The Summer holidays may be in full force for most, but for the World Endurance Championship, this weekend marks the 89th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
For WEC, the weekend is round six of the 2021 season, with the Hypercar category now in the limelight.
Replacing the LMP1 category, the new category sees five cars competing for overall victory, with two Toyota’s, one Alpine, and two Glickenhaus entries in the running.
On the broadcasting side, over 300 people are involved in the production, covering both behind the scenes and on-air personnel. 104 cameras will cover the action across the week, with 44 of those cameras on-board 14 different cars.
The action in the UK airs across Discovery’s portfolio of channels, the brand having recently extended their rights agreement to cover Le Mans for an additional five years.
Live coverage of full race airs on Eurosport, with Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest airing the start and finish live.
Tom Gaymor continues to lead Discovery’s commentary team for UK viewers, alongside Mark Cole and Jake Sanson. For Sanson, it is the first time that he has commentated on Le Mans.
David Brabham, Charlie Robertson, and Chris Parson complete the UK team, whilst Tom Kristensen will continue to provide his expertise across Discovery’s output.
Ever wondered what commentators read before a season of motor racing starts? Take a look at the WEC’s graphics guide.
Alternatively, fans can watch the action via the WEC app. This year, voices including renowned commentator David Addison and five-time Le Mans winner Oliver Gavin join the World Feed team.
Gavin makes his Le Mans commentary debut, having retired from competitive action last October.
Martin Haven, Graham Goodwin and Allan McNish continue to lead the offering, alongside Addison, Gavin and Darren Turner and Gavin. In pit lane, Louise Beckett and Duncan Vincent will provide additional analysis.
Radio Le Mans will be doing their thing throughout the week, with John Hindhaugh leading the team.
The race starts at 16:00 local time (15:00 UK time) on Saturday, an hour later than in previous years and an hour and a half later than last year. As was the case last year, the World Feed will not be covering the first practice session, with live coverage kicking in from Wednesday evening onwards.
Wednesday 18th August 17:45 to 19:10 – Qualifying Practice (Eurosport 2) 20:50 to 23:10 – Practice 2 (Eurosport 2)
Thursday 19th August 13:00 to 16:00 – Practice 3 (Eurosport 2) 19:50 to 20:45 – Hyperpole (Eurosport 2) 20:45 to 23:10 – Practice 4 (Eurosport 2)
Saturday 21st August 10:15 to 11:00 – Warm-Up (Eurosport 1) 11:00 to 12:15 – Road to Le Mans (Eurosport 1) 14:15 (Saturday) to 15:30 (Sunday) – Race (Eurosport 1) => live coverage of the start from 14:15 to 17:00 on Quest on Saturday => live coverage of the finish from 13:00 to 15:30 on Quest on Sunday
Full scheduling details for the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans. Scheduling details correct as of Tuesday 17th August and are subject to change.
If details change, I will update this article.
Update on August 21st at 14:50 – Tom Gaymor is no longer commentating for Eurosport today after being admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis.
The first race airs live on Discovery’s free-to-air station Quest, with BBC Two picking up coverage of the season finale on Sunday.
In addition, the BBC’s and Eurosport’s digital platforms, as well as Eurosport 2, will be covering the action from both races.
It is unclear if the BBC are providing bespoke wrap-around content from Salford, as they have done previously when races aired on BBC Two, or whether Formula E themselves are providing localised UK coverage, like they did in London for Channel 4.
Vernon Kay presents the English-language feed, alongside Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary, the latter three having been part of Formula E’s content offering since the very first race in Beijing 2014.
Series organisers say that “over 40 broadcast and digital partners” will cover the season finale, with a “strengthened” free-to-air offering in place.
Outside of the UK, broadcasters including Sat.1 (Germany), L’Equipe (France), Channel 20 and Italia Uno (Italy), CBS Network (USA) and SABC Sport (South Africa) will be airing the E-Prix.
Saturday’s race takes place earlier than usual for a double-header, this to give organisers time to reverse the circuit layout ready for the season finale on Sunday.
Friday 13th August 15:55 to 16:55 – Practice 1 (YouTube)
Saturday 14th August 06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 2 (YouTube) 08:45 to 10:15 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2) 12:30 to 14:30 – Race 1 (BBC Red Button / Quest / Eurosport 2) => Quest coverage runs from 13:00 to 14:30
Sunday 15th August 06:55 to 07:40 – Practice 1 (YouTube) 08:25 to 09:10 – Practice 2 (YouTube) 10:15 to 11:45 – Qualifying (YouTube / BBC Red Button / Eurosport 2) 14:00 to 16:00 – Race 2 (BBC Two / Eurosport 2)
Full scheduling details for the 2021 Berlin E-Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Saturday 7th August and are subject to change.
As always, if plans change, the article above will reflect the updated scheduling details.
The key talking point after last weekend’s British Grand Prix was, of course, that incident between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen which has generated column inches across the board.
On the broadcasting side, it was a newsworthy weekend, for multiple reasons.
Alongside the previously announced offline HDR test, there were other things that caught the eye over the Silverstone weekend. Here are just a few…
New format, new graphics…
A new experiment for Formula 1 brought with it new graphics for the Sprint session.
The changes were visible to fans immediately after the F1 opening titles, with the usual fly-over coming in the form of enhanced augmented reality graphics.
The pre-race graphics detailed the same information as usual, such as the track layout and starting grid, but in a different format to the Grand Prix graphics.
In my view, the changes helped to differentiate the Sprint to the main event on Sunday.
I know sometimes F1, and other forms of motor sport, sometimes have a habit of implementing ‘change for changes’ sake, but I thought that this was a cool change.
As a wrestling fan, it reminded me of WWE’s broadcasts, the wrestling juggernaut having used augmented reality to their advantage throughout the pandemic with no fans in attendance.
The graphics which followed during the race had mixed execution, however.
A graphic depicting the live speed of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at The Loop and Aintree fell into this category.
If this was a top speed graphic, it might make sense, displaying the live speed at one of the slowest parts of the circuit added little to the broadcast.
In contrast, F1 used augmented reality to highlight Alpine’s Fernando Alonso when riding on-board with McLaren driver Lando Norris, a graphic which worked well.
Others suggested that the Alonso graphic resembled a video game, but that for me is not a valid criticism.
Not every livery stands out as easily as a McLaren (orange) or Ferrari (red), especially when viewing from behind.
If F1’s implementation helps new viewers engage in our sport, then this is a change for the better.
Besides F1 are not the first (see: MotoGP, NASCAR, amongst others), and certainly not the last, to implement a graphic of the nature.
…as audiences in the Netherlands remain strong
In the Netherlands, ratings bureau SKO reported that Friday’s evening qualifying session averaged 552,000 viewers (15.5% audience share) on Ziggo Sport.
The figure in-line with Saturday’s afternoon qualifying session from Austria, which brought 585,000 viewers (31.7% audience share).
The higher share for Austria is reflective of the fact that the Silverstone qualifying session aired in an evening time slot, so whilst more viewers could have watched Friday qualifying in the Netherlands, they opted not to.
Saturday’s Sprint averaged 717,000 viewers (28.9% audience share), a significant volume increase on Austria qualifying, with a slight share drop.
The race on Sunday, from the start of the red flag period, averaged 1.31 million viewers across Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select, equating to a 62.9% audience share.
In the US, 529,000 viewers watched the new Sprint format on ESPN, while the race averaged an excellent 1.03 million viewers, continuing F1’s positive trajectory in the States.
The picture was less positive in Spain, where the Sprint generated no additional interest.
According to Formula TV, 114,000 viewers (1.3% audience share) watched the Sprint programme on DAZN, compared with the 116,000 viewers who watched the Austria qualifying session.
Sustainability on the agenda…
Wherever you looked across the F1 weekend, sustainability was one of the main topics featured across F1’s UK broadcasts.
Sky’s #GoZero campaign was in the spotlight during the coverage, with all their presentation team using green ‘Sky Zero’ microphone coverings and recycled clothing.
The broadcaster hopes to become net zero carbon by 2030, and is working in collaboration with F1 to help bring down carbon emissions across the sport. F1 themselves announced that the Silverstone weekend was their first ever Carbon Neutral broadcast.
Writing on Sky’s F1 website, senior producer Jamie Coley explained how he plays his part in Sky’s Sustainability Content Group.
“The group brings producers and journalists together from across Sky Sports to find ways of achieving tangible results and awareness around the environmental problems our world faces through our sports coverage,” he says.
“Over the last year, this group has achieved some significant milestones, including making all our host broadcast sports productions albert certified sustainable productions, and joining the UNFCCC’s Sport for Climate Action Framework.”
“It has also led to Sky Sports marking a ‘Summer of Sustainability’ at some of the biggest events on the sporting calendar this week, including the British Grand Prix.”
“As a producer for Sky Sports F1, my part in this is helping to tell the great stories of how Sky and F1 are going green.”
“The best person to showcase the great work F1 has done and continues to do to improve its environmental impact, which for a petrol sport is no way easy feat, is Nico Rosberg who I filmed a special feature with that airs during this weekend’s coverage at Silverstone.”
Over on Channel 4, a feature involving Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel aired. Vettel, along with Lee McKenzie, visited a local school to help engage children on how to live sustainability in the future.
…as Channel 4 teams up with Hollywood stars
Channel 4 splashed out on their live offering from Silverstone, with Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Ryan Reynolds featuring through their broadcasts.
Reynolds introduced viewers back to Channel 4’s programming throughout the weekend through short VTs.
Meanwhile, Cruise featured in the broadcaster’s excellent opener to their race day coverage alongside Steve Jones, David Coulthard and Mark Webber.
In the build-up to the Grand Prix, the BBC’s Top Gear team were also in action, preparing for the next series, which will air in the Autumn.
The feature sees Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris taking on Paddy McGuiness, Freddie Flintoff, and Chris Harris in a head-to-head challenge.
Elsewhere, a week of contract signings
Outside of the F1 world, it has been a big week for a few rights holders.
Stateside, the IndyCar Series and NBC have extended their partnership in a multi-year agreement. Normally, a rights renewal is not surprising news, however in this instance it is, as earlier suggestions linked IndyCar to CBS.
NBC’s main station will air 13 races next season, with the remaining races airing on USA Network and NBC’s over-the-top platform Peacock.
No races will air on NBC Sports Network after this season, following NBC’s decision to close the channel at the end of 2021.
In the UK, BT Sport will remain home to the World Rally Championship until the end of 2024, after the two parties agreed a new three-year deal.
On the personnel front, Will Buxton has joined Motorsport Network’s portfolio of talent, the network has this week confirmed.
While Buxton will continue his F1 commitments, his YouTube show (This Week with Will), will move across exclusively to Motorsport.tv’s over-the-top platform on a free-to-view basis.
Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting on the eve of the New York E-Prix weekend, Formula E’s chief media officer Aarti Dabas said that the series was exploring making it ‘simpler’ to watch Formula E moving forward.
“When you drive a message, with the clutter that’s around, you want a simple message, watch it on this channel, live,” Dabas believes. “You don’t want five different channels over there and five calls to action.”
“It’s a good question because we’re definitely looking at a more consistent channel strategy in the UK and other markets. 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.”
Dabas, who joined Formula E in June 2020, believes that channel consistency, along with localised content, are both key if Formula E is going to become a tier 1 sport in key territories.
“For us we are aiming to be a tier 1 sport, and channel consistency is going to drive the numbers,” Dabas says. “We are looking to see how we can have consistent channels whether it’s with BBC, or with any other channel that we go with.”
Sat.1 deal in Germany an early success story for Dabas
Citing her previous role, Dabas notes that cricket saw a 50% jump in audiences in India following the creation of a localised feed, instead of the Indian coverage taking the English language feed.
Dabas’s team are trying to replicate that approach in Formula E, with their deal with German station Sat.1 an early success story.
Sat.1 airs a one-hour bespoke pre-show, with a dedicated on-site crew producing coverage for German viewers, featuring the likes of former racer Daniel Abt on commentary.
“It took a while to do and draft the deal [with Sat.1], because both from their end and ours, we wanted to work on something that helped them grow their audiences. Eventually they want younger people to watch their channel, and Formula E is the right fit.”
“They’re [Sat.1] actually owning the product with language, relevant talent, so it doesn’t look like they just take the World Feed.”
“I think ultimately that is the model we want to replicate in most key markets because that is what’s going to build audiences for us.”
“The second New York race is on CBS [in the US], a big free-to-air channel. There’s marketing support on the This Morning show on CBS which is a huge crossover from sport into entertainment.”
“We have to look at growing holistically rather than actually ‘here’s a sport, here’s a feed’, put it on and people will watch, those days are gone I think.”
Formula E is taking a long-term approach on the rights front, aiming to build their audience first, with the hope that revenues will follow later.
“It’s a hedge bet, placing 3 million for three years in a territory for rights. But in those three years, if that sport is not performing and building audiences, you’ve actually taken the sport backwards,” Dabas tells me over a Teams call from New York.
“I think, rather than focus on revenue first, you focus on audience first, and then the revenue follows. Those are the sports that will see growth, rather than sports that are looking at short term revenue versus long term growth.”
Formula E re-assessing social media content strategy
The championship is also re-assessing their social media content strategy to help them grow audiences further.
“When I joined, I could see that the Formula E content was all over,” Dabas recalls.
“It was everywhere, the teams were putting it out, partners, broadcasters, YouTube, but ultimately did that actually grow the audience? I think for us it’s about working with partners and adding value, otherwise we’re simply just putting the content on YouTube.”
“Avid fans will probably love it because they can see it for free, but we have to go beyond those fans and I think hopefully in two or three years we can reach a position where we reach the fans who don’t yet know us.”
“And then for our avid fans we have something else to give to our digital products. Avid fans should be actually looked after and rewarded for being avid fans, and right now all we’re doing is putting it out on YouTube.”
Dabas believes the content across Formula E’s platforms, whether it is the championship-led channels or the team channels needs to have a narrative.
“There has to be a narrative and we should cross promote each other, rather than all of us trying to be on top of each other, diverting attention and fragmenting audiences.”
“So, I think when I talk about the consolidation audience approach, I think there is also about complementary content rather than competing content that we need to look at.”
Formula E’s UK broadcast plans for the London E-Prix weekend, which takes place on July 24th and 25th, will be announced shortly.
It is a perennial question that comes around every so often in Formula 1 circles, both within the paddock and within the fanbase.
‘When will F1 finally break America?’ F1 has tried multiple times in the past to cut through to the wider American population, but with limited success.
Now, the question is changing. ‘Is F1 finally breaking America?’ With TV audiences on the slide, the job for F1 is increasingly difficult, but we look at how well F1 is succeeding…
A history lesson…
Over the past 30 years, multiple different venues in America have hosted F1 races, whilst many cities, such as New Jersey, have tried, and failed, to enter the arena.
After stints in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Watkins Glen, amongst others, Formula 1 returned to America in 2000 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
F1’s stint at Indy lasted eight years, the circuit playing host to the infamous race in 2005 which saw only 6 cars start, a race which arguably led to F1’s Indy spell ending.
Austin has hosted the US Grand Prix since 2012, minus 2020 due to the pandemic, and next year sees the arrival of Miami to the Grand Prix calendar.
Despite F1’s flirtation with the US, only three drivers have competed in F1 since 1990 with limited success: Michael Andretti in 1993, Scott Speed in 2006 and 2007, and Alex Rossi in 2015. And, well, the less said about the attempted US F1 team, the better…
On the broadcasting front, the championship has moved around different broadcasters in recent years, moving from Speed to NBC, and now ESPN.
Will Buxton, Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and David Hobbs led the broadcasting team on NBC, but the move from NBC to ESPN for 2018 saw the line-up disbanded, ESPN instead opting to simulcast Sky’s UK coverage.
Although fans reacted negatively to the removal of the NBC line-up, the move to ESPN did lead to two benefits, but not without their hurdles.
Fans in the US were able to access F1’s over-the-top service from launch whilst ESPN, from race two onwards, aired commercial free coverage of F1. The commercial free move came only after the network faced a barrage of criticism following the opening round in Australia.
Around the same period at the start of 2017, US media giant Liberty Media acquired the sport from Bernie Ecclestone and private equity fund CVC.
Under Liberty, F1 has made tremendous strides on social media to reach new audiences, including commissioning Netflix to produce a documentary series. Entitled Drive to Survive, the series has been a hit with fans.
Drive to Survive’s popularity has led to some claiming that F1 is reaching new audiences in the US. But, is this really the case, and does the publicly available data back up the claim?
…what the data shows…
Motorsport Broadcasting has analysed four years’ worth of television audience data, available publicly via Showbuzz Daily to get an idea of the year-to-year trends.
The industry website publishes audience data for key sporting events each weekend, both total people and those aged within the 18 to 49 demographic, pertinent given F1’s desire to attract younger audiences.
In 2017, the last year of F1’s contract with NBC, four races aired on NBC’s main broadcast outlet, with the other races airing on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) or NBC’s business news channel CNBC.
An average of 645,000 viewers watched 16 of the 20 races in 2017. The figure is slightly lower than suggested, as it excludes Australia, China, Malaysia, and Japan, which aired in the early hours for US fans.
In addition, the average drops further when removing the four races that aired on NBC. Excluding those four races drags the figure down to 483,000 viewers, giving us a better baseline to work with.
Three of the four races that aired on NBC in 2017 averaged over 1 million viewers, hence the discrepancy between the two averages. The four NBC races did little to boost F1’s regular NBCSN and CNBC programming over the course of the 2017 season.
The averages include NBC’s wrap-around content, consisting of around 30 minutes of build-up and some post-race reaction, as well as commercial breaks during the races.
Fast forward to 2020, and none of the 17 races aired on broadcast television in the US, owing to the pandemic affected schedule. Instead, every race aired live via ESPN or ESPN2.
An average of 603,000 viewers watched the 2020 action, this figure for the race segment only, from F1’s 5-minute introduction through to the initial post-race analysis.
Viewing figures for the 30-minute segment immediately before the race are unavailable, but including that segment is likely to push the average closer to 550,000 viewers, which is still an increase on the NBCSN/CNBC only figure from 2017.
F1’s growth in the States pre-dates 2017, starting as early as 2013, as reported by Motorsport Broadcasting at the time. Early data from 2021 suggests that the upward trajectory is likely to continue.
ESPN says that an average of 906,000 viewers watched the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the 6th largest cable audience on record and the biggest F1 audience since the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix, which aired on broadcast network ABC.
18 to 49 audience
From a demographic stand-point, an average of 196,000 viewers aged between 18 and 49 watched each F1 race in 2017, but this figure drops to 142,000 viewers when removing the four races that aired on NBC.
In 2020, an average of 218,000 viewers watched the action, this metric likely dropping to around 190,000 viewers when accounting for 30-minutes of build-up to bring it equal with NBC’s 2017 offering.
Since 2017, F1 has attracted a younger audience in the US. Around 30% of F1’s audience in 2017 were within the coveted 18 to 49 demographic. The skew has since increased over time to around 36%, although analysis shows that the 2020 skew was slightly lower than 2019.
Nevertheless, 2021 has started brightly in this area: 46% of the Emilia Romagna audience were aged between 18 and 49, equating to 416,000 viewers, a massive number for the sport in the US.
From a wider motor racing perspective, NASCAR remains comfortably on top of both F1 and IndyCar, but F1 skews considerably younger than both commodities, making it a more attractive proposition to advertisers.
During the same weekend as Emilia Romagna, a NASCAR race averaged 3.31 million viewers on Fox, but only 650,000 of those were within the crucial 18 to 49 demo, a skew of just 20%.
In contrast, IndyCar brought in 6,000 more viewers than F1, but 159,000 fewer viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic.
…still small pickings in the grand scheme of things
In the wider context, an average audience of just under 1 million viewers for F1 in a country with over 320 million people feels like very slim pickings.
However, Formula 1 is fighting an uphill battle in the US from the outset, with unfriendly time slots throughout the season, especially compared to IndyCar and NASCAR.
Most races start at 06:00 PST / 09:00 ET, meaning that F1 is relying on fans either watching live during their breakfast or catch-up later to engage fully in the sport.
The alternative for F1 would be to move European races to later in the afternoon, and ensure that the likes of Australia, Japan and China start early in the morning.
Both moves would likely result in higher audiences in the Americas and Europe, but lower audiences in Asia and Oceania, making it impossible for F1 to please everyone in this scenario.
In addition, television audiences in America are rapidly declining, and F1’s increases (slim or otherwise) on the traditional platforms should be considered even better in that context.
While TV audiences initially rose as COVID hit in March 2020, figures soon went back into reverse and, as Hollywood Reporter put it, the gains “couldn’t reverse larger, systemic declines on ad-supported networks.”
For F1, and many other sports, traditional TV is only part of the picture, with fans able to easily access F1’s over-the-top platform and watch the live action, cutting the cord.
Or, alternatively, fans can watch bite sized highlights on F1’s YouTube channel, something that has only been available during the past few years.
Only F1 knows the true scale of how many fans in America are accessing this content, as F1 does not release these figures publicly.
But, given that F1 has seen slight increases via the traditional, yet declining, linear platforms, it therefore is an accurate statement to say that F1’s popularity in the US has increased, and more so with younger audiences.
With two more series of Drive to Survive on the horizon in the pipeline1, and a new race in Miami, things will only improve further for F1 stateside, as F1 begins to take off in the US.
Can F1 break through the glass ceiling and cut into the mainstream conversation in America? Only time will tell…