Analysing the rise and fall of Formula 1’s free-to-air presence in the UK

Formula 1’s presence on free-to-air television in the UK reached its nadir in 2019 during the first year of Channel 4’s ‘highlights only’ agreement with Sky, new research by Motorsport Broadcasting shows.

Utilising data from a range of sources, including the Radio Times, this writer has analysed trends in the Formula 1 scheduling space in the UK spanning four decades, encompassing the BBC’s, ITV’s, and Channel 4’s offering.

The main aim of the research was to understand how F1’s free-to-air presence on race day had changed over time, as different rights arrangements came into effect.

In addition, the research helps us understand how the popularity of the likes of Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton impacted the commitment broadcasters gave to F1, and what might have happened in an alternative universe without their success.

BBC’s appetite for live Grand Prix grows into the 1990s….

Motorsport Broadcasting’s analysis began with 1982, four years after the BBC formally launched its Grand Prix programme. While the BBC covered various races in the decades before that, the decision to launch Grand Prix in 1978 allowed the corporation to put a proper wrap around its Formula 1 offering following James Hunt’s title in 1976.

The Grand Prix strand covered highlights of every race. Live coverage of races aired during Sunday Grandstand on BBC Two on Sunday afternoons, or during a standalone live Grand Prix programme on BBC One where other sport prevented the race from airing live on BBC Two.

Live coverage of the sport was still patchy in 1982. Of the 16 races that season, only 10 aired live in some form. Brazil, Long Beach, San Marino, Detroit, Canada, and the season finale at Caesars Palace aired later as highlights.

The season opener in South Africa took place on a Saturday, with roughly 45 minutes of the action airing live on BBC One. Otherwise, it was a long wait until 23:20 before a 35-minute highlights package aired on BBC Two.

In total, across live and first-run highlights, the BBC covered 21 hours of F1 during 1982 across 16 races, roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes per race, a figure that increased sharply as the years passed, parallel with Nigel Mansell becoming a championship contender and F1 taking television seriously. Some of the early data points are incomplete, so caution is required when analysing these figures.

Formula 1’s race day broadcast lengths in the UK from 1982 to 1996, both average per race and cumulative across the season, covering the BBC’s first stint in the sport.. Slide the bar in the centre across to see the difference between average and cumulative.

The 1984 British Grand Prix saw the BBC begin to cover qualifying live, with a 30-minute slot during Saturday’s Grandstand programme on BBC One. However, no other races received the live qualifying treatment until a decade later.

As Mansell closed in on the 1986 title, the corporation opted to air some of the Mexican Grand Prix live. While not all the race aired live, it was a big step for F1 in the UK: the first time since the 1981 season finale in Las Vegas that live Grand Prix action had aired in primetime on BBC Two. Two weeks later, the season finale in Australia aired live.

1987 saw the initial peak in terms of F1’s free-to-air exposure: the BBC covered 33 hours of F1 during 1987 across 16 races, the sport receiving over two hours of coverage per race day for the first time ever.

However, the BBC’s commitment to Formula 1 turned as Mansell slipped back down the grid. While worldwide interest in F1 swelled thanks to Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the scheduling data would suggest that the Beeb became disinterested in F1 for a short period.

20:00 – On the Line
Tue 18th Jul 1989, 20:00 on BBC Two England

Ray Stubbs reports on what has gone wrong with Grand Prix racing. With McLaren Honda winning virtually every race because of the technical excellence of their cars, much of the excitement has gone out of the sport. Has the driver become merely a cog in the machine?

BBC Genome

The Beeb covered ten fewer hours of F1 in 1988 on race day compared to the previous year, setting F1 back six years. Only seven races aired live in both 1988 and 1989, less than half of the season.

By this point, the BBC aired most of the European rounds live, any title deciders involving a UK driver, and any races that could ‘if the cricket or [insert another sport here]’ finished early.

Mansell’s fortunes improved for 1991, beginning a period of strong sustained growth taking them to the end of their contract in 1996.

While the BBC covered 43 hours of F1 during 1992 across 16 races (an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes on race day) during Mansell’s championship winning season, still not every race aired live.

The primetime races, Mexico, Brazil, and Canada, aired on a delayed basis later in the evening on BBC Two, with an extended highlights programme covering action.

Slowly but surely though, F1’s presence on the BBC was increasing, aided by a wider package of motor sport which also included the British Touring Car Championship. Each Grand Prix during Sunday Grandstand received 25 minutes of build-up, with Steve Rider and Tony Jardine presenting coverage on-site.

The problem was, as the Beeb poured more resources into F1, it only served to fuel the fire over on ‘the other side’ further…

BBC TV was the unchallenged leader as far as sports coverage was concerned: they had pioneered, developed, and perfected Formula 1 on the box and they hadn’t put a foot wrong. Little did they know, though, that ITV were sick of being cut to ribbons by Grand Prix on Sunday afternoons and had decided that if they couldn’t beat it, they’d buy it.

Murray Walker – Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken, page 217.

Every race aired live in 1995 for the first time ever, possibly a pre-emption for the bid that was yet to come from ITV. Over 57 hours of F1 aired on race day during 1995 across 17 races, a massive 3 hours and 23 minutes per race (including highlights).

In the space of 13 years, the amount of F1 on the BBC on race day almost tripled, a figure undoubtedly higher when factoring in qualifying. Their Grand Prix offering went out on a high in October 1996, with Damon Hill clinching his first Drivers’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Coverage of qualifying also increased during the final years of the BBC’s contract, with regular updates airing during Grandstand on BBC One. Every qualifying session, including those during primetime, aired live in 1996, allowing fans to follow Hill’s and Michael Schumacher’s every move.

…and eventually ITV take the cherry…

ITV’s coverage began in earnest in 1997 with a raft of supplementary programming to support their offering, including The Clive James Formula 1 Show prior to the season opener in Melbourne.

Fans became acclimatised to new faces, a new trackside studio, and of most importance, commercial breaks during the Grand Prix itself, which caused controversy on more than one occasion (Imola 2005 the main offense). With no Grandstand support, qualifying became a standalone 90-minute live show for most of the 17 races, with build-up and post session analysis.

Later, Murray and Martin’s F1 Special, hosted by commentators Murray Walker and Martin Brundle, became a regular fixture in the early evenings following qualifying, giving fans a different take on F1. Outside of their F1 offering, ITV also covered Formula 3000 highlights through their 30-minute International Motor Sport programme.

ITV’s race day show increased in length year-on-year, partly to compensate for the commercial breaks, but also to allow the broadcaster to focus on the whole grid of 11 drivers and 22 cars rather than those competing at the front.

Despite no British contenders fighting for the championship, ITV dedicated 69 hours to F1 in 1997 on race day across 17 races, a little over four hours of action, encompassing their live broadcast, same day repeat and highlights offering.

At a glance – BBC vs ITV – San Marino Grand Prix

Qualifying Live – 12:00 to 13:05 – BBC One
 Race Live – 12:35 to 15:00 – BBC Two
Highlights – 18:40 to 19:30 – BBC Two
Qualifying Live – 11:45 to 13:15 – ITV
Race Live – 12:25 to 15:10 – ITV
Highlights – 23:05 to 00:00 – ITV

Radio Times

ITV remained the UK’s F1 broadcaster through Schumacher’s dominant years at the front of the field, covering every race and most qualifying sessions live. The exception: the 2000 United States Grand Prix which aired live on ITV2.

In addition, races that aired outside of Europe suffered from inferior treatment in ITV’s early years, with qualifying from races such as Brazil and Japan airing on tape delay, as well as some of these races (from 1999 to 2003) airing from ITV’s studio in London instead of on-site.

The low point in this regard was 2005, where both Japan and China aired on an 18-hour tape delay. Both sessions aired at almost midnight UK time on the Saturday, a situation thankfully avoided in following seasons when ITV began to utilise ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4 for live qualifying.

The commercial broadcaster switched things up from 2004 onwards, leaving their studio behind and moving closer to the action in the paddock, a set-up that has remained through various broadcasters ever since.

Formula 1’s race day broadcast lengths in the UK from 1982 to 2008, both average per race and cumulative across the season, covering the period until ITV’s stint in the sport ended. Slide the bar in the centre across to see the difference between average and cumulative.

Despite Schumacher’s continued stranglehold on F1 and a barren spell from a UK perspective, ITV covered F1 for 80 hours in 2004 on race day across 18 races. It would have been easy for ITV to have ‘fallen out’ with F1 at this stage, nevertheless their overarching commitment to the sport remained.

As audiences dropped across the continent, including in Germany and Italy, the emergence of Lewis Hamilton fuelled a surge in UK interest back at home.

Lift Me Up by Moby became the sport’s signature soundtrack from 2006, ITV’s F1 offering given a refresh by North One Television, with Steve Rider returning as presenter. Focus on F1 gradually increased, which made it even more puzzling when the commercial broadcaster opted to pull the plug on the sport in 2008.

But the explanation when it came was cold and brutal. At ITV, overall advertising revenue had taken a dive as the recession drew closer, and in terms of sports rights, the company had to prioritise its targets. [..] In order to pay for the [Champions League football] bid, something had to go. Formula One.

Steve Rider – My Chequered Career, page 218.

Like in 1996 when the BBC increased their offering before exiting the sport, ITV did the same in 2008 with an expanded qualifying programme.

Their live qualifying shows were regularly two and a half hours long, leading into live GP2 coverage on ITV4, with their race day programme regularly exceeding three hours, a sign of things to come back on the Beeb.

Part of the increase, while down to increased interest in the sport, was also down to an increase in advertising minutage, the length of advertising breaks increasing during ITV’s tenure covering Formula 1 from 1997 to 2008.

Nevertheless, during their final season, ITV aired over 84 hours on race day in 2008 across 18 races, an average of 4 hours and 40 minutes per race, an increase of 15 percent per race compared to 1997.

The figures may not be as dramatic as the BBC’s sizeable increases in the early 1990s, however this is more a reflection on how ITV’s figures were near the highest possible peak from the outset, and how the F1 broadcasting product was mature by this point.

ITV’s highlight was their final ever race, as a peak audience of over 13 million viewers watched Hamilton become World Champion in dramatic style in Brazil 2008, winning the championship with a last lap overtake on Timo Glock.

…but the recession bit back twice

Multi-platform was the name of the game for the BBC. The Beeb were gifted F1 when ITV opted to exit their contract two years early, and rightly exploited their new toy given the bargain they got.

There was a period from 2009 to 2011 where it was increasingly difficult to avoid F1 on the BBC, no matter how hard you tried. An advertising campaign, dubbed ‘The World’s Greatest Car Chase’ greeted viewers heading into Melbourne in 2009, as the familiar bass riff hit screens once again.

Live coverage of qualifying and the race aired on BBC One, with practice and an extended post-race show called F1 Forum airing via the BBC website and BBC’s Red Button. Highlights of each race aired in a primetime slot on BBC Three. Fans also had the option of alternative commentary, coming from either BBC Radio 5 Live or CBBC.

Fans could enjoy the action uninterrupted for the first time on free-to-air television since 1996, the broadcaster covering every minute of Jenson Button’s dominant 2009 season in the Brawn.

Broadcast lengths remained like that of ITV, and increased between 2009 and 2011. In 2011, the BBC aired 92 hours of action on race day across 19 races, nearly five hours of coverage on their linear outlets!

The figure excludes the F1 Forum, as well as Friday’s and Saturday’s programming. Including the F1 Forum would increase the race day average to near six hours, an astonishing figure, and an increase on their predecessor.

The forum style show allowed fans to have their say, as well as giving a chance for the team to focus on those teams typically out of the limelight following a Grand Prix.

Formula 1’s race day broadcast lengths in the UK from 1982 to 2015, both average per race and cumulative across the season, covering the period until the BBC’s second stint in the sport ended. Slide the bar in the centre across to see the difference between average and cumulative.

The BBC’s commitment was unmatched, even during Sebastian Vettel’s dominance in 2011. The highlight of BBC’s second foray into F1 was the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix. The figures in this article are primarily for the billed slot lengths in advance, however the rain-soaked Montreal race saw the BBC remain on-air across BBC One and then BBC Two to cover the dramatic race.

Viewing figures were at some of their highest levels ever seen for F1 in the UK, the BBC’s sport department were happy, while fans watching at home were pleased as well.

But while the BBC’s F1 team, both on and off-air, were delivering high-quality coverage, the BBC’s licence fee settlement with the UK government, and the need to make efficiency savings, lurked in the background.

The BBC faced a choice of getting rid of Wimbledon, Six Nations or disposing of the F1. In the end, the BBC opted to ‘safeguard’ F1’s free-to-air future by negotiating a new, long-term deal directly with Sky Sports, taking the sport from 2012 to 2018.

Half of the races aired exclusively live on Sky Sports from 2012, with BBC airing those races in highlights form. For fans whose primary method of consuming the sport was via free-to-air, the decision was a retrograde step at the time, taking the sport back nearly twenty years.

Overnight, F1’s presence on free-to-air television had dropped by a third. In 2012, the BBC aired 63 hours of F1 action on race day across 20 races, an average of 3 hours and 10 minutes of action per race, including pre-race build-up and post-race analysis.

During this period, fans knew what they were getting, and the sport benefited in some ways from the new deal with extensive coverage across both Sky’s and BBC’s portfolio of outlets. The BBC retained their radio offering, with continued online coverage as well.

While the offering served up was by no means perfect, it was a happy medium, helping to keep F1 in front of the masses on the Beeb.

There was a growing inevitability as the years passed that the BBC would pull the plug on the sport as the purses continued to tighten. The corporation pulled the plug at the end of 2015, with the free-to-air element of the contract switching to Channel 4.

At a glance – BBC vs Channel 4 – Belgian Grand Prix

Qualifying Live – 12:10 to 14:30 – BBC Two
Race Live – 12:10 to 15:30 – BBC One
F1 Forum – 15:30 to ~16:15 – BBC Red Button
Qualifying Live – 11:55 to 14:30 – Channel 4
Race Live – 12:00 to 16:00 – Channel 4
Highlights – 00:40 to 01:40 – Channel 4

Motorsport Broadcasting archive / Channel 4 Press

Channel 4 retained a similar offering to the BBC, with extensive live coverage during their live weekends. While the broadcaster had no Red Button style F1 Forum show, they made up for this with an extended post-race broadcast on their linear outlet.

Furthermore, Channel 4 committed to airing their live races without commercial breaks. Familiar faces, such as Ben Edwards, David Coulthard and Lee McKenzie moved over from the BBC, while Channel 4 faces, such as Steve Jones, joined the team.

In the first year of their contract in 2016, Channel 4 aired 71 hours of F1 action across 21 races, an average of 3 hours and 24 minutes, including commercials. On a like-for-like basis, this was the highest for F1 on free-to-air television since 2012, although does not account for the BBC’s F1 Forum.

Before Channel 4 could get comfortable with F1, however, Sky swooped in immediately, taking F1 exclusively from 2019, with live coverage of the British Grand Prix and highlights of every qualifying and race session airing via free-to-air.

Figures under the new contract hit their nadir in 2019, owing to a restrictive contract imposed by Sky on Channel 4, with just 53 hours of F1 action covered across 21 races, an average of just over two hours, the lowest figure at that point since 1991.

The restrictions on Channel 4 loosened the following year, but have not moved the needle significantly. Later start times for Canada, Mexico, USA, and now Miami, have hampered Channel 4’s offering further, the broadcaster opting to air shorter shows due to the late-night (or Sunday morning in the case of qualifying) time slot.

Other races, especially last season, have seen production company Whisper opt for a skeleton crew on-site. The 2022 Japanese Grand Prix saw just Steve Jones and Felipe Massa present on-site, with the remainder of the crew back at base in Ealing.

Channel 4 remain loyal to the sport, and will continue to air highlights of every race, plus live coverage of the British Grand Prix in 2023. Their relationship with Sky remains positive, the two coming to an agreement at the end of 2021 to air the championship deciding race in Abu Dhabi live on free-to-air television.

Where are we now?

It has been over a decade now since F1 began the transition to pay television in the UK, which has given others an opportunity in the motor sport sphere to make an impact and try to break through on free-to-air television.

It is an opportunity that will remain over the next seven seasons, given Sky’s recent extension to cover F1 through to the end of 2029.

Formula 1’s race day broadcast lengths in the UK from 1982 onwards, both average per race and cumulative across the season. Slide the bar in the centre across to see the difference between average and cumulative.

Except, no one successfully has broken through. The prime candidate, Formula E, has struggled to gain momentum across each of its homes, having rotated around ITV, Channel 5, BBC and now Channel 4.

The free-to-air broadcaster shows some Formula E rounds live, however races that fall in primetime, such as the season opening Mexico City E-Prix on Saturday 13th January, do not air live on their linear platforms.

Elsewhere, MotoGP moved with F1 to pay television over to BT Sport, while the British Touring Car Championship has retained its presence on ITV4, while some races moved to ITV1 last season.

Extreme E has also had a presence on ITV1 recently, but the series has delivered poor viewing figures.

Unfortunately, television executives are simply not into motor sport enough to plough hours into it across the weekend afternoons, if they ever were at least. Let us not forget that the BBC are still covering a range of sport at weekends.

On Saturday afternoons on BBC One during 2022, the corporation aired live snooker, tennis, football, rugby league, rugby union, athletics, gymnastics, both male and female including the major events such as the Winter Olympics, Six Nations, Commonwealth Games, and the FIFA World Cup.

It is not that BBC do not have the space to cover it, it is that they simply do not want to because motor sport currently does not align with their strategic priorities.

Or, an alternative version of that statement is that motor sport is too expensive for the BBC to cover which, in the case of at least F1 or MotoGP, rings true.

World Superbikes is an interesting use case. Toprak Razgatlioglu and Alvaro Bautista have successfully challenged Britain’s Jonathan Rea dominance in recent seasons, with enticing racing, however the series has generated little in the way of additional coverage from a UK standpoint.

For F1, does it really matter that is not as accessible via the historical, linear free-to-air television route? Arguably not, otherwise commercial rights holder Liberty Media would not have agreed a new deal with Sky taking the sport to 2029.

What ‘success’ looks like for Formula 1 is changing. Once upon a time, it was the number of eyeballs watching a free-to-air broadcast, hence the sport benefited significantly from the expansive airtime that the BBC or ITV gave it.

Now, the sport has a much wider net to reach out to, across a variety of platforms, helping bring in a younger audience to the sport, instead of an aging audience that predominantly watches free-to-air television. The delivery mechanism has changed.

It makes measuring ‘success’ challenging to gauge from the outside beyond glorified media releases and PR approved quotes.

As well as looking at Channel 4’s and Sky’s audience data, F1, along with their stakeholders, will look at data from social media (Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram), combining that with data from the likes of Netflix to build a much bigger picture of their audience.

An 18-year-old watching highlights via YouTube is more attractive to F1 than someone age 60 watching linear free-to-air highlights on Channel 4. And, it is for that reason that, while it is sad to see F1’s free-to-air presence deteriorate over the years, it is also a sign of the times.

Because free-to-air, linear television for F1 is not the future, or even the present for F1.

It may just be the past.

If you enjoyed this article, the Lucky! series covers F1’s broadcasting evolution over the decades from episode five onwards, which this writer contributed to. Lucky! is an eight-part documentary series, telling the story of F1 through the lens of Bernie Ecclestone, and is available now worldwide, including in the UK via Discovery+.

In addition, consider contributing to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal. If you wish to reproduce the contents of this article in any form, please contact Motorsport Broadcasting in the first instance.

Minor amendment made on January 4th to clarify that the Caesars Palace Grand Prix from Las Vegas in 1981 aired live on BBC Two. Thanks to DennisFone for the heads up on this one.


Channel 4 retains free-to-air F1 offering for 2023

Channel 4 will continue to broadcast Formula 1 on free-to-air television in 2023 after agreeing a new deal with Sky Sports, the broadcaster has today confirmed.

The free-to-air broadcaster will air highlights of every qualifying session and race next season, along with live coverage of the British Grand Prix weekend.

Coverage will continue to be produced by Whisper. Motorsport Broadcasting understands that the new deal between Channel 4 and Sky only covers the 2023 season.

Channel 4’s Chief Executive Alex Mahon said “It’s fantastic news that motorsport fans will be able to follow all the action during the 2023 Formula 1 season on free to air television thanks to this latest deal with Sky.”

“Our strong, long-standing relationship with our excellent partner Sky has delivered some fantastic moments for viewers.”

“Last year’s thrilling Formula 1 season finale between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, England’s dramatic win at the 2019 Cricket World Cup and Betfred Super League rugby have all been made available to British audiences on free to air television thanks to our close working relationship with Sky, and it’s great to see this continuing into 2023.”

Stephen van Rooyen, Executive Vice President & CEO, Sky UK & Europe said “Our partnership with Channel 4 succeeds thanks to our shared values.”

“We both support the UK’s cultural economy across TV & film production, journalism, and the arts, and of course we’ve shared some of the UK’s great sporting moments together over the last few years.”

“Together with Channel 4 we look forward to giving racing fans in the UK all the twists and turns from the 2023 season.”

Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal. If you wish to reproduce the contents of this article in any form, please contact Motorsport Broadcasting in the first instance.

Sky, F1 to scale back Italian Grand Prix coverage following death of The Queen

Coverage of this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix will be scaled back in the UK following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen passed away on Thursday 8th September at the age of 96.

Sky’s broadcasts throughout the weekend will be reduced in length, with a shortened build-up for qualifying and the race.

The qualifying build-up will last 30 minutes instead of the usual 60 minutes, while the race day build-up will now be 60 minutes instead of 90 minutes.

The F1 Show has been dropped from Sky’s schedules. Furthermore, Ted’s Qualifying and Race Notebook will not air, both will return in Singapore.

Sky will continue to broadcast Formula Two, as well as the Formula Three and IndyCar season finales as expected this weekend.

On Friday, the BBC’s coverage did not air on radio, only airing via the Formula 1 app and Amazon’s radio app.

Channel 4 have yet to confirm arrangements for their offering, however it is likely that their offering will also be reduced.

All of Formula 1’s British based personnel, teams and drivers have reduced their social media output. For example, the official F1 Twitter account has only posted skeleton updates related to each session, with ‘in session’ commentary notably absent.

The Formula 1 television World Feed had a more sombre tone to it on Friday. Brian Tyler’s signature theme and introduction were absent from coverage, coverage instead fading from black into an overhead shot of the Monza circuit. Coverage returned to normal on Saturday.

Elsewhere, the British Superbikes round from Snetterton will continue as planned this weekend, with coverage airing on Eurosport 2.

Friday 9th September
12:45 to 14:15 F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
15:45 to 17:15 F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)

Saturday 10th September
11:45 to 13:10 F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
14:30 to 16:55 F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)

Sunday 11th September
13:00 to 17:00 F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 13:00 Grand Prix Sunday
=> 13:55 Race
=> 16:00 Chequered Flag

Revised Sky Sports F1 schedule for the 2022 Italian Grand Prix.

This article will be updated further throughout the weekend.

Scheduling: The 2022 Seoul E-Prix

After extending his lead last time out in London, Mercedes driver Stoffel Vandoorne looks a shoe in to clinch his 1st Formula E championship, as the series heads to South Korea for the season 8 finale.

The double-header takes place in Seoul, the first time Formula E has been to South Korea. Vandoorne holds a 36-point lead heading into the weekend.

With 58 points on offer during the weekend, 4 drivers are mathematically still in the running: Vandoorne, Jaguar’s Mitch Evans, Venturi’s Edoardo Mortara, and DS Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne, although at this stage it is Vandoorne’s to lose.

Live coverage of both races air across Channel 4 and Eurosport, with coverage also available via their digital platforms. The race weekend concludes Channel 4’s first full season covering the championship, the broadcaster committed to Formula E for multiple seasons.

Unlike with when Channel 4 covered F1 live, there are no afternoon replays, so fans who miss the 08:00 alarm will need to record the action or catch-up on YouTube.

As usual, Vernon Kay presents Channel 4’s coverage alongside Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti providing commentary for the season finale.

Saturday 13th August
23:55 (Friday night) to 00:40 – Practice 1 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
01:45 to 02:30 – Practice 2 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
03:30 to 05:15 – Qualifying (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
07:30 to 09:30 – Race 1 (Channel 4)
=> also on Eurosport 2 from 07:30 to 09:35

Sunday 14th August
01:25 to 02:10 – Practice 3 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
03:30 to 05:15 – Qualifying (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
07:30 to 09:30 – Race 2 (Channel 4)
=> also on Eurosport 2 from 07:30 to 09:35

Full scheduling details for the 2022 Seoul E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Sunday 7th August and are subject to change.

Domestically in the UK, the British Superbikes and British Touring Car championships take centre stage. The touring cars heads east to Snetterton in Norfolk for the 7th race day of the season, while Thruxton plays host to the superbikes.

Live coverage of BTCC continues to air across ITV and ITV4 in a new for 2022 arrangement. Snetterton is the 4th race meeting of the season to see live action air across both channels, following in the footsteps of the Brands Hatch Indy, Oulton Park and Knockhill events.

Steve Rider presents, alongside David Addison, Tim Harvey, Richard John Neil, Paul O’Neill, and Louise Goodman.

The Superbikes action airs on Eurosport 2, with Matt Roberts presenting.

Saturday 13th August
12:00 to 16:30 – BSB: Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)

Sunday 14th August
12:00 to 15:05 – BTCC: Races 1 and 2 (ITV)
13:00 to 18:00 – BSB: Races 2 and 3 (Eurosport 2)
15:00 to 18:05 – BTCC: Race 3 (ITV4)

Full scheduling details for the 2022 Snetterton BTCC and Thurxton BSB rounds. Scheduling details correct as of Sunday 7th August and are subject to change.

If scheduling details change, this article will be updated.

Contribute to the running costs of Motorsport Broadcasting by donating via PayPal. If you wish to reproduce the contents of this article in any form, please contact Motorsport Broadcasting in the first instance.

Season of growth for Formula E as championship prepares for Gen3

The COVID-19 pandemic threw Formula E off-piste, and arguably hurt the championship more than its competitors.

After a period of strong growth until season 5, the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020 forced series organisers to throw together a series of double headers to finish season 6, with 6 races across 9 days in Berlin.

But now, with COVID-19 hopefully in the rear-view mirror, Formula E is hoping to become a tier 1 sport, a message reemphasised on a near monthly basis from those hoping to drive the championship forward.

In a wide-ranging interview, Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas sat down with Motorsport Broadcasting to discuss:

  • The Jakarta success story
  • The COVID-19 ‘reset’ for the series
  • The double header debate
  • The UK picture
  • The future broadcasting landscape

The Jakarta success story

Formula E has visited 9 venues so far during the 2021-22 season, most of which were fan attended prior to the pandemic.

The exception, Formula E’s debut in Indonesia, as the championship headed to Jakarta in June for its inaugural E-Prix in the Indonesian capital. Nothing out of the ordinary, except the reaction to the electric series’ arrival caught those on the ground by surprise.

For Dabas, the story begins months before the event, thanks to her relatives in Indonesia. Already, Formula E was prominent across their Facebook feeds months before the championship had even arrived, only increasing from that point onwards.

“I’m thinking, ‘okay, that’s a game changer,’ for this to happen,” Dabas says. “And she [Dabas’ relative] is from a remote part in Indonesia, it’s not like she’s from Jakarta.”

“I’m already at this point thinking that the awareness in the market is huge. And then when I got there with a week to go, I got an audience with the governor of Jakarta, and I’m thinking ‘okay, there’s something happening here’, which has not happened earlier.”

Dabas compares the situation to her previous work in cricket. “Look, I’ve worked on the cricket in India and different parts of the world, and you still don’t get an audience with the political figurehead. And Indonesia is a huge country, population wise.”

“We realised that with the government backing, everybody in the streets, it felt like a massive sport had arrived. There were team buses going past and people were waving on the streets, it was completely different, it felt like a football World Cup.”

The E-Prix itself aired on RCTI, Indonesia’s largest free-to-air network, as well as Metro TV at the suggestion of Jakarta’s governor “because he knows the market well,” with 13.4 million viewers watching on TV and 60,000 fans in attendance.

“We’ve not had that from a single market and when you start getting those numbers you know, as a sport, you’ve arrived in that territory, and people are still talking about it now,” Dabas continues.

“They’re talking about the race coming next year and, they want a double header, there’s discussions on social media channels. Everybody really bought into the sport, the government, the people, and the channel we put it on also helped.”

The “hunger to have a big sports event or a concert” after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Formula E “electrification story” helped the series generate attention in Indonesia, according to Dabas.

Can Formula E replicate their success in Jakarta elsewhere, and if so, how? The answer is not straightforward, given that the situation in each market is radically different.

“What we had in Jakarta was what I call, in strategic terms, a white space, motor sport wasn’t that huge. I know that MotoGP was there before us, and we were lucky they were before us, we learned a lot of things from there.”

JAKARTA STREET CIRCUIT, INDONESIA – JUNE 02: Anies Baswedan, governor of Jakarta, Ahmad Sahroni chairman of FE Jakarta and Alberto Longo, Deputy CEO and Chief Championship Officer of Formula E with FE drivers during the Jakarta ePrix at Jakarta Street Circuit on Thursday June 02, 2022 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

“But I think the point is that in our key markets, UK, for example, we can’t replicate that [the Jakarta model] because we’re not the only sport, look at the clutter of sports this weekend for example [during the London E-Prix weekend].”

“We can’t replicate what happened in Indonesia, but I think I’m quite enthused by what we’re doing in each territory.”

Qualifying format helps drive engagement following COVID-19 reset

The pandemic forced Formula E into a reset, which the championship is now recovering from. On the horizon is Gen3, which makes its debut at the start of 2023.

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that Formula E will have a ‘different look and feel,’ with an overhaul of the championship’s branding on and off-air expected before season 9 and Gen3 arrive in January.

The new generation of electric machinery gives series organisers another opportunity to promote the championship’s green values, and attempt to attract more younger fans in the process, which remains the aim for Dabas.

Dabas says that engagement levels for the series have increased by 30% season-on-season at the half way stage, highlighting the new ‘Duel’ qualifying format as one of the drivers behind this.

“And when I say engagement levels, people are watching for longer and there are two reasons people watch for longer,” Dabas reiterates.

> Insight: The making of the 2021 London E-Prix

“One, which is critical is the sport must be good. You can’t put on a rubbish sport and great coverage and hope that people will watch.”

“Our qualification format has been fantastic this season. So that means that there is competition for top spots, and you can now identify who the top drivers in the championship are, and that’s important.”

“For any sport, and even with cricket we used to say, if the pitches are terrible, you will not get a good match. So, you need to have the sporting conditions right to create a good narrative.”

“Once that is right, your coverage must engage fans. This season, we’ve got a good sports format. The drivers are more recognisable because, we know who the top five or six drivers are, and then the coverage around the world which has meant that people are more engaged.”

“What I’m trying to say is we need to increase the number of people aware of Formula E, bring them into it, but then once they watch it, they need to be hooked onto the product for longer, and we are seeing that’s happening.”

Watching from one of the vantage points in London, it was clear that the television graphics for the Duel format not only worked for those watching as home, but the format also worked for those in attendance.

Every time a gap between two drivers tightened, the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ echoed around the ExCeL, fans rooting behind their favourite drivers, including ex-F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, and home hero Jake Dennis.

Not all the metrics are rosy for Formula E: their total audience declined in season 7, although Dabas highlights the increase in live audiences for the championship.

“Season 7 was the foundational season for setting it right, as the distribution deals had all expired. When I came in, we did 40 deals with different broadcasters. Season 8 has been a growth season, 100%,” Dabas believes.

“I know season 5 people say was the biggest season for Formula E but in all honesty when I look at the numbers, we had 97 million live audience then and in season 7 we had 197 million.”

“If you look at the overall numbers people watching the live sport has gone up and that’s what the big sports will talk about. Yes, there was more consumption of highlights and different things, but the live numbers increased.”

Formula E’s Duels qualifying format, here featuring Stoffel Vandoorne versus Sergio Sette Camara, was a hit with fans in London.

“I think this will probably be our biggest season ever in terms of audiences in our history, and we can only grow from here, no doubt.”

Dabas cites a recent example from the New York weekend, where Dabas met informally with multiple US broadcasters to discuss Formula E’s roadmap moving forward.

“They asked us for meetings because they wanted to know more,” Dabas says. “And that’s a sign for me, having been in this business for 22 years, that there’s market competition, which means that people watch your product.”

“And if people pay decent money for your product, then they invest in marketing it as well.”

“The more you invest, the more you spend on marketing, advertising, creating an awareness and, as we have seen in this country with what Sky Sports has done with Formula 1, if you have an invested broadcaster, that can be a game changer for you.”

Debating the ‘merits and demerits’ of double headers

London was another of Formula E’s double header weekends, an increasingly common feature of the calendar. But while Dabas sees the value in them from a broadcasting perspective, it is not something she believes will be a feature throughout the whole season.

“If you ask within Formula E, we can sit in a pub and talk for hours discussing the merits and demerits,” she says. “I think double headers has its place, but it can be an overkill sometimes.”

“But what double headers does is bring people into the ecosystem on Saturday and then you can give them something more [on Sunday].”

“If you talk to certain broadcasters, some of them have told us this is why they like double headers. You can do a tune in for the next race and there is something more coming up in the inventory.”

> Insight: Behind the scenes with Formula E’s television production team

“On the flip side, who do you say was the winner of New York? There were two winners! I don’t think it’s going to be a success everywhere, and that’s why we pick and choose, and Jakarta is a good case [where it may work].”

“We had 60,000 fans watch and honestly, you could have filled the stands again the next day, there were queues. Where there’s a demand and the narrative works from a sporting perspective, I think we can do double headers but it’s not every location in every city.”

“It’s important that we don’t end up doing 10 races in five locations or 20 races, 10 locations. We must go around the world, we are an FIA World Championship, it’s a mandate that we should be in different continents around the world.”

Provisionally, Formula E’s 2022-23 calendar features 5 double header weekends, with 18 races currently scheduled in 13 locations across 7 months.

London shines despite F1 clash

Both races over the London weekend inexplicably clashed with F1’s Hungarian Grand Prix, which The Race understands was ‘directly specified by Formula E’s TV international broadcast management.’ Sources close to the data suggest that Channel 4’s Formula E audience took a significant hit due to the clash.

Despite the congested sporting schedule which Dabas highlighted, attendance was good, with a near capacity crowd on both days at the ExCeL in London, and room for further growth in terms of activities inside the arena.

The Allianz E-Village was decent for its first year with paying fans at the ExCeL, but there was still a significant amount of unused real estate, which Formula E should look to address in future years.

On the television side, the race weekend aired live on Channel 4, with the Seoul E-Prix set to follow suit. It means that 10 of the 16 races in season 7 have broadcast live on the free-to-air channel, a higher proportion than what the BBC offered during its coverage of the series.

Formula E want ‘channel consistency’ from their broadcast deals, and Channel 4’s offering this season has helped move the series in that direction from a UK point of view. Although the BBC offers a wider reach than Channel 4, Dabas argues that the latter is a better fit for Formula E.

AUTODROMO HERMANOS RODRIGUEZ, MEXICO – FEBRUARY 15: Antonio Felix da Costa (PRT), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20 leadsJean-Eric Vergne (FRA), DS Techeetah, DS E-Tense FE20 during the Mexico City E-prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on February 15, 2020 in Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

“Everyone when I joined said that the BBC is the best platform to be on [for Formula E]. But the reality is the best platform for us is where we have audiences that match our sport.”

“And if you look at all the free-to-air broadcasters, Channel 4 is probably the one that has that match. The shows they have are quirky, its progressive.”

“I speak to the Head of Programming [at Channel 4] and they love us, they’re like, you’re in and performing and you’re doing a great job. And that, for me is like an indication that we’re doing okay. We are happy with them; the partnership is solid.”

“We started last year and the product is getting better, we’re getting more races on Channel 4 than we had on BBC. And for us that visibility in our core market is important.”

Dabas also points out that Channel 4’s Formula E coverage skews younger than their F1 offering. Figures for the British Grand Prix showed that around 12% of Channel 4’s F1 race day audience were aged between 16 and 34.

“Channel 4 tells us that the audience we get for Formula E is much younger than Formula 1, and that’s an important data point for us because they carry both.”

“How do we then reach that audience is important. In Indonesia it may have been RCTI, here it’s Channel 4 and maybe in one years’ time it may be a streaming platform, I’m just saying that we have to go where the audience is and that’s really important.”

Sport ‘no longer only free-to-air reliant’

What the future looks like from a distribution perspective in the medium-term is unclear, with the streaming picture ever evolving.

And, according to Dabas, free-to-air is no longer as important as it once was, although it still plays a crucial part within the overall picture.

“I think it’s hard to ignore the streaming platforms,” Dabas believes, “and, it’s not just Amazon and Netflix. Look at what is happening with Warner Bros. Discovery with the merger. In India, for the first time for IPL, the digital rights are more expensive than broadcast rights.”

“And ultimately, I look at my daughter, she doesn’t watch TV. If we say we’re a sport for the future, we must see what the right balance is. Free-to-air is still in the picture. But I think we’ve moved on from a sport which is only free-to-air reliant, to a sport where maybe our primary carriers could become streamers in the future.”

“I think we still need the free-to-air to get the audience in, but with a deepened engagement and the products we can offer, and the coverage, maybe the streamers can help us over there, so it’s really important for us.”

“And when I say streamers, it’s not about getting someone to pay $2 for it. I don’t want to put Formula E behind a subscription pay wall. I think many sports have learned that there’s very few fans who sign up particularly for just one sport, it’s better to be in a consolidated platform, which exists with Paramount+, there’s Peacock in the US, there’s Apple.”

“Apple’s done a great deal with MLS, so we just need to look at where the market is heading. But more importantly, where are our fans consuming this sport.”

The season 7 season finale airs this weekend, live on Channel 4 on Saturday 13th August and Sunday 14th August from 07:30.

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