News round-up: The latest from Austria; Sky extends F1 deal in Italy

In the first return to racing round-up, Netflix’s plans with documentary series Drive to Survive become clearer, as does Channel 4’s coverage plans for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All of the round-ups to date can be found here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1 – Austrian Grand Prix

  • Journalists are banned from the paddock for the duration of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, and are instead confined to the media centre.
    • This is not an exhaustive list, but journalists such as Jonathan Noble (Motorsport Network), Adam Cooper (Motorsport Network), Joe Saward, Ben Hunt (The Sun) and Chris Medland (RACER) are amongst those reporting from the on-site media centre.
    • A live stream of today’s press conference was available to journalists inside and outside the track via the FIA portal to access.
    • There is an excellent piece from Noble over on com about his first impressions upon arriving into the circuit – I will not regurgitate it here, other than to say it is well worth reading.
  • Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage is to air from Silverstone’s new attraction, The Silverstone Experience.
    • After this site revealed that the team will remain in the UK, lead commentator Ben Edwards has confirmed the location the team plan to broadcast from in a blog on the BMMC website.
    • Motorsport Broadcasting understands that most of the Whisper production crew will be working remotely, with a small crew based at Timeline Television’s production house in Ealing.
  • In addition, not all of Sky’s on-air personnel are out in Austria this weekend: Anthony Davidson and Karun Chandhok are back at Sky Studios in London, analysing the action on the Sky Pad.
  • Producers of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series are continuing to film footage ready for season three of the documentary series.
    • As in previous years, the Box to Box Films production team conducted some initial filming during testing, whilst more recently drivers, such as George Russell, have been filming themselves on their simulators during
    • Now, RaceFans.net confirms that Netflix will be on-site in Austria this weekend, filming with the McLaren and Red Bull outfits, albeit in a reduced capacity to previous years.
  • Fans watching Formula 1 on television will see some new on-screen graphics this season.
    • Powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) as part of their wider partnership, the Car Performance Scores graphic will analyse the performance of each car through low, medium and high-speed corners, as well as the straight, giving it a score out of ten for each data point, and a rank compared with the rest of the field.
    • Other graphics currently in development include the Ultimate Driver Speed Comparison, High-Speed/Low-Speed Corner Performance, Driver Skills Rating, Car/Team Development & Overall Season Performance, and Qualifying and Race Pace Predictions.
  • Also making their first appearance from the Austrian Grand Prix is the #F1FanCam, with trackside screens of fans beamed to fans worldwide throughout the course of the weekend.
  • Sky in the UK are running some special offers to mark the start of the new season. Similar to their original pre-season offer, fans can add Sky Sports F1 to their basic Sky package for £10.00 a month for 18 monthsbetween now and the end of September.
    • Whilst there is not an F1 Season Ticket offer for Now TV (presumably because no one knows how long the season will last), Now TV are offering access to all sports channels for £25.00 a month for the first three months.

Elsewhere…

  • Hot off the heels of their new rights deal in Germany, Sky have extended their agreement in Italy to broadcast Formula 1, the new deal running until the end of 2022.
    • As part of the announcement, Sky revealed that Carlo Vanzini and Marc Gené will be in a studio setting to begin 2020, with Mara Sangiorgio on site. In addition, the team plan to make extensive use of the Dallara simulator this year, with Matteo Bobbi giving the explanations.
  • Eurosport will remain home of the British Superbikes championship until the end of 2027. As part of the agreement, which begins next season, highlights of every round will air on Quest, with the free-to-air channel also airing several rounds live.
  • Adobe have written a blog on how they have collaborated with MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna during the pandemic, transforming MotoGP’s workflow in just 13 days, helping them to deliver video content to fans worldwide remotely and quicker than ever before.

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that I have yet to mention on this site, drop a line in the comments section below.


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BT to present MotoGP coverage from UK as championship outlines post-COVID-19 plan

BT Sport will present their MotoGP coverage from the UK when the championship returns to action in Jerez, Spain on Sunday 19th July, multiple sources have confirmed to Motorsport Broadcasting.

The broadcaster has implemented a decentralised remote production model during the COVID-19 pandemic, with special MotoGP programming looking at their best races airing live, on and off-air personnel dotted around Europe.

Having perfected that model, I understand that BT intend to continue using it, at least for the immediate future.

Readers who have watched BT Sport’s Premier League coverage so far will know that programming has aired live from their Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park base in London (see video below), instead of on-site at the relevant grounds as was the situation previously.

Financial implications are one reason behind BT Sport’s decision. Many broadcasters are looking to cut costs, as advertising revenue slumps.

Although both BT and Sky in the UK are pay TV broadcasters, BT is still a relatively immature player in the market, meaning that they are likely to be a bigger risk moving forward.

In addition, Motorsport Broadcasting understands that MotoGP’s main broadcasters, such as Canal+, Sky Italia and Servus will be joining Dorna out in Spain.

Plans circulated to all stakeholders by Dorna in a 30-page document earlier this month, a copy of which this site has seen, shows that MotoGP will continue to allow television crews to carry out key activities.

The championship is allowing broadcasters to interview riders on the grid, as well as in parc ferme after the race, and in pit lane, all at a social distance.

From a presentation perspective, MotoGP will continue to have its podium in the usual locations, but the podium itself will be wider in length to accommodate social distancing, with no dignitaries on hand to present the trophies.

No access for written media
In contrast to the above, Motorsport Broadcasting can reveal that MotoGP has prohibited written media from accessing the circuit.

Although the plans circulated by Dorna are at a championship-level, it does allow us to compare and contrast the FIM’s approach with their four-wheel counterpart, the FIA from a broadcasting perspective.

Dorna says that they will allow around 40 people from media organisations on-site for each round, with an additional 250 people from their own organisation, the latter number covering everyone involved with the Dorna production (including the logistical side of the event).

However, Dorna have opted to exclude all written journalists from attending the event, with only a small number of television broadcasters allowed access.

The document circulated says that “no other media will be permitted on-site (no journalists, no radio reporters, no websites).”

As thus, Dorna is developing systems to allow media to interview personalities remotely from home during the race weekend, including one-on-one interview slots and press conferences.

This contrasts with F1’s approach to the new season: F1 are allowing a small number of journalists covering a wide audience to attend their races.

I understand that attempts to get Dorna to move on this subject have failed, with written media unlikely to return to the MotoGP paddock until at least the Austrian Grand Prix on the weekend of Friday 14th August to Sunday 16th August.


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Sky to air Formula 1 exclusively in Germany in four-year deal

Sky are to air Formula 1 exclusively in Germany for the next four years after agreeing a new deal to cover the sport.

As part of a wider initiative from the broadcaster to “shakeup TV in Germany and take Sky into a new era,” Sky will air every race exclusively live from 2021 to 2024, creating a new channel dedicated to Formula 1 in the process.

In addition, four races will be simulcast free-to-air, with 30-minute highlight shows of every race airing on free-to-air channel Sky Sport News.

F1 says in their press release that this new agreement will introduce “millions of people across Germany to the excitement and thrill of Formula 1.”

Like in the UK, Sky will air every session live, including Formula Two, Formula Three and the Porsche Supercup, equating to around 800 hours of action per season.

It is a big day for the Sky’s Germany arm: the pay TV broadcaster has also announced an extension to their Bundesliga rights deal, taking that partnership to the end of 2025.

Sky replaces free-to-air broadcaster RTL as the main F1 broadcaster in Germany. As reported yesterday, RTL’s press release indicated that another party had bid double the amount RTL were prepared to bid for.

In addition, RaceFans are reporting that Sky’s new contract is in the region of $60 million per year, meaning that the total value of Sky’s contract is around $240 million.

This suggests that RTL are currently paying around $30 million to broadcast F1 per season, which is slightly less than the amount the BBC and ITV were paying from a UK perspective in the mid to late 2000s.

As part of the new deal, access to the premium-tier of F1’s over-the-top platform, F1 TV Pro, will be restricted to Sky Sport subscribers in Germany.

F1 TV Pro will no longer be available to new subscribers who do not subscribe to Sky Sport, however, existing subscribers are unaffected by this change.

What the stakeholders say
F1’s Director of Media Rights, Ian Holmes, said “Formula 1 and Sky have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, working well together to enhance the broadcast offering by providing comprehensive coverage of the sport for our passionate fan base.”

“I am delighted that our work together will continue to build and strengthen the impressive quality of Sky’s programming, as well as their digital reach.”

Devesh Raj, CEO of Sky Germany, added “This will be the best motorsports experience ever.”

“We know motorsport fans love the way we produce F1 and our commentators have fans all of their own, but now with the first channel dedicated to F1 content on German TV ever we’ll give fans more F1 content than has ever been seen on German TV before.”

“With our unique digital content offering and four races free for everyone every year, we will help introduce millions more people to the joy of F1 and help grow the sports across the motorsport country Germany.”

“This exciting new deal shows that Sky is the number one for sports fans in Germany.”

  UK Germany Italy (source)
Contract Length 2019 to 2024 2019 and 2020 2021 to 2024 2018 to 2020
Pay TV All races All races All races All races
Free to Air – Live 1 race All races 4 races 4 races
Free to Air – Highlights Extended highlights n/a 30-minutes Delayed
F1 TV Pro? No Yes Yes [Sky Sports subscribers only] No

The path to exclusivity
Unlike their UK counterparts, the path to exclusivity has not been straightforward for Sky Deutschland.

The pay TV broadcaster walked away from the sport in early 2018, after RTL secured a three-year deal to cover Formula 1, taking their rights agreement through until the end of 2020.

Surprisingly, Sky returned to the fold just four weeks before the 2019 season, getting their foot back in the door.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and now Sky will be airing the sport in Germany, exclusively, for the next four seasons, with RTL eliminated from the picture.

As suggested yesterday on this site, fans should come to expect more pay TV deals initially in the post-COVID-19 era. However, this move does mean that the era of large television audiences in Germany for F1 will come to an end following the 2020 season.

Interestingly, the latest development brings the UK and Germany contracts in-line with one another from a length perspective.

The detail differs underneath the surface as the table above shows: fans in Germany may be able to watch more races live on free-to-air television, but the style of the free-to-air highlights programming between the two markets differs radically.

The next upcoming battleground to keep our eyes on is Italy, where Sky will be looking to extend their current agreement with F1.

Additional context provided by Edmund Wareham.


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German free-to-air broadcaster RTL to exit F1 contract at end of 2020

RTL will cease broadcasting Formula 1 live at the end of the season, the German broadcaster has announced.

The broadcaster first showed live races between 1984 and 1988 and has done so continuously from 1991. In 2017 it renewed its deal with F1 to continue broadcasting until 2020.

Financial reasons lie behind the decision. In a statement, RTL’s Head of Sport, Manfred Loppe, announced on Sunday “When you have competitors in the game who are prepared to offer double as much as you can then you are forced into a position of having to withdraw.”

Loppe stressed that RTL “still obviously wants to try in the future to present attractive sporting events to our viewers. But it is clear that economic limits will play a role, as well as the changing competitive environment.”

“We have broadcast Formula 1 for over three decades with great love and passion, as well as with a plucky readiness for innovation and investment,” Loppe continued. “RTL will forever be associated with the most widely viewed, most emotional, unforgotten moments in the top motor racing series.”

In Germany viewers have had two choices for watching F1: either to pay a subscription to watch uninterrupted coverage on Sky or to watch free-to-air coverage on RTL with advert breaks.

Figures from Motorsport.com show that a peak of 5.26 million viewers tuned into RTL’s coverage of the Italian Grand Prix last year (a market share of 32.3%), whilst a further 450,000 viewers watched on Sky (2.8%). Over the course of the whole of last season RTL was able to secure average viewing figures of just over 4 million viewers.

The managing director of RTL, Jörg Graf, added “Competition for TV rights has changed and the market has in part overheated. As such it has extended beyond our ambitious, but at the same time economically justifiable, limits.”

In January 2020 the company announced it was expanding its football coverage by signing an agreement with UEFA to broadcast the Europa League and the newly created UEFA Europa Conference League from 2021.

Graf confirms that this is where focus for the broadcaster will now lie. “We will now with our power, passion and joy concentrate on football as our number one sport,” he said.

It remains unclear whether Germans will have access to free-to-air coverage going into the 2021 season or whether F1 will consider a model like the UK currently has, with all races airing live on pay TV, and the home race live on a free-to-air channel.

As Motorsport Broadcasting speculated in March, following an interview with RTL’s anchor Florian König, it remained unclear, especially in the current climate, whether RTL would extend its deal.

Today’s decision therefore does not come as a total surprise and is indicative of the changing F1 broadcasting landscape. König, long-standing pit-lane reporter Kai Ebel and the lead commentator Heiko Wasser have yet to react to the news as they now enter their final season of broadcasting live races for the Cologne company.

Analysis – RTL’s decision gives us an insight into the road ahead
Any broadcaster opting not to renew a contract after 30 years is always a big story, and RTL’s decision to not renew their F1 contract falls into that category.

It is, however, not a major surprise.

Interest in Formula 1 in Germany has gradually declined since Michael Schumacher’s heyday in the mid-2000s, although viewing figures remained strong during Sebastian Vettel’s four championship victories.

Now, with Vettel heading out of Ferrari at the end of 2020, there is a distinct possibility that there will be no German drivers on the F1 grid in 2021.

Combine this with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents the perfect storm. RTL, like all free-to-air broadcasters worldwide, will be looking to save money as advertising revenues slump.

The situation is like the one UK broadcaster ITV found themselves in back in 2008. ITV needed to save money following the worldwide financial crisis at that time, and prioritised football over F1, executing a get out clause in the latter’s contract.

RTL’s contract to broadcast F1 is expiring anyway at the end of this year, but the overall business direction from both is identical.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that, in my view, we are likely to see more pay TV deals moving forward. The motor sport industry right now needs money pumping into it, more than ever before, and the crisis has exasperated problems the industry had prior to the pandemic.

Free-to-air and five million viewers will only get you so far. Ask MotoGP for another UK equivalent.

In 2013, the series was struggling with Moto2 and Moto3. Faced with a choice, they brought pay TV broadcaster BT Sport into the fold, who outbid the BBC significantly in acquiring the UK television rights.

MotoGP went with BT Sport. Yes, the fans at the time may not have liked the decision (including me), but that move ensured many Moto2 and Moto3 teams could continue racing to ensure the wider eco system did not collapse.

The optics may not be as severe here, but fans should be prepared for a further move away from free-to-air, not towards as motor sport fights against COVID-19.

There is not one specific reason RTL has opted not to extend its F1 deal. But one thing is for sure: 2020 will mark the end of an era for F1 broadcasting in Germany.

Reporting by Edmund Wareham; analysis by David Nelson.


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Behind the scenes with RTL F1 reporter Kai Ebel

In a guest article for Motorsport Broadcasting, Edmund Wareham reports in from overseas again, giving insight on a recent podcast featuring RTL’s F1 reporter Kai Ebel. For those that missed Edmund’s first piece on RTL’s Florian König, head over here

There are few F1 pitlane reporters who have rap songs written about them. But in 2010 the German rapper Eko Fresh produced Kai Ebel Style, in honour of the German TV legend that is Kai Ebel, renowned for his striking fashion sense and his exuberant interviewing style.

Following on from their interview with König, the German podcast Starting Grid caught up with Ebel, who would have been reporting on his 28th F1 season this year but instead is biding his time at home.

“I should have been coming back from Vietnam at this point, but instead I’ve just come in from my garden.” In the wide-ranging interview with Kevin Scheuren, Ebel discusses his long career in the pitlane, how he reacts to criticism and how he makes no apology for regarding F1 as entertainment.

Ebel’s entry into F1
As with König, Ebel studied sport’s journalism at the German Sport University in Cologne and in 1988 was able to secure a four-week internship at RTL during UEFA Euro 1988 which West Germany hosted.

In 1992 RTL lost coverage of the Bundesliga football rights and Ebel considered whether it was better to leave what he feared at the time could be a “sinking ship”, however their decision to ask him to join the channel’s F1 coverage swayed him otherwise.

Ebel admits that he was not a fan before (he uses the same phrase as König: “I didn’t have petrol in my blood”) and as with his on-screen colleague saw this as an advantage. “You don’t see the bigger picture as a fan. I could learn from a distance and then gradually get closer,” Ebel told the podcast.

When Ebel first joined RTL, he believes F1 teams underappreciated the value of the press and media. The media conducted post-race interviews in a mixed zone (like football), where broadcasters and journalists vied to get a word with a driver. Together with a group of other broadcasters, Ebel was a driving force behind the introduction of the more professionalised media pen.

1994
He also had the idea of introducing live interviews during the race from the pitlane, arguing that it could break the monotony of more boring races. RTL first introduced this at a weekend which still leaves a mark on Ebel. Over the course of his long career, Ebel has been present at some of the most important junctures of F1’s history, and none more so than Imola 1994.

Ebel recalls interviewing a “super worried” Ayrton Senna on Saturday, after Rubens Barrichello’s crash on Friday and Roland Ratzenberger’s fatal accident on Saturday.

On the Sunday, broadcasting live, “I just simply tried to function.” He tried to do as many interviews as possible. In his final task of the day, he had to appear on RTL’s evening news bulletin, and after the broadcast it sunk in what had happened. “I broke down and just cried. I was unbelievably battered,” Ebel said.

Over the course of 1994, as Schumacher chalked up victory after victory, viewing figures continued to rise, culminating in the “thriller” that was Adelaide 1994. Ebel believes over the course of the season Schumacher was a better driver than Damon Hill, but that he “committed a foul” to win the title that year.

Whilst Ebel remains good friends with Heinz-Harald Frentzen, his relationship with Schumacher was more functionable, calling it “respectful and reliable.” Ebel admired above all Schumacher’s hard work.

He recalls the 2000 Japanese Grand Prix, when Schumacher wrapped up his first title for Ferrari, and the newly crowned champion coming to the interview with a Bacardi and Coke. Wondering why Schumacher had yet to finish his drink, he explained “I have to go to my debrief.”

Dealing with criticism
Under YouTube videos featuring Ebel you will read a comment saying “Kai Ebel, you can’t be more stupid” with the reply underneath “there’s no one better.” Ebel is in many respects a polarising figure and openly admits that he is not your usual pit lane reporter. Over the course of his career he has faced a lot of criticism for the questions he asks and his unique style.

Boxing is Ebel’s favourite sport and he draws on the sport to explain how “factual criticism above the belt is absolutely OK but anything below, that’s not on.” But he accepts he has made mistakes.

In 1997 in Jerez, for example, he recognises in retrospect that he treated Schumacher too lightly after he had tried to ram Villeneuve off the track. Over time and with more experience he has learned to see criticism at more of a distance.

Despite opinions that he is not serious enough, Ebel makes no apologies for the fact that he regards F1 as a show. He remembers Bernie Ecclestone approaching him at the Nürburgring asking him to conduct podium interviews for the first time and demanding “entertainment. I do not want boring questions.”

Ebel loves meeting the celebrities who come to the grid, whether securing an exclusive interview with Usain Bolt thanks to a tip off from the head of Puma or boldly walking up to Al Pacino deep in conversation with Bernie.

Fashion and music
Ebel has also come under the spotlight for his fashion choices. Clothes have always been important to him so it was not his choice to have to wear race overalls in the pitlane following Jos Verstappen’s fire in Hockenheim 1994.

“I was just interviewing Mika Häkkinen and in the middle of the interview his eyes just dilate in this horrified way and he walks away,” Ebel recalls. “You think: the question can’t have been that bad! What was up? Behind me Jos Verstappen’s Benetton had just burst into flames.”

The gallery on Ebel’s website gives just a small insight into some of the very colourful shirts, shoes and ties that Ebel has worn over the years. Eddie Jordan pales into insignificance.

Music has been another important part of Ebel’s life and another way in which his profile has been beyond the pitlane. In 2004, Ebel made a guest appearance in the music video of the song Runaway by the band Groove Coverage. Four years later he made his debut as a singer, releasing Sie schrei’n Ebel, a song which originated as a bit of fun but which his bosses wanted to promote.

Whilst his musical career never had the same longevity as his time in the pitlane, the sense of fun which Ebel brings to his role is palpable. Whatever one’s views, there is no denying that he brings colour, energy, and humour to a sport which from the outside could be seen as sanitised.

Behind that is his dedication to the job and desire to convey some of the excitement of the F1 paddock back home to viewers. He has been at the forefront of a pivotal period in the sport’s history. “I find the whole job a privilege,” he says.

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