News round-up: F1’s US audience figures increase; Formula E hits the big screen

In the latest Motorsport Broadcasting round-up, it is good news for Formula 1 in the US, whilst Formula E hits the big screen at the Cannes Film Festival.

ICYMI: Round-Up #1 (May 13th): Turner returns to F1 fold; F1 adjusts OTT pricing; Barrat joins Formula E’s TV team

Formula 1

  • Good news for F1 on the US audience front, with ESPN reporting double-digit growth year-on-year. The first five races (excluding Monaco) have averaged 564,000 viewers on ESPN compared with 442,000 viewers last year. ESPN also tout the strong growth in the coveted Adult 18-34 demographic, increasing 107 percent year-on-year.

Formula E

  • A new feature-length documentary covering the 2017-18 season premiered at Cannes Film Festival last week. Fisher Stevens, Malcolm Venville and Leonardo di Caprio produced ‘And We Go Green‘, which goes behind the scenes during Jean-Eric Vergne’s championship winning season. LBI Entertainment are handing distribution rights for the documentary.
  • With Dario Franchitti over at Indianapolis, Tom Blomqvist and Nick Heidfeld joined Jack Nicholls and Bob Varsha on commentary duty during the Berlin E-Prix weekend. Blomqvist was alongside Nicholls for practice and qualifying, with Heidfeld joining Nicholls for the race.

MotoGP

  • Quest have changed the time slot of their MotoGP highlights programming. The first three races aired in an 18:00 and 23:00 time slot on Monday evenings, effectively splitting the audience.
    • Viewing figures have not been good. Their 18:00 showing for Austin made BARB’s consolidated top 15 with 196,000 viewers, all other airings have failed to make Quest’s top 15, averaging around 150,000 viewers or below.
    • From Jerez onwards, Quest reduced the two airings to one, airing at 22:00 only on Monday evenings. Current schedules for Mugello suggest that the one airing strategy will continue moving forward.
  • Suzi Perry is back in the BT Sport hotseat for Mugello, after a recent bout of illness.

W Series

  • Speaking to this site following Zolder, Whisper Films stated that their production team during the Hockenheim and Zolder weekends consisted of 34 people. The split was exactly 50/50, with 17 women and 17 men. The production house says that this covers both permanent staff and freelancers.
    • The figures cover the live World Feed production, as well as highlights
    • The figures also include those working on a documentary that Whisper are producing covering W Series’ inaugural season
  • Speaking to RaceFans, series organisers noted that over 400,000 viewers watched the first race in the UK on Channel 4 from Hockenheim. CEO Catherine Bond-Muir told the site “Even [on] Channel 4 we absolutely knocked out of the park the internal audience estimates.”
  • NBC in America has picked up highlights of the series. The broadcaster will air a one-hour highlights show of each race on their NBCSN channel (including commercials).

IndyCar Series

  • The first Indianapolis 500 to air on NBC drew the 500’s highest audience since 2016. According to Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal, the race drew 5.4 million viewers across TV and digital. The race recorded a 86 overnight rating (excluding digital), also the highest since 2016.
  • Ahead of his Indianapolis 500 commentary debut, NBC lead commentator Leigh Diffey spoke to Phillip Bupp at Awful Announcing about his journey to date (link).

Elsewhere…

  • Eurosport have picked up the rights to MotoAmerica highlights in the UK. The one-hour highlights programme began airing last Saturday.
  • Motorsport Network have announced that their new feature length film Heroes will premiere in the run-up to the British Grand Prix. The trailer, which features swathes of archive F1 footage, was unveiled last week. Manish Pandey, one of the men behind the Senna movie, is director and writer for Heroes.
  • It is worth mentioning changes within the Sky Sports hierarchy in the UK. Sky have promoted Barney Francis into the role of Chief Executive of Future Sport, with Rob Webster succeeding Francis as Managing Director of Sky Sports UK.
  • Down under in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald report that Foxtel, which is owned by News Corporation and Telstra, is struggling against the rise of streaming platforms. The paper reports that “non marquee” sport, including motor racing, are under threat.
  • ESPN in the US featured Billy Monger’s remarkable story in their weekly E:60 magazine programme. The show featured his story last Sunday (ESPN’s Vimeo account have uploaded a preview clip).
  • The BBC have written a fantastic piece looking at Katherine Legge’s battles in motor sport, which is worth a read.

Spot any stories making the rounds worth mentioning? Drop a line in the comments section.

Scheduling: The 2019 French MotoGP / Indianapolis 500 qualifying

The month of May ramps up for the IndyCar field as crunch time approaches. Following last Saturday’s dramatic IndyCar Grand Prix, the drivers prepare for the famous Indianapolis 500 with qualifying.

The great news for UK fans is that Sky Sports F1 will air qualifying live across Saturday and Sunday. This includes the portion of qualifying that is airing on the NBC Sports Gold app for US viewers. Given the length of the broadcast, expect ad-breaks in some form.

How does Indianapolis 500 qualifying work?
– Saturday: Top 9 go through to Sunday; Positions 10 to 30 set. One run each.
– Sunday: Position 31 to 33 set (‘Last Row Shootout’). Positions 1 to 9 set (‘Fast Nine Shootout’). One run each.

Closer to home, the W Series heads to Zolder for round two. The race itself airs live on Channel 4, whilst live coverage of qualifying will be available for UK fans via Facebook and Twitter. Lee McKenzie again presents, with Ted Kravitz, Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard completing the line-up.

Le Mans plays host to MotoGP, however BT Sport’s presenter Suzi Perry is again ruled out on medical grounds.

MotoGP – France (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (£)
17/05 – 07:45 to 15:15 – Practice 1 and 2
18/05 – 07:55 to 15:15
=> 07:55 – Practice 3
=> 10:55 – Qualifying
19/05 – 07:30 to 14:30
=> 07:30 – Warm Ups
=> 09:15 – Moto3
=> 11:00 – Moto2
=> 12:30 – MotoGP
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – France (Quest)
20/05 – 22:00 to 23:00 – Highlights

W Series – Zolder (Channel 4)
Qualifying airs live across Facebook and Twitter
18/05 – 14:45 to 16:00 – Race

British Touring Car Championship – Thruxton (ITV4)
19/05 – 11:15 to 18:00 – Races

Euroformula – Pau (BT Sport Extra 2)
Also airs live on YouTube
18/05 – 15:00 to 15:45 – Race 1
19/05 – 14:00 to 15:15 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Indianapolis 500 Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
18/05 – 16:00 to 23:00 – Day 1
19/05 – 17:00 to 20:00 – Day 2

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport/ESPN)
18/05 – 17:30 to 21:00 – Races

World Touring Car Cup – Netherlands (Eurosport 2)
18/05 – 13:15 to 14:30 – Race 1
19/05 – 07:00 to 08:15 – Qualifying
19/05 – 13:10 to 14:00 – Race 2
19/05 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Race 3

As always, the schedule will be updated if timings change.

News round-up: Turner returns to F1 fold; F1 adjusts OTT pricing; Barrat joins Formula E’s TV team

As part of a new strand on Motorsport Broadcasting, we will begin to round-up the stories behind the camera that may not have featured in one of the main articles on this site.

The regular round-up will include snippets from across the landscape, every two to four weeks. In the first round-up, a familiar name returns to the F1 fold, plus a whole lot more…

Formula 1

  • After leaving his role as Sky’s Head of Formula 1 in 2017, Martin Turner is back in the F1 fold. Turner is supporting F1 with their new digital programming, including the Weekend Debrief, which Ted Kravitz presents. Both Turner and Sky’s current Head of F1 Scott Young are involved in the production of the show, in a collaboration between F1 and Sky.
  • Formula 1 continues to tweak the format of the post-session ‘interview pen’ for broadcasters. During the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, each ‘group’ could ask each driver one question post-qualifying, with up to three minutes allocated post-race, although I understand that the situation is fluid depending on the race in question.
  • Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi’s voices will be on show in the upcoming F1 2019 video game. As in real life, the two lend their dulcet tones to the Formula Two action, which makes its debut in the gaming series.
  • The Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw Max Chilton partner Jolyon Palmer in the BBC 5 Live booth for practice and qualifying. Two weeks later for Barcelona, Tom Gaymor was alongside Palmer on Friday, with Marc Priestley joining him on Saturday.
    • An unusual set of teams, 5 Live’s coverage for both races was based back in the UK, with only Jennie Gow on site. With Jack Nicholls on Formula E duty, 5 Live’s commentary often this year is coming off-tube from the UK.
  • Formula 1 has adjusted the pricing for their over-the-top platform. The premium tier, F1 TV Pro, has had its price reduced from $99.99 to $79.99, or roughly equivalent depending on territory. Formula 1 has yet to give an official reason as to why, although the service experienced problems during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend. Speaking to journalists in Spain, Chase Carey said that it may take ‘another year’ to iron the bugs out of F1 TV.
  • In a change for 2019, selected journalists and outlets can now film content from inside the F1 paddock. The likes of Motorsport Network and Peter Windsor are already taking advantage of the change. However, there are restrictions in place, so that journalists are not treading on the toes of television broadcasters.
  • Sky Sports have launched a YouTube channel for their Formula 1 coverage. As a general rule, anything filmed outside of the race track has unrestricted worldwide access, such as this piece with Sebastian Vettel and Martin Brundle (currently at 97,000 views), however anything filmed inside the circuit, such as this Behind the Scenes feature with McLaren (currently at 10,000 views) is geo-blocked to UK only.
  • Both Porsche Supercup and Formula Three launched their 2019 campaigns in Barcelona, with updated graphics sets. With large fields, the graphics did not offer as much capability as the Formula 1 and Two sets. Nevertheless, Formula Three’s coverage saw the addition of team radio for the first time at that level.

Formula E

  • The Gadget Show’s Georgie Barrat will be part of Formula E’s television team for the remainder of the season, substituting for Nicki Shields who is on maternity. Barrat made her debut with the team in Monaco, although she has been inside the Formula E paddock before, filming a special edition of The Gadget Show during the 2017 Hong Kong E-Prix.
  • As with Formula 1, TMC directed the Monaco E-Prix last weekend, with Aurora Media Worldwide having a smaller on-site presence than usual.
  • Fans of Formula E can now race against their favourite drivers in real-time, as Virtually Live Ghost Racing is now available to download for free on iOS and Android.
    • The game re-creates every Formula E circuit, also doubling up as a second-screen experience, allowing fans to also ride on-board with their favourite drivers. Ben Constanduros and Chris McCarthy share the commentary duties throughout the season.

W Series

  • The news that W Series may become part of the F1 support bill next year in some capacity raises the question of which UK broadcaster would air the series if that scenario came to fruition.
    • Sky airs F1 exclusively live (for every race bar Britain), and may have some say as to whether Channel 4 can show W Series live, if it is part of the F1 under-card.
    • Porsche Supercup’s contract with Formula 1 expires at the end of 2019, which may open an opportunity for W Series.
  • Whisper Films, who produces the World Feed, noted in the run-up to the first round in Hockenheim that half of their “production crew for the 4 May will be female.”
    • Insiders pointed out to this site that many people working on the production were freelance and male, and are unlikely included in Whisper’s headcount.
    • picture of the on-site Channel 4 crew from F1’s Australian Grand Prix (also a Whisper production) highlights the gender imbalance. This is an industry problem as opposed to a Whisper-only problem, but writing statistics that are factually inaccurate will not make the problem disappear.
  • UK viewers will have access to live coverage of qualifying from Zolder onwards. Coverage from Hockenheim was geo-blocked for UK fans, but series organisers have confirmed that fans will be able to watch qualifying across Facebook and Twitter moving forward.
  • More than a week after the first event has concluded, and W Series have yet to upload highlights of the race to YouTube.
  • Prior to the inaugural race, organisers announced that Pitch International will “sell rights to broadcast W Series around the world” outside of the UK. As of writing, series organisers have yet to announce further rights details post-Hockenheim.

Elsewhere

  • Motorsport Network’s over-the-top platform has grabbed live coverage of the Japanese Super GT series. The championship, which features the likes of Jenson Button, initially opted not to pursue an English language live stream for 2019. Super GT in recent years has gained a cult following through NISMO TV’s YouTube stream, a deal which ended following the 2018 season. Instead, the series will air worldwide on Motorsport Network’s portfolio of outlets.
  • A bout of prolonged sickness has left BT Sport’s MotoGP presenter Suzi Perry on the side-lines in recent races. The existing BT team have helped cover the gap, whilst three-time British Superbike champion Niall Mackenzie joined the crew last time out.
  • The UK arm of the TCR Series will not air live in 2019. Instead, highlights of the series will air across the Fast Zone programme on Sky Sports, as well as Motorsport.tv, Front Runner and YouTube.

Spotted anything worth reporting? Drop a line in the comments section below.

Looking back at W Series’ inaugural race

The W Series kicked off in style in Hockenheim, with Jamie Chadwick winning the inaugural race. But how did the championship fare on the broadcasting side? We analyse their opening act…

Broadcasting rights
The championship, which aims to increase female participation in motor sport, is supporting the DTM touring car championship based in Germany. Announced publicly in October 2018, series organisers have spent the past few months whittling down the number of racers to eighteen.

From a broadcasting perspective, the arrangement with DTM means that W Series plays ‘second fiddle’, in the same way that Formula Two does to Formula 1, for example. Most of Formula 1’s support events are tangibly related to the main attraction, whereas W Series has no significant relation to DTM other than the fact that they are on the same bill.

It is like Porsche Supercup’s relationship with F1. Porsche drivers are highly unlikely to progress to F1, and it is unlikely, although possible that W Series drivers will progress to DTM. Like anything though, W Series needs to fit somewhere. The arrangement may not be long lasting, as Reuters are reporting that some races may end up on the F1 support bill sooner rather than later…

Nevertheless, having W Series race play out in front of an empty Hockenheim race crowd is far from ideal. I am no expert on DTM’s attendance figures, but it does not look good from W Series’ perspective, one of the perils of running races on Saturday. Over the border in the UK, the British Touring Car Championship regularly attracts a solid fanbase around the country.

2019 W Series Race 1 - cars.png
The W Series cars in action. In this shot, Beitske Visser, Fabienne Wohlwend and Sarah Moore are battling in the purple/pear cars, with Esmee Hawkey in the background in the red/white car.

Very few broadcasters worldwide have signed up to W Series so far, despite their CEO Catherine Bond-Muir claiming in an interview with Crash.net in January that there was “extraordinary” interest in the series, and that they had rejected a deal with an (unnamed) free-to-air broadcaster in the UK.

In the end, the championship did announce a deal with a free-to-air broadcaster, in the form of Channel 4 just two weeks before the series started. Whether the Channel 4 deal came together late, or the parties opted to announce it late, is unclear.

If anything, W Series has struggled to bring television deals to fruition. Hopefully now that the first race has taken place, and the series is a genuine real entity, the tide will turn in their favour.

Organisers have opened Facebook and Twitter for fans to watch the championship where no broadcast partner is in place. This proved to be the first frustration for UK fans, as the qualifying feed was geo-blocked due to their arrangement with Channel 4 (even though the broadcaster, as expected, did not air qualifying live).

Slick presentation from Whisper Films
Anyone who has watched Whisper Films’ Formula 1 coverage on Channel 4 generally knows what they are getting.

Channel 4 aired a sub-set of the World Feed content, with Whisper catering to all parties. The TV friendly feed featured break bumpers, with those watching on social media getting an in-depth qualifying round-up and additional interviews during the TV breaks. Once the friendly feed went off the air after the podium celebrations, the World Feed remained on-air for an additional 15 minutes of post-race interviews.

The ad-breaks on Channel 4 did feel slightly jarring (two breaks in twenty minutes), a minor complaint considering the race aired uninterrupted. Nevertheless, all handled the whole ad-break situation better than other entities have in the past (see: Channel 5 and Formula E), resulting in a polished show overall.

Lee McKenzie steered the ship as presenter, guiding the show along. Ted Kravitz brought over his esteemed style in the form of #TedTalksWSeries, also interviewing the stars of the show during Saturday’s race coverage.

On commentary was Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard, a line-up met with mixed reaction across social media during the race. Prior to Formula E’s launch in 2014, series organisers held a closed door ‘test race’ at Donington, helping to iron out bugs, ensuring that the broadcast, including commentary, flowed.

W Series never held a ‘test race,’ the first opportunity for Cottingham and Coulthard to work together in anger was last weekend. Commentary teams do not gel overnight, and it is even more difficult to gel when everything is brand new. The commentary was not great, but I also feel we need to give them time before criticising the pairing at the first opportunity.

If anything, there were problems elsewhere in the W Series system that impacted on Cottingham and Coulthard’s commentary…

Questionable race coverage
One of the downsides of being on the DTM support bill is that W Series has the same camera angles as DTM’s World Feed. Whisper Films had little to no say over those positions.

WIGE Media, who have produced DTM’s World Feed for many years, are no longer producing the feed this season, however the team behind the DTM feed is fundamentally the same. Whisper Films may be producing W Series, but the ex-WIGE team is directing the output, creating a half-way house scenario.

I understand that the production behind the live W Series content came together late in the day, which impacted the quality of the show. Fundamentally, the race itself felt like I could have been watching a national Formula 3 event, on a shoe-string budget, because of the quality of the race broadcast.

2019 W Series Race 1 - helicopter.png
The helicopter angle at the start. Whilst the angle missed Chadwick running wide, it did capture the white-purple car of Megan Gilkes (pictured here on the inside towards the hairpin), slamming into the side of Emma Kimilainen in the red-white car.

Some of the chosen camera angles were questionable, with seemingly heavy reliance on the helicopter. Cutting to a helicopter angle just two corners into the race, resulting in us missing Chadwick (the leader at the time) making a mistake struck me as an incredibly bizarre decision. With only five different liveries too throughout the field, driver identification is likely to be difficult throughout the season.

Other angles looked cool, but out of place on a live race broadcast. If I was watching a documentary on the race after the event, then maybe it would be fine, but not during the race itself. Because of the angles used, the cars did not look fast. I appreciate these are Formula 3-spec machinery, but some camera trickery can make all the difference here to fans at home.

Unfortunately, you cannot hide empty grandstands. But you can inject a bit of energy into the race through sporadic on-board angles to show the amount of input from the drivers, as well as some team radio. Admittedly, the former costs money…

The graphics set did the job, although the colours, whilst on brand, are not the most television friendly in the world. The logo in the bottom right hand corner could be shortened to just W, the stylisation of the logo meaning that the last few letters of ‘Series’ disappeared occasionally!

On the racing front, the action was excellent throughout the field, with clean wheel-to-wheel racing. The opening lap Safety Car spoiled things somewhat, resulting in around 20-minutes of full-speed action before the chequered flag. Hopefully the length of the race changes to 45-minutes next season, but I can see why they have started short.

And arguably, the race quality is the main thing. The production issues, while frustrating, are fixable. To just get to this point without any major hiccups is a result. The team as a collective unit all have one race under their belt, and go into the next round at Zolder with a better idea of what to expect.

W Series announces presentation team

W Series have announced their on-air presentation team for the inaugural season.

The championship will air live on Channel 4 beginning this Saturday from Hockenheim, with Whisper Films producing, in a similar relationship to Channel 4’s F1 coverage. However. Whisper is producing the complete World Feed for broadcasters, including Channel 4 to take.

Lee McKenzie presents the World Feed output. McKenzie has been reporting on Formula 1 for the BBC and more recently Channel 4 since 2009. “It’s a huge pleasure to be involved at the start of W Series,” McKenzie said.

“I’ve covered almost every series of motorsport and to be involved in one that could also change the face of the sport as we know it is really exciting.”

Sky’s F1 pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz joins McKenzie in pit lane. Sky reduced Kravitz’s commitments for 2019 after the broadcaster u-turned on a decision to axe him from their offering.

“It’s rare that a brand-new motorsport series comes along that captures the imagination and interest in the way that W Series has,” Kravitz said. “I’m really looking forward to telling the stories of all these drivers and joining the W Series team of new and familiar faces.”

Claire Cottingham and David Coulthard are the two personalities in the commentary box. Coulthard is a familiar voice to Channel 4, but Cottingham is a name that readers may not be unfamiliar with.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this incredible and ground-breaking team, being one of the first female commentators in motorsport,” Cottingham added. “It’s an absolute dream come true to be involved in such a historic series, which supports women in fulfilling their potential.”

“I can’t wait to see W Series grow and watch the drivers excel in a sport that I love so much.”

A fantastic line-up
To succeed as a championship, W Series needs to have the right people leading the way, in all different disciplines. A great championship needs a top-tier presentation team, with a calibre of voices that are recognisable to a wider audience.

W Series also needed a range of voices, with both males and females as part of their on-air team. Thanks to the range of contacts that the team of Whisper Films have, the team have managed to achieve just that.

Whisper have leaned on their Formula 1 line-up, with Coulthard and McKenzie both part of the team. Both voices have been part of Formula 1’s free-to-air offering for a decade.

It would feel odd in my view to watch a women’s racing series with a male only commentary team. Although unknown, Cottingham has significant commentating experience, most recently with Formula E on their radio coverage alongside Tom Gaymor and Marc Priestley. Arguably, this is Cottingham’s biggest role to date.

As if the trio already mentioned were not good enough, W Series have also brought in the “legend” (Catherine Bond Muir’s words, not mine) that is Kravitz. The idea of Sky’s F1 pit lane reporter appearing on a rival station is unusual – none of Sky’s other F1 personnel fall into this boat.

But of course, this is no ordinary time as readers who have followed the Kravitz situation in recent months will know about. W Series have quite rightly gained from Sky’s poor decision making.

If the quality of the racing is as good as the on-air team this season, fans watching should be in for a treat.