAR owns the Fans Choice platform and the RaceView service, but neither offer fans domestically live coverage of NASCAR races (overseas fans have access to Trackpass which offers live coverage).

“If we’re doing OTT, then it’s got to be driver lifestyle content, or it’s got to be some of our other series that we broadcast internationally,” explains Jill Gregory, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

“I think as we look to the new media landscape, as everybody is today, we’re trying to decide what is the right mix.”

“We need to think about what goes on to traditional broadcasting, and what do you keep out for either your own OTT product, or even partnerships with social media platforms, the Amazon’s, and the Hulu’s.”

“For us, it’s about knowing where the fans want their NASCAR content and maximizing our exposure,” Gregory concluded.

2019 WEC - 6 Hours of Silverstone - OB Truck.jpg
Inside the World Endurance Championship OB truck at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, WEC one of the many tackling the OTT hurdle head on.

Second screen “has become first screen”
Of course, the likes of Sky, Fox and NBC have their own over-the-top platforms.

In the case of Sky, Now TV is becoming a more prominent player for cord-cutters due to its lower entry price. As Young alluded to however, Sky “need to do a better job” of promoting their other services to audiences.

That job is becoming increasingly important because, as Motorsport Broadcasting pointed out last month, research from UK’s communications body Ofcom shows that traditional viewing is falling quicker than ever before, with around half of UK homes now subscribing to at least one streaming service.

“You don’t need to be at home in front of your TV anymore [to consume sport]. Many people still think that way but they are not acting this way,” Bauer told the audience.

“I am constantly on my phone, watching on my phone on my iPad, on my laptop. I consume not the whole race anymore but certain bits of highlights, and that is interesting to me as it helps smaller federations to get a direct engagement with the fans.”

Young added that Sky’s current F1 audience is viewing other streams alongside the main F1 channel. In his opinion, the second screen “has become first screen.”

“We’re seeing a lot of data now on people actually not only watching data channels but watching other streams, watching our highlights, watching social feeds come through whilst they’re actually watching the live race.”

“And that to me is an amazing opportunity that we’re focused on tapping into.”

For broadcasters and championships alike, it is a constant battle to try to not only retain existing audiences, but to bring in a new, younger audience. That battle will only intensify over the forthcoming years.

Is over-the-top going to become the long-term destination for F1 and motor sport, replacing pay television for the next generation, or can the two entities coexist side-by-side? Could free-to-air television even make a resurgence?

Only time will tell.


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In conversation with Ellie Norman

Over the past two years, Formula 1 has undergone a digital transformation since Liberty Media acquired control of the sport.

Last week at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Motorsport Broadcasting caught up with one of the faces leading the effort to bring F1 into the modern world. Ellie Norman (@ChikinCS) is Formula 1’s Director of Marketing and Communications, and we got her view on how things have gone so far.

Before Formula 1, you had stints at both Honda and Virgin Media, just talk to us about what you were involved in there.

I first spent five years on the agency side, where Honda was my client, and then directly with Honda for eight years, always in a marketing and advertising role.

Through that period, it was always about building meaning and value in the Power of Dreams brand. It was about elevating Honda at that time in the UK and Europe where the perception was that they lagged behind the more established European brands.

I spent five years in between Honda and F1 at Virgin Media. My focus shifted into being one market specific in the UK, so it was great to deepen learning versus working across international markets.

Interestingly it is an entertainment company, so they’re really understanding the landscape of TV consumption, the role that entertainment plays, cord cutting, the involvement of digital platforms, direct to consumer. Moving to F1 is a perfect combination of both automotive and entertainment.

Honda and Virgin Media both have huge marketing teams, yet you join F1 and find that is greenfield in nature, with little marketing, which was quite a culture shock I imagine!

F1 is such an incredible brand with a huge history. Bernie [Ecclestone] did an incredible job to build it into the business that it was, but my perception was that it had been underutilised, and that there was a role marketing could play.

Part of the appeal was having the ability to come into what is close to a 70-year old start-up and to be able to establish marketing from the ground up, agreeing what the infrastructure needed to be, shoring up the fan base, bringing in new fans. And that was exciting, too good of an opportunity for me not to take.

How difficult has it been in your role to attract new fans into F1, without alienating the existing fan base?

You are always treading a balance between holding onto your current fans, knowing who you are and what you stand for, but also needing to adapt and be contextually relevant to the fans of tomorrow, understanding what their motivations are, what platforms they are on and how they can be engaged, and bringing them into your sport.

Ultimately, we are a means of entertainment. The appeal of Formula 1 is that we have an ability to bring large groups of people together around live events. The on-track product is vitally important, but it is the entertainment that surrounds that as well.

15 to 20 years ago, there was one entry point for new fans, in front of the television, whereas now there are many different entry points. Does that make the job more complex?

It is very, very complex, the marketplace is fragmented.

The one thing I think we’re very fortunate with is that live sports is one of the last bastions that does bring millions of people together around a fixed time.

What can you learn from other brands, such as NASCAR, or non-motor sport brands, like the Premier League or Netflix?

It’s always interesting I think to look outside of your own echo chamber. Aside from other live sports, I’m always fascinated to know how entertainment properties operate, for example music festivals such as Glastonbury.

How are they engaging with fans, at a digital level in terms of insight, access, experiences that bring them closer? We can take learnings from that and pull that into Formula 1. I think part of the mentality needs to be an openness to try and to test things.

The fan festivals are a great example of where you can take the richness of the sport out of a race track and into city centres. It’s a visceral sport, the closer that people can get to seeing teams, drivers, hearing and smelling the cars, it moves you, and that’s what we know people love.

You did the ‘Engineered Insanity’ promotion last year, and have continued that this year.

‘Engineered Insanity’ is our brand positioning. It’s man and machine pushed to their limit; it’s opposing forces working together in harmony. We launched that brand platform and positioning in 2018, and this year we continued that work.

We brought it to life this year through a partnership with The Chemical Brothers, which was again a way to look outside the echo chamber of motor sport and to work with renowned musicians in their field, who are renowned for engineering their music and to bring those two audiences together. We knew there was an overlap of passion between a Chemical Brothers fan and Formula 1.

It’s interesting when you look at actually where people, and what they’re passionate about, it shows up through gaming, through music, food experiences, and there’s a way where Formula 1 can partner with many different brands within the wider world to take Formula 1 out to that fan base, and be relevant to them.

You cited Netflix earlier as a competitor of someone’s share of time. The Netflix series has been incredibly popular for us, and that was a way for us to reach a light, lapsed or a non-F1 fan through engaging long form content.

E-Sports is massive. We know younger audiences spend an awful lot of time within an E-Sports environment. Now, whether that’s watching it or playing it, Formula 1 is very closely aligned to E-Sports. You’re sitting in a seat, you’ve got your pedals, your steering wheel. We know all our F1 drivers spend hours and hours perfecting their laps within a sim.

So, this is how we can converge those worlds together.

Have you seen the demographics on your social media platforms change because of E-Sports?

Social media has grown ferociously. In the last two years, Frank [Arthofer] and our digital team have grown that to over 23 million people, a 54 percent year-on-year increase, making us the fastest growing sport across social media.

75 to 80 percent of the audience watching E-Sports is below 34 years old, so it’s really shifting the dynamic. We’re taking Formula 1 out, and showing a different side of Formula 1 to these audiences in places they’re already passionate about.

You’re now starting to scrape the surface of both of Formula 1’s feeder series, Formula Two and Formula Three. People may not realise this, but both are Formula 1 properties. [Note from David: this interview was done prior to Anthoine Hubert’s fatal accident at the Belgian Grand Prix]

They are incredible series, very competitive racing, wheel-to-wheel competition, you always have the interesting sprint races, for example with reverse grid in F2. And what we see is a lot of our Formula 1 drivers coming through the ranks of having either raced in Formula Two or Three, and there’s some really interesting characters and stories within those series.

Again, this is about us demonstrating the journey that racing talent goes through to get into Formula 1. There’s much more focus internally on what we can do with Formula Two and Formula Three to bring those closer to Formula 1 and to give them their own spotlight.

It’s F1’s 70th anniversary next year, is there anything in the pipeline that you can tell us?

We are busy back in the office, we have a range of ideas that we would love to see next year. All I can say is watch this space!

My thanks go to Ellie Norman for spending the time with me on the above piece.


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New circuit, new challenges: preparing for MotoGP’s KymiRing adventure

A new circuit on the motor racing calendar is a challenge, not only for the racers, but for everyone involved in the championship, with many hours involved to ensure everything goes swimmingly.

Next year, MotoGP heads to the new KymiRing circuit in Finland for the first time, and preparations are already underway to ensure that the event happens without a hitch. Last week, six riders participated in a two-day test session, inaugurating the track.

The test was also the first time that MotoGP’s production team had visited the facility. Sergi Sendra, who is Dorna’s Senior Director for Media Content, Television and Production, gave me the low-down on how the test went, from a broadcasting perspective.

The logistics of a new event
For readers unaware, Dorna are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, and have been since 1992. “I remember at the beginning it was tougher for us to arrive to a place and design which positions we would have, but now it is easier with experience,” Sendra tells me.

Races on the MotoGP calendar broadly fit into two categories from a logistical perspective: European and non-European. Sendra does not expect any surprises on the logistical front for Finland, as all the logistics from a broadcasting perspective sits within Dorna instead of third-party suppliers.

“The resources to accomplish the goal of having a stable Grand Prix in terms of logistics is going to be the same as at any other European round,” Sendra adds.

“We shouldn’t have any surprises on that front. We bring the scaffolds, the power supplies (with a triple generator group), the posts for the antennas, the cables, the fibre, it’s all ours. We never expect the local people to provide the key things. We make sure we have the same conditions, comfort, and practicability that we have in other circuits.”

The main difference, of course, is the layout of the circuit which varies from weekend to weekend. A typical MotoGP event has between 20 to 25 cameras track side, which gives Dorna enough scope to change the perspective on offer lap-by-lap.

“One camera should have a wide range of coverage from the in-point to the end-point,” he says. “This will help to have no gap in the coverage, when you cut from camera to camera.”

“What you want is a comfortable zone, where both cameras overlay for us to cut and have a good continuity for the viewer.”

Even with existing events, Dorna are always reviewing the existing camera angles on offer, to see if there is further room for refinement. Sendra gives Brno as an example, where Dorna have changed some angles in recent years to give MotoGP fans a different view of the circuit, whilst keeping to the core principles.

> Behind the scenes with BT Sport’s MotoGP team [2018] (planning, evolution)

What Dorna does not currently have for new circuits is the ability to simulate camera angles using 3D graphics months before the event which, although Sendra says would be beneficial, is not worthwhile given that new races are rare.

“This map [for Finland] in 3D will arrive later. We would make simulations if we had a 3D map that we could put in our computer and then start playing.”

“We wanted to do this a long time ago, but it takes a team to prepare the maps, and we don’t have this yet,” Sendra explains. “If we had five or six new circuits every year, then we should have it, but actually going to the circuit is better.”

“When you go to the circuit, you see it changing in front of your eyes, you can experiment with it, take cameras and film, which is the best way. We take the GPS positions exactly, and photos of everything to refer to later.”

“In any case, I think with the knowledge we have, we can presume and predict things that can also be done with computer.”

Visiting KymiRing
Normally when a new race is added to any Grand Prix calendar, whether it be Formula 1, Formula E, or in this case MotoGP, the production team working on the series will visit the circuit to perform a recce. The purpose of the recce is to firm up the exact details (i.e. deciding camera angles), and to iron out any potential risks ahead of time.

On the desk in front of myself and Sendra at Silverstone is a map of the KymiRing circuit, which Sendra and his team have heavily annotated, during and following their two-day visit.

2019 MotoGP - KymiRing.jpg
A map of the KymiRing, annoted by Dorna showing their current line of thinking ahead of MotoGP’s inaugural race at the circuit. All the red circles with numbers written inside (from 1 to 23) are the current proposed track side camera positions.

With only a handful of laps on the board during day one due to heavy rain, the TV team walked the track to scope out their initial thinking.

Immediately obvious to all was the scenery that surrounds the circuit, the nearest city twenty minutes away by car. The scenery, along with the elevation change from corner to corner, presents Dorna with an opportunity to highlight the best of Finland.

“The nice thing about this track is that it is surrounded by beautiful trees, nice Finland forest. We were looking for positions where we can see more of the nature,” Sendra tells me.

“It’s quite wild, and I’m sure we will look for the animals to capture the atmosphere. There are a lot of animals, not here, but close to here!”

“The second thing is the shape of the corners, the vision of the corners from the positions. It’s very different to Thailand, which is flat and very easy from that perspective, whereas Finland has a lot of up’s and down’s.”

“Here, there are spots that you cannot see, where there are trees in between. We like that, because it will give personality to the event.”

Throughout their visit, Sendra and his team are comparing KymiRing to MotoGP’s existing portfolio of circuits, although this is a challenge (in a good way for Sendra). Sendra says that KymiRing “is a completely different shape which is very good, because it enriches the championship.”

The second day allowed Dorna to confirm their thinking from day one, adjusting the positions slightly based on the action that was unfolding in front of them.

During the visit, Dorna try to ‘second guess’ where the hot spots are in terms of action. Turns 1, 4, 5 and 13 all have two camera angles to capture potential overtakes, whilst the 1.2 kilometre back straight requires a different approach.

Sendra continues “At the end of a straight, there will be braking points, so two cameras are necessary. If the straight is as long as this, we will have to split it, because with one camera will be boring. In the case of Finland, there are three spot cameras.”

“One at the beginning, let us say 350 meters, another one at 300 more, and then two at the end. There will be, for sure, overtaking at the end of this straight.”

One area of the circuit that Dorna believes will be a hot spot is the final bend, which may remind readers of the Fuji Speedway in Japan. Sendra expects the final corner to be “crazy” with Dorna opting to place more cameras down at that section than they usually would, for 2020 at least.

“It’s quite wide here, and we wanted to see a camera from outside and inside at the same time. We believe the corner is going to be better seen from outside than inside, but then all the cameras are inside so this is something you solve when you’re directing.”

“The final bend goes up, then goes down [heading to the finish line], it’s really very different compared to other places. All are quite flat to the finish line, only Saschsenring goes up.”

“We will have more cameras here the first time to make sure we don’t miss anything. If somebody likes to make a last lap overtake here like in Austria, then we must see it from various angles.”

Outside of the circuit itself, Dorna are figuring out their own logistics. The paddock being on the outside as opposed to the inside means that the television compound will be in a different location to usual, more than likely on the outside of turn one, Sendra tells me.

Moving forward
Whilst the track itself is finished, the surrounding area is still under construction, and it will not be long before the production team are back.

“Once we’ve set the camera spots, then it will be the people from the technical side to calculate lengths, accesses and everything else that surrounds this,” Sendra says.

“Normally we do two or three rehearsals. For TV, two rehearsals is the minimum to make sure we arrive during the week of a Grand Prix and nothing is forgotten, and everything is on the spot.”

Even with rehearsals, nothing is better preparation than a race weekend, and Sendra says that, it can take two or three year for the direction to gel on a new circuit.

“Honestly, we will have to wait until the first race, wet or dry, to understand if we made the right choices. The first weekend we will spend in Finland with a real experience, with three classes, races and practices, it will allow us to improve for the next year.”

“And I can more or less tell you that for us it takes between two and three years to stabilise the circuit, to have a good knowledge, because one year it will be hotter than the other, maybe it rains, it’s never the same.”

Now with a lot more information than before following the inauguration of the circuit, Dorna’s television team have a better sense of what they are dealing with ahead of the first MotoGP race at KymiRing next year.


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Lee McKenzie on the art of broadcasting

Lee McKenzie is a name familiar to many readers of Motorsport Broadcasting, having covered motor sport for many years, as well as other forms of sport.

I sat down with her a couple of weeks ago at the W Series season finale in Brands Hatch, as we discussed a range of topics, from her upbringing and interview style, to giving advice to budding journalists coming through the ranks.

You’ve been around motor racing a lot since you were younger, through your Dad [Bob].

I was going to Formula 1 races when I was ten years old, I’ve known Bernie since I was a small child. My Dad was at Senna’s funeral, and wrote books on both Damon and Nigel. I’ve been surrounded by all this, in different sports, not just motor sport, all my life.

I started out as a rugby journalist and I started in equestrian, my two real passions. People just associate motor racing with me because that’s what they’ve been watching. I love doing the Paralympics, Para sport, Wimbledon, all that kind of thing. I’ve not done a full F1 season since 2012, it’s never been my only job, it’s never been my first job!

You go to other sports, and you think “actually F1 does this really well,” and then you go to other sports and meet other athletes, and think “yeah, we could learn from that.” There’s always a roundness to doing many other things, because it makes you more complete as a person.

I have been fortunate to have had that upbringing, but I wouldn’t have had a job had I not been good. I know that may sound arrogant, but if I was just somebody’s daughter, I wouldn’t have had a long career.

This year you have been presenting the new W Series. Has it been a different style of presenting for you, or do you tackle all sports similarly?

It doesn’t matter what sport I present; I present them all in a similar way. It takes an awful lot of prep, it’s not just the bit you see on camera. But I’ve thought the quality of racing has been fantastic.

It’s hard selling any television programme when the sport doesn’t do it justice, so the fact that the racing has been of such a high quality is great. It’s an easy sell from that point of view.

A lot of what you’re doing is reacting to the sport that’s been. Prepping for an Olympics or a Commonwealth Games is much, much harder. There are so many countries, sports, people. Here, I only need to know about 18 to 20 people, a few of whom I knew anyway.

We do a lot of filming in advance, so not everything we’re doing in that two hours. I’ve written all my scripts by the time I’ve got here; I’ve got the running order.

There’s a lot of blank sections that you fill in after qualifying, the whole of part two I can’t write a single word for yet, but that’s the excitement. And you obviously can’t write the ending of any television programme on sport, not a single thing, but I love that bit.

You’ve covered many different sporting events as you mentioned earlier, as well as non-sporting events before that. How do you get the best out of the different personalities involved?

I’m a journalist, I’m not a TV presenter. I’ve covered the Lockerbie trial, general elections, a lot of different sports. You prep, you can’t be a fan. You go in there as a professional, and if you make friends with people, that’s a bonus.

You have to get that level of respect, and I think that’s something you see in quite a lot of the F1 interviews, that level of respect you get from drivers. That’s something I’ve always tried to work hard on. I don’t need to be someone’s friend who I interview on television, but it helps sometimes.

You can be friendly with someone, but it’s how you conduct yourself in that high-pressure moment. It doesn’t matter who I was interviewing, I would never back down from asking a question should a question need to be asked, whether they were friends or not.

Lee McKenzie interviewing Max Verstappen as part of a wider feature during the BBC's coverage of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.
Lee McKenzie interviewing Max Verstappen as part of a wider feature during the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix.

If we use Formula 1 as an example, I would ask the same question to every driver differently because you get to know their characters. You’ve got to be a little bit clever with it. If I was trying to ask a question to Lewis [Hamilton] and ask a question to Sebastian [Vettel], it would be the same question but phrased differently.

Is there an F1 interview you’ve done that stands out from the rest, or was a highlight for you?

There’s ones that stand out for different reasons. The Lewis interview in 2011 was a big moment at Monaco, it didn’t necessarily feel good but it felt journalistic.

A lot of interviews with Seb, they always go slightly wrong, but all good fun. I did a hard-hitting sit-down piece with Fernando a few years ago, I was very pleased about that one. You get a good feel for when you’ve done a good interview, and a lot of that comes down to knowing the person and a bit of respect.

Lewis is great to sit down with as well when he’s very open, and touches upon a lot of different things.

Michael Schumacher’s probably one I would single out as, doing interviews with that I really liked. I loved working with Michael, I had a great relationship with him, we did some lovely interviews together.

I took the horse over to his yard and competed. Any time I could spend with Michael at that moment felt special, and not just because of the situation now. I went to Kerpen kart track with him and Seb where they both started out, and that was a lovely piece. Interviews like that stand out for me.

Lewis and Sebastian are the veterans of the F1 paddock now, but do you notice a different interview style for those coming through the ranks, such as Lando and George?

It’s easy to be unguarded and open when you first start out, you measure it on what happens in ten years’ time.

Max has been the same. I spent two days with him and his family in Belgium a few years ago, that was a lovely piece. Of course, you wouldn’t get the opportunity to do that now but I don’t think he’s changed as a person. He was hard-hitting as it was.

I think him and Charles are very open, but again it’s what happens in five years’ time when people’s careers progress that makes them have to shut down a little bit and that to me is understandable.

If you were to give advice to budding journalists coming through the ranks, what would you say?

I would say: prep. There’s no doubt that media in the past 15 to 20 years has changed. But don’t copy and paste. Own the content that you make, and do it with pride.

There’s a lot of people that come to me and say “I want to be a motor sport journalist, can you give me any tips” and I would look at their Twitter feed, and it’s like a crazed fan.

You’ve got to conduct yourself in a way that conveys respect. You’ve got to be a journalist; you can’t be a motor sport journalist I would suggest. I would say that the best journalists in sport come from that news background because it’s a very well-grounded thing, and then follow your passion, and immerse yourself in it.

Bringing it back round to the W Series, the series is not only aiding their on-track skills, but also their media behaviour as well in interviews.

Sometimes it feels like that [coaching], not just the Brits but a lot of European based drivers have known me, or have been watching me on TV.

We do sit down a little bit sometimes and talk things through. They want know how to come to a Grand Prix, they want to know how to do more media stuff, and how they should be conducting themselves.

I will never volunteer that, but if someone wants advice, then absolutely, I’m happy to give that advice.

My thanks go to Lee McKenzie for spending the time with me on the above piece.


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How W Series has embedded itself into the DTM production setup

Setting up a new motor racing championship is inherently difficult. From the cars, to the drivers, to the media, to the television production and beyond, the amount of effort involved means that inevitably, not everything will go according to plan.

Last weekend, the inaugural W Series season ended at Brands Hatch, with Jamie Chadwick winning the championship trophy and a cool $500,000 to go with it.

Off track, how well has the series embedded itself into the DTM paddock? Motorsport Broadcasting roamed Brands Hatch to find out…

The existing DTM setup
On a logistical level, W Series slotted into the gap left by the FIA Formula Three Championship as the leading support series on the DTM bill, taking place at six of DTM’s nine race weekends.

DTM is the German equivalent of the British Touring Car Championship, except unlike the BTCC, the DTM championship travels around Europe, with four of this year’s nine race weekends taking place outside of Germany.

Now in its twentieth season, the DTM production setup features four different entities.

  • TV Skyline – outside broadcaster
  • DTM Productions / ITR – production and editorial
  • Wige – graphics and timing
  • Riedel – RF on-board cameras and team radio

W Series could have taken the existing DTM facilities, without additional wrap-around coverage.

In this scenario, broadcasters would have had to add their own bespoke content if they wanted additional colour – making W Series less valuable to prospective broadcasters. Producing a plain World Feed for W Series makes little sense.

The aim of W Series is to increase women participation in motor sport and, to get the message out, organisers needed a high-quality television product in place. That is not to say that the DTM product is not good, but the ambitions of both are different.

How well has the arrangement worked?
W Series organisers brought in Whisper and Timeline to work on the championship, playing the same roles as DTM Productions and TV Skyline respectively. The additions mean that space in the television compound is tighter than ever, but manageable nevertheless.

The role of Whisper and Timeline covers all wrap-around content, but does not cover the race itself, which remains in the control of DTM’s own providers. During W Series’ first season, Whisper and Timeline produced a live programme for broadcasters to air.

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One of the W Series drivers tackle Paddock Hill bend during Saturday’s second practice session.

Speaking to me during the final W Series race of the inaugural season, Whisper’s Senior Producer Harry Allen is happy with how the relationship between all parties has unfolded.

“As Formula E have found out, setting up a race from scratch and directing the whole race yourself is a pretty massive undertaking, and I think the relationship with DTM is a really neat, tidy and high-quality way of dealing with that situation,” Allen told me.

“We could have attempted to go our own way and have six races set-up all by us, all of the circuit infrastructure, everything, but that’s a massive expense,” Allen added.

“Being able to be a support series on DTM, but then present that on Channel 4 and round the world as a W Series programme is great. We make sure that we mention DTM, we don’t try to hide that we’re operating on a DTM weekend.”

Whisper’s in-house graphics arm Chapter 3 Graphics designed the W Series graphic suite, which fans saw during the wrap-around coverage. However, communication was required between Whisper and Wige (DTM’s graphics provider), to ensure that the race graphics aligned with the outer offering.

Allen, who has worked with the BBC in the past on their sports offering, points this out as one of the successes from his perspective.

“We designed the graphics pack which they’ve [Wige] integrated into their system. It all works so that when we come on-air with our graphics, they look the same as their graphics,” he said.

“It’s been pretty seamless with all the partners. DTM, ITR, TV Skyline, Wige, Riedel, Timeline, and our guys. It’s a massive operation, and it’s all worked pretty well I think, we haven’t had any major issues.”

What the team are producing
For Brands Hatch on race day, alongside the qualifying feed, Whisper produced a 195-minute World Feed from 14:15 to 17:30. That might confuse some readers given that Channel 4 were on-air from 14:30 to 16:30.

Although the ‘core’ World Feed is for those two hours, beforehand a variety of features are played out from 14:15 to 14:30, for any broadcasters that have opted to do something different (for example: a studio-based show with their own presenters).

Similarly, all the post-race interviews are played out following the conclusion of the main W Series programme for broadcasters that wish to use them later. The structure of the pre-race build-up allowed worldwide broadcasters to opt-in to the show at two different junctions, giving them flexibility from a scheduling perspective.

2019 W Series Ted Kravitz.jpg
Ted Kravitz in full flow during the start of the pre-race Notebook, recorded on Saturday evening.

In addition, the pre-race paddock segments air on a slight tape-delay. Due to the nature of the support series, cars are already making their way to the grid by the time the show begins to air, making it more logical to pre-record the paddock segments before the drivers’ get into their machinery.

Lee McKenzie steered both the pre and post-race build-up, with David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz providing additional input. Kravitz’s Notebook also played a key role in W Series’ social media output.

The style of Kravitz’s Notebook is like his F1 content, Kravitz wrapping up the fortunes of each of the 20 drivers, along with any other snippets that Kravitz has picked up throughout the race weekend. I watched on as Kravitz filmed the pre-race Notebook on Saturday evening, Kravitz beginning the Notebook from Paddock Hill bend (above) before wandering through to the W Village, all timed to near perfection.

On top of the live content and the Notebook, Timeline and Whisper also cut two separate highlights programmes off-site at Timeline’s base in Ealing: one for global broadcasters, and another specifically for US broadcast partners NBC, who air W Series highlights on Wednesday’s on NBCSN.

“We deliver that to NBC by 5pm on a Monday (12pm in US),” Allen tells me. “NBC then have five hours of opportunity to watch it and give feedback, and then on Tuesday we make any changes and then deliver the final product for them.”

“That’s how we service NBC, who are obviously a huge client for W Series.”

W Series’ is Allen’s first motor racing role but that, he says, is a deliberate move from Whisper. “The reason why I am producing this is because one of the key things we’re trying to do is get W Series to a new audience,” he says.

“The production team around us, these guys go to Formula 1 every race [for Channel 4]. I’m trying to create something that is accessible to a different audience, and everyone around me is keeping me in check making sure we hit the motor sport audience. If there’s anything, any time that is not correct then we’ll meet in the middle!”

Cottingham’s “most incredible” journey
Before Hockenheim, Claire Cottingham was a name unfamiliar to motor racing fans worldwide. Now, just over three months later, Cottingham has commentated on all six races of W Series’ first season.

Speaking to me prior to the Brands Hatch season finale, Cottingham reveals her journey, from getting the initial phone call to now.

“Before they gave me the gig, I had to go in and do a test commentary. I went in to commentate on a race, with one of the guys from Whisper,” Cottingham tells me.

“It was just to see how it flowed and things like that. It was an agonising couple of days waiting, and then I got the phone call. It was one of those surreal, unbelievable moments in life!”

2019 W Series Jamie Chadwick.jpg
Champion Jamie Chadwick being interviewed by presenters Lee McKenzie and David Coulthard post-race.

“I think it’s about having the right person. It’s not my place to say ‘should it be female’ or whatever. It’s worked out that they picked somebody who knew motor sport, has been in motor sport, and that’s great.”

“It should always be the right person to fit the job, and that’s what they did, they believed I was the right person for the job. Whisper have been brilliant to get the right people in the right places and to give women more of a presence in motor sport. When I got the phone call, I thought ‘I’m in on this mission!’ It’s been the most incredible journey so far,” Cottingham added.

Cottingham, who has previously commentated on Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Renault Eurocup for BT Sport, spoke about the challenges of working on a new championship, and the hurdles it brings.

“Because it’s a new series, much like when Formula E came out, everyone was learning the technology and learning the racing, it’s very similar,” she says.

“We’ve all learnt from Hockenheim to now, the drivers, the production team, everybody. We’ve all grown with it and I think that’s what’s been really fun, to be part of that family and moving it forward.”

A successful first season for W Series
Cottingham’s commentary can be heard worldwide, including in the UK on Channel 4. Allen is happy with how W Series has been brought to a wide audience in its inaugural, thanks to broadcasters such as Channel 4 backing the series.

“I think we’ve done really well, because we’ve brought a start-up racing series to a pretty wide audience, and I think people know about it,” Allen notes.

“When I speak to my friends who have no interest in motor sport, they’ve heard about it, they’ve read about it in the papers, in the broadsheets, they may have even watched it on Channel 4.”

“The good thing about being on Channel 4 in the UK is that people who are interested in Formula 1 will know about the fact that we’ve got W Series coming up, because at the end of the programme they’ll trail it.”

“If you’re watching the rugby today on Channel 4, we’ve sent them a 30-second VT, which will trail our final programme, and off the back of that the presenter of the rugby will say ‘don’t forget tomorrow to tune in, 2:30 on Channel 4 for the finale on W Series.'”

“Whisper is all about the stories, characters, personalities, entertainment is everything. Sport is entertaining, but my opinion on sport is that has to be easily understandable by everyone, so if you’re sitting down with your daughter or son and they’ve never watched W Series before, they can’t think ‘that was boring’ at the end of the programme, and that’s the key.”

“What we’re doing with this is everything around the racing, even if the racing hasn’t done what you wanted it to, we’ll make sure we sell that sport to the absolute maximum and get the most emotion and entertainment out of it.”


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