‘The Verdict so Far’ series – all five posts in one place

To save you looking for my posts in ‘The Verdict so Far’ series, of which the last blog went up earlier today, below is a link to each part:

– part 1: The Sky Sports F1 Team
– part 2: The BBC F1 Team
– part 3: Sky Sports F1’s weekend output
– part 4: Why Sky Sports F1’s mid-week programming needs a rethink
– part 5: The Ratings Picture

Enjoy! Alternatively, you can click on the Categories on the right-hand side, which directs you to all the posts on a particular subject.


The ratings picture: The Verdict so Far

To begin my Formula 1 broadcasting blog, I thought it would be a good idea to write a five-part series looking at the new broadcasting deal in the UK that has come into force this year. The fifth and final part of the series looks at the effect the BBC and Sky deal has had on television ratings this year, in comparison to previous years on the first four rounds of the championship.

For those unfamiliar, Formula 1 has been broadcast live regularly on terrestrial television in the UK since the late 1970’s. The 2012 to 2018 deal, which was announced last July, meant that only 50 percent of races will be broadcast live on BBC television. Since the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, every race has been broadcast live on BBC1 or ITV1, or every race since the ill-fated 1994 San Marino Grand Prix if you ignore the 2000 US Grand Prix which was shown live on ITV2.

Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1. shows the percentage of live races that have been shown on terrestrial television since 1992. The graph shows that at no time since then onwards has the amount of live races dropped below 75%, until this year. In 1993, the year in question where the percentage was 75% – the 4 out of 16 races that were not shown were Brazil, Canada, Japan and Australia – the two American timezone races and the two Asian timezone races. Had this year BBC and Sky decided that Sky had all the Asian and American races (excluding Brazil), I think they would have accepted that – but as it turns out the contract stipulated that Sky gets the first three exclusive picks, with the picks alternating after BBC’s first three picks, meaning that they get some of the European races exclusively to themselves. In any event the 50 percent is the lowest percentage of races live on terrestrial TV since at least 1991 – although in reality it is probably the lowest since the early 1980’s. For those without Sky, you can understand their anger towards the deal given the above statistics.

The ratings picture has been an interesting picture to follow for the past few years. As a Formula 1 fan, however, the trajectory the ratings have taken in this country in the past 15 to 20 years is probably an unsurprising one.

Figure 1.2.

Straight away, you can probably see where the ratings increased, and also where the ratings took a plunge. Although I won’t claim to have every single rating, see the note at the bottom of this post, you can make trends from the majority of ratings that I have. If you are to trace the graph over from 1992, 1992 was a high rating season with an average of over 5 million viewers per race, thanks to Nigel Mansell’s dominance in that season. With Mansell’s departure at the end of the 1992 season, figures in the UK plunged to an average of under 4 million viewers. This would turn out to be a ‘low level’ until the 2002 season. The emergence of Damon Hill though as a title contender, and the rise of German youngster Michael Schumacher, helped play their part as viewing figures rose from 4.1 million in 1994, to 5.3 million in 1996. That season, was also the last on BBC.

The move to ITV in 1997, and Hill’s move to Arrows in 1997 meant that figures dipped (with longer airtime and adverts), but still stayed extremely healthy for the titanic title battle between Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, followed by the Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen battles in 1998 – the 1998 season claiming the highest ratings of the ITV F1 era. Further healthy ratings in the 1999 season followed, before figures took a nose-dive for 2000 and the start of Michael Schumacher’s dominance. From that point onwards, the viewing figures dropped each and every year until the emergence of Lewis Hamilton in 2007. The 2000 season on ITV1 averaged over 4 million viewers, whereas the 2006 season had under 3 million viewers. The lowest point of that year was when the 2006 French Grand Prix recorded an average of 1.8 million viewers, while the Italian Grand Prix only bettered that by 100,000 – these figures quite possibly the lowest figures Formula 1 had ever seen in this country. Why the turn off? At the time, there was no major British title challengers in the UK. Jenson Button and David Coulthard were there or there abouts, but neither looked realistic title challengers. Schumacher’s dominance ended in 2004, Fernando Alonso’s emergence in 2005 did nothing to help the ratings picture. The European rounds in 2005 averaged 2.9 million viewers, while the daytime rounds in 2006 averaged 2.66 million viewers.

The 2007 season reversed Formula 1’s viewing figures trend in the United Kingdom, recording an average of 3.55 million. The title decider that season in Brazil recorded a mammoth 7.15 million viewers. The increase was only a sign of things to come however, as the 2008 season finished with a peak of 13.1 million viewers and an 8.8 million average for the Brazilian Grand Prix as ITV F1’s coverage came to a close. The average for Lewis Hamilton’s title winning season was 3.87 million, the highest average since 2001, and close to reversing the damage that the Schumacher years had done to the ratings. You may be thinking that the 3.87 million average is lower than that recorded in Damon Hill’s winning season, which recorded an average of 5.3 million. While all figures are for the programme averages, the BBC show was a lot shorter than ITV’s, hence why the 1996 figures are higher. But, the programme length since 1997 for ITV1’s coverage, and since BBC1’s coverage has stayed the same, so you can make valid comparisons.

With the start of Formula 1’s new broadcasting contract in 2009, Jenson Button’s title winning year live on the BBC brought an average of over 4 million viewers per race, bringing with him the highest viewership in a decade – since 1999 to be exact. The lack of commercials and the BBC’s more compelling pre and post-race format and punditry will no doubt have also helped here. The winning streak of Hamilton and Button ended for 2010, as here comes the rise of another German. This one is called Vettel. Another plunge in ratings, I hear you say? Nope. An increase, rather bizarrely in fact. This is due to fascinating and close-racing in my opinion more than anything else, with Pirelli’s tyres, DRS and KERS becoming a hit with casual viewers, lighting up ratings. Moments such as Button’s overtake on Vettel in Canada last year have helped keep viewership high in this country. Last year’s viewership averaged 4.55 million, a fantastic figure in the multichannel television age, and higher than a ton of shows get today on terrestrial television. On the track, there was only one aim for Vettel. Just Drive. To make it to the line. First.

Which leads us nicely to the mid-Summer bombshell that greeted the Hungaroring paddock in July 2011. The news that Sky Sports were joining the Formula 1 party in 2012. And how have they done? So far, okay. Their figures are massively down on BBC’s figures, but that is to be expected. BBC is available to everyone, Sky Sports is not. The name of the game here is to combine the BBC and Sky figures, throw them together and then do a comparison. Which I’ve done underneath:

Averages (Australia, Malaysia and China)
2007 – 3.45 million
2008 – 4.14 million
2009 – 4.66 million
2010 – 4.25 million
2011 – 4.46 million
2012 – 3.96 million

Bahrain is not included in the above figures because the race was not held last year, so to keep it a fair comparison, it is excluded. With an average of 3.96 million, the season has the lowest average since 2007, which had 3.45 million for those three rounds. If you bring back Bahrain into the equation, but ignore 2011, you get the following:

Averages (Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain)
2007 – 3.21 million
2008 – 3.96 million
2009 – 4.59 million
2010 – 4.38 million
2011 – n/a
2012 – 4.07 million

Which brings the 2012 average to 4.07 million, lower than 2009 and 2010 but higher than 2007 and 2008. One final way to look at it is to bundle the average for the opening four races, after all if you remember China was only moved to the start of the season in 2009, which may complicate the picture slightly.

Averages (first 4 rounds of the championship)
2004 – 3.05 million
2005 – 3.10 million
2006 – 3.22 million
2007 – 3.28 million
2008 – 3.70 million
2009 – 4.59 million
2010 – 4.38 million
2011 – 4.29 million
2012 – 4.07 million

You can’t go back further than 2004 as the Brazilian Grand Prix was one of the first four rounds, thus inflating the average. Although the figures are down on the past few seasons, taking it to not as low as the ITV F1 level but lower than the BBC F1 level. One thing worth noting is that the opening round in Australia did not do as well as in previous years, recording 3.31 million viewers on BBC One for the highlights and Sky Sports F1 live, the lowest average since 2004. Since Australia though, figures have increased to higher levels. If we are to look at the split for China, the only race where both BBC and Sky Sports were live, BBC live had 2.85m (39.4%), while Sky Sports live had 480k (6.98%). Both channels had a peak of 4.21m and 887k respectively. Once the BBC re-run is factored in, the averages work out at a total of 4.93 million, a fantastic figure. Although Sky, one might argue, only had 480k tuning in overall, I think they and BBC individually will be very pleased with the figures, Sky with their near 1 million peak for that race, and BBC with losing only 420k compared to the previous years. It shall be interesting to trace the picture over the next few months, but I don’t forsee any of the averages above overtaking the BBC averages from 2009 to 2011. I suspect the BBC average from 2011 will be the highest for several years and won’t be overtaken.

Over the Summer, F1 will face incredibly tricky competition, with Euro 2012 and the Olympic Games in London meaning that you can expect the Canadian, European, German and Hungarian figures to record very low figures. Will F1 whether the Summer storm, or will the Summer figures sink below 3 million and without trace? Or will a competitive season keep viewers watching? Time, shall tell.

This marks the end of my five part ‘The Verdict so Far’ series. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. Although that particular series ends, this blog is only just beginning, so I hope you keep on reading. Comments, as always, are welcome!

Note: All the figures quoted here are the averages for the whole race programme, not the race average as these figures are unavailable. Figures are mostly official figures from BARB and Broadcast magazine. While I have made comparisons and analysis of figures, I should note that I do not have every single ratings figure. The figures for that races that I am missing are:

1992 – Australia, San Marino, France, Portugal, Japan (live and both for AUS, JPN)
1993 – France (live), Japan (highlights)
1994 – Pacific (highlights), San Marino, France, Hungary, Japan (live)
1995 – Australia, Argentina, San Marino, Spain, Japan (all live)
1996 – Canada, Japan (all live)
1997 – Japan (live)
1998 – Australia,France, Japan (all live)
2000 – Malaysia (live and re-run), Japan (live)
2001 – Japan (live)
2003 – Malaysia; Japan (both live)
2004 – China (live)
2006 – China (live)

If anyone is reading and has any of them ratings, leave a comment.

Why Sky Sports F1’s mid-week programming needs a rethink: The Verdict so Far

The Verdict series continues with my fourth of fifth posts to begin my F1 Broadcasting blog, which will focus on F1 broadcasting in the UK as well as wide issues. There will be be occasional posts about the racing as well, but for the moment I shall dive into my fourth out of five posts concerning The Verdict. The first two posts focussed on the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC F1 and Sky Sports F1 team members, whilst my third post looked at the product that Sky Sports F1 puts out each weekend while on location at each track. This post will continue to look at Sky Sports F1, but looking at their content during the week.

One of the major challenges for Sky Sports F1 once the channel was announced last November was “how do we fill the hours?”. The hours during the weekend fill themselves with the live F1, GP2 and GP3 action. The hours during the week however, do not fill themselves and instead Sky have to fill material themselves with their own programming. At the moment this is what Sky Sports F1 has during the week and on the off-weekends:

– F1 Fast Track: 30-minute highlights of 2012 races so far set to a backing track
– Weekend in Words: 1-hour compilation of clips of people talking from the previous race weekend
– Weekend in Stills: 30-minute compilation of images from the previous race weekend
– The F1 Show: see my description in Part 3
– Season Reviews: reviews from 1988 to 2011, most taken from the official DVD season reviews

The problem is that Sky are focusing their programming in the wrong areas. As a dedicated fan, who watches the majority of things, only The F1 Show and the Season Reviews appeal for me. The casual fan is more likely to watch F1 Fast Track and the ‘Weekend in…’ programmes (although Weekend in Stills admittedly caters to both), however are casual fans likely to watch the Sky Sports F1 channel during the week? Not really. It would be in Sky’s interest to focus more on the dedicated fan during the week and non-F1 weekends by putting on programmes that appeal to them as they are the core audience for the channel during that time period. Official figures from BARB showed that the highest rated programmes between the Malaysian and Chinese Grand Prix weekends had 44,000 viewers and 57,000 viewers for The F1 Show on Friday evenings, a small pocket of the audience. The channel during these two weeks reached 142,000 viewers and 102,000 viewers per day, again, a small portion of the audience, and most likely a dedicated contingent. If you’re churning out the same programmes day in-day out, where’s the incentive to watch? I can’t see any. For Sky, they should at least be aiming to produce programme for the dedicated audience, but also accessible for the casual audience.

The current programming does not do that. F1 Fast Track is a waste of half an hour of airtime and is nothing more than ‘filler’ which should be dumped. Weekend in Words serves no purpose either, and is twice as worse seeing as it is 1 hour long. Half of the quotes are outdated, and as the dedicated audience would have watched the majority of programming this programme is effectively repeating the same interviews that the viewer has already seen during the main weekend coverage. This programme, again, does nothing for me and should be dumped.

Weekend in Stills is okay and should stay. I can see why people would enjoy this programme, and while it is not my cup of tea, images capture a lot more than what TV images can, so it is probably worth keeping. The F1 Show I shall skim over here, because I’ve already stated multiple times that I believe this is the best piece of TV that Sky Sports F1 produce, so I hope to see this a staple in the schedule. The Season Reviews is a bugbear. Yes, dedicated fans would like it. But why not full races? The thing I don’t like here is that Sky went back on what they said on their Twitter account before the season. Given that this is a dedicated channel, I find the decision to not broadcast full, classic races bizarre. Showing Season Reviews is a step back from the BBC’s fantastic Classic F1 offering between 2009 to 2011 where readers would get a choice of five races and they would get to pick the best for an extended highlights offering, see here as an example. The writer on the blog, Andrew Benson admitted I believe that the Classic F1 series was basically done ‘off a piece of string’, yet they appear to have put in more effort in this area than Sky so far.

I make it sound like this is a ‘big deal’, but it seems a sensible thing to do considering it is easy hours of material to fill on their channel instead of another repeat. Some of you may be wondering whether Sky Sports would actually have the rights to the material. I think they would have the rights to the majority of the material (and commentary) considering it is filmed, and recorded, inside the confines of a race circuit, so that is not an excuse. My overriding opinion is that it’s disappointing for Sky not to exploit the rights. Why both with a dedicated channel if you’re not going to run archive races during non-F1 weekends?

The other programming, is too weak for an F1 channel, in that there should be more. The following is some simple ideas of programming aside from replaying Classic F1 races, which are as follows:

Radio Soundbites
– 1 hour
– The best team radio soundbites from the weekend
– containing clips from the World Feed and also the Pit Channel

Cockpit View
– 1 hour
– The best onboard moments from the weekend
– containing clips from the World Feed and also the Onboard Channel

– 1 hour
– a Hybrid race feed containing the best bits from the World Feed, Onboard and Pitlane with Team Radio and Natural Sounds over the top

The Paddock View Live
– 30 minutes (or 1 hour depending on race ‘excitement’)
– two or three F1 journalists in a studio looking at newspapers and opinion pieces, agreeing or disagreeing
– also asking for viewers opinion

– 30 minutes
– a few dedicated fans in the studio, preferably straight after The F1 Show with the viewpoints being ‘handed over’ to the fans for them to give their thoughts
– also asking for viewers opinion

And how would all of that, including the existing programming and full classic races instead of Season Reviews? Like this…

19:00 – Race (repeat)

20:00 – Weekend in Words
21:00 – F1 Fast Track
21:30 – Weekend in Stills

20:00 – Cockpit View
21:00 – The Paddock View Live

20:00 – Radio Soundbites
21:00 – Hybrid

20:00 – The F1 Show Live
21:00 – Fanzone Live
21:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)

The end result being that you have 7 and a half hours of original content with original content on Tuesday through Friday, a vast improvement on now. And how would Saturdays and Sundays shape up?

10:00 – Race Highlights (repeat)
11:30 – Weekend in Words (repeat)
12:30 – F1 Fast Track (repeat)
13:00 – Weekend in Stills (repeat)
13:30 – Cockpit View (repeat)
14:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
15:30 – Radio Soundbites (repeat)
16:30 – Hybrid (repeat)
17:30 – The F1 Show (repeat)
18:30 – Fanzone (repeat)
19:00 to 22:30 – Classic F1 Race

10:00 – The F1 Show (repeat)
11:00 – Fanzone (repeat)
12:00 – Classic F1 Race (repeat)
15:30 – The Paddock View (repeat)
16:30 – Radio Soundbites (repeat)
17:30 – Hybrid (repeat)
18:00 – Weekend in Words (repeat)
19:00 – Weekend in Stills (repeat)
19:30 – IndyCar Series (live)

One classic race per weekend is fine in my opinion, with a repeat of it the following day. Anything else would be too much, but one classic race per weekend when F1 is not on would be fantastic in my opinion. Saturday and Sunday offers a catch-up for anyone who missed the weekend offerings, and it also means things are not repeated that much compared to now where some things are repeated many times, for instance the Australian Grand Prix highlights show must be on its 10th repeat by now! Also, I didn’t sneak IndyCars in there at 19:30, that was deliberate! It should be on Sky Sports F1 in my opinion to prevent it being thrown around Sky Sports 2, 3 and 4. It’s the logical thing to do.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blogs so far. My fifth and final blog in ‘The Verdict’ concerns ratings! Have they gone up? Have they gone down? Or have they stayed the same? Comment away in the comments, agree or disagree, I don’t mind!

Sky Sports F1’s weekend output: The Verdict so Far

In the first two parts of my first five part series in this Formula 1 broadcasting blog, I looked at the BBC F1 and Sky Sports F1 teams for the 2012 season after the changes in broadcasting rights that came into effect at the beginning of this season. In this part, I intend to look at the current output from Sky Sports F1 at a race weekend, including suggestions of how to improve it. In the fourth part of this series, I shall look at Sky’s programming outside of weekends, again, with suggestions on how it could be expanded upon; while the final part of the series shall look at the television ratings, and whether the new broadcasting deal has lead to an increase in ratings, or a decrease in ratings.

You may be wondering at this point why I won’t be doing a part on how BBC could improve. The reason for this is quite simple. The BBC have been broadcasting F1 since 2009, and I feel that in those three years they have reached ‘the rooftop’, in that it would be extremely difficult for them, in my opinion, to improve upon their current output. Of course, its always possible, but I think it would be difficult to do so given their budget constraints. Therefore, I won’t spend a part of this series giving suggestions that are never realistically going to happen.

The Sky Sports F1 channel covers every session of the 2012 Formula 1 season live, from the first practice session on a Friday morning, right through to the race itself. The channel also covers every session from the feeder series called GP2. From the Spanish Grand Prix in May, the channel will also be covering the GP3 Series, which is a feeder series to GP2. The stars of GP3 typically move up to GP2, with their end goal to reach Formula 1.

Practice Sessions
Each practice session on Sky Sports F1 is covered with 15-minutes build-up and 10 minutes post-session analysis fronted by Simon Lazenby. David Croft and Anthony Davidson are the commentators, with Natalie Pinkham, Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz roving up and down the pitlane; Brundle also with Lazenby before and after the sessions. The structure of these sessions is fine, the build-up length and post-session analysis is of a perfect length, although in what may be a recurring theme in this blog, Sky should not rush off air 7 minutes before their allocated slot time ends ‘just to fill it with adverts’. This is not too much of an issue with practice, but it is later. For the practice sessions, the way they cover the sessions is fine, and there is nothing to change. The commercials I can accept, in fact, commercials in the practice sessions are a good thing as they allow me to hop onto the Red Button (or Sky Race Control in Sky’s language) and access the onboard feeds, which is a good watch while the commercials are on the main channel.

Occasionally they also cut away from the World Feed to show Brundle or Kravitz demonstrating something in pit lane, I don’t mind if they do this, as long as there is a reason for doing it. I don’t like them doing it if cars are on track, they should only cut away if absolutely necessary in those scenarios. At this point, I would suggest the Picture-in-Picture (PiP) option for the channel, but I’m not sure whether the broadcasting rights allow them to go PiP during an actual session, so I’m unsure if that is a valid suggestion. In any case, the practice sessions are fine as they are, in my opinion.

The F1 Show
The first of its kind in the UK, The F1 Show airs on Friday’s presented by Ted Kravitz and Georgie Thompson, either on location or in the studio. This paragraph is going to be short, because for me it is by far the best and most enjoyable hour of the content that Sky produce. As I said in Part 1, the combination of Kravitz and Thompson is one that has gelled quickly, the two are clearly relaxed working with each other, and it makes for a better programme as a result. The programme also airs outside of race weekends, for instance on the March 30th edition of the show we were treated to Patrick Head as a guest on the show. The limited commercial format (only 2 ad-breaks on the show) allowed Head to talk in detail about his time at Williams without the need to cut away quickly to the next feature. The show also has cars past and present in the studio, such as this year’s Mercedes or the 1993 Williams car. I don’t think there is anything I would do to change The F1 Show, because it is already a brilliant hour of television, arguably the best piece of television that Sky Sports F1 produces. And long may that continue.

Support races
As I noted above, Sky Sports F1 is broadcasting the two feeder series’ to Formula 1: the GP2 Series and the GP3 Series. I’m glad that Sky have taken GP2 and GP3, I was confused when BBC Sport decided not to pick up GP2 in 2009, it seemed they had let it slip through their fingers, and was a bizarre decision in my opinion. That’s for an issue for another blog, though. For all of the coverage, Sky takes the World Feed coverage for every session, with commentary from Will Buxton and another person, typically a former driver from the GP2 Series. However, their coverage only starts 5 minutes before the race, and finishes 5 minutes after the race. This applies for every session. For practice, that’s fine, I wouldn’t expect any other coverage outside of the World Feed. For the Qualifying and the Races, though, I think Sky should consider adding a pre and post-race show. For the pre-race show, I would suggest 10 minutes build-up with Georgie Thompson presenting and interviewing one or two drivers’ on the grid alongside Johnny Herbert. Just to bring some flavour and voices to the coverage, while after the race they can grab one or two of the finishers and get their analysis on the race. It doesn’t need a lot, but just something to add to the bones to the coverage so the drivers’ can be introduced to the public.

This isn’t without precedence, I’m not suggesting something which has never been attempted before. Back in 2008, ITV4 won the rights to screen GP2 live on their channel. Instead of just taking the World Feed coverage, ITV4 opted to have a pre-race and post-race section to their coverage, presented by Charlie Webster. Ignoring how good (or bad!) the presenter was, it showed for me a commitment to bring GP2 coverage up to a higher level compared to how Eurosport covered it previously. I hope Sky opt to bring in a ‘mini’ pre and post-race show to their coverage, to bring some needed bones to the coverage.

Pre-Show, Post-Show and the dreaded commercials…
Whilst I believe Sky’s Friday coverage is a fine piece of work, and there is really not much to change about it (unless I was to nitpick!), Saturday’s and Sunday’s main coverage leaves a lot to desire. I could have split this blog into two or three sections, with each section focussing on a different area, but I don’t think that is necessary and it would soon become repetitive, as we get back to the same problem: commercials. Commercials plagued the ITV F1 shows, and they appear to be doing the same for the Sky Sports F1 shows, the only difference this time is that Sky took the wise move to run the Qualifying and Race sessions during the race with adverts before and after the race. This has been the situation for three of the four races so far this season. The only race they didn’t run as many adverts (in their linguistic terms limited adverts) was China, possibly because a certain BBC was also live on air? The problem with adverts is that it disrupts the flow of the programme and it comes across on screen as unnatural. During the pre-show for the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday, the structure of the show was like this:

– feature 1
– 30 second VT
– commercials
– 30 second VT
– feature 2
– 30 second VT
– commercials

Repeat and rinse. It comes across on screen as unnatural, with no natural change of discussion, like on BBC. The other thing you will notice in the above is the ’30 second VT’ that I’ve labelled three times. These consist of a few interesting facts, or a few pictures. Not really needed, and a waste of 30 seconds that could be used for some more discussion once you tot up all the other 30 seconds wasted in the pre-show. So I’m afraid these need to be dumped as they do nothing for me. Admittedly the commercials in the post-show were not too bad in Bahrain, they went an hour without commercials which is fair enough.

I don’t mind the odd commercial every half an hour/40 minutes, but a commercial every 15 minutes as it was for the Bahrain pre-show ruins the flow for me. It also makes the presenter Simon Lazenby on edge as the director/producer is telling him to hurry because a break is coming up or to hurry to end the show. It is a dedicated channel, there should not be the constant rush to get to another break or to another feature. I would expect that (somewhat) on ITV1, they are not a dedicated F1 channel and have to cater to all audiences, hence why they didn’t stay on air for too long after races sometimes. But for a dedicated channel, having them go to commercials every 15 minutes is not really necessary in my eyes.

In terms of material, the features are fine, while the post-race show in Bahrain was fairly well done. Focusing in on China though (I understand due to the circumstances that judging the Bahrain post-race show is probably not a good idea), their post-race show was focused in the right places, they spent a quite a bit of time whipping up the atmosphere in the Mercedes garage straight after the race and seemed to be at ease before going to some of the other stories in the paddock.

For me, the China programme was just as good if not better than the BBC’s output from 2009 to 2011. In the China programme they also brought Anthony Davidson out of the Sky Pad in the latter parts of the post-race programme to join the main team, which I thought was a nice touch. It was pretty evident straight away there that him and Johnny Herbert have good on screen chemistry, which was a stark contrast to Damon Hill in the post-race segments at Australia and Malaysia. One thing that I’m glad about is that they extended the post-race show to 2 hours, so that they are on air until 16:30 instead of 16:00 having listened to viewer feedback, showing that they are taking all feedback on board.

In parts 1 and 3 of this blog I have looked at Sky Sports F1’s presenting team and their output at a race weekend. I think in conclusion there are a few simple, but effective steps that Sky could take to improve their weekend output even more:

– bring in a pre-show and post-show to the feeder series’ to make them more prominent
– reduce Damon Hill’s role
– limit the commercials to one every 30/40 minutes in pre-show and post-show (ie at 12:05 and 12:50 in pre-show and then 15:00, 15:35 to 16:05 in the post-show)
– increase Anthony Davidson’s and Johnny Herbert’s role

I think implementing those four steps would help make their coverage even better than what it already is. Martin Turner in a Q&A session on the Sky Sports F1 website said “that there’s a limit to how much can be generated – we’re already pushing the boundaries”, which is fair enough, but I don’t think implementing any of the above ‘push the boundaries’, it simply merely makes the product better. You could argue bringing in pre-show and post-shows for GP2 and GP3 would ‘push the boundaries’, but ITV did a proper GP2 show in 2008, so it is not without precedence. If I was a scheduler and had a say on decisions, this would be my perfect weekend schedule:

08:30 – Press Conference
– F1’s Thursday press conference
08:45 – Live Practice 1
10:55 – Live GP2 Practice
11:35 – filler
12:45 – Live Practice 2
14:45 – Live GP2 Qualifying
– session on from 15:00 to 15:30, giving small build-up and reaction from paddock
15:45 – Press Conference
– F1’s Friday press conference, Thursday’s was put up on Sky website for China and Bahrain, so I assume they can put up Friday’s on the website or broadcast it on the channel if they wanted to
16:15 – filler
17:00 to 18:00 – Live The F1 Show

08:35 – Live GP3 Qualifying
– session on from 08:45 to 09:15, giving small build-up and reaction from paddock
09:30 – Live Practice 3
– length increased to prevent ‘awkward’ filler
11:15 – filler
12:00 – Live Qualifying
14:25 – Live GP2: Race 1
– race starts at 14:40, so gives Sky time to go onto the grid and interview a few people, with reaction afterwards
15:55 – Live Qualifying Roundup
– Ted Kravitz in the paddock with a live (or as live) Notebook getting a roundup of Qualifying events, with a few interviews/Sky Pad analysis which could not be fitted in the main show
16:10 to 17:10 – Live GP3: Race 1
– race starts at 16:20, so gives Sky time to go onto the grid and interview a few people, with reaction afterwards

(although I’ve labelled it as different programmes, on screen it will be a seamless hand-over at 14:25 from Simon to Georgie, a seamless hand-over from Georgie to Ted at 15:55 and so on)

08:15 – Live GP3: Race 2
– race starts at 08:25, so gives Sky time to go onto the grid and interview a few people, with reaction afterwards
09:15 – Live GP2: Race 2
– race starts at 09:35, giving Sky time for a feature and grid interviews, extended as it is the main day of racing
10:45 – filler
11:30 – Live Race

Not a lot of change compared to now, but subtle differences compared to the real schedule to make GP2 and GP3 more prominent which as I’ve outlined above is necessary in my opinion. I’d argue that would bring more viewers to GP2 and GP3 as there is a seamless transition between races instead of fiddly 5-minute fillers which are more likely to make viewers tune out, maybe not realising that another race is coming up. There may be an argue that showing support races may be of detriment to the rest of the product with extra resources needed for pre-show and post-show, I disagree.

I suggested earlier in part 1 that Georgie Thompson could be host for the support races, a suggestion I stick to. On Saturday’s and Sunday’s, let’s be honest, she doesn’t do much apart from throw questions to Anthony Davidson in the Sky Pad. Therefore, having her as host for the support races would be a perfect way to utilise her. Comparing the above to F1 Digital+ in 2002, see here for their typical European race schedule and here – F1 Digital+ stayed on air longer before and after sessions, half an hour for the practice sessions, although it probably should be noted that the coverage, pre-show and post-show was produced by FOM and not Sky Sports.

In parts 4 and 5 of this series I will look at Sky’s programming outside of race weekend and why it is currently focusing on the wrong areas, while the final part of the series will look on the ratings picture with this ‘new deal’. Any thoughts, comments, criticism and further suggestions welcome!

The BBC F1 Team: The Verdict so far

In the first part of my series at looking at Formula 1 broadcasting in the UK, I focussed on the newly formed Sky Sports F1 team and analysed each person, giving my perspective on each member of the team. I move on from that in Part 2 of the series, to focussing on the BBC TV team. As noted in Part 1, I will not be focussing on BBC Radio or Sky Sports News for the purposes of this series.

Ben Edwards
If you haven’t heard of Ben Edwards, you’ve probably been living under a rock. If you are not a broadcasting ‘expert’ or stick purely to F1, then you’re forgiven. Either way, Edwards is considered one of the best, if not the best current motor sport commentator at the moment. So good, that he is compared to Murray Walker. I’ll leave you to discuss that comparison…. Edwards began his commentary journey in the early 1990’s at Eurosport. His first Formula 1 commentary was at the 1994 Japanese Grand Prix for Eurosport, which was the beginning of a long partnership with John Watson. The two commentated on Eurosport until the end of 1996 (when Eurosport lost the F1 rights due to the new ITV deal), before reuniting for the pay-per-view series F1 Digital+ in 2002, and again commentating on the A1 Grand Prix world feed.

Edwards’ commentary is renowned for having a similar style to Walker, with his ability to commentate fluently during all stages of the race and keep the viewer engaged, whether the action is pedestrian and you are struggling to keep awake, or whether a pass is about to take place on the last lap – in which case Edwards will probably shout at the top of his voice with the emotion in his voice clearly on display. Edwards puts the action across to the viewer informatively and articulately. Although he’s with BBC for 2012, and there are absolutely no faults with him, one has to question why BBC did not pick him up in 2009, nor did ITV pick him up after Murray Walker retired? The fact that Jonathan Legard got the BBC TV gig in 2009 and Edwards didn’t, robbing us of the Edwards and Martin Brundle combination fans have wanted for years, is staggering. No disrespect to Legard, but his and Brundle’s commentary was a bigger disappointment than Shrek 2…

David Coulthard
One of the more familiar faces of BBC’s 2012 coverage, Coulthard’s Formula 1 career began at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix. Initially a Williams test driver, Coulthard was drafted in place of Ayrton Senna, who was tragically killed at the San Marino Grand Prix. Coulthard had 13 wins in a career that spanned 15 years, through Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. Coulthard, like Martin Brundle did 13 years earlier, moved into broadcasting, becoming a pundit for BBC’s Formula One coverage in 2009 alongside the outspoken Eddie Jordan. Coulthard suited the role very well, and quickly grew into it, once he realised Jordan was outspoken in just about everything he said!

Seriously though, the combination of Coulthard and Jordan works well because there is someone like Coulthard that quickly counters insane argument 138 that Jordan throws in his direction. Coulthard moved into the commentary box alongside Brundle in 2011 after Jonathan Legard was dropped, the two having a good rapture in the box together. With Brundle moving to Sky for 2012, Coulthard opted to stay at BBC, partnering Ben Edwards. The combination between the two is just as good as that with David Croft and Brundle on Sky, giving viewers that have access to both platforms an extremely difficult decision to make with regards which commentary line-up to watch.

Eddie Jordan
Eddie Jordan started up his own Formula 1 team in 1991, running the team until 2005 when the team was sold to Midland F1 (now known as Force India). During his 15 years, he was known for his outspoken opinions, or opinions that were extremely easy to challenge and disagree with. Jordan’s team had three wins, the memorable 1998 Belgian Grand Prix with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher scoring the team a 1-2, along with two victories in 1999 season with Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the helm.

Jordan was announced as a pundit for BBC beginning with the 2009 season, in which was actually a move of genius by the broadcaster. Why? In the years’ preceding that ITV were criticised for having a dull pre-show, partially down to having a ‘wooden’ pundit in Mark Blundell, so having someone who has outspoken opinions, along with someone in Coulthard to counter argue him was a genius move and a brilliant way to keep viewers engaged. Although obviously this won’t be very necessary in the highlights shows, he will be definitely a plus for them during the live races and give them an edge over Sky with regards the punditry line-up. His role, has however, led him to being thrown into a Red Bull swimming pool on more than one occasion….

Gary Anderson
From the team owner, to someone who worked for him, we lead on nicely to Gary Anderson. Anderson replaces Ted Kravitz as BBC’s technical analysis. Due to the fact that BBC have had three highlights shows so far and only one live race, its difficult to analyse Anderson so far. My initial thoughts so far is that, while he is a solid replacement for Kravitz, he needs to speak up a bit on camera and in the pit lane and explain his point more clearly to the novice viewer. I do believe though, he will improve on the latter point sooner rather than later as the races go along and he gets more use to the role. One of the things Anderson also has is a pen and piece of paper. An interesting, but effective way to show ‘what does what’ and a car. Sometimes the Sky Pad will work better, sometimes though I guess nothing will beat a pen and piece of paper. Time shall tell.

Jake Humphrey
Starting off his BBC career at Cbeebies, Jake moved onto BBC Sport, fronting portions of Olympics 2008 and Euro 2008 before moving onto the new BBC F1 at the start of 2009. It was evident clearly from day 1 that Humphrey was suited to this job and that this was one of the right decisions that those at BBC Sport made. I remember reading that Humphrey went and asked if he could be host, although I can’t remember where I read that, so I may be wrong. If that is true, then that shows his enthusiasm for F1 and that he is a fan of the sport. Humphrey’s presenting style is one that keeps both the hardcore viewer and casual viewer engaged.

In my honest opinion, Humphrey is the best F1 presenter in the UK, both past and present, ahead of Jim Rosenthal and Simon Lazenby, while as good as, if not better than Steve Rider. Humphrey has the tools to be BBC F1’s presenter for many years to come, something that I hope does happen as I can imagine him being in the role 5, or even 10 years down the line. While Humphrey is a brilliant presenter, there is no questioning that, sometimes he does let his ‘smugness’ get in the way of things. Take for example in China with ‘Lau’, there was no need to big up BBC F1 on camera over Sky Sports. The digs at the competition are unnecessary both on TV and on Twitter, although I understand at times they may be ‘in jest’. Nevertheless, I hope to see Humphrey presenting BBC’s Formula 1 coverage for years to come.

Lee McKenzie
Lee McKenzie comes from a background full of motor sport. Her father, Bob McKenzie is a writer for the Daily Express. Before joining the BBC F1 team, Lee was pit lane reporter for the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series. She also was a presenter of the short-lived Speed Sunday show, a show which aired on ITV1 on Sunday afternoons in 2004 when F1 races were not airing. These attributes made Lee a clear contender for the pit lane job. It is clear when interviewing people that Lee has a good relationship with many of the drivers’, something that is critical if you want to get the right words out of someone, or whether you want their style to come across to the audience at home.

I think Lee does her role well, there’s not much more to ask from her, nor would I expect her to do any more in her role. Her role is the same as Natalie Pinkham’s on Sky Sports, there’s not much else expected out of a pit lane reporter. Lee also presents the Inside F1 show on BBC News. It’s unfortunate, because I feel the show is somewhat hidden away on the BBC News channel, I’m pretty sure the target audience on that channel is not interested in Inside F1, so I would like to see Inside F1 get a higher priority in the BBC line-up, maybe Saturday teatimes on BBC One for the live races, although given the cutbacks at BBC, this is highly unlikely.

The crucial thing for BBC in 2012 was keeping the majority of the line-up. Although they were served big blows by losing Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz, the fact that they retained the ‘three amigos’ (Humphrey, Coulthard and Jordan) was definitely a big relief for them, as it meant that their renowned pre-show style from 2009 to 2011 stayed largely intact. Arguably, in hindsight one could argue that losing Brundle or Kravitz was not as big as first. Both, are replaceable, as we’ve seen. Brundle has been replaced by Ben Edwards, who has fitted into the commentary role on BBC, as expected very well. Kravitz has been replaced by Gary Anderson, who I’m sure will be a brilliant technical analyst by the end of the year (he is already, but I’m talking about translating what he is thinking to something that makes sense to the casual viewer on TV). The only thing you are losing is Brundle’s gridwalk, which is a loss, but it’s not a big loss, given that Coulthard and Jordan will try and get people on the grid instead. In reality, I imagine when BBC were discussing 2012, they would have been wanting to keep Eddie Jordan more, as he brings the most to the pre and post-race shows with his opinions and flamboyant styles. Overall, BBC have coped with the changes very, very well and the new team will continue to blend even more in together as the season rolls along.

Part 3 shall focus on how Sky can improve on their product during the race weekend, while Part 4 shall focus on their other programming and why they are focussing on the wrong areas at the  moment. Part 5 will move onto the television ratings and how this deal is affecting the ratings picture. Comments, suggestions, things you agree with, and disagree with are welcome!