Channel 4 to air Formula E’s return to London

Channel 4 will air live coverage of Formula E’s return to London later in July, series organisers have confirmed.

It will be the first time that the free-to-air broadcaster has aired Formula E live. As thus, Formula E has now aired on all four of the main free-to-air outlets in the UK, following in the footsteps of the BBC, ITV and Channel 5.

Formula E says that Channel 4 will air ‘bespoke programmes’ presented by Vernon Kay. Produced by North One, the trio of Nicki Shields, Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti join Kay from the ExCeL London.

The move comes as neither the BBC or Eurosport will be airing the London races live on any of their television channels due to the Olympics from Tokyo.

However, neither Quest or BBC Two are options for Formula E over the London weekend, as Quest are airing live British Superbikes coverage from Brands Hatch, whilst BBC Two are covering cricket’s new experiment called The Hundred.

Without their deal with Channel 4, Formula E would be left without a live linear TV home for their biggest race from a UK perspective. Channel 4’s deal only covers the race, and not practice or qualifying, and is for the London round only.

Sam Bird, who races for Jaguar and currently leads the championship, said “It is great news for Formula E to be shown live on Channel 4 for such a key race on the world championship calendar.”

Channel 4’s Formula E schedule
Saturday 24th July
14:00 to 16:30 – Race 1
=> 14:00 – Build-Up
=> 14:30 – Race
=> 16:00 – Reaction

Sunday 25th July
13:30 to 15:30 – Race 2
=> 13:30 – Build-Up
=> 13:40 – Race
=> 15:00– Reaction

“This is the first time in five years we’ve raced in London – the first time in 17 years for Jaguar – and terrestrial TV plays a key role to put our sport into the homes across the UK at a milestone moment.”

Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas added “We are pleased to add Channel 4 to our ever-growing line-up of media partners. UK is a key market for Formula E’s ecosystem of teams, manufacturers, partners and drivers.”

“More importantly we wanted to provide our growing UK fanbase and potential new fans with easy access to watch and engage with the live coverage of their home races.”

“Channel 4 is one of UK’s most progressive free-to-air channels and this partnership for the London races provides both Formula E and Channel 4 to engage with progressive motorsports fans and new audiences.”

A look into the future?

The move by Formula E to partner with Channel 4 is likely to increase suggestions that Channel 4 is front runner to air the series for the 2021-22 season, as the existing BBC and Eurosport rights agreements expire at the end of this season.

While the BBC has given Formula E a free-to-air home over the past few years, it is clear that the partnership has not matured in the way that Formula E had hoped.

Over the past few years, the BBC has aired several Formula E races live on BBC Two, the last being the Rome E-Prix back in April. But this has happened inconsistently, with the corporation not committing to more races on linear television.

Formula E in the UK – at a glance
2014-15 – ITV
2015-16 – ITV
2016-17 – Channel 5
2017-18 – Channel 5, Eurosport
2018-19 – BBC, BT Sport, Eurosport, Quest
2019-20 – BBC, Eurosport, Quest
2020-21 – BBC, Eurosport, Quest
2020-21 [London only] – BBC, Channel 4, Eurosport

Elsewhere in the sporting spectrum, the British Olympic athletics trials did not air on the BBC last month after the broadcaster refused to pay for the rights or air it on their linear channels, leading to UK Athletics streaming the action on their own platforms to a much smaller audience.

The fact of the matter is, unless you are a tier 1 sport (which Formula E acknowledges that they are not), then it is highly unlikely that the BBC are willing to air the sport in question on BBC One or BBC Two, unless there is strong justification to do so.

Dabas’s comments to Motorsport Broadcasting last week, combined with the one-off Channel 4 deal, would suggest that, unless the situation changes, Formula E does not have a long-term future on the BBC.

For now, fans can watch live coverage of the London E-Prix weekend on Channel 4, as well as the BBC’s, Eurosport’s and Formula E’s digital platforms.

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Scheduling: The 2021 British Grand Prix

A new era dawns for Formula 1, as the championship returns home to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix!

Max Verstappen has stretched his legs at the top of the standings, but can Lewis Hamilton use the power of home turf to claw his way back into the championship fight? It is all to play for…

F1 – the coverage

Live coverage of the weekend airs across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, as the two broadcasters air F1’s new qualifying format live. On Friday evening, the traditional three-part qualifying session will take place.

Instead of setting the grid for Sunday’s race however, Friday’s qualifying session will set the grid for Saturday’s sprint qualifying race, which is a 17 lap blast around the 5.9 kilometer circuit. The result of the Saturday’s sprint race will then set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Channel 4 are back to full strength following Billy Monger’s positive COVID test prior to the Styrian Grand Prix. Monger returns to the team that also includes Steve Jones, David Coulthard, Lee McKenzie, Mark Webber, Eddie Jordan and Alex Jacques.

The free-to-air broadcaster are taking ‘the Sky approach’ to their build-up, with 90-minutes of build-up to the Grand Prix airing on Channel 4 from 13:30, followed by an additional hour after the race.

For W Series, McKenzie, Monger and Jacques are joined by Naomi Schiff and Amy Reynolds for Channel 4’s offering.

Over on Sky, Ted Kravitz returns to their programming after two races away from their coverage. Expect the likes of Martin Brundle and Jenson Button to also be back with Sky during the Silverstone weekend.

F1 – over-the-top

With Jacques focussed on his Channel 4 duties, Rosanna Tennant steps into the Formula Two hot seat, commentating on every Formula Two session for the first time.

Joining Tennant throughout the weekend are Tom Gaymor and Jordan King.

Channel 4 schedule
Friday 16th July
14:10 to 15:45 – F1: Practice 1
17:00 to 19:30 – F1: Qualifying 

Saturday 17th July
11:45 to 13:05 – F1: Practice 2
13:05 to 14:20 – W Series: Race
15:45 to 17:45 – F1: Sprint Qualifying 

Sunday 18th July
13:30 to 18:00 – F1: Race
=> 13:30 – Build Up
=> 14:45 – Race
=> 17:00 – Reaction

Channel 4 scheduling details for the 2021 British Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 9th July and are subject to change.

Sky Sports F1 schedule
Sunday 11th July
14:30 to 17:15 – Goodwood Festival of Speed

Thursday 15th July
18:30 to 19:30 – The F1 Show
19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference

Friday 16th July
11:25 to 12:20 – F2: Practice
14:00 to 15:45 – F1: Practice 1 (also Sky One)
16:45 to 17:25 – F2: Qualifying
17:25 to 19:30 – F1: Qualifying (also Sky One)

Saturday 17th July
08:40 to 09:45 – F2: Sprint Race 1
11:30 to 13:10 – F1: Practice 2 (also Sky One)
14:35 to 15:35 – F2: Sprint Race 2
15:40 to 18:00 – F1: Sprint Qualifying
18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Sunday 18th July
10:40 to 12:00 – F2: Feature Race
13:30 to 18:30 – F1: Race
=> 13:30 – Grand Prix Sunday (also Sky One)
=> 14:55 – Race (also Sky One)
=> 17:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 18:00 – Ted’s Notebook 

Sky Sports F1 scheduling details for the 2021 British Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 9th July and are subject to change.

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

BBC Radio schedule
Friday 16th July
20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Saturday 17th July
11:55 to 13:05 – F1: Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

BBC F1 scheduling details for the 2021 British Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 9th July and are subject to change.

If scheduling details change, this article will be updated.

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Monger tests positive for COVID, Edwards to return to Channel 4 commentary box for Styria

Billy Monger has tested positive for COVID-19, and will not be part of Channel 4’s Formula 1 or W Series coverage this weekend, Motorsport Broadcasting has learnt.

Monger’s positive test has forced most of Channel 4’s team to isolate out in Austria, including presenter Steve Jones and lead commentator Alex Jacques.

Neither Jacques, Jones or Monger will be part of the broadcaster’s offering this weekend, significantly impacting their F1 and W Series broadcasts.

Whisper, who produce Channel 4’s F1 and W Series programming, have confirmed that Ben Edwards will commentate on their broadcasts from the UK, with David Coulthard remaining on-site in commentary.

It is the third time Edwards has stepped back into the commentary box after departing Channel 4’s coverage at the end of 2020.

Edwards was part of BBC’s Radio 5 Live F1 offering during the Spanish round, as well as last weekend’s French Grand Prix.

With Jones also absent, Coulthard and Mark Webber will present Channel 4’s F1 output for the Styrian race weekend, while Naomi Schiff will present the W Series programming.

A Whisper spokesperson said “Whisper can confirm that a member its production team has tested positive for Covid-19 since arriving in Austria ahead of the Formula One event and W Series event this weekend.”

“Whisper produces the W Series Host Broadcast and highlights of F1 for Channel 4. As a result, some of the Whisper production team are now isolating, in line with FIA protocol until further notice.”

Both Whisper and Channel 4 independently said “As soon as we were made aware this team member was feeling unwell, precautions were taken immediately to isolate both him and any people who may have come into contact with him and we are undertaking all necessary measures to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.”

W Series finalises worldwide broadcast plans for season 2, but no coverage on F1’s over-the-top platform

The W Series has confirmed its worldwide broadcasting plans for season two, expanding its reach on the first season.

As well as their previously announced agreement with UK free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4, the series says that it will air in over 175 markets this season, with coverage on “leading broadcasters including Channel 4, Sky Deutschland, Ziggo, NENT, RTVE & TV3, Canal+ and RTBF.”

W Series’ exclusive agreement with Channel 4 means that Sky Sports F1 will not be covering the championship in the UK.

This in in-line with W Series’ arrangements in 2019, however is more of a surprise now given that the all-female series is part of the F1 support package for this season.

Sky showed interest in the series: a report from SportBusiness reveals that the pay-TV broadcaster put in a ‘significant rights fee’ to cover W Series, only for series organisers to turn them down.

In addition, there will be no live coverage of W Series via F1’s over-the-top platform.

The format of the W Series broadcast from a UK perspective will be like 2019, with each race featuring around 30 minutes of build-up and 15-minutes of post-race analysis.

UK schedules for the first two rounds show that the broadcast, produced by Whisper, begins at 15:00, with lights out at 15:30.

However, the first race from the Red Bull Ring on Saturday 26th June airs on More4, owing to live men’s Rugby Union action, with the British and Irish Lions’ taking on Japan live on Channel 4.

To compensate, a shorter 30-minute highlights package airs on Channel 4’s main station on Sunday morning.

Saturday 26th June
15:00 to 16:20 – Styria: Race (More4)

Sunday 27th June
08:30 to 09:00 – Styria: Highlights (Channel 4)

Saturday 3rd July
15:00 to 16:15 – Austria: Race (Channel 4)

Full UK scheduling details for the first two rounds of W Series 2021. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 25th June and are subject to change.

It is unclear at this stage if Monger’s positive test will impact coverage of Channel 4’s broadcasts next weekend for the second round from the Red Bull Ring.

Last updated on Friday 25th June.

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NENT Group extends F1 reach to Netherlands, Ziggo Sport contract to end following 2021 season

The Nordic Entertainment Network Group (NENT Group) will broadcast Formula 1 in the Netherlands from 2022 to 2024 after outbidding current rights holder Ziggo Sport.

Ziggo Sport, a joint venture between Vodafone and Liberty Global, have aired Formula 1 since 2013 across cable, satellite, and internet.

From next season however, coverage will air via NENT Group’s streaming service platform.

Viaplay, which has yet to launch in the Netherlands, will cover every F1 season live, with NENT promising “in-depth coverage from every event and innovative programming.”

Six races will be available on a free-to-view basis, including the Dutch Grand Prix.

Despite the change in broadcast rights, F1 has confirmed that their own streaming service, F1 TV Pro, will remain available to fans in the Netherlands, as it has been since launch at the start of 2018.

The announcement increases NENT Group’s stranglehold on F1 in the Nordic regions. Earlier this month, the group announced that they would be airing F1 exclusively in Poland from 2023 onwards.

Today’s news brings the total number of territories that they hold, or will be holding, F1 rights in to ten (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden).

Commenting on their Twitter, Ziggo said that they were no longer able to afford F1, with NENT, along with a third party, increasing the asking price.

NENT are understood to be paying around €30 million per year to broadcast F1 in the Netherlands, a 36% increase on the €22 million that Ziggo are paying currently.

NENT’s arrival in Netherlands part of a much bigger jigsaw

Ziggo has benefited significantly in recent years from the rise of Max Verstappen, the Dutch driver now in his 7th F1 season.

The opening race of 2021 in Bahrain averaged 2.51 million viewers across their television channels, with more than 18% of the population watching the race.

Although not truly free in the sense of the word, the small fee involved to watch F1 in Netherlands during Verstappen’s rise has not resulted in interest in the sport stifling. How NENT’s emergence from 2022 will change interest in the sport, time will tell.

NENT will be hoping that the Verstappen hype will translate into new subscribers on their service. The quote from NENT Group President and CEO Anders Jensen gives a sense of where NENT want to head.

“The Netherlands is an ideal market for Viaplay and a very attractive next step towards our ambition of becoming the European streaming champion,” Jensen says.

“Our long-term and multi-market partnerships with key sports rights owners, together with our ever-increasing line-up of original and exclusive content, will enable us to offer Dutch viewers something new and unique.”

“When bringing Viaplay to a new market, we look for clear opportunities to grow, innovate, collaborate, and take leadership. The Netherlands delivers on all counts.”

For the NENT Group, Formula 1 is a small part of the jigsaw, but an important one as NENT attempts to break into what they believe is a strong market for streaming.

Note how the quote from NENT curiously fails to mention F1, but does reference NENT’s goal of “becoming the European streaming champion.”

NENT sees itself in a long-term battle with Netflix. In the territories where NENT is active, NENT holds a strong second spot, only behind Netflix.

If NENT, which targets 4.5 million international subscribers by the end of 2025 for Viaplay, can expand into further European territories, it has long-term potential to dent Netflix’s position in the market.

There is a lot of movement in the streaming sector currently, following news earlier this week that AT&T and Discovery are to create a new streaming giant.

This is the first time that a ‘streaming first’ entity has taken on Formula 1 rights in a big market. It is, I suspect unlikely to be the last.

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Live MotoGP to return to free-to-air TV in two race deal with ITV

Live MotoGP will return to free-to-air television in the UK this season, Motorsport Broadcasting can exclusively confirm.

ITV, which currently airs highlights of every MotoGP race on ITV4, will air live race day coverage from two rounds in 2021.

The first, from Le Mans on Sunday 16th May, will see ITV4 air all three classes, Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP itself live from 09:45 to 14:10.

In addition, the British MotoGP round, currently scheduled for Sunday 29th August, will air live on ITV’s main channel.

ITV will take MotoGP’s World Feed offering for their live coverage, with Steve Day and Matt Birt on commentary, and Simon Crafar down in pit lane.

It is the first time that MotoGP has aired live on free-to-air television since the BBC’s coverage ended following the 2013 season, and the first time ever that MotoGP has aired live on one of ITV’s television channels.

Since then, coverage has aired exclusively live on pay TV outlet BT Sport, with free-to-air highlights switching between ITV4, Channel 5 and Quest over the years.

Motorsport Broadcasting has reached out to ITV for comment.

A surprising development…

The news that live coverage of MotoGP is heading to ITV and ITV4 caught many fans off guard, as well as this writer, but as they say, everything happens for a reason.

As mentioned, BT Sport have aired live coverage of MotoGP since 2014, and while there is no doubt that their coverage is excellent, audience figures have not changed in the 7 years since.

According to audience data from BARB, around 200,000 viewers tune in to each MotoGP race on BT, fluctuating between 150,000 and 250,00 viewers depending on the competition.

An average of 236,000 viewers tuned in to watch Ducati’s Jack Miller win in Jerez on Sunday 2nd May on BT Sport 2, the race likely peaking with around 300,000 viewers.

Outside of live Premier League and UFA Champions League football, BT’s MotoGP audience was their biggest during that week across their portfolio of channels.

BT’s figures are more impressive when you consider that there are no British riders on the grid for the first time since 2010, with neither Bradley Smith or Cal Crutchlow competing this year.

So, why bring ITV into the live fold now? Clearly MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna believe that BT’s audience is extremely loyal, and unlikely to drop if a handful of races air on ITV or ITV4. They have 7 years of audience evidence to back up that point.

However, Dorna also have the same data to prove that airing live on BT alone is not going to bring long-term audience growth to the UK market. If anything, BT’s audience is stagnant, and needs a refresh.

While we can debate all day whether Formula 1 moving to Sky has harmed the sport in the long-term, what we cannot argue is that F1’s audiences on Sky are increasing, and the evidence to support that statement is clear.

…and one that may benefit BT’s MotoGP coverage

What Dorna will be hoping for is that, by airing some races live on ITV or ITV4 in a much more attractive EPG slot, BT’s audience figures for the remaining races will benefit indirectly, helping to bring a fresher, potentially younger, audience to the BT product.

ITV can promote live MotoGP round their other motor sport programming, such as the British Touring Car Championship, which will only help. At this stage though, we are only talking about two race days airing free-to-air live, the picture for 2022 and beyond is unknown.

Some of you may be wondering how ITV or ITV4 are able to air the series live when BT Sport’s contract with Dorna is for ‘exclusively live’ coverage of MotoGP.

One industry insider has suggested that BT’s deal with Dorna only covers exclusivity across the pay TV spectrum.

In other words, no other pay TV broadcaster can air MotoGP live, but a free-to-air broadcaster could if Dorna offered the rights package out.

It is not in Dorna’s interest to do the latter on a full season basis, because it devalues the existing BT contract, and would inevitably result in BT walking away from the sport.

At the end of the day, BT brings a lot of money into the MotoGP paddock, and Dorna will want to keep them ‘on side’ throughout this whole process.

So, while a handful of races may air live on free-to-air television moving forward (if this is indeed part of a new strategy from Dorna), do not expect every race to suddenly air live, free-to-air.

BT are in MotoGP for the long haul: they recently extended their contract to cover MotoGP until the end of the 2024 season.

But this development is a welcome one for MotoGP fans as Dorna looks to expand the reach of the sport through both traditional and over-the-top methods moving forward.

Updated on May 14th to reflect the fact that the British Grand Prix will air on ITV and not ITV4.

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