WRC strikes deal to remain on Channel 5 network

Organisers of the World Rally Championship have struck a deal to remain on Channel 5 network in the UK.

The championship has regularly aired in highlights form on Channel 5’s main outlet since 2016, with 60-minute highlights airing in a week day time slot at 19:00. However, coverage of the first round of the 2019 season, the Monte Carlo rally did not air on any of Channel 5’s outlets, nor on any other free-to-air television network, leaving WRC’s free-to-air future in limbo.

Now, the series will continue on the Channel 5 network, with highlights for the Sweden round airing on their sister channel 5Spike this upcoming Monday at 19:00.

A WRC spokesperson said “We have an agreement with Channel 5 and the Sweden highlights will be broadcast on Spike next Monday.”

It is unclear whether the season as a whole will air on 5Spike, which may be considered a demotion compared with the past three years when highlights aired on Channel 5’s main channel, or whether this is a one-off move before reverting to the main Channel 5 station from Mexico.

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Scheduling: The 2019 Mexico City E-Prix / F1 Barcelona test 1

Formula E hurdles towards one-third distance as the second leg of its South American tour takes it to Mexico for the Mexico City E-Prix.

The electric championship uses part of the Formula 1 circuit, encompassing the famous stadium section. As usual, the race airs live across the BBC’s digital platforms, with BT Sport, Eurosport and Formula E’s YouTube channel also covering the action.

Formula E’s support series, the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy returns in Mexico, with both qualifying and race airing live on BT Sport. Sweden plays host to round two of the World Rally Championship, where one expects much more snow than what fans saw in Monte Carlo for the season opener.

Meanwhile, Formula 1 testing gets underway in Barcelona, where the big news is that the first test will air live across F1’s over-the-top platform and Sky Sports F1. However, the F1 TV stream is only available to Pro users (which UK fans do not have access to), meaning that UK fans will need to watch Sky F1 for testing.

Sky are covering each of the four afternoon sessions live as well as the review show, whereas F1 TV is covering the complete day live. Sky are not repeating the live action, so if you want to watch it, you will need to set your recorders. Little is known about the presentation team currently, although Karun Chandhok has alluded to his involvement on Twitter.

Elsewhere, the Williams documentary premieres on BBC Two having been released on DVD in 2017. Whilst I am happy to see it premiere on a major platform, the decision to air it against Formula E on the Red Button is an odd move by BBC’s schedulers.

Formula E – Mexico City
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying also air live on YouTube…
15/02 – 21:45 to 22:30 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
16/02 – 13:15 to 14:30 – Practice 1 (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 15:45 to 16:45 – Practice 2 (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport 3 and Eurosport 2)
16/02 – 21:30 to 23:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms from 22:00
=> live on BT Sport 3
=> live on Eurosport 2
16/02 – 21:30 to 23:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
18/02 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights (Quest)

Formula E Radio – Mexico City (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
16/02 – 17:40 to 19:10 – Qualifying
16/02 – 21:45 to 23:15 – Race

F1 Testing – Barcelona 1 (Sky Sports F1)
13/02 – 15:00 to 15:30 – Racing Point Launch
14/02 – 12:00 to 12:30 – McLaren Launch
18/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 1
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> review at 17:00
18/02 – 19:55 to 20:55 – Day 1 Review (R)
19/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 2
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event until 14:00)
=> review at 17:00
19/02 – 20:25 to 21:25 – Day 2 Review (R)
20/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 3
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> review at 17:00
20/02 – 20:05 to 21:05 – Day 3 Review (R)
21/02 – 13:00 to 18:00 – Day 4
=> track action from 13:00 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> review at 17:00
21/02 – 20:05 to 21:05 – Day 4 Review (R)

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Mexico City (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 14:30 to 15:15 – Qualifying
16/02 – 19:45 to 20:45 – Race

Williams Film (BBC Two)
16/02 – 21:00 to 22:45

World Rally Championship – Sweden (All Live – BT Sport Extra 1)
Every stage also live via WRCPlus.com
14/02 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Shakedown
14/02 – 18:30 to 20:00 – Stage 1
15/02 – 06:45 to 17:15 – Stages 2 to 8
16/02 – 06:00 to 19:15 – Stages 9 to 16
17/02 – 05:30 to 12:45 – Stages 17 to 19

World Rally Championship – Sweden
14/02 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 1)
15/02 – 21:45 to 22:15 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
16/02 – 08:30 to 09:30 – Stage 11 (BT Sport 2)
16/02 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Stage 14 (BT Sport/ESPN)
16/02 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
17/02 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 19 [Power Stage] (BT Sport/ESPN)
17/02 – 20:00 to 20:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
18/02 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (5Spike)

As always, I will update this site as and when further details confirmed.

Update on February 15th – Two pieces of good news. WRC highlights will air on 5Spike on Monday, whilst Formula E makes it BBC radio debut on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. Formula E has its own bespoke radio commentary, with Claire Cottingham, Tom Gaymor and Marc Priestley in the booth for Mexico.

No UK free-to-air coverage for WRC as Channel 5 deal ends

As the first round of the 2019 World Rally Championship concludes in Monte Carlo, it looks increasingly unlikely that the championship will have a presence on free-to-air television in the United Kingdom this season, this site can reveal.

The championship has enjoyed mixed success in the UK over the years. The series was a mainstay on BBC’s Grandstand in the 1990’s, before moving over to Channel 4 and then ITV1 in the early 2000’s. Viewing figures dropped off as the series switched from ITV1 to ITV4 in 2007, and then onto Dave one-year later.

Audiences continued to slip on Dave, leading to the championship’s exit from free-to-air television beginning with the 2011 season, arguably its lowest ebb. It was not long before WRC returned to free-to-air television however, ITV4 picking up the action from the third round of the 2013 season. Liking what they saw, Channel 5 snatched the rights at the start of 2016, airing highlights in the week following the event at 19:00.

However, sources close to the situation have told this site that there will be no extension to the Channel 5 deal. It is the second time in recent months that Channel 5 have not renewed one of their motor racing contracts (either through choice or not), the first being Formula E last November.

Since moving to Channel 5, an average audience of around 300,000 viewers have watched the WRC highlights programme, according to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv. In 2016, an audience of 337k (1.8%) watched highlights, but figures have dipped in the past two seasons to 275k (1.5%) and 281k (1.6%) respectively.

Although the viewing figures are much higher than what WRC attracted than when the series was not on free-to-air television, the viewing figures are below Channel 5’s average audience in that slot. Perhaps crucially, WRC’s figures are below what MotoGP has attracted in the same slot in recent years, the bike series regularly attracting more than 400,000 viewers.

It is currently unknown if MotoGP highlights will air on Channel 5 this season. It may be that Channel 5’s bosses have simply fallen out with motor sport and have decided to head in a different direction rather than WRC wanting to seek other alternatives.

I understand that WRC’s organisers are happy with their new multi-year contract with BT Sport, and that a new deal with a free-to-air broadcaster currently looks unlikely. Of course, that is subject to change, as we saw in 2013 when ITV4’s deal kicked in from round three onwards.

Aside from BT Sport, and WRC’s over-the-top All Live platform, the free alternative online is Red Bull TV which has highlights of each day on their website, and has had for many years.

As fantastic as these platforms are, in my opinion the sport still needs that one-hour free-to-air television shop window for those viewers who want to dip in and out of the action throughout the season. If the championship does not secure a slot soon on one of the main Freeview channels, I will be very surprised.

But, for the moment, rallying is again without a free-to-air home in the UK. Both Channel 5 and WRC were unable to offer further comment.

 

How All Live is changing the face of rallying: production

Whilst many motor racing publications tend to focus on Formula 1 or MotoGP’s broadcasting exploits, elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, a quiet revolution has been taking place that deserves far more attention than what it has received.

To discover more, this writer took a trip up to Deeside for the 2018 Wales Rally GB to see what the fuss was about for a three-part series. If you missed the first two parts, head over here and here

On track, 2018 was an amazing year for the World Rally Championship, with a three-way battle between Sebastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak going down to the wire in Australia. Neuville and Tanak faltered, with Ogier coming away as champion for a sixth consecutive season.

For the fans watching the action at home, 2018 was just as good, with the introduction of All Live, WRC’s over-the-top service that aimed to bring fans closer to the action by airing every stage live.

Although All Live arguably revolutionised rallying for its core fanbase, WRC’s Editor in Chief Kevin Piper emphasises that other outlets, such as the traditional highlights programme, are still important.

“The other content is still crucially important for the territories and broadcasters that rely on those. Recently social media has become far more important over the past five or six years, so you’re feeding that as well,” Piper tells me.

“The News [segments that we release] we appreciate is massively important because that’s bite-size, free-to-air content that major broadcasters may pick up on if there’s been a big moment, that’s great exposure. All Live has come on top of all of that, and added a whole new dimension for the rally fans and hopefully wider audience.”

The rotating army
On-air, All Live featured an array of talent during 2018, with different people coming in and out of the setup during each rally weekend. The studio team rotated throughout, with Abi Griffiths, Kiri Bloore and Alex Legouix sharing presenting duties. The three of them also doubled up as a reporter alongside Molly Pettit during the Service Park gaps.

Similarly, Becs Williams, who is All Live’s lead commentator, also interviewed the key players. The likes of Jon Desborough, Julian Porter, Nicky Grist and Ben Constanduros joined Williams in the commentary booth, and Piper is happy with the strength of what he calls a “versatile” team.

“One of the greatest strengths of this team, and we played our part in thinking about who comes to work for us, apart from the expertise, the experience, the motivation and the enthusiasm is we’ve got, partly by design, partly out of natural evolution, partly necessity, a group of versatile people who are capable in different disciplines,” Piper says.

“We have people who can produce, script and voice. We look for people who can do a bit of everything. We try to make each event unique, here for GB, we’ve had Nicky Grist and Robert Reed, who have added fantastic value to the co-commentary alongside Becs.”

The multilingual team is necessary in a multilingual paddock, which plays into the commentary throughout the weekend.

“I think we’ve been very good when Becs is commentating,” says Marko Viitanen, WRC’s television director. “We have different nationalities in our team who can always translate a language, if there’s something wrong with the Finnish guys I can always translate and get that back up to her, we have Swedish, German, Spanish, French, we can get those little insights.”

“I think All Live to a certain extent has changed the whole sport, because now the drivers cannot hide anything. They can’t say ‘we just overshot a corner’, when it never happened, so that’s changed a lot.”

As covered earlier, the All Live setup also allows the on-air team to speak to people from outside of rallying during the service breaks, such as former football player Sammi Hyypia, with a similar setup expected for this upcoming season.

The numbers game
In-Car Cameras – 48 cameras

45 – On-Board (3 x 15)
3 – Exta FX GoPro On-Board

Action Cameras – 24 cameras
15 – Highlights
9 – TV Live (Line Cut at SS)

Other Cameras – 14 cameras
7 – All Live (4 with RF kits)
4 – Manufacturer Area Fixed
2 – Drones
1 – Helicopter Cineflex

Behind the lens, there is an army of people putting the All Live product together, as Viitanen explains.

“There’s between 70 to 80 people in the crew in total, in operations at one time for All Live, it’s a crew of 50 to 55 people. You always see the cameramen, when you come into the production truck, you see guys doing slow-mos, mixing the pictures, you see those in action.”

“But there’s a lot of guys on the RF (radio frequency signal) and plane side that you never see or hear from, and All Live would not be possible without them. We cannot afford to put 10 or 20 cameras on every stage, across a whole event that would be impossible to manage, so the RF guys are really the heart of the operation.”

86 cameras, 1 event
Although rallying covers a wide amount of terrain, all the production for All Live is done back at Service Park.

“We’ve changed our production dramatically. Rallying is kind of a remote production, all of our production happens here at base,” explains Viitanen. “We get the ground cameras, the on-boards, the heli, the RF cameras, back via either the plane or via satellite, and the whole programme is combined here to create the package that fans see. We put graphics, slow-motions and the like, all that on top of it here.”

In total, there are around 86 cameras per event, although some shots are not available to use live. Special shots, such as the drone and various action angles, are utilised exclusively in the non-live wrap-up programme. The quality of the RF images is critically important to the success of All Live, meaning that the RF team must position the plane accurately during each stage.

“We’re doing over a 100km stretch here as well on the Saturday, the stages are so far away, so there’s more than a hundred kilo meters from base that we actually have the plane flying,” Viitanen explains. “We have two pilots in the air and two technicians, then there is one guy here who controls the plane, so he tells them from the ground where they should fly.”

“His job is to position the plane in a way so that he can receive the start camera, the finish camera, the on-boards and the helicopter. It’s always a combination of how the weather is up there, how much wind there is, what kind of stage you have, if you have mountains on this side or that side, so you have to move the plane from start to finish.”

“We’ll learn from everything this year [2018] and come back next year [2019] with more knowledge,” Steve Turvey, WRC’s Location Director adds.

“You’ve got to remember that every single event we are doing is brand new for everybody. The level of return we are getting now is absolutely staggering, we’re all amazed. To get that amount of data back, three signals from each car with telemetry, everything out in the right order is just a phenomenal achievement.”

Looking forward to 2019
Heading in 2019, what do Viitanen and Piper make of their first year of All Live?

“I think All Live has really succeeded on the way that we have put the technique to work for us, and I think that’s one of the highlights of the production, still with limited technical resources,” says Viitanen. “I have friends who’ll do F1, they cannot believe how much smaller the technical resources that we have compared to them.”

“You can compare the production style to the Tour de France, but the bikes don’t move as fast as rally cars, so that gives us a bit of a headache!”

“All Live has made this whole operation even more interesting, more complex from a technical point of view,” Piper adds, excited for what the future holds. “It’s a great challenge, a great new adventure, and after being involved in sports journalism and broadcasting for more years than what I can remember now, this is the icing on the cake.”

2018 has been year one for All Live. For fans worried that All Live was a one-year experiment, fear not. This weekend in the south of France, and at every rally in 2019, the team go again, but with the knowledge of 2018, this year promises to be even better for rallying fans.

Scheduling: The 2019 Rally Monte Carlo / Santiago E-Prix

Every stage, of every rally, live. All Live is back for year two, with the Monte Carlo rally opening the 2019 World Rally Championship!

The rallying curtain raiser takes place from Thursday 24th January through to Sunday 27th January. Every stage is not only available via WRC’s over-the-top service, but for the first time ever is also available on BT Sport.

BT are airing the main All Live feed via their Red Button service throughout the 2019 season, offering rallying fans an alternative way to view the action. BT’s existing 2018 commitments remain, with a select number of stages (WRC’s live World Feed content) airing on their linear channel as well as the daily highlights packages.

Further west, Mexico City plays host to the Race of Champions this weekend. The action airs live on Sky Sports F1, with Will Buxton and Neil Cole on commentary, and David Croft and Jennie Gow reporting from the pit lane.

Elsewhere, Formula E heads to Santiago for the third round of the season, with BBC, Eurosport, BT Sport and YouTube covering the race live.

Race of Champions – Mexico City (Sky Sports F1)
19/01 – 19:00 to 22:00 – Nations Cup
20/01 – 19:00 to 22:00 – Race of Champions

Formula E – Santiago
Shakedown, Practice and Qualifying also air live on YouTube…
25/01 – 18:15 to 19:00 – Shakedown (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Practice 1 (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Practice 2 (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 14:45 to 16:15 – Qualifying (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 17:45 to 18:30 – Qualifying Delayed (Eurosport 2)
26/01 – 18:30 to 20:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms
=> live on BT Sport 3
=> live on Eurosport 2
26/01 – 18:30 to 20:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
27/01 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights (Quest)

World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo (All Live – BT Sport Extra 1)
Every stage also live via WRCPlus.com
24/01 – 09:45 to 11:00 – Shakedown
24/01 – 17:30 to 18:15 – Opening Ceremony
24/01 – 18:30 to 20:45 – Stages 1 and 2
25/01 – 06:15 to 17:15 – Stages 3 to 8
26/01 – 06:45 to 14:30 – Stages 9 to 12
27/01 – 06:45 to 12:45 – Stages 13 to 16

World Rally Championship – Monte Carlo
24/01 – 18:30 to 19:30 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 1)
25/01 – 21:45 to 22:15 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 3)
26/01 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Stage 12 (BT Sport 1)
27/01 – 00:45 to 01:15 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
27/01 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Stage 16 [Power Stage] (also BT Sport 3)
27/01 – 19:15 to 19:45 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)

Eagle eyed readers will spot zero reference to World Rally Championship’s free-to-air highlights programme. That is because there is currently no word on who is airing the package, and there is no sign of it in Channel 5’s current schedules either. As and when – or if – the schedule updates, I will update this article.