News round-up: F1 and Tata split; NBC grabs MotoGP rights in US

The motor sport broadcasting news is coming thick and fast as we race into 2020, with news on both two and four wheels.

In this edition, news of a surprising split on the F1 front, whilst news also emerges of changes for MotoGP fans this season.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

As suggested in the last round-up of 2019, I have created a category for the news round-ups, so all historical round-ups are easily accessible in one place (over here). As always, I appreciate any feedback on both the site and the round-ups as a whole, good, or bad.

Formula 1

  • F1 and Netflix have confirmed that season two of Drive to Survive lands on the platform on Friday 28th February, a week earlier than the equivalent season one release date.
    • As exclusively revealed over the festive period, Mercedes’ German Grand Prix calamity will feature in the series, contrary to earlier speculation.
  • F1 and Tata Communications have split ahead of the 2020 season, ending an eight-year relationship. The Indian-based company were F1’s official Connectivity Partner.
    • In a statement to Reuters, Tata’s Vice President of Marketing Amit Sinha Roy said Tata wanted “to explore other platforms that will allow us to showcase the full power of our digital services to our key customers.”
    • Roy confirmed that Tata will continue their relationships with F1’s other partners, such as Sky Sports and Star Sports.
    • It will be interesting how much the change impacts F1 this season, given that Tata provided F1 with on-site backups (including the World Feed), as well as fibre connectivity to get F1 on-air, amongst other artefacts.
  • F1 has reported on their viewing figures for the 2019 season.
    • A cumulative TV audience of 1.922 billion viewers watched the season, an increase on the 2018 figure of 1.758 billion viewers, which F1 says is the highest cumulative audience since 2012. Therefore, 91.5 million people viewed each race last year, compared with 83.7 million in 2018, an increase of 7.8 million per race.
    • However, the amount on unique viewers dropped year-on-year from 490.2 million in 2018 to 471 million in 2019.
    • F1 touts other increases across the board, with social media continuing to grow strongly.
  • F1’s Director of Media Rights, Ian Holmes, has defended the use of pay television within the sport.
    • “It goes without saying that an FTA broadcaster is going to generate a larger audience than a pay TV channel. That said, it is a bit of an oversimplification. Firstly, there are always commercial elements to be considered but equally as important, is to look at who the viewers are, what the demographics are, and therefore who you’re addressing,” Holmes said.
    • “Furthermore, pay TV often provides far more in depth coverage and I think it would be fair to say that in the likes of Sky and Canal+ they have and continue to strive to improve the overall standard of F1 coverage, bringing to the fan far more than ever existed in the past – and they do a fantastic job. Then there are those people who are consuming F1 content on the different digital and social channels of our broadcast partners and our own F1 owned and operated platforms and channels,” he added.
  • The change to the US Grand Prix start time for 2020 does not impact UK fans, as the race moves a week later this year (I have amended the article which referenced this last week). The British Grand Prix moves an hour later, beginning at 15:10 BST time on Sunday 19th July.
    • The earliest start for UK fans is the Australian Grand Prix, which begins at 05:10 GMT on 15th March, with the latest being the US, Mexican and Canadian rounds, which all begin at 19:10 UK time.
    • The new Vietnam round begins at 08:10 UK time on Sunday 5th April, whilst the Dutch Grand Prix starts at 14:10 UK time.
    • The 2020 season avoids a clash with the Wimbledon finals, although the Canadian round clashes with the opening weekend of Euro 2020 as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
    • In addition, five Formula E races fall on the same weekend as F1, meaning Jack Nicholls may miss the corresponding F1 races over on 5 Live.
    • Half of the MotoGP races clash with F1, with one potential direct clash (between Azerbaijan and Catalunya on June 7th).
  • W Series will make two appearances on the F1 support bill this year, appearing at the US and Mexican rounds. No word on how the scheduling will work during either weekend, or which UK broadcaster will cover W Series.
    • Elsewhere, every W Series race from 2019 is now available to watch via YouTube.
  • A new documentary from the makers of 1: Life on the Limit premieres at the Manchester Film Festival on March 8th.
    • The film, which focuses on ex-FIA president Max Mosley, has been in development since at least 2018, with Alexandra Orton serving as writer.
    • Michael Shevloff, who directed Life on the Limit, is directing the documentary, with Flat Out Films again involved.

Motorsport Network

  • Kelsey Media has acquired the weekly Motorsport News magazine from Motorsport Network.
    • Phil Weeden, who is Kelsey Media’s Chief Operating Officer, said “This is a fabulous product, representing the very heart of grass roots motorsport. With our strong connections to the world of motoring and a passion for all forms of motorsport, we’re looking forward to injecting fresh energy and enthusiasm into Motorsport News.”
    • Motorsport Network’s president James Allen added “Our focus is very clear; digital first with a slimmed down portfolio of print titles, to reflect our customer’s needs.”
  • Contrary to earlier announcements, the network has retained F1 Racing magazine, however from March the magazine will be moving away from the F1 branding. Instead, the magazine will be known as Grand Prix Magazine.
  • James Dickens joins Motorsport Network as their Vice President of Editorial. Dickens joins from football outlet Goal (under the DAZN Group), where he was Global Editor in Chief for nearly two years.
  • The haemorrhaging of staff has continued on the journalism side, with Tom Errington (Autosport’s DTM correspondent) and James Roberts (F1 Racing’s Associate Editor) both departing.
    • The two announcements take the tally to eight for those that have announced their exit since October, leaving the magazine’s output depleted ahead of the new season.

Elsewhere…

  • Formula E have released further details about their new ‘Driver’s Eye’ camera angle, which they say is “a world’s first in any category of FIA-sanctioned single-seater racing.”
    • Weighing in at 2.5 grams and measuring 8.5 millimetres in diameter, Formula E showcased the angle fully for the first time during the Santiago E-Prix.
    • “Driver’s Eye provides a new perspective from inside the helmet in live race conditions, showing the skill it takes to thread the car between the walls while processing data and communicating with the team at speed,” says Sebastian Tiffert, Formula E’s Content, Editorial and Digital Director.
    • “Driver’s Eye adds a unique dimension to the viewing experience and the innovative camera technology immerses fans in wheel-to-wheel racing. We are delighted to bring our fans closer to the drivers’ sensory experience and their engagement with Driver’s Eye content across social media demonstrates the value of innovations core to the ABB FIA Formula E Championship,” Tiffert added.
  • Eurosport have retained the rights to the World Superbikes series, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.
    • Although no announcement has yet been forthcoming from the championship, Eurosport officials have confirmed to this site that they will again be the home of Superbikes in 2020.
  • MotoGP is moving to NBC for US fans, according to respected reporter Adam Stern. Races will air across NBC and NBCSN, with a mixture of live and tape-delay on offer.
  • The bike series is also starting 2020 in style with a new graphics package, commercial rights holder Dorna have confirmed, with further details expected towards the end of February.

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that is worth a mention, drop a line in the comments section below.


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Efremov steps down from role as Motorsport Network CEO

Yavor Efremov has stepped down from his role as the CEO of Motorsport Network, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

Motorsport Network, which oversees Motorsport.com and Autosport amongst other outlets, announced Efremov’s appointment, in April. Now, an update to Efremov’s LinkedIn profile shows that he left the position as CEO in November, moving into an advisory role with the company.

Efremov’s departure follows the exit of non-executive chairman and McLaren boss Zak Brown in October.

Speaking at the time, Efremov said “I’d like to thank Zak for all that he has done in his role as non-executive chairman since January 2016. He shares our passion for the sport.”

“Without him, we would not have been able to grow Motorsport Network to the level we’ve reached today. I look forward to continuing our personal friendship and professional collaboration in the future.”

It has been a turbulent end to 2019 for the Network, after a decision to increase the price of Autosport magazine from £3.99 to £10.99 (essentially signalling the beginning of the end for the publication) was met with fierce criticism across the motor sport landscape, leading to not only Brown’s departure but also a u-turn at the beginning of November.

I understand that Efremov was a key figure behind the decision to increase the price of Autosport to £10.99 in October, meaning that his position as CEO became untenable once the u-turn happened.

In October, it was revealed that the Network had appointed Matt Young and Gary Learner as executive vice presidents, with Young also taking up the role as chief revenue officer, and Learner as chief technology officer.

Meanwhile at Autosport…
The exits have not stopped at the top, with several names from the Autosport mainstay also departing recently.

Long-time Grand Prix editor Edd Straw has exited after 17 years with the organisation.

Writing on his Twitter, Straw said “A quick personal announcement – I have now left Autosport after just over 17-and-a-half years having decided to go freelance. Still finalising plans for next year but will continue to cover F1 for various outlets.”

Glenn Freeman, who was Autosport’s video content editor across their social channels also left in November.

Freeman noted “Time for a change: Last month I left Autosport, after 14 years, to pursue something new. Not an easy decision, but exciting times ahead for 2020. I’ll always look back fondly on my time there, including stints as News Editor, website Editor, + our recent video/YouTube success.”

In addition to Straw’s and Freeman’s departures, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm that Matt Beer has left Autosport.

Jack Cozens has succeeded Beer as editor of Autosport.com. Beer was fundamental behind the foundations of the Autosport Academy, a programme aimed at bringing young talent including Cozens into the Autosport fold.

The most recent developments follow the exit of Andrew van de Burgt as Autosport’s editor in chief in October.


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Motorsport Network reverses Autosport magazine price hike with immediate effect

Motorsport Network has reversed its decision to increase the price of Autosport magazine with immediate effect, whilst also reassuring readers about the future of the print edition.

The corporation announced in October that it was increasing the price of the weekly magazine from £3.99 to £10.99, in a move seen by many within the industry as an attempt to kill off the magazine.

Now, following negative feedback from fans and stakeholders alike, the corporation has confirmed that Autosport will again be £3.99, starting this Thursday.

In a statement posted on Autosport’s Twitter feed, Motorsport Network explained the rationale for the reversal.

“Since we announced we will be prioritising a digital-first approach we have closely listened and spoken to many of our highly engaged audience; some of whom have read the magazine throughout their lives,” the statement read.

“It is evident that, for some readers, the print edition of the magazine is not only the preferred format but the only format. The strong connection is clear.”

“We will be continuing to focus on growing Autosport Plus, as that is where the largest proportion of our audience now engages with our features, but this approach is not suitable for all readers.”

“Therefore, from this week, and for the foreseeable future, the print edition will be returning to the previous price of £3.99.”

“We have listened carefully and are committed to continuing our weekly print magazine as long as we can, whilst it is financially viable.”

“We welcome any further feedback from readers suggesting how we can grow Autosport magazine as we move into our 70th year of being the authority on motorsport.”

A surprising shift
To say that Motorsport Network’s statement comes as a surprise is an understatement. What is clear is that the reaction from fans has caused an embarrassing climbdown from the organisation.

It also shows a shocking lack of user research from the Network, by failing to talk to and engage with their consumers in the first place, meaning that they reached a badly thought out conclusion, resulting in a PR disaster.

McLaren boss Zak Brown resigned from his role as non-executive chairman less than 24 hours after the original announcement in October (although arguably Brown’s resignation was 18 months too late given the conflict of interest between his two roles).

One of the concerns about the price rise was that, in the event of the magazine’s demise, national championships in the UK would lose out the most.

Analysis conducted Motorsport Broadcasting showed that most of the magazine features at a national level did not translate over to the website.

However, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that initiatives have begun to increase the amount of coverage that national championships receive on the Autosport website, safeguarding it for the future.

The shift started during the final British Touring Car Championship weekend at Brands Hatch, which is expected to continue into 2020. I understand that this piece of activity was already underway before Motorsport Network made the price announcement.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the sales of the print magazine plunged because of the price rise.

Bringing those lost consumers back on board will be difficult, but maybe that is desired if they want to dissolve the magazine in the short to medium-term.

We must ask the question though: has Motorsport Network’s long-term strategy changed in the past month because of the Autosport backlash, or do they consider this merely a roadblock to their long-term aspiration?

If Motorsport Network wanted to kill the brand, would they have not pursued with the price rise?

Only those on the inside high-up in the chain will truly know what the endgame really is here.

F1 Racing magazine staying, but Autoweek’s print magazine closes stateside
Whilst Autosport’s print future is clear (for now), one brand hoping to engage more with their audience moving forward is F1 Racing magazine, who Lifestyle Media Group are in the process of purchasing off Motorsport Network.

Writing in last month’s edition of F1 Racing, Lifestyle’s chairman Clive Nørgaard Norton reassured fans about F1 Racing’s future.

Norton said “These are challenging times for printed media, but Lifestyle Media House is committed to supporting the magazine and trying to grow its readership.”

“We look forward to closing the transaction. Following completion, there is no imminent price rise planned, and we will be keen to engage with the F1 Racing readers and supporters to better understand what kind of magazine you want to read.”

Elsewhere, in an almost parallel development stateside, Crain Communications, who publish Autoweek, are to cease publication of the print magazine, which had been printing on a bi-weekly basis.

Hearst Magazine are to take over the digital and experimental side of the Autoweek business with immediate effect in a multi-year licencing deal with Crain.


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Motorsport Network to sell F1 Racing magazine; Autosport magazine heading towards oblivion

Updated on October 8th.

Motorsport Network is to sell the monthly F1 Racing magazine, whilst the weekly Autosport print magazine looks perilously on the brink.

Like Formula 1, 2019 marks Autosport’s 69th anniversary in the print industry, with the magazine hitting the shelves on a weekly basis.

Now, it looks like that this year could also be their last. Rumours about the demise of the trio have been circulating for months within the industry, but picked up a gear on Sunday (6th October).

Two Autosport staffers, one of which is their special events manager Laura Coppin, confirmed in now deleted tweets that the magazine will disappear, but that the brand will remain online via Autosport.com.

The two also confirmed that the brand will remain as part of the yearly Autosport International Show and Autosport Awards.

Motorsport Network attempted to diffuse speculation around the magazine by stating that they are “exploring options” around the print edition of Autosport and that “any news will be communicated at the appropriate time.”

Little less than 24 hours later the corporation announced on 8th October that, instead of closing the print magazine, they would be hiking the weekly price of Autosport from £3.99 to £10.99 with immediate effect.

In addition, Motorsport Network has sold F1 Racing magazine to Lifestyle Media, in a transaction expected to complete by the end of October.

As initially reported by Dieter Rencken, I understand that Russian billionaire Dmitry Mazepin (also father of F3 driver Nikita) placed an offer to buy the print magazine arm of Autosport, but that talks between the two parties have collapsed in recent weeks.

In addition, Autosport’s Editor in Chief Andrew van de Burgt is leaving the organisation this week.

The dominance of the Network
We can trace the control of Motorsport Network in relation to Autosport back to 2016 when they acquired Autosport, along with F1 Racing and Motorsport News from Haymarket.

Around the same period, Motorsport Network also acquired Motors TV. Since then, Motorsport.com and Autosport.com have become increasingly similar in content, with the same articles appearing on both domains.

Motors TV was rebranded to Motorsport.tv, with the UK television channel closed in September 2018.

Motorsport Broadcasting has heard at various times over the past twelve months about rounds of redundancies at Motorsport Network, most recently in July with their video production unit trimmed.

There is a clear strategy from Motorsport Network to eliminate their rivals, and by eliminate, I mean “take over, and then remove” their competition.

Most of what made Autosport’s output unique in recent years has disappeared, and that expands far beyond the core of the magazine into the online sphere.

Some writers remain unique to Autosport’s platform, but Motorsport Network now publishes most content on both Autosport.com and Motorsport.com.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABCs), Autosport magazine had a weekly circulation of 15,480 in 2018, whilst the monthly F1 Racing magazine had a circulation of 27,553 in 2018.

To put both of those figures into context, Motor Sport Magazine (outside of the Motorsport Network circles), released monthly had a 2018 circulation figure of 29,666, and Autocar (still owned by Haymarket) had a weekly circulation of 32,253.

Given that no other motor sport-based magazines exist, it is difficult to know what is ‘good’ in this context, but nevertheless both Autosport and F1 Racing losing out to Motor Sport Magazine is not great for the Network.

However, are both the F1 Racing and Autosport magazine brands operating at a loss, or is this simply the next step in Motorsport Network’s long-term strategy to streamline its content?

You may think the answer to part one of that question is ‘yes’, but depending on who you believe the answer may be ‘no’…

If it was not already clear by this point, Motorsport Network’s position in the industry is dominant, and increasingly so.

The Network has James Allen and McLaren boss Zak Brown in prominent roles, and has links to the World Endurance Championship and Formula E, which raises all kinds of neutrality questions that this site has discussed in detail previously.

Times change, but the love and affection motor sport fans hold for brands does not. To say that it is extremely sad that potentially three brands could end to fuel the Motorsport Network strategic direction further is an understatement.

In my view, a view held by many across the industry, Motorsport Network will use the steep price rise to justify getting rid of the magazine in print format. Instead of letting the magazine die peacefully, Motorsport Network are letting the ending drag out, in a deliberate, calculated move.

If Autosport magazine in print format is no more in the medium-term, do not underestimate the ripple effect that the move will have across the industry, especially for those that use the magazine as a form of promotion.

Outpouring on social media
Since Motorsport Broadcasting posted the original Autosport article on Sunday, there has been an outpouring of emotion and thoughts from across the motor sport landscape.

The initial suggestion that the ex-Haymarket brands could be in imminent danger came from Jim Holder, Haymarket Automotive’s editorial director and Autosport’s former deputy editor on Sunday (7th October) afternoon.

“Written only as fan (of the sport, journalism and above all the people) but as everyone reflects on a brilliant Rally GB I also hope they pause on the rumoured demise of the bulk of the UK media covering motorsport – Autosport, F1 Racing and Motorsport (Motoring) News,” Holder said on his Twitter feed.

“Of course, I spent a decade working for two of the three, but the same two were also what fuelled my passion for the sport and made Wednesdays and Thursdays the best days of the week.”

“The world is online now we’re told, but to toss their heritage away is heart breaking. To toss it away by grinding the titles into the ground even more so (if rumours of imminent, off-the-scale price rises are true) and more so because of the talented, dedicated people being put in impossible positions by these jaw-dropping decisions.”

Names from across the industry have commented on the news that broke on Sunday evening, including former F1 Racing editor Matt Bishop, current Sky F1 analyst Karun Chandhok and four-time IndyCar Champion Dario Franchitti.

Officially, Autosport magazine is on a life support machine. In reality, as the earlier tweets showed, its destination has already been decided…


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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.