BT’s MotoGP series editor Kevin Brown on their post-COVID return to the paddock

MotoGP returned to Silverstone at the end of August following a year away due to the COVID pandemic, with Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo dominating the race.

For UK broadcaster BT Sport life, in the MotoGP sense, is returning to some sort of normality.

The full team returned to the paddock for the Austrian double header, after spending all of 2020 and half of 2021 presenting coverage off-site back in the UK.

We caught up with BT’s MotoGP series editor Kevin Brown via Zoom during the Silverstone weekend to see how things have been since the team returned to the paddock, and what challenges still lie ahead.

We last spoke earlier in the year, and at that point the team was working remotely. How are things now you are back on site, compared to before COVID?

It’s not an awful lot different. The main thing is that the paddock is not so busy, it’s a very different Silverstone paddock. It’s lovely to see so many fans back in the grandstands, but obviously it’s a very tight and strict paddock bubble that we have to respect and we do respect.

As far as we’re concerned, [MotoGP’s commercial rights holder] Dorna have done a brilliant job to keep the sport running throughout the pandemic, and if it [helps] keep everyone safe, then that’s the main thing for us.

Yeah, and I imagine from your perspective, you have all the relevant contingencies in place if you do need to come back off-site later in the season for whatever reason.

Indeed. If there’s anything that we’ve been extremely pleased with over the last 18 months it is our ability to adapt. I think that every time we think about something we must think about what would happen ‘if’. It has sharpened us up in that respect.

Every time you plan, you make a second plan in case the first plan can’t happen. I don’t think we did that as much in the past, and now it is just constantly making sure you’re one step ahead.

We talked last year about the benefit of having on-air people on site, and this weekend really proves that with the face-to-face interaction with the riders.

We’re getting the benefits of being on site massively. It allows us to follow stories much easier, our commentators can go and talk to people, abiding by paddock rules. You can’t just go into someone’s motorhome and talk to them, you have to wear masks and be super careful, but at the same time the information flow is easier when you’re not having to rely on messages and phone calls.

I think that getting those little pieces of information that enhance a commentary or a presentation are easier when you’re here so certainly for our presenters, I think they are really getting the benefit of being back on-site.

Here at Silverstone, both Jake Dixon and Cal Crutchlow are racing in the main class, and of course it is Valentino Rossi’s last British MotoGP. I imagine you’re pleased that you can be on site to cover Rossi’s last races, and get the Suzi [Perry] interview with him.

I mean from Suzi’s point of view; she’s been there for the whole of [Valentino’s] 26 years. She’s been there from the time that Loris Capirossi used to interpret her questions for him when his English wasn’t very good!

It’s that sort of thing where their careers in MotoGP have kind of run in parallel so I think it’s quite fitting that we’ve been able to do a proper sit-down interview in the BRDC, and it was lovely that Silverstone made the facility available to us.

We had the best part of 40 minutes with him on Thursday, which was lovely because he’s got such a great relationship with the British public. It’s nice to feel like we can do the occasion justice.

[Note from David – the full interview will air on BT Sport soon, scheduling details to be confirmed.]

The BT team has returned to the paddock, but Silverstone also marks the final weekend in one respect for the production team. Just talk me through the changes in that area.

We’re all here [at Silverstone], but from Aragon onwards, we go to a full remote solution. Our presenters and commentators will all go to the track, with a support team of cameras, sound and technical, and then the rest of the production, the gallery, the edits, will be back in Stratford [BT Studios at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park] for the rest of the season. We’re embracing the new technology and moving into the future with it.

We’ve talked before that this was always going to happen at some point, but COVID has accelerated that.

And, we’ve learnt from COVID. We’ve learnt that we’re able to do things without sending so many people around the world and at the moment where travel isn’t so easy, to have the flexibility to have people in the UK as well as on site is fantastic.

I think for us it’s something that we were going to do anyway, but with COVID we’ve just had to get on with it a lot quicker than we otherwise would have done. We very quickly learned that so many things are possible. It feels like we’re just taking another step, every so often.

We went from doing The Greatest Race on people’s phones at people’s homes, to Hinkley at Triumph, then we went to the BT Tower. Then we started sending some people on site, then we’ve all gone back to site just to get us through this little period, and then here we are from the next race we’ll go full remote.

It’s actually felt like a very sensible progression, but it came about by circumstance, it wasn’t a planned move to do it like this. Each time you look at the rules and you look at what’s safe and you look at how best to do the best we can in the circumstances, and this is just where we’ve got to.

There’s a lot of very clever people at BT who are able to engineer it seems almost anything. When we need a solution, they’ve backed us all the way, and found the right way to do it. We’ve worked together, via North One and BT, to get it all right as much as we can and to try and serve the viewers and the subscribers as well as we can.

We had a brilliant championship last year, this year has been terrific too with some brilliant races, the last one in Austria was extraordinary.

It’s just a privilege to be able to cover it. I think we all feel very lucky really and I think we feel lucky that our sport has kept going, and is still going but with fans as well. Fingers crossed it can just keep on progressing back towards something that resembles normality, and we’ll just be covering it in our new way.

Yeah, absolutely. Will you be on site, or in Stratford?

Initially at Stratford. We need to get this bedded down and set up but again there are ways of me not being in Stratford. We know that there are ways of producing the programmes from wherever we want to, and I think that’s quite important.

If there’s a race I feel that I need to be at for editorial reasons, or for meetings, then I can still do my job but I’ll just do it remotely. When so many clever solutions are available to us, we have that flexibility which is terrific.

BT Sport’s coverage of the 2021 MotoGP season continues from Friday 10th September, with live coverage of the Aragon weekend on BT Sport 2.

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Live MotoGP peaks with 472,000 viewers on ITV as broadcaster enters new deal

Live coverage of the British MotoGP round on ITV peaked with fewer than half a million viewers, overnight viewing figures show.

The broadcaster aired the race live from 12:30 to 14:30 on Sunday, providing a bespoke pre- and post-race offering fronted by Matt Roberts.

An average of 277,470 viewers (3.72% audience share) watched the broadcast, according to audience data supplied to this site by Overnights.tv.

A peak of 472,300 viewers (6.17% audience share) were watching at 13:18, as Fabio Quartararo stretched his margin at the front of the field.

Earlier this year, the Le Mans round aired on ITV4, peaking with 425,900 viewers.

2021 marks the first of a four year deal that ITV has with MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna. The deal sees ITV4 airing highlights from every race, with two races each year also airing live and free-to-air across ITV’s portfolio of channels.

BT Sport remains MotoGP’s main rights holder from a UK perspective, the pay-TV broadcaster airing every session live until the end of the 2024 season.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting last weekend, Manel Arroyo, MotoGP’s Chief Commercial Officer, contextualised BT’s relationship within the wider UK ecosystem.

“In the UK, we’re working very hard with Silverstone, and also very important for us is Triumph, our engine supplier for Moto2. And all together [with BT], we are trying to create momentum, to push the popularity of the sport.”

“We have seen the commitment from BT with us all these years and we are happy with that. In this new deal, we’re approaching the free-to-air window in a different way [with ITV].”

“We’re very happy because we are in a fantastic position to achieve new audiences through our broadcast offer, ITV4 with highlights, plus the two GPs live, one in Le Mans and the second one today.”

ITV’s offering struggles to draw in the viewers

Arroyo’s comments to this site make sense: free-to-air coverage on ITV’s main channel should draw a significant audience.

The fact that it did not is perplexing and surprising in equal measure. Including BT Sport will bring the average and peak audiences up, but unlikely to be much higher than the Le Mans audience in May.

Clashing with the F1 build-up on Sky Sports and the Paralympics on Channel 4 likely did not help, however it is clear the audience interest was not there from the get-go.

But, sticking a race on free-to-air television, and then not promoting it is an odd strategy to take.

As some pointed out to this writer over the weekend, the main PR exercise ahead of Silverstone saw Spanish rider Marc Marquez visiting Manchester City’s training ground.

Only one outlet, the Daily Mail picked up, but failed to note that the British MotoGP was airing live on ITV.

COVID restricts what MotoGP can do to promote the series, but not using the British stars, led by Cal Crutchlow and Jake Dixon for Silverstone, was a missed opportunity.

Live coverage of MotoGP on BBC Two back in 2013 regularly averaged one million viewers, which MotoGP needs to be aiming towards for their free-to-air offerings, combined across BT and ITV.

On this occasion at least, MotoGP failed to hit the mark.

The good news though is that MotoGP’s deal with ITV is in place until the end of the 2024 season, giving them more chances moving forward to increase the championship’s reach in the UK.

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Scheduling: The 2021 British MotoGP

After its absence last year due to the pandemic, MotoGP returns to Silverstone over the Bank Holiday weekend for the British Grand Prix!

Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo has a 47 point lead following a consistent season so far and four victories to his name. Can anyone close him down, or is it too late?

MotoGP – the coverage

For the first time since 2013, coverage of the race airs live on free-to-air television, with ITV covering the action on Sunday. It is the second race to air on one of ITV’s channels this season, following the Le Mans round which aired live on ITV4.

Matt Roberts presents ITV’s coverage; the first time Roberts has presented MotoGP since the sport left the BBC in 2013. Roberts is now a regular fixture on Eurosport’s bikes coverage, presenting their British Superbikes and World Superbikes offering.

James Haydon and James Toseland join Roberts, while ITV will be taking the World Feed commentary comprising of Steve Day, Matt Birt and Simon Crafar.

For fans of motor sport on free-to-air TV, this weekend sees MotoGP, W Series, British Touring Cars and Extreme E airing live across ITV, Channel 4 and ITV4.

Suzi Perry presents BT Sport’s extensive MotoGP coverage of all three classes during the weekend, alongside the likes of Gavin Emmett, Neil Hodgson, and Sylvain Guintoli.

Alternatively, fans can watch the action throughout the season via MotoGP’s VideoPass service, giving you every session live and access to MotoGP’s rich archive. Currently, the series is offering £85.63 for the remainder of the 2021 season.

Friday 27th August
08:45 to 16:15 – Practice (BT Sport 2)
=> 09:00 – Moto3
=> 09:55 – MotoGP
=> 10:55 – Moto2
=> 13:15 – Moto3
=> 14:10 – MotoGP
=> 15:10 – Moto2

Saturday 28th August
09:00 to 16:15 – Practice and Qualifying (BT Sport 2)
=> 09:00 – Moto3: Practice 3
=> 09:55 – MotoGP: Practice 3
=> 10:55 – Moto2: Practice 3
=> 12:35 – Moto3: Qualifying
=> 13:30 – MotoGP: Practice 4
=> 14:10 – MotoGP: Qualifying
=> 15:10 – Moto2: Qualifying

Sunday 29th August
09:00 to 16:30 – Races (BT Sport 2)
=> 09:00 – Warm Ups
=> 10:30 – Moto3: Race
=> 12:30 – MotoGP: Race
=> 14:15 – Moto2: Race
=> 15:30 – Chequered Flag
12:30 to 14:30 – MotoGP: Race (ITV)

Monday 30th August
20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 British MotoGP. Scheduling details correct as of Monday 23rd Augst and are subject to change.

Meanwhile, Formula 1 heads to Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, as the final half of the 2021 season begins.

F1 – the coverage

Despite stepping down as host of their F1 podcast earlier this week, Steve Jones continues to present Channel 4’s highlights offering.

Joining Jones in the F1 paddock are Billy Monger and Mark Webber, Monger joining Alex Jacques on commentary for both F1 and W Series.

David Coulthard will also be in Belgium, however as part of Channel 4’s W Series programming alongside Naomi Schiff.

With both of them presenting from the W Series paddock, the COVID restrictions mean that Coulthard cannot be part of the F1 ‘bubble’ at the same time.

Over on Sky, the broadcaster will be airing a special feature during their coverage, as Mick Schumacher drives the car his father first drove in F1 at Silverstone: the Jordan 191.

All F1 sessions are available to listen live via BBC’s F1 website

Thursday 26th August
17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
18:00 to 19:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)

Friday 27th August
09:05 to 09:50 – F3: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
10:00 to 11:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
12:50 to 13:30 – F3: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
13:45 to 15:30 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
21:00 to 22:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Saturday 28th August
09:25 to 10:25 – F3: Race 1 (Sky Sports F1)
10:45 to 12:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
13:00 to 15:30 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
15:00 to 16:20 – W Series: Race (Channel 4)
16:45 to 17:45 – F3: Race 2 (Sky Sports F1)
18:00 to 19:30 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)

Sunday 29th August
09:30 to 10:30 – F3: Race 3 (Sky Sports F1)
11:05 to 11:45 – Porsche Supercup: Race (Eurosport 1 and Sky Sports F1)
12:30 to 17:00 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 12:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:55 – Race
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
18:30 to 21:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Monday 23rd Augst and are subject to change.

If details change, this article will be amended.

Updated on August 27th with further information on ITV’s MotoGP coverage.

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MotoGP performs solidly as live action returns to free-to-air TV

MotoGP’s first live race on free-to-air television in the UK in over seven years saw viewing figures increase, in-depth analysis by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

Muddying the picture however is the fact that highlights of the race slumped because of the live coverage.

Consolidated data via BARB, which accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission, allows us to draw some conclusions.

Live action performs well across BT Sport and ITV4

Since 2014, BT Sport have aired MotoGP exclusively live, with audiences regularly hovering between 150,000 and 250,000 viewers.

Pleasingly for the pay-TV broadcaster, who will continue to cover MotoGP until at least 2024, figures for their live French Grand Prix programming on Sunday 16th May were in-line with expectations.

An average audience of 176,000 viewers watched Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP on BT Sport 2 from 09:30 to 14:08, as weather conditions changed throughout the day in France.

Two weeks earlier in Jerez, an average of 174,000 viewers watched BT’s programming across the same time slot.

In other words, BT was unimpacted by the choice on offer for the French round, showing how highly fans regard BT’s coverage.

ITV4’s free-to-air coverage, which took MotoGP’s World Feed commentary for the duration, averaged 213,000 viewers from 09:45 to 14:15, a solid number from a standing start.

An average audience of 389,000 viewers watched the live action from Le Mans, across all three classes, an increase of 124% on the BT-only figure from Jerez.

When focussing only on the MotoGP class, an average of 238,000 viewers watched the race via BT Sport, compared with 236,000 viewers for Jerez.

ITV4’s figure for the MotoGP segment (from 12:35 to 14:15) is unknown, however we can draw some conclusions from publicly available data.

Motorsport Magazine reports that a one-minute overnight peak of 425,900 viewers watched the Le Mans race on ITV4, and live sport does not add additional viewers on within the seven-day consolidation window.

Thus, it is fair to conclude that ITV4’s coverage peaked with around 430,000 viewers, averaging around 300,000 viewers for the MotoGP segment itself, including pre-race build-up and immediate post-race analysis.

Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis suggests that an average audience of 538,000 viewers watched the MotoGP race, an increase of 128% on the BT-only figure from Jerez.

But highlights slump shows that live viewers were not returning fans

While the surge in MotoGP’s live audience is excellent, and shows why MotoGP needs the live free-to-air presence, ITV4’s highlights audience slumped the day after the race.

According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB data on a rolling week-by-week basis, highlights of the Le Mans round on ITV4 averaged 91,000 viewers, the 40th most watched show on ITV4 that week.

In comparison, highlights from Jerez a fortnight earlier averaged 296,000 viewers, and was the 6th most watched show on ITV4.

Looking at the MotoGP segment in isolation, the audience figures in totality suggest that an average of around 628,000 viewers watched the MotoGP action for Le Mans, with between 550,000 viewers and 600,000 viewers doing the same for Jerez.

So, whilst the change between Jerez and Le Mans did result in more viewers watching MotoGP live, these viewers were not new (in most cases).

Instead, all that happened was that around 70% of ITV4’s regular highlights audience jumped ship to the ITV4 live show on Sunday.

How many viewers were new, or returning, is difficult to quantify, but Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis suggests that this figure is below 100,000 viewers, which makes the figures in totality look less spectacular than first suggested.

The headline here is that more people watched MotoGP live, with MotoGP recording its highest live average since 2013, thanks to its free-to-air presence, but that these viewers were not ‘new’ in the wider context.

The deal to air two races live across ITV’s network was broken first on Motorsport Broadcasting, with other news outlets following suite. However, an official press release was only issued by MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna two days before the race.

If Le Mans was going to break through and capture more viewers, organisers needed to announce the deal far earlier rather than it coming across as an eleventh-hour deal. The timing very much felt like all parties were testing the waters to see what the reaction would be.

If fans knew before the season that ITV4 were airing races live, it may have given some an extra incentive to keep in touch with the highlights package throughout the season rather than jumping in cold.

An unscientific poll over on this site’s Twitter page suggests that BT’s audience may see a small bump over the months ahead thanks to Le Mans airing live on free-to-air television.

MotoGP has another bite of the free-to-air cherry in August, as Silverstone airs live on ITV’s main channel, and thus has a much bigger chance at attracting a wider audience who would never normally watch the championship.

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5 key stories from the opening 2021 F1 and MotoGP weekend

The 2021 Formula One and MotoGP seasons started in fine fashion in Bahrain and Qatar respectively, with Lewis Hamilton, Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo coming out winners.

Off-track, there were plenty of broadcasting stories making the rounds, as all sides had a gem or two hidden up their sleeve.

Here are some of the key headlines from the opening leg of the 2021 season…

Filming begins on MotoGP’s new documentary series

Filming has begun on MotoGP’s new Amazon documentary series, under the working title Life at Speed.

MotoGP organisers Dorna will be hoping that the series can emulate the success of F1’s Drive to Survive series on Netflix.

As reported by The Race, Spanish production company Mediapro are behind the series, whilst Alessandro Di Renzo, who previously worked for Dorna, is directing the series for Mediapro.

Speaking to The Race, MotoGP’s head of media and content Manel Arroyo confirmed plans for the Amazon series.

“We want to create something similar to what Formula 1 have with Netflix and we are already shooting with the thought that we can have something ready in the next months,” Arroyo said.

“We can prepare something for next season. It is a new way, because audiences today are consuming sport in a new way.”

“People want to see highlights, they want to see behind the scenes, and we are trying to cover many angles. With documentaries, it takes us to new audiences.”

Over on four-wheels, filming for season 4 of Drive to Survive is well underway, the crew filming the action throughout testing and the Bahrain weekend with the likes of Mercedes.

New faces, new places

Alex Jacques was not the only new face in Channel 4’s Formula 1 line-up over the Bahrain weekend, with Lawrence Barretto also joining the team for the first time.

Barretto has increasingly appeared in front of the camera in recent years through F1’s in-house digital output, having previously worked for the BBC and Autosport’s online platforms as website writer.

Now, Barretto will share his existing F1 duties with his new Channel 4 role as on-site reporter.

Writing on Twitter, Barretto said “So excited to work with such a talented team at Channel 4 this year alongside my role F1. Appreciate the efforts from so many people to make this happen.”

As well as retaining Barretto, F1 have bolstered their digital line-up, with an array of new faces joining the team.

David Alorka joins both Barretto and Will Buxton in the paddock for 2021.

Alorka has previously produced content for Heineken as part of their relationship with F1, and has also worked with the likes of NFL, the UEFA Champions League and UFC to create engaging content.

Also joining F1 for the new season are renowned technical experts Albert Fabrega and Craig Scarborough, both of whom will be working alongside Sam Collins on F1 TV’s Tech Talk programming.

Sky F1 shakes up commentary team for practice

Fans watching Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the first practice session from Bahrain were treated to an unusual commentary line-up.

Natalie Pinkham led the commentary team, with Jenson Button and Karun Chandhok joining her.

Pinkham made history from a broadcasting perspective, as it was the first time ever that a female had led an F1 commentary line-up for a UK TV broadcaster.

The main take away for me from the commentary itself was that it felt more like a radio commentary, but for practice, that is no bad thing.

Credit as well should go to Sky for trying something different – this was an experiment that I personally would like to see repeated throughout the season.

The feedback on social media was broadly positive to the change. Writing on Twitter immediately following the session, Pinkham said “THANK YOU for all the support and lovely feedback on my debut in the comms box. Still buzzing!”

“Karun Chandhok and Jenson Button were (as ever) the perfect teammates. Normal service resumes with Crofty back in the hot seat for the rest of the weekend.”

Over on F1 TV, Rosanna Tennant led their line-up for the F1 sessions, comprising of Alex Brundle and Matt Gallagher, Tennant succeeding Jacques in the role following Jacques’ move over to Channel 4.

F1 makes significant progress towards sustainability targets

Formula 1 has made significant progress towards their sustainability targets, in part an indirect result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series had a long-term objective to move to a remote operation, as part of their wider Strategic Plan, to ‘minimise the amount of equipment and people sent to each race’.

Speaking on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, Formula 1’s Director of Broadcast and Media Dean Locke noted that F1 executed the “multi-year project in just over 7 weeks under lockdown conditions, something we’re very proud of.”

“Going remote has allowed F1 to reduce its travelling freight by 34%. The number of travelling staff has also reduced by 37%, and we now transfer over 160 terabytes of data to Biggin Hill during each race weekend.”

F1’s Biggin Hill base now plays host to the Remote Technical Centre, which was previously transported worldwide for each race weekend.

“Acquisition of the data and media is still done at the track, but curation of those products is now done here at the Remote Technical Centre,” he says. “We have 53 operational positions, over 400 screens, thousands of computers to drive this system.”

“Formula 1 prides itself on innovation, and we feel F1’s move into remote operation is a really good example of that,” Locke added.

Channel 4 production team member tests positive for COVID-19

In the lead up to the Bahrain weekend, a member of the Channel 4 production team tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive test, first reported publicly on the Press Association’s news wires, forced the production team to go into quarantine, with new staff flown out to the Sakhir circuit as a result.

As thus, Alex Jacques made his Channel 4 commentary debut from Ealing alongside Billy Monger, with David Coulthard on location in Bahrain.

Jacques also commentated on Formula Two remotely from Ealing, with Alex Brundle alongside him, but a 75-minute drive away at F1’s Biggin Hill headquarters.

Spot anything else during the weekend worth noticing? Have your say in the comments below.

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