Looking ahead to 2019

For most Formula 1 fans in the United Kingdom, 2019 will have a completely different feel to it, as the new television broadcasting contract kicks into gear.

Sky Sports have exclusive rights to all the action from 2019 to 2024, in a deal signed in March 2016 with Formula One Management, then under the control of Bernie Ecclestone. How will Formula 1’s UK viewing figures look under the first year of the new deal?

I am not expecting a tumble in the total audience figure, as Sky have sub-let the free-to-air element of their deal to Channel 4, for 2019 at least. The move means that fans still have a major free-to-air platform to view highlights of every race, plus live coverage of the British Grand Prix. But, Channel 4’s Formula 1 deal is only one year long.

Will Sky Sports let Channel 4’s coverage continue beyond 2019, or will they pull the plug? There are a ton of questions surrounding Channel 4’s 2019 coverage, the personnel involved, the commentary that they will take, and so on, plus whether there will be further jumps from Channel 4 to Sky. All will be revealed…

In its second season, expect Formula 1’s over-the-top service to grow significantly, something that we will be monitoring throughout the year as the service begins to mature. There were previous rumblings that UK fans could have access to F1 TV Pro, but this is unconfirmed. If confirmed, it provides another avenue for fans to view the action on.

Beyond Formula 1, MotoGP fans have stability, as the championship remains on BT Sport for the next three seasons. Formula E’s UK offering will be a focal point, the electric series choosing to go all guns blazing onto just about every platform possible. With the help of Auntie Beeb and YouTube, is 2019 the year that Formula E finally breaks into the mainstream in the UK and starts making significant movement?

For some, 2018 marked the end of an era, as 2019 marks the start of a new era. 2019 promises to be another fascinating year in the broadcasting landscape as each championship fights to remain in the limelight.

Who knows what the next twelve months may hold…

Advertisements

Scheduling: The 2018 Ad Diriyah E-Prix / Christmas reviews

A bass riff may not accompany Formula E, nor may it be airing on one of the BBC’s traditional television outlets, but nevertheless, the electric series takes a major step into the future as season five begins, with live coverage across the BBC’s digital platforms.

The start of the 2018-19 season takes the championship to a new, perhaps controversial, location as the series descends on Saudi Arabia for the Ad Diriyah E-Prix.

For UK fans, as well as the BBC and incumbents Eurosport, the actions airs live on BT Sport and YouTube for the first time. The BBC’s coverage is of the race itself, from the five-minute sting to after the chequered flag, excluding the pre-race festivities.

In a departure from last season, Eurosport are taking the World Feed commentary with Bob Varsha, Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti, a surprise considering Eurosport usually provide their own commentary feed for motor racing events.

However, BT Sport is the only UK television station that will air every Formula E session live, including the Shakedown on Friday afternoons, as well as practice on Saturday mornings. For non-BT Sport fans, the good news is that every session airs live via YouTube. Additionally, highlights air on Discovery-owned channel Quest following their Football League highlights show on Saturday, with a repeat on Sunday morning.

Vernon Kay and Nicki Shields complete the World Feed line-up. Kay stays in the Formula E paddock after impressing as Channel 5’s presenter last season. Last year, North One Television produced Channel 5 output, North One also forming part of Formula E’s worldwide output alongside Aurora.

Laurence McKenna hosts the tailored YouTube race programme, called ‘Voltage’, with Becky Evans alongside him. Neither are names regular readers will recognise, but both are young and active in the car scene on social media, and are exactly the right people to grow Formula E’s presence amongst the younger generation.

Red Bull profiled Evans here, whilst McKenna has presented a variety of social media output and podcasts in the past few years. KSI and Zerkaa, who form part of the Sidemen (a group of YouTube personalities), join McKenna and Evans in the YouTube London hub.

Elsewhere, December is packed with season reviews. BT Sport are going the extra mile with their MotoGP review show airing live from The Bike Shed in London. Suzi Perry presents as usual, with special guests including Bradley Smith, Sam Lowes, and triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo.

Sky’s F1 review show premieres on Christmas Eve, whilst Channel 4 are not airing a formal Christmas show following their short review during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend.

Formula E – Ad Diriyah
All sessions air live via YouTube and the following UK channels…
14/12 – 11:45 to 12:30 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
15/12 – 04:00 to 04:45 – Practice 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 06:00 to 06:45 – Practice 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 07:30 to 09:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport/ESPN and Eurosport 2)
15/12 – 11:00 to 13:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms from 12:00
=> live on BT Sport/ESPN
=> live on Eurosport 2
15/12 – 11:30 to 13:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
15/12 – 22:30 to 23:30 – Highlights (Quest)

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Ad Diriyah (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 04:45 to 05:30 – Qualifying
15/12 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race

MotoGP (BT Sport 2)
09/12 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Season Review

BBC Radio F1
TBC – Season Review

Sky Sports F1
24/12 – 19:00 to 21:00
=> 19:00 – Alonso / Johnson Car Swap
=> 19:30 – Jean Todt Exclusive: Future of F1
=> 20:00 – Season Review

In the run-up to Christmas, keep an eye on this post in the event of any changes to the review programming over the festive period.

Formula E joins forces with Quest and BT Sport for 2018-19 season

Following on from previous UK rights announcements, coverage of the upcoming 2018-19 Formula E season will also air on Quest, series organisers have confirmed.

The channel, which is available free-to-air, will air highlights of every round, with four races also airing live. The supplementary rights agreement increases Quest’s own sporting line-up, which includes regular highlights of the English Football League. Action will also air on Quest’s on-demand platforms.

From Formula E’s perspective, Quest sits alongside the BBC, YouTube and Eurosport in the ever-expanding UK arena, a major shift compared with previous seasons. Discovery Communications owns both Quest and Eurosport, whilst they are also a minority investor in the electric series.

The UK rights agreement between Discovery and Formula E is like the British Superbikes series, but on a smaller scale. Every BSB race airs live on Eurosport, with Quest also airing a selection of rounds live. Eurosport provides significant on-site coverage for British Superbikes, which is not currently the case with Formula E from a UK stand point.

At a glance: the UK rights so far…
> Season 1 – ITV4
> Season 2 – ITV4
> Season 3 – Channel 5 / 5Spike
> Season 4 – Channel 5 / 5Spike / Eurosport
> Season 5 – BBC / YouTube / Quest / Eurosport / BT Sport

Simon Downing, Head of Quest and Eurosport UK, said: “We are delighted to be adding to our sports line-up on Quest. The upcoming season is set to be an incredible one with plenty of action for fans to enjoy.”

Ali Russell, Director of Media & Business Development at Formula E, said: “We are delighted that Quest have become a major addition to our UK broadcast offering for Season 5, guaranteeing that the ABB FIA Formula E Championship will continue to be available on a free-to-air basis in a key market for us.”

“We are excited by Quest’s coverage plans and believe that this partnership will further amplify the popularity and growth of Formula E in the UK,” Russell added.

The wording of Russell’s statement may suggest that Quest are planning bespoke wrap-around coverage for the races that they are airing live, but this is unconfirmed as of writing. It is also unclear whether highlights will air on the same day as the race, or whether they will air later in the week. I have requested comment from Formula E on this front.

Update on December 4th – In addition to the above, schedules for the first race weekend in Saudi Arabia show that BT Sport are joining the Formula E party. Formula E have yet to issue this as a press release, but BT’s schedules include live action from Saudi Arabia. BT will cover every session live, including the Shakedown on Friday afternoons, as well as the supporting Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series.

Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict

The 2018 Formula One season has ended, and with it, brings down the curtain on the motor racing year.

On-track, it has been a year of generally good racing wherever you look. Whilst neither the F1 or MotoGP seasons went down the wire, the racing in both has been worth watching on many occasions this year.

Off the track, there have been many developments on the broadcasting front. Traditionally, the end of season verdict has stuck to the UK F1 view point, but we live in a motor sport world far greater than both the UK and F1, and with that in mind it makes sense to expand the scope of the verdict to encompass all elements of broadcasting.

Whether it has been the launch of F1 TV, or World Rally Championship’s All Live service, there has been plenty of movement in the online arena. Liberty Media have made their mark on Formula 1’s graphics set, whilst closer to home, 2018 was the last year of Channel 4’s current F1 contract, the broadcaster remaining in a reduced capacity, for 2019 at least.

Now, we want your opinion. Has something irritated you with this year’s motor sport coverage? Have I missed a revolution that this site should be covering? And what would you like to be different about the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2019? Are you planning to watch a new series next season?

As always, the best thoughts and views will form a new article closer to the festive period.

BBC to broadcast 2018-19 Formula E season across digital platforms

The BBC are to broadcast live coverage of the 2018-19 Formula E season across its digital platforms, both parties have today confirmed.

The electric series started life on ITV4, with coverage moving to Channel 5 from season three onwards. Now, at the start of Formula E’s second generation, the championship is again on the move, this time to the BBC. It is the first time that the BBC have aired live motor racing in visual form since their television coverage of Formula 1 ended in 2015.

However, the BBC’s Formula E coverage will be primarily absent from BBC’s television outlets. Instead, live coverage will air via the Red Button and via the BBC Sport website, with on-demand coverage via BBC iPlayer. Formula E says that one race this season will air on either BBC One or BBC Two.

“It’s great news that live motorsport is returning to our screens at the BBC,” said Barbara Slater, Director of BBC Sport. “I’ve no doubt the upcoming season will bring with it some exciting wheel-to-wheel moments and we can’t wait for it to begin.”

“The ABB FIA Formula E Championship will continue to be broadcast to the masses and across a variety of platforms in the UK,” said Ali Russell, Media & Business Development Director at Formula E. “It’s imperative that Formula E remained on a free-to-air network in such an important territory and key market for motorsport.”

“What better place to showcase some of the best and most competitive racing than on the BBC. We’re fully-charged and ready for the new season on the streets of the most recognisable cities – and this year promises to be more intense and unpredictable than ever.”

Formula E’s contract with the BBC is in addition to their agreement with YouTube, meaning that the championship will be available live, and free, via two of the biggest platforms in the United Kingdom.

Reflecting on their two-year deal with Formula E which expired at the end of season four, a Channel 5 spokesperson told this site “We have enjoyed working with Formula E over the last few years. We wish them every success with their new broadcast deal with the BBC.”

Potential for significant exposure with BBC deal
As I alluded to in my analysis around Formula E’s YouTube deal, there are many reasons why Formula E has struggled to gain traction in the United Kingdom. Little marketing from organisers, a lack of promotion, poor scheduling, and apathy towards the series from the wider public are just a few of the reasons.

During the past two seasons, Channel 5’s scheduling of Formula E has been haphazard, with the championship airing live across Channel 5 and their sister channel 5Spike to little fanfare. Half the races in season four aired live on 5Spike, with audience figures suffering as a result.

Collectively, a weighted average of 177k (1.8%) watched Channel 5’s coverage according to overnight audience figures supplied by Overnights.tv, the series regularly rating below slot averages and failing to pick up traction. The broadcaster treated the series as a slot filler, but when you look at the broader picture, the audience figures did not justify giving the series a bigger profile.

In addition, Eurosport, which has a separate pan-European deal with Formula E encompassing the UK, made little difference to the overall total figures. Unfortunately for Formula E, it was a catch 22 situation, and it is easy to see both their perspective and the Channel 5’s perspective.

So, what were the alternatives?

The clear alternative from the outset was Channel 4, but their new Formula 1 deal dashed Formula E’s hopes, for 2019 at least. With Channel 4 out of the equation, going back to ITV was another possibility, but Formula E’s vicious circle would continue.

A trip down the EPG to a lower-ranked channel in the small hope that it may boost their profile was highly unlikely. Pay-TV was a possibility, but such a deal would kill Formula E’s profile in the UK. As someone within the Formula E circles told me, “what if the alternative is BT Sport?” Such an announcement would have gone down like a lead balloon…

Outside of Formula 1, MotoGP and the TT races, the BBC has had little interest in motor racing since at least the early 2000s. As a one-off experiment, Formula E highlights appeared on the BBC website in March, which would have only helped Formula E’s cause if metrics were good.

The backdrop to the deal came in the form of a meeting between Formula E’s supremo Alejandro Agag and the Head of BBC Sport Barbara Slater.

Clearly discussions between the two parties were fruitful, with a positive outcome for all involved, and better than some of the potential alternatives. With live Formula 1 behind a pay wall for all but one race from 2019, now is the time for Formula E to strike while the iron is hot.

Some clarity still to emerge
The cost to the BBC is likely minimal, if not close to zero.

Channel 5’s coverage in season four was produced by North One Television, with production costs halved between Channel 5 and Formula E. What we do not know at this stage is whether the BBC will produce any bespoke wrap-around coverage for their UK audience.

It is unclear whether the BBC’s deal covers practice and qualifying, I have requested comment from the corporation on this front.

The BBC deal allows Formula E to reach different segments of the UK audience. YouTube gives them access to the non-sport audience, whilst the BBC Sport website opens the door to watchers of many different sports.

However, anyone expecting Formula E to receive “the BBC treatment” needs to reduce their expectations significantly. Yes, being on the BBC’s platform is great, but there is a reason the series is not on BBC One or BBC Two, and that’s because audience figures so far do not suggest that the championship could draw a wider audience, even on BBC One.

Whether Formula E were happy to take the Red Button option, or whether the BBC presented them with a ‘take it or leave it’ option is again unclear. Formula E’s deal likely fits in with the BBC’s ambition to “stream 1,000 extra hours of live sport a year,” although I hope the Formula E deal is not a ‘quota filling’ exercise.

Most of the sports broadcast on the Red Button are domestic competitions, such as the football Women’s Super League, grass-roots athletics events and the British Basketball League. For these events, the corporation takes the feed that the host broadcaster provides with no wrap-around, at minimal cost, and is therefore considered inappropriate for BBC One or BBC Two.

Earlier this year, the BBC streamed the Goodwood Festival of Speed live on their website, a move that went unnoticed within the motor sport community. If the BBC promotes Formula E well, with supplementary website articles and content from their existing talent (such as current Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls), this could be a very good deal for the championship.

Is the BBC deal better than the previous Channel 5 contract? You win massively with the BBC, you lose the traditional television facing slot. However, the latter was increasingly becoming irrelevant, due to a low audience base in the first place.

For me, the deal is fantastic news, as it gives the championship a consistent, high-profile outlet, instead of in previous seasons, where broadcasters threw the series from pillar to post.

The BBC website is one of the biggest in the UK, and this deal gets Formula E in the door. If the metrics are strong, I am hopeful that the championship could transition onto one of the BBC’s main television channels, which must be the main aim for everyone involved in this deal.

In 2019, Formula E will be live, free-to-air on the BBC, whilst Formula 1 will be live, behind a pay-wall on Sky Sports. For the times, they are a-changin’…