Sky Sports secures IndyCar rights in key European territories, including UK, until 2024 season

Sky Sports will continue to air the IndyCar Series in the UK until the end of the 2024 season, the broadcaster has announced.

The broadcaster made the announcement on Friday 29th October via their German arm Sky Sport. Sky have yet to make a formal announcement via their UK outlet.

Sky’s new exclusive deal also covers Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy. It is the first time that Sky has covered IndyCar in Germany, the series currently airing on Sport1+.

Sky says that the deal covers live coverage and highlights of IndyCar, as well as “extensive exploitation rights for numerous other content, such as highlight clips or archive material,” although it is unclear whether this element of the statement covers all territories or just Germany.

Charly Classen, Executive Vice President of Sport for Sky Deutschland said, “With the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, we have secured the exclusive rights to the largest motorsport series in the USA, which also has a large fan base in Europe.”

“The racing series is a perfect addition to our strong motorsport range.”

The 2021 season finished in September at Laguna Seca, with Alex Palou crowned Drivers’ Champion. Next year’s season is set to begin on February 27th from St Petersburg, the earliest start to an IndyCar season since 2000.

IndyCar continues to support strong Sky F1 portfolio outside of core content

2022 marks a decade since Sky Sports F1 first hit the airwaves in the UK, and the shape of the channel outside of F1 race weekends has changed somewhat in that time.

The most noticeable change is the increase in supplementary content to the core F1 action. In recent years, Sky have aired, in either live or highlights form, the British GT Championship, the Ferrari Challenge, GT World Challenge, with IndyCar also joining the fray since 2019.

Sky goes beyond the basics, the broadcaster opting to air IndyCar qualifying and practice live (yes, practice) where possible.

The partnership between Sky and IndyCar makes logical sense, considering Comcast owns both Sky and NBC in the US.

Earlier this year, NBC and IndyCar announced a multiple year extension to their rights deal, making the Sky arrangement in Europe more of a formality than originally anticipated.

Sky have promoted IndyCar more in the UK this season through their F1 programming, with viewing figures benefiting as a result.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 averaged 125,000 viewers across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event according to consolidated data from BARB. The impressive figure takes into account Sky’s marathon two-hour build-up, with the race itself likely equalling 2019’s record figure for the 500.

Later in the season, IndyCar’s debut outing at Nashville on Sunday 8th August brought 66,000 viewers to Sky’s F1 channel, with 62,000 tuning in a week later to watch an IndyCar race round the Indianapolis Road Course.

While these figures are lower than Formula Two, IndyCar has built a loyal following over the past few years, a statement supported by IndyCar’s UK audience figures this year on Sky.

However, longstanding problems with IndyCar’s broadcast remain, including the lack of a consistent English-language commentary feed for the duration of the race which, in this writer’s view, prevents the series from growing further outside of America.

In addition, Sky have begun to air limited commercials following a sponsorship deal with Arrow, title sponsors of McLaren’s IndyCar outfit. It remains unknown if Sky intend to air commercials next season during their IndyCar coverage.

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Scheduling: The 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Summer holidays may be in full force for most, but for the World Endurance Championship, this weekend marks the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans!

For WEC, the weekend is round six of the 2021 season, with the Hypercar category now in the limelight.

Replacing the LMP1 category, the new category sees five cars competing for overall victory, with two Toyota’s, one Alpine, and two Glickenhaus entries in the running.

On the broadcasting side, over 300 people are involved in the production, covering both behind the scenes and on-air personnel. 104 cameras will cover the action across the week, with 44 of those cameras on-board 14 different cars.

The action in the UK airs across Discovery’s portfolio of channels, the brand having recently extended their rights agreement to cover Le Mans for an additional five years.

Live coverage of full race airs on Eurosport, with Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest airing the start and finish live.

Tom Gaymor continues to lead Discovery’s commentary team for UK viewers, alongside Mark Cole and Jake Sanson. For Sanson, it is the first time that he has commentated on Le Mans.

David Brabham, Charlie Robertson, and Chris Parson complete the UK team, whilst Tom Kristensen will continue to provide his expertise across Discovery’s output.

Ever wondered what commentators read before a season of motor racing starts? Take a look at the WEC’s graphics guide.

Alternatively, fans can watch the action via the WEC app. This year, voices including renowned commentator David Addison and five-time Le Mans winner Oliver Gavin join the World Feed team.

Gavin makes his Le Mans commentary debut, having retired from competitive action last October.

Martin Haven, Graham Goodwin and Allan McNish continue to lead the offering, alongside Addison, Gavin and Darren Turner and Gavin. In pit lane, Louise Beckett and Duncan Vincent will provide additional analysis.

Radio Le Mans will be doing their thing throughout the week, with John Hindhaugh leading the team.

The race starts at 16:00 local time (15:00 UK time) on Saturday, an hour later than in previous years and an hour and a half later than last year. As was the case last year, the World Feed will not be covering the first practice session, with live coverage kicking in from Wednesday evening onwards.

Wednesday 18th August
17:45 to 19:10 – Qualifying Practice (Eurosport 2)
20:50 to 23:10 – Practice 2 (Eurosport 2)

Thursday 19th August
13:00 to 16:00 – Practice 3 (Eurosport 2)
19:50 to 20:45 – Hyperpole (Eurosport 2)
20:45 to 23:10 – Practice 4 (Eurosport 2)

Saturday 21st August
10:15 to 11:00 – Warm-Up (Eurosport 1)
11:00 to 12:15 – Road to Le Mans (Eurosport 1)
14:15 (Saturday) to 15:30 (Sunday) – Race (Eurosport 1)
=> live coverage of the start from 14:15 to 17:00 on Quest on Saturday
=> live coverage of the finish from 13:00 to 15:30 on Quest on Sunday

Full scheduling details for the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans. Scheduling details correct as of Tuesday 17th August and are subject to change.

If details change, I will update this article.

Update on August 21st at 14:50 – Tom Gaymor is no longer commentating for Eurosport today after being admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis.

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Scheduling: The 2021 Berlin E-Prix

18 drivers. 2 qualifying sessions. 2 races. 1 weekend. And 1 championship.

With 60 points still on offer, there are 18 drivers still in contention to become the first ever Formula E World Champion as the series heads to Berlin for a double-header finale.

From Nyck de Vries on top currently with 95 points, all the way down to Alex Sims in 18th on 44 points, any one of those could exit Berlin as champion

The chances of someone clawing back that margin are highly unlikely, but Formula E has proved this season that anything is possible.

Following Channel 4’s one-off deal for the London E-Prix, live coverage of the Tempelhof weekend airs across the BBC and Discovery.

The first race airs live on Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest, with BBC Two picking up coverage of the season finale on Sunday.

In addition, the BBC’s and Eurosport’s digital platforms, as well as Eurosport 2, will be covering the action from both races.

It is unclear if the BBC are providing bespoke wrap-around content from Salford, as they have done previously when races aired on BBC Two, or whether Formula E themselves are providing localised UK coverage, like they did in London for Channel 4.

Vernon Kay presents the English-language feed, alongside Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary, the latter three having been part of Formula E’s content offering since the very first race in Beijing 2014.

Series organisers say that “over 40 broadcast and digital partners” will cover the season finale, with a “strengthened” free-to-air offering in place.

Outside of the UK, broadcasters including Sat.1 (Germany), L’Equipe (France), Channel 20 and Italia Uno (Italy), CBS Network (USA) and SABC Sport (South Africa) will be airing the E-Prix.

Saturday’s race takes place earlier than usual for a double-header, this to give organisers time to reverse the circuit layout ready for the season finale on Sunday.

Friday 13th August
15:55 to 16:55 – Practice 1 (YouTube)

Saturday 14th August
06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 2 (YouTube)
08:45 to 10:15 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2)
12:30 to 14:30 – Race 1 (BBC Red Button / Quest / Eurosport 2)
=> Quest coverage runs from 13:00 to 14:30

Sunday 15th August
06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 1 (YouTube)
08:25 to 09:10 – Practice 2 (YouTube)
10:15 to 11:45 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2)
14:00 to 16:00 – Race 2 (BBC Two / Eurosport 2)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Berlin E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Saturday 7th August and are subject to change.

As always, if plans change, the article above will reflect the updated scheduling details.

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5 key stories from the 2021 British Grand Prix weekend

The key talking point after last weekend’s British Grand Prix was, of course, that incident between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen which has generated column inches across the board.

On the broadcasting side, it was a newsworthy weekend, for multiple reasons.

Alongside the previously announced offline HDR test, there were other things that caught the eye over the Silverstone weekend. Here are just a few…

New format, new graphics…

A new experiment for Formula 1 brought with it new graphics for the Sprint session.

The changes were visible to fans immediately after the F1 opening titles, with the usual fly-over coming in the form of enhanced augmented reality graphics.

The pre-race graphics detailed the same information as usual, such as the track layout and starting grid, but in a different format to the Grand Prix graphics.

In my view, the changes helped to differentiate the Sprint to the main event on Sunday.

I know sometimes F1, and other forms of motor sport, sometimes have a habit of implementing ‘change for changes’ sake, but I thought that this was a cool change.

As a wrestling fan, it reminded me of WWE’s broadcasts, the wrestling juggernaut having used augmented reality to their advantage throughout the pandemic with no fans in attendance.

The graphics which followed during the race had mixed execution, however.

A graphic depicting the live speed of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at The Loop and Aintree fell into this category.

If this was a top speed graphic, it might make sense, displaying the live speed at one of the slowest parts of the circuit added little to the broadcast.

In contrast, F1 used augmented reality to highlight Alpine’s Fernando Alonso when riding on-board with McLaren driver Lando Norris, a graphic which worked well.

McLaren’s Lando Norris chases down Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in F1’s new Sprint experiment.

Others suggested that the Alonso graphic resembled a video game, but that for me is not a valid criticism.

Not every livery stands out as easily as a McLaren (orange) or Ferrari (red), especially when viewing from behind.

If F1’s implementation helps new viewers engage in our sport, then this is a change for the better.

Besides F1 are not the first (see: MotoGP, NASCAR, amongst others), and certainly not the last, to implement a graphic of the nature. 

…as audiences in the Netherlands remain strong

In the Netherlands, ratings bureau SKO reported that Friday’s evening qualifying session averaged 552,000 viewers (15.5% audience share) on Ziggo Sport.

The figure in-line with Saturday’s afternoon qualifying session from Austria, which brought 585,000 viewers (31.7% audience share).

The higher share for Austria is reflective of the fact that the Silverstone qualifying session aired in an evening time slot, so whilst more viewers could have watched Friday qualifying in the Netherlands, they opted not to.

Saturday’s Sprint averaged 717,000 viewers (28.9% audience share), a significant volume increase on Austria qualifying, with a slight share drop.

The race on Sunday, from the start of the red flag period, averaged 1.31 million viewers across Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select, equating to a 62.9% audience share.

In the US, 529,000 viewers watched the new Sprint format on ESPN, while the race averaged an excellent 1.03 million viewers, continuing F1’s positive trajectory in the States.

The picture was less positive in Spain, where the Sprint generated no additional interest.

According to Formula TV, 114,000 viewers (1.3% audience share) watched the Sprint programme on DAZN, compared with the 116,000 viewers who watched the Austria qualifying session.

Sustainability on the agenda…

Wherever you looked across the F1 weekend, sustainability was one of the main topics featured across F1’s UK broadcasts.

Sky’s #GoZero campaign was in the spotlight during the coverage, with all their presentation team using green ‘Sky Zero’ microphone coverings and recycled clothing.

The broadcaster hopes to become net zero carbon by 2030, and is working in collaboration with F1 to help bring down carbon emissions across the sport. F1 themselves announced that the Silverstone weekend was their first ever Carbon Neutral broadcast.

Writing on Sky’s F1 website, senior producer Jamie Coley explained how he plays his part in Sky’s Sustainability Content Group.

“The group brings producers and journalists together from across Sky Sports to find ways of achieving tangible results and awareness around the environmental problems our world faces through our sports coverage,” he says.

“Over the last year, this group has achieved some significant milestones, including making all our host broadcast sports productions albert certified sustainable productions, and joining the UNFCCC’s Sport for Climate Action Framework.”

“It has also led to Sky Sports marking a ‘Summer of Sustainability’ at some of the biggest events on the sporting calendar this week, including the British Grand Prix.”

“As a producer for Sky Sports F1, my part in this is helping to tell the great stories of how Sky and F1 are going green.”

“The best person to showcase the great work F1 has done and continues to do to improve its environmental impact, which for a petrol sport is no way easy feat, is Nico Rosberg who I filmed a special feature with that airs during this weekend’s coverage at Silverstone.”

Over on Channel 4, a feature involving Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel aired. Vettel, along with Lee McKenzie, visited a local school to help engage children on how to live sustainability in the future.

…as Channel 4 teams up with Hollywood stars

Channel 4 splashed out on their live offering from Silverstone, with Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Ryan Reynolds featuring through their broadcasts.

Reynolds introduced viewers back to Channel 4’s programming throughout the weekend through short VTs.

Meanwhile, Cruise featured in the broadcaster’s excellent opener to their race day coverage alongside Steve Jones, David Coulthard and Mark Webber.

In the build-up to the Grand Prix, the BBC’s Top Gear team were also in action, preparing for the next series, which will air in the Autumn.

The feature sees Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris taking on Paddy McGuiness, Freddie Flintoff, and Chris Harris in a head-to-head challenge.

Elsewhere, a week of contract signings

Outside of the F1 world, it has been a big week for a few rights holders.

Stateside, the IndyCar Series and NBC have extended their partnership in a multi-year agreement. Normally, a rights renewal is not surprising news, however in this instance it is, as earlier suggestions linked IndyCar to CBS.

NBC’s main station will air 13 races next season, with the remaining races airing on USA Network and NBC’s over-the-top platform Peacock.

No races will air on NBC Sports Network after this season, following NBC’s decision to close the channel at the end of 2021.

In the UK, BT Sport will remain home to the World Rally Championship until the end of 2024, after the two parties agreed a new three-year deal.

On the personnel front, Will Buxton has joined Motorsport Network’s portfolio of talent, the network has this week confirmed.

While Buxton will continue his F1 commitments, his YouTube show (This Week with Will), will move across exclusively to Motorsport.tv’s over-the-top platform on a free-to-view basis.

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Formula E looking for ‘channel consistency’ and audience consolidation in future TV deals

Formula E are looking for ‘channel consistency’ and audience consolidation in future television deals, series organisers have told Motorsport Broadcasting.

Since the electric series launched in 2014, Formula E has aired across five different broadcasters in the UK.

Currently, the series airs live across BBC’s digital platforms, with live coverage also airing on Eurosport, but both deals end following the 2020-21 season.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting on the eve of the New York E-Prix weekend, Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas said that the series was exploring making it ‘simpler’ to watch Formula E moving forward.

“When you drive a message, with the clutter that’s around, you want a simple message, watch it on this channel, live,” Dabas believes. “You don’t want five different channels over there and five calls to action.”

“It’s a good question because we’re definitely looking at a more consistent channel strategy in the UK and other markets. And when I think of the channel strategy, I know that every race currently we are like, is it on BBC Red Button, is it on network, is it on Quest. It’s hard.”

Dabas, who joined Formula E in June 2020, believes that channel consistency, along with localised content, are both key if Formula E is going to become a tier 1 sport in key territories.

“For us we are aiming to be a tier 1 sport, and channel consistency is going to drive the numbers,” Dabas says. “We are looking to see how we can have consistent channels whether it’s with BBC, or with any other channel that we go with.”

Sat.1 deal in Germany an early success story for Dabas

Citing her previous role, Dabas notes that cricket saw a 50% jump in audiences in India following the creation of a localised feed, instead of the Indian coverage taking the English language feed.

Dabas’s team are trying to replicate that approach in Formula E, with their deal with German station Sat.1 an early success story.

Sat.1 airs a one-hour bespoke pre-show, with a dedicated on-site crew producing coverage for German viewers, featuring the likes of former racer Daniel Abt on commentary.

“It took a while to do and draft the deal [with Sat.1], because both from their end and ours, we wanted to work on something that helped them grow their audiences. Eventually they want younger people to watch their channel, and Formula E is the right fit.”

“They’re [Sat.1] actually owning the product with language, relevant talent, so it doesn’t look like they just take the World Feed.”

“I think ultimately that is the model we want to replicate in most key markets because that is what’s going to build audiences for us.”

“The second New York race is on CBS [in the US], a big free-to-air channel. There’s marketing support on the This Morning show on CBS which is a huge crossover from sport into entertainment.”

“We have to look at growing holistically rather than actually ‘here’s a sport, here’s a feed’, put it on and people will watch, those days are gone I think.”

Formula E is taking a long-term approach on the rights front, aiming to build their audience first, with the hope that revenues will follow later.

“It’s a hedge bet, placing 3 million for three years in a territory for rights. But in those three years, if that sport is not performing and building audiences, you’ve actually taken the sport backwards,” Dabas tells me over a Teams call from New York.

“I think, rather than focus on revenue first, you focus on audience first, and then the revenue follows. Those are the sports that will see growth, rather than sports that are looking at short term revenue versus long term growth.”

Formula E re-assessing social media content strategy

The championship is also re-assessing their social media content strategy to help them grow audiences further.

“When I joined, I could see that the Formula E content was all over,” Dabas recalls.

“It was everywhere, the teams were putting it out, partners, broadcasters, YouTube, but ultimately did that actually grow the audience? I think for us it’s about working with partners and adding value, otherwise we’re simply just putting the content on YouTube.”

“Avid fans will probably love it because they can see it for free, but we have to go beyond those fans and I think hopefully in two or three years we can reach a position where we reach the fans who don’t yet know us.”

“And then for our avid fans we have something else to give to our digital products. Avid fans should be actually looked after and rewarded for being avid fans, and right now all we’re doing is putting it out on YouTube.”

Dabas believes the content across Formula E’s platforms, whether it is the championship-led channels or the team channels needs to have a narrative.

“There has to be a narrative and we should cross promote each other, rather than all of us trying to be on top of each other, diverting attention and fragmenting audiences.”

“So, I think when I talk about the consolidation audience approach, I think there is also about complementary content rather than competing content that we need to look at.”

Formula E’s UK broadcast plans for the London E-Prix weekend, which takes place on July 24th and 25th, will be announced shortly.

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