Coronavirus and motor sport broadcasting

For many, March normally signals the start of another exciting, exhilarating, and tense motor racing season, with many twists and turns set to greet drivers, teams, and broadcasters.

This year, things are different, thanks to the unknown quantity that motor sport has little to zero control over, as coronavirus is set to wreak havoc over the early phase of the 2020 motor racing season.

The list of events impacted is growing, with the main casualties to date F1’s Chinese Grand Prix, and MotoGP’s Qatar and Thailand rounds of the championship.

The impact coronavirus is having on motor sport goes far beyond broadcasting, however this being a broadcasting site, we are going to stick to the subject in hand.

On the broadcasting side, there is not only the financial impact, but also the human impact as events disappear off the calendar. A scenario such as coronavirus impacting the season is unprecedented in the modern era.

Many of the questions posed below are rhetorical, some of which broadcasters will no doubt be thinking about day and night currently.

Compensation for broadcasters?
To air motor sports, broadcasters pay the respective promoters a pre-agreed amount covering each season, which can vary from a few pounds (literally) to £200 million if you are Sky paying F1.

Now, given that parties agree contracts years in advance, the agreement is unlikely to specify a set number of races per year. However, in my view it is likely that the contract states that the commercial rights holder must deliver a minimum of X races per year to deliver the contract.

For example, the F1 contracts may state that the commercial rights holder must deliver at least 16 races per year to fulfil the agreement, otherwise be subject to potential refunds.

Over in MotoGP, the CEO of commercial rights holder Dorna Carmelo Ezpeleta has revealed that a season must have 13 races to constitute a World Championship.

Motor racing is unlike other sporting events, such as the Rugby World Cup, whereby the number of matches in that case is known years in advance. Anyone who follows motor sport knows that calendars can flip from 20 to 19 to 21 races year-on-year-on-year.

I mention the Rugby World Cup because last year’s event saw three matches cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, which cost French broadcaster TF1 “more than €1 million,” although Sports Business reported at the time that organisers would “hold talks with affected broadcasters over any possible compensation.”

The point here is that F1 and MotoGP will want to show broadcasters that they have made every possible attempt to hold races, hence why organisers have postponed both the F1 China and MotoGP Thailand rounds until later dates and not cancelled them outright.

MotoGP organisers have already rescheduled Thailand for October, however reorganising the Chinese round is proving to be more difficult for F1 and Liberty Media…

Remote coverage?
As a broadcaster, do you treat races as business as usual, or do you take the more cautious approach and keep your personnel away from the race track?

German F1 free-to-air broadcaster RTL are taking the cautious route, opting to present their shows for Australia, Bahrain, and Vietnam from their base in Cologne, with none of their talent heading overseas.

Writing on their website, RTL’s Sports Director Manfred Loppe said “The spread of the coronavirus, the associated incalculable health risks for all colleagues and, furthermore, a broadcast security that can no longer be guaranteed due to the immediate measures when infected.”

“This only allows for one decision, namely to produce from the Cologne broadcasting centre.” As of writing, RTL are the only broadcaster to declare that they are not travelling to Melbourne.

Closer to home, Motorsport Broadcasting understands from close sources that Sky Sports plan to present their coverage of the Australian Grand Prix from on-site in Melbourne, but that UK government and internal advice is being “closely monitored.”

The BBC’s and Channel 4’s plans for Australia remain unclear as of writing, both keeping their cards close to their chest. BT Sport have opted to present commentary of this weekend’s Qatar Moto2 and Moto3 races off-tube, although arguably Dorna made the decision for them by cancelling the premiere class.

Talent working for those broadcasters will follow the instructions given – whether that is “stay at home” or “fly out,” irrespective of their own personal preferences.

Further afield, Sky have labelled Vietnam, the site of round three of the 2020 Formula One season, as a “high-risk” country. The categorisation means that staff who have returned from Vietnam cannot work on a Sky broadcast for a further 14 days.

For all within broadcasting, working remotely is becoming an ever-present thing, which helps when faced with situations such as this one.

Formula 1’s live coverage of testing last month was delivered remotely from Biggin Hill, with only on-air talent, camera operators and a disaster recovery function present on-site in Barcelona.

If needed as a last resort, F1 could rely on local camera operators for the three early season fly-away races which, whilst not ideal, would keep the show moving.

Working remotely also helps from a logistical perspective, with many within the F1 circus having to change their travel plans for Australia to avoid travelling through Singapore.

The fewer people F1 takes to Australia without impacting their broadcasts, the better.

Human impact
Behind every motor sport broadcast that fans watch worldwide is a team of fantastic producers, directors, camera operators, floor assistants, the list goes on.

Some of those will be employed directly by the broadcasters they are working for; others will be freelance. As an example, a freelancer may work on a football match one weekend, a Grand Prix the next, and then tennis the weekend after to keep the income flowing in.

The moment one Grand Prix disappears is the moment a freelancer loses income. The situation becomes critical if organisers cancel multiple events in quick situation, exactly the situation we currently find ourselves in thanks to coronavirus.

This might sound like an exaggeration, but for many people inside and outside of broadcasting, this is their livelihood at stake, which looks to be uncertain in the immediate short-term future unless coronavirus rapidly disappears.

Whilst no one likes to see sporting events get cancelled, there is not only the financial impact from an organisational perspective, but also the financial impact from a personal perspective to bear in mind.

The Formula 1 season starts in just 10 days’ time, but whether F1 ends up racing in 10 days’ time, is anyone’s guess in an uncertain climate…


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Live F1 testing coverage performs solidly on Sky Sports F1

Live coverage of the first Formula 1 test of 2020 performed solidly in the UK, consolidated figures released by BARB show.

For the first-time ever, F1 covered all six days of testing live, with Sky Sports acting as co-producers throughout the two tests.

Viewing figures in this article only include those that watch via the TV set, excluding those that watched via other devices such as Sky Go and Now TV.

Audience figures were generally stable during the first test. The first afternoon from Barcelona averaged 49,000 viewers from 13:00 to 17:00, with the post-session wrap-up show averaging 31,200 viewers. The morning session averaged fewer than 21,400 viewers via the TV set.

Action on the second day averaged 29,500 viewers, with 22,200 viewers watching the morning session and 36,800 viewers watching the afternoon segment. 29,200 viewers watched The Story so Far after the chequered flag had fallen.

The final day of test one recorded the highest numbers of the week, with an average of 38,200 viewers watching testing, split 37,500 and 39,100 respectively. The week hit a peak with The Story so Far on Friday, averaging 53,000 viewers.

Year-on-year comparison are difficult given that some of last year’s action also aired on Sky Sports Main Event.

However, we can see the impact of F1 testing through Sky Sports F1’s weekly reach, which surged from 348,000 viewers for the week commencing 10th February to 850,000 viewers for the week commencing 17th February, a jump of 144 percent.

Last year, the weekly reach jumped from 372,000 viewers to 679,000 viewers for the first test, a weaker jump of 82 percent, although this could be because Sky Sports Main Event simulcasted some of the coverage.

During February 2018, when testing did not air live, Sky F1 hit a weekly reach high of 472,000 viewers, and the jump back then was a result of the annual Race of Champions event. All other weeks in that month averaged under 300,000 viewers.

In comparison, a typical race week reaches just over two million viewers, showing that, although the testing figures are naturally lower, there is appetite for it.

The reason for the huge difference between the averages and the channel reach will be because of the ‘dip in, dip out’ nature of testing, meaning different viewers may have viewed different days, and so on.

Formula E increases on Eurosport; WRC starts positively on ITV4
Although figures for the BBC are unavailable, consolidated viewing figures for Eurosport’s coverage of Formula E show a significant jump for season six so far.

The Santiago E-Prix in January averaged 42,400 on Eurosport, whilst the Mexico City E-Prix four weeks later February 15th averaged 61,700 viewers in a 22:00 time slot.

What is unclear is whether these are new viewers to Formula E, or viewers who previously watched the electric series on Channel 5 but opted to migrate to Eurosport instead of pressing the BBC’s Red Button.

Elsewhere, highlights of the first two rounds of the World Rally Championship on ITV4 have averaged 213,900 viewers and 232,900 viewers for Monte Carlo and Finland respectively.

Both numbers are in-line with what the series was averaging when it last aired on ITV4 in 2015.


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Scheduling: The 2020 Qatar MotoGP

Update on March 4th at 20:40 – The article has been updated with the confirmed BT Sport schedule for the weekend. BT’s presenter Suzi Perry has confirmed on Twitter that BT are not sending any of their personnel out to Qatar for the race weekend, and that there will be no wrap-around presentation from their studios in London.

Commentary will still be provided however by BT’s Keith Huewen. In addition, the free-to-air highlights package will no longer air on Quest on Monday evening.

Update on Match 1st at 19:30 – the MotoGP race has been cancelled due to travel restrictions because of coronavirus. A revised schedule for Moto2 and Moto3 will be posted in due course.

Original article below

MotoGP heads to the Middle East for the first race of the 2020 season, as Marc Marquez looks to keep hold of the crown that he has held since 2016, in what MotoGP are billing as the start of a new era, on and off-air.

The coronavirus outbreak means that a question mark hangs over many sporting events currently, however, MotoGP’s governing bodies say that the Qatar race weekend will go ahead as scheduled.

All the action from Qatar takes place earlier in the day than previous years, with the MotoGP race itself taking place at 18:00 local time instead of 20:00 or 21:00 local time as before.

BT Sport continue as lead MotoGP broadcaster for UK fans, in what is their seventh year covering the sport.

Although the broadcaster has not formally announced their coverage plans for 2020, schedules show that fans should expect more of the same this year – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Suzi Perry continues in her role as presenter of BT’s output, alongside the likes of Gavin Emmett, Neil Hodgson, and Colin Edwards, whilst Keith Huewen remains BT’s lead MotoGP commentator.

Quest will air free-to-air highlights of the series on Monday evenings, as part of a two-year deal signed between themselves and Dorna prior to the 2019 season.

Fans watching MotoGP via any outlet next weekend will notice changes from the get-go to kickstart the new era, with Dorna rolling out a new brand identity for MotoGP across all platforms, including a new look for their on-air graphics package.

MotoGP – Qatar (BT Sport 2)
Also airs live on MotoGP’s Video Pass (£)
06/03 – 08:30 to 16:15 – Practice 1 and 2
06/03 – 10:00 to 12:15 – Practice 1
06/03 – 14:00 to 15:45 – Practice 2
07/03 – 08:30 to 16:15
=> 08:30 – Practice 3
=> 11:30 – Asia Talent Cup Race 1
=> 12:00 – Qualifying
07/03 – 09:45 to 11:45 – Practice 3
07/03 – 13:00 to 16:00
=> 13:00 – Asia Talent Cup Race 1
=> 14:00 – Qualifying
08/03 – 08:30 to 17:00
=> 08:30 – Asia Talent Cup Race 2
=> 09:30 – Warm Ups
=> 11:15 – Moto3
=> 13:00 – Moto2
=> 14:30 – MotoGP
=> 16:00 – Chequered Flag
08/03 – 10:00 to 11:15 – Warm Ups
08/03 – 11:45 to 12:45 – Asia Talent Cup Race 2
08/03 – 13:00 to 16:15
=> 13:00 – Moto3
=> 14:30 – Moto2

MotoGP – Qatar (Quest)
09/03 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Highlights

Next weekend’s schedule is subject to change, so keep an eye on the MotoGP website for any potential alterations to the event.


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Sky Sports F1 launches 2020 promotional trailer

Sky Sports F1 have unveiled their 2020 promotional trailer, ahead of the new season which begins on March 15th.

The trailer, which comes with Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’ as the backing track, depicts the build-up to a Grand Prix, followed in the latter half by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc trying to navigate his way past Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Commentary from David Croft, and snippets of team radio from drivers, including Leclerc and Hamilton, also feature throughout the promo.

Given that last year’s trailer had a budget of £750,000 attached to it as part of Sky’s pre-season promotional drive, this year’s offering was always going to stand in the shadow of 2019’s excellent promo. Nevertheless, the 2020 version is still one of Sky’s better F1 efforts to date in my opinion.

In addition to the trailer launch, Sky have announced that they are bringing back their special F1 offer during March.

The offer, available until March 26th, allows Sky subscribers to add the F1 channel to their package for £10.00 a month for twelve months, a reduction on the usual price of £18.00, working out at a potential saving of £96.00 across the year.

Keep an eye on this site in March for a detailed summary of the different pricing options available for UK fans viewing F1 in 2020.

New look schedule for 2020?
A new look schedule is set to greet viewers of Sky’s Formula 1 coverage when the 2020 season begins, provisional schedules for the Australian Grand Prix suggest.

Since the middle of 2018, a live preview show called Welcome to the Weekend was the channel’s main offering on a Thursday afternoon. Now, the show will air live on Friday’s immediately before the first F1 practice session, increasing the build-up to the first session from 15 to 30 minutes.

The remainder of Friday’s schedule remains identical to 2019, with The Story so Far following the second practice session.

Current schedules suggest that Saturday’s offering will also remain the same, with Paddock Walkabout in between third practice and qualifying. The F1 Show remains in its post-qualifying time slot on the F1 channel.

However, it is race day that sees the biggest changes, with Sky revamping their build-up. The Australian Grand Prix schedule shows that Sky plan to go live on-air 130 minutes before lights out, increasing their pre-race offering by half an hour.

Only twice before have Sky gone live two hours before the race: for Britain and Belgium back in their debut season in 2012.

Sunday Social takes viewers through the first hour of the show, aiming to cover the main talking points, as well as the social media buzz. Grand Prix Sunday takes over afterwards to guide fans in the 70 minutes before lights out.

Following the race, Chequered Flag directly replaces Sky’s Paddock Live offering, whilst the Notebook is again a fixture of Sky’s schedule on race day. Currently, there is no sign of the Notebook returning to Saturday’s schedule.

Across the weekend, there is a net increase of 45 minutes in terms of time on-air year-on-year, based on the current schedule. Provisional schedules also show that, as in 2019, the race will air live across Sky One, Sky Sports Main Event and the F1 channel itself.

Sky are expected to confirm further details shortly.

Meanwhile, as exclusively revealed in January, Channel 4’s offering this year will also have a different feel to it, with their race day edit increasing year-on-year thanks to a revised deal agreed between themselves and Sky.


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Free-to-air “the right way forward” for Formula E in the short to medium-term

Free-to-air is “the right way forward” for the electric Formula E championship in the short to medium-term, according to one of the leading figures in the series.

This weekend, the Marrakesh E-Prix airs live on free-to-air television for fans in the UK on BBC Two, with presenter Jennie Gow reporting live on-site for the first time.

Only one other race has aired live on BBC’s linear television channels before now: the Hong Kong E-Prix in March 2019, where Gow presented live from their studios in Salford.

Since its inception in 2014, Formula E has struggled to find a stable home, moving from one free-to-air station to another in relatively quick succession.

The series started life on ITV4 for Formula E’s first two seasons, before moving to Channel 5 for a further two seasons. The series landed on the BBC for the start of season five in December 2018.

However, the potential for more money has not tempted organisers to move the championship exclusively to pay television.

And speaking exclusively to Motorsport Broadcasting ahead of the E-Prix this weekend, Formula E’s Head of Content Sebastian Tiffert believes that free-to-air remains is the way forward for the championship.

“I think wherever we have the largest audience is the right way forward, and you still get that through free-to-air broadcasters, and this is where we want to see Formula E in the future,” Tiffert said.

“Having the Marrakesh E-Prix on BBC Two is great, because we’re bring the race to a wider audience. We hope fans get excited [by what they see] because we believe we have a fantastic racing product with a lot of action on-track involving great drivers and great teams.”

“What the future holds I don’t know, but I think in the short to mid-term, free-to-air broadcasters and big broadcasters are the way forward for us,” he added.

Content teams realigned within Formula E’s structure
Tiffert joined Formula E last September, following a 14-year stint at Eurosport. Whilst at Eurosport, Tiffert moved through the ranks, to eventually becoming their Global Director of Motorsports before joining Formula E.

One of the main changes behind the scenes in recent months at Formula E has involved their content teams, which have all been centralised into one division under the leadership of Tiffert.

“Previously, we had the content team divided between broadcast, social media, and website platforms in different departments across Formula E, we have now centralised into a proper content team for the first time,” Tiffert told Motorsport Broadcasting during a wide-ranging conversation.

“We’ve regrouped under one roof, everything from broadcast to digital (meaning website and app content) and the social media content.”

“The analogy I always use is that we don’t want to tell ten different stories; we’d rather tell the same story, but in ten different ways depending on who we’re talking to.”

“There was the same look and feel I believe before, but you didn’t have everyone sitting together, making sure everybody was going down the same storyline. Sometimes one platform misses a story for one reason or another. The important thing now is that TV is working with social, social is working with TV, for each other, on the same story.”


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