Channel 4 to air Formula E in multi-year agreement

Channel 4 will broadcast Formula E live in a new ‘multi-year’ deal; series organisers have confirmed.

The broadcaster takes over from the BBC as the series’ exclusive free-to-air home. The BBC aired races in recent years via their Red Button service and online platforms, with a handful of races also airing on BBC Two.

The agreement with Channel 4 builds on the decision last season to air the London E-Prix double header live on the free-to-air station.

As part of the new deal, most races in Asian and European time zones will air live across Channel 4 and All4, with the remaining races, including the season opener in Diriyah next Friday, airing on Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube channel.

Based on the current schedule for the 2021-22 season, fans can expect around 10 of the 16 races to air on Channel 4’s linear channel, a significant increase on the BBC’s previous commitment.

Eurosport remain in the picture alongside Channel 4 as part of the new agreement, continuing their existing offering. Live coverage of the new look qualifying session will air via Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube channel, while race highlights will air on Channel 4.

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
2021-22 – Channel 4, Eurosport

Formula E says that UK fans will “have the opportunity to see more live races in Season 8 than in any previous season.”

As with their F1 offering, Bristol Street Motors will sponsor Channel 4’s coverage, while the Formula E presentation team consisting of Vernon Kay, Nicki Shields, Dario Franchitti and Jack Nicholls, return for the eighth season.

Pete Andrews, Channel 4’s Head of Sport, said “Formula E is a fantastically exciting sport and this deal is wonderful news for sports fans. We’re proud to be showcasing a sport with sustainability at its heart and one that plays such an important role in seeking to combat the climate crisis.”

Aarti Dabas, Formula E’s Chief Media Officer, added “We are delighted to build on our relationship with Channel 4 as the exclusive free-to-air home of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship here in the UK.”

“The multi-year partnership with Channel 4 is great news for fans across the UK and for the continued growth of our sport. Last season saw more fans around the world tune into our live race programming than ever before.”

“With Channel 4 established as the regular free-to-air home for Formula E in the UK, we look forward to better serving our passionate fanbase while attracting new fans to the excitement of all-electric street-racing.”

Vernon Kay and Nicki Shields outside Channel 4’s HQ in London with British driver Sam Bird, who races for Jaguar.

Channel 4 agreement not a “box ticking” exercise

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Sport, Joe Blake-Turner confirmed that races will air ad-free on Channel 4, and that additional documentary content will air via All4 and Channel 4’s YouTube channel, emphasising that the broadcaster is in this “for the long haul.”

“We’re not doing this as a box ticking exercise,” he tells me. “We’re in it for the long haul, we want to help grow the sport and give it the platform which perhaps it hasn’t had consistently to date down the years.”

“I think Formula E appeals on different levels. It’s a natural bedfellow for our existing motor sports. It sits alongside Formula 1 as the leading single-seater format, and it helps build up our narrative across the year of top-class motor sport.”

“On a separate level, one of our jobs as a channel is to help drive change in the world, and the sustainability message behind Formula E is important. And I think, more than anything, it is just a good, exciting watch.”

Blake-Turner hopes Channel 4’s main sports offering will help “complement” the big attractions that Channel 4 have aired, such as Emma Raducanu’s victory in the US Open and the F1 title decider. Blake-Turner, who was part of ITV’s Formula E production team during their first season, has seen Formula E evolve over the past 7 years, taking the opportunity to bring Formula E to Channel 4 last July.

“We were very happy to take that opportunity, to put the London race on, giving the British viewers and fans a chance to see it.”

“It was an amazing occasion both from the sporting point of view, but also the staging of it. It looked spectacular and cool, inside, and outside, it was just brilliant.”

“I was personally lucky enough to work on the first season of Formula E when it was on ITV, I was at Battersea Park for that, but just to see how Formula E has evolved from those, relatively humble beginnings to where it is now, it’s exciting to see where it’ll go from here.”

Positive move for Formula E as series looks to regain ground in UK

Formula E has struggled to gain traction in recent years in the UK. The series started off life on ITV4, but has since moved from Channel 5, to the BBC, and now back to Channel 4.

In the case of Channel 5 and the BBC, neither of those outlets were willing to give the series a consistent slot on free-to-air television, something that Channel 4 appears to be willing to try, for most races at least.

In the run up to London last year, Formula E’s senior leaders made it clear to this site that the lack of channel consistency was a problem for them.

“It’s a good question because we’re definitely looking at a more consistent channel strategy in the UK and other markets,” Dabas told this site last July.

“And when I think of the channel strategy, I know that every race currently we are like, is it on BBC Red Button, is it on network, is it on Quest. It’s hard.”

Friday 28th January
12:45 to 14:10 – Qualifying (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
16:30 to 18:15 – Race 1 (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
=> also on Eurosport 2 from 16:50 to 18:00

Saturday 29th January
12:45 to 14:10 – Qualifying (Channel 4 Sport’s YouTube)
16:30 to 18:15 – Race 2 (Channel 4)
=> also on Eurosport 2 from 16:50 to 18:00

Full scheduling details for the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Friday 21st January and are subject to change.

Channel 4’s audience figures for the London E-Prix double header last July were solid, in the context of the lack of promotion, and it considered a one-off experiment by both parties.

An average of 382,000 viewers tuned in for the second race of the London weekend. While the figure was lower than W Series from Silverstone a few weeks earlier, Formula E did not have F1 as its lead in, unlike the W Series broadcast.

Following the London race, The Race reported that Formula E “surpassed the expectations of the C4 management team,” which this new deal between the two parties confirms.

Formula E has struggled with momentum not just in the UK, but worldwide in recent years. From a UK perspective, arguably the slide started when their Channel 5 deal started to go astray, and series organisers will be hoping that this latest deal with Channel 4 changes that.

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Over 2 million viewers watch F1’s first Sprint in UK

F1’s new look format, trialled over the British Grand Prix weekend, helped audience figures improve in the UK, consolidated data released by BARB suggests.

The Silverstone weekend was Channel 4’s only live action of the season, the broadcaster sharing live coverage with Sky Sports.

The consolidated data accounts for viewers who watched within seven days of the original transmission.

New format draws the viewers…

Usually, Friday plays host to two practice sessions.

However, only one practice session took place on Friday at Silverstone, with the traditional three-part qualifying session moving to Friday evening.

According to industry website Thinkbox, which publishes BARB consolidated data, 1.08 million viewers watched the qualifying session on Channel 4 from 17:00 to 19:30.

An additional 530,000 viewers watched on Sky Sports F1, across a shorter time slot from 17:25 to 19:30. A caveat here that Sky’s figure includes those that watched on devices, whereas Channel 4’s figure is for the TV set only.

Nevertheless, with a combined audience of 1.6 million viewers, the British Grand Prix marked F1’s highest UK audience on a Friday since at least 2003, if not earlier. Back then, ITV aired highlights of Friday qualifying in a late-night slot.

On Saturday, a combined audience of just over 2 million viewers watched Channel 4’s and Sky’s Sprint programming, including build-up and post-session analysis.

1.40 million watched the Sprint across all devices on Channel 4 from 15:45 to 17:40, with a further 610,000 viewers opting for Sky’s programming across a slightly longer time slot.

The figures are higher than what a normal three-part qualifying session would have achieved in its usual Saturday slot.

Initial analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting suggests that F1 may have recorded its highest Saturday audience for the British Grand Prix since 2013.

Race day saw an audience of around 3.6 million viewers watch Channel 4’s and Sky’s main programming, an average that includes the extended red flag period, but excludes the extended wraparound offering.

2.34 million viewers watched on Channel 4 from 14:26 to 17:07, with 1.21 million viewers watching on Sky Sports F1 from 14:53 to 17:35.

Year-on-year, Sky’s race audience increased by 15%, with Channel 4’s decreasing by around 8.5%, reflecting the positive trajectory Sky’s F1 audience figures continue to take.

Both broadcasters benefited from the Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collision, with 2 million viewers sticking around for the post-race programming until 18:30.

…what this means…

Although peak audiences are unavailable, we can use the average audience figures already in the public domain, along with programme lengths, to draw some conclusions.

Using the available data, it is likely that Friday’s qualifying session peaked with 2 million viewers, Saturday’s Sprint session with 3 million viewers, and Sunday’s race with 4.5 million viewers.

Having the weekend live on free-to-air television undoubtedly helps the audience figures, but even for Sky, the British qualifying session was their highest ever F1 audience for a Friday – including the plethora of evening practice sessions where they were the exclusive broadcaster.

In some ways, that is unsurprising, but it shows that fans tuned into the idea of having a meaningful session take place on a Friday evening.

Fans did not dismiss Friday qualifying, and instead felt that it was important part of the F1 weekend, and important enough to tune in to.

Whether the Sprint figures were higher than a typical Saturday because of the novelty of it remains unknown, and only something we will know when audience data for the Italian Grand Prix comes in next month.

But, arguably, the events of the Sprint contributed to what followed on Sunday from a sporting perspective.

Speaking to selected media, including The Race, on a conference call, F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali described the response to the Sprint as “really positive”.

“After the first sprint event at Silverstone, the response that we have from the drivers, from the teams, the media, has been really positive, and also for the promoter,” said Domenicali, as quoted by The Race.

“The outcome of the first event has been dramatically positive. It’s great because that brought attention, interest on TV, and also partners. We have already seen the financial interest be positive.”

The audience data for the weekend, which F1 is no doubt digesting, backs up Domenicali’s statement.

…as W Series beats Formula E

But, Formula 1 was not the only beneficiary of the revised schedule.

The W Series race normally takes place after F1’s qualifying session. For Britain, the race remained on the Saturday, but aired in between F1’s single practice session, and before the Sprint.

An impressive average of 533,000 viewers watched on Channel 4 from 13:05 to 14:17, a figure which excludes those who watched on other devices.

Now in its second season, the all-female championship, retained around 66% of the F1 practice audience. The F1 session, which began at 12:00 UK time, averaged around 800,000 viewers across Channel 4 and Sky.

A week after the Grand Prix, Formula E’s London outing aired live on Channel 4 across the weekend of July 24th and 25th with a double header event.

The electric series reached a high of 382,000 viewers from 13:51 to 15:12 for its second race of the weekend, again excluding the ‘other device’ watchers.

The audience figures demonstrate how W Series benefited from being on the same card as Formula 1, whereas Formula E’s events are largely standalone with no wrap-around support.

W Series also benefited from added exposure through Channel 4’s live F1 coverage, the only weekend of the year that the free-to-air broadcaster covers F1 live.

Moving forward, W Series will not have the luxury of an F1 lead-in on the same channel.

In addition, Formula E faced the opening weekend of the Olympics across the BBC, which took attention away from the E-Prix. In that context, the Formula E figure is good given the lack of support the series has received from free-to-air stations in recent years.

Most importantly, The Race notes that Formula E “surpassed the expectations of the C4 management team,” which bodes well for a future rights deal between the two parties.

Motorsport Broadcasting will publish a full analytical piece looking at the UK F1 audience picture at the half way stage of the 2021 season shortly.

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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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W Series to remain live on Channel 4 for 2021 season

The W Series will remain live to UK fans on Channel 4 for the upcoming 2021 season.

Series organisers officially confirmed the news on Saturday evening (May 22nd) in a vignette promoting the new season on their Twitter feed.

Their inaugural season in 2019 saw the championship supporting DTM, with Jamie Chadwick winning the series in a tense final race at Brands Hatch.

After the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans for 2020, this season the series will support Formula 1 at all eight rounds.

The tie up prompted suggestions that the series may air exclusively on Sky Sports F1 for UK fans, given their existing F1 commitments.

However, organisers have confirmed that W Series will remain free-to-air on Channel 4, with every qualifying session and race airing live via the broadcaster.

For fans overseas, details around F1’s over-the-top platform will be confirmed in due course.

Lee McKenzie, David Coulthard and Ted Kravitz remain part of their broadcast team for the 2021 season and, as originally announced before the pandemic hit, Alex Jacques will join them as lead commentator.

As is currently the case for Channel 4’s F1 offering, Billy Monger joins Coulthard and Jacques in the commentary box.

The W Series presentation team for the 2021 season. Copyright: W Series.

Anna Woolhouse, who is Sky’s lead boxing presenter and has previously presented the F1 Midweek Report for Sky, joins the team as presenter alongside McKenzie.

In addition, Amy Reynolds, who has been part of the MotoGP World Feed team for the past six years, joins as pit lane reporter, whilst W Series driver from 2019, Naomi Schiff completes the line-up.

In a separate announcement, production company Whisper have confirmed that they will continue to produce the W Series broadcast.

Catherine Bond Muir, W Series’ CEO, said “I am delighted that W Series’ founding broadcast partner, Channel 4, has reinforced its commitment to showcasing women’s sport and our talented racing drivers.”

“Live free-to-air motorsport coverage is rare, but our partnership with Channel 4 is a key part of W Series’ plan to create more visible role models to inspire girls and women to be a part of motorsport, whether that is on track, on screen or behind the scenes, and the expertise and insight provided by our brilliant commentary team will be instrumental to our efforts,” Bond Muir believes.

Louisa Compton, Channel 4’s Head of News, Current and Affairs and Sport, added “W Series aligns brilliantly with Channel 4 – it’s exciting, bold and breaking down barriers.”

“I’m sure viewers will relish the opportunity to watch this exciting season of top motorsport as it unfolds on Channel 4.”

Last updated on May 26th.

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Channel 4 grabs ‘And We Go Green’ rights

Channel 4 will show a new feature-length documentary surrounding the electric Formula E series, championship organisers have confirmed today.

Directed by Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘And We Go Green’ gives viewers a behind the scenes look at 2017-18 season.

The documentary first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, and will get its inaugural UK showing on Channel 4 on Tuesday 2nd June from 00:05 to 01:50. Following transmission, the film will be available on demand via All 4 for the next twelve months.

The film primarily follows five of Formula E’s leading racers: Sam Bird, Lucas di Grassi, Andre Lotterer, Nelson Piquet Jr, and eventual champion Jean-Eric Vergne.

Formula E’s founder and chairman Alejandro Agag, who also appears in the film, said: “The documentary encapsulates the true mission and purpose of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, to show how competition drives technological development and how the excitement of sport can have a meaningful social impact and alter perceptions of electric vehicles.

“This notion is how the title And We Go Green came about. Not only does it signal the start of our races, but it also indicates an urgent need to put the brakes on devastating and irreparable damage already caused by fossil fuels.”

“I’m proud to have worked with such great talent and a production team who share the same common values around sustainability and making a positive impact in the fight against climate change.”


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