In the latest Motorsport Broadcasting round-up, it is good news for Formula 1 in the US, whilst Formula E hits the big screen at the Cannes Film Festival.
ICYMI: Round-Up #1 (May 13th): Turner returns to F1 fold; F1 adjusts OTT pricing; Barrat joins Formula E’s TV team
Good news for F1 on the US audience front, with ESPN reporting double-digit growth year-on-year. The first five races (excluding Monaco) have averaged 564,000 viewers on ESPN compared with 442,000 viewers last year. ESPN also tout the strong growth in the coveted Adult 18-34 demographic, increasing 107 percent year-on-year.
A new feature-length documentary covering the 2017-18 season premiered at Cannes Film Festival last week. Fisher Stevens, Malcolm Venville and Leonardo di Caprio produced ‘And We Go Green‘, which goes behind the scenes during Jean-Eric Vergne’s championship winning season. LBI Entertainment are handing distribution rights for the documentary.
With Dario Franchitti over at Indianapolis, Tom Blomqvist and Nick Heidfeld joined Jack Nicholls and Bob Varsha on commentary duty during the Berlin E-Prix weekend. Blomqvist was alongside Nicholls for practice and qualifying, with Heidfeld joining Nicholls for the race.
Quest have changed the time slot of their MotoGP highlights programming. The first three races aired in an 18:00 and 23:00 time slot on Monday evenings, effectively splitting the audience.
Viewing figures have not been good. Their 18:00 showing for Austin made BARB’s consolidated top 15 with 196,000 viewers, all other airings have failed to make Quest’s top 15, averaging around 150,000 viewers or below.
From Jerez onwards, Quest reduced the two airings to one, airing at 22:00 only on Monday evenings. Current schedules for Mugello suggest that the one airing strategy will continue moving forward.
Speaking to this site following Zolder, Whisper Films stated that their production team during the Hockenheim and Zolder weekends consisted of 34 people. The split was exactly 50/50, with 17 women and 17 men. The production house says that this covers both permanent staff and freelancers.
The figures cover the live World Feed production, as well as highlights
The figures also include those working on a documentary that Whisper are producing covering W Series’ inaugural season
Speaking to RaceFans, series organisers noted that over 400,000 viewers watched the first race in the UK on Channel 4 from Hockenheim. CEO Catherine Bond-Muir told the site “Even [on] Channel 4 we absolutely knocked out of the park the internal audience estimates.”
NBC in America has picked up highlights of the series. The broadcaster will air a one-hour highlights show of each race on their NBCSN channel (including commercials).
Ahead of his Indianapolis 500 commentary debut, NBC lead commentator Leigh Diffey spoke to Phillip Bupp at Awful Announcing about his journey to date (link).
Eurosport have picked up the rights to MotoAmerica highlights in the UK. The one-hour highlights programme began airing last Saturday.
Motorsport Network have announced that their new feature length film Heroes will premiere in the run-up to the British Grand Prix. The trailer, which features swathes of archive F1 footage, was unveiled last week. Manish Pandey, one of the men behind the Senna movie, is director and writer for Heroes.
It is worth mentioning changes within the Sky Sports hierarchy in the UK. Sky have promoted Barney Francis into the role of Chief Executive of Future Sport, with Rob Webster succeeding Francis as Managing Director of Sky Sports UK.
Down under in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald report that Foxtel, which is owned by News Corporation and Telstra, is struggling against the rise of streaming platforms. The paper reports that “non marquee” sport, including motor racing, are under threat.
ESPN in the US featured Billy Monger’s remarkable story in their weekly E:60 magazine programme. The show featured his story last Sunday (ESPN’s Vimeo account have uploaded a preview clip).
The BBC have written a fantastic piece looking at Katherine Legge’s battles in motor sport, which is worth a read.
Spot any stories making the rounds worth mentioning? Drop a line in the comments section.
From print media, through to the small screen and now across multi-platform, James Allen is a name that is familiar with Formula 1 fans in the UK and beyond. Allen’s career has spanned multiple decades, but he was most famous as ITV’s lead Formula 1 commentator from 2002 to 2008 alongside Martin Brundle.
Now part of the Motorsport Network ship, I caught up with Allen during the Autosport Show weekend to look back at the three chapters in his broadcasting career to date. In the style of his own blog name, this post is ‘James Allen on…’ as he reflects on his story so far.
…the start of his broadcasting career
“My first broadcasting job in Formula 1 was in 1992. I had been working with Screensport, which was a forerunner of Eurosport, on their coverage of the Le Mans 24 Hours from 1990 and 1991. I got a call from ESPN, as their pit lane reporter couldn’t do the 1992 Hungarian Grand Prix, and we’d done Le Mans as a co-production between Screensport and ESPN the previous year. It was the race where Nigel won the championship, and I got a great interview with Nigel.
“I enjoyed myself very much doing the live pit lane work, so much so that ESPN offered me the job as broadcast reporter for 1993. ’93 was the season of Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti as team mates, obviously Andretti being an American driver was exciting, so I was in the middle of all of that.
“I went to America to do Nigel Mansell’s second IndyCar season in 1994, Nigel and I got on really well. I spent a very happy year covering IndyCars and making the show for ITV working with Chrysalis, which went onto be North One.
“I carried on working with ESPN in Formula 1, until the BBC lost the UK rights in 1996 to ITV. ITV were looking for a production company from 1997 onwards, and I drafted part of the bid to win the production contract for Chrysalis, having worked with them on IndyCar, and that was the beginning of the ITV F1 adventure.”
…becoming pit lane reporter for ITV
“I’d done a lot of broadcasting before I became F1 pit lane reporter, I’d done Le Mans for two years running, which was 24 hours in the pit lane! It was much freer in those days, you could do whatever you wanted.
“There was a lot of scope for improvisation, I had a live camera with me, I could do anything I wanted with that live camera. I could interview anyone I wanted, doorstep anybody, it was a very deregulated environment back then. It did become progressively more difficult as the years went on, but it was great fun on the whole.
“I brought an American training to it, I’d spent four years by then working with really, really good sports TV directors and producers. I was very lucky to be mentored by some of the best US sports directors, so I knew exactly how to engage the audience, what kind of stuff they were looking for, how to think beyond the obvious, don’t just say what’s happened, but what that means for what happens next, and all that kind of thing. I was very lucky and brought that to the coverage on ITV.
“Editorially I had worked at Autosport for two years, and prior to that I worked for Brabham with Martin Brundle, so I knew him very well from those days. Having worked on the inside of a Formula 1 team, I knew how that worked, how it operates, how it succeeds, how it fails.
“The pit lane role involved looking around for stories, looking around for insights. I’ve always been interested in providing insight and analysis wherever possible. I think the who, what, where and when is great, but I’ve always been interested in the how and the why.”
…his first F1 commentary
“I stood in for Murray when he bust his hip at the 2000 French Grand Prix, which was very useful because I was always the understudy, in case there was a ‘what if’ moment. I’d done a lot of commentary early in my career, Paris Dakar, Formula 3000, you name it, thousands of hours that hardly any people saw in the early satellite days. It was a great opportunity to commentate with Martin, to have a look at it and see how it sounded.
“I had a very intense post-French GP debrief with ITV’s Head of Sport Brian Barwick, who was very good to me and a very big influence on my career. He meticulously went through that commentary, what I’d done wrong, what I could have done better, what I done well, we spent hours going through it.
“It meant that the following year, when we did the transition where I did five races and Murray did the rest, I knew what I was trying to do. There was never any doubt in my mind about being commentator, it’s what I wanted to do since I was 15 years old.”
…succeeding Murray Walker
“It’s a double edge sword. On the one hand, the timing was good, plenty of other people would have liked to have followed on from Murray, but he kept going for a very long time. He and I worked very close together for the first four years [with ITV F1], and I drove him round Europe, he didn’t like driving in Europe so I always did the driving. We spent a lot of time together, which was wonderful, some very rich memories.
“It’s the job I always wanted to do, mass market, free-to-air TV in UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, tens of millions of people watching, but on the flip-side he’s probably one of the most popular sports broadcasters there has ever been. You’re never going to be him, but nor should you ever try to be.
“I just said ‘listen, he has to stop’ because he’s 77 years old and can’t do this anymore, physically, it was taking its toll on him, and he wanted to go out on the top, so someone’s got to take over from him, and it might as well be me! I took it as a responsibility, I knew that there would be plenty of people who didn’t like it, I knew that there would have been people who did like it.
“Barry Davies, the football commentator whose daughter worked at Jordan at the time, said to me, ‘listen, you’re probably taking on the toughest job in sports broadcasting. If I can give you one piece of advice: stay philosophical, don’t listen to the people who cane you, and don’t listen to the people who think you’re the best thing since sliced bread, because you’re neither of those things. You’re neither a complete loser or the best thing since sliced bread, just somewhere in the middle, and be yourself’, and that was great advice, and that’s the way I played it for eight years.”
…commentating on motor racing
“What makes it tough is that there’s not one point of focus. If you commentate on a horse race, yes, you’ve got 20 horses, but they tend to focus on what is going on at the front because they all tend to be tightly packed together. If you are talking about a football match, or pretty much any ball sport, you basically follow what the ball does. Cycling is another one where you’ve got to talk about multiple narratives in one commentary, and it goes on for four hours.
“I always looked at it in terms of a front race, a middle race and a back race. I would do it 60 percent front race, 30 percent middle race and 10 percent back race, so I gave a balanced narrative to the coverage. I always got on very well with Martin, he was very supportive. We had a lot of things that we wanted to try, we were always thinking about ‘let’s try this, let’s try that’, we never wanted to stay the same, we wanted to try to move forward. Having a racing driver like him alongside you means you’re always improving things with the broadcast coverage.
“We had some very difficult seasons to cover, ’01 was great, ’02 and ’04 were difficult, but a lot of people think that the 2005 to 2008 period is their favourite period in Formula 1. There was a lot of different winners, the cars were exciting to watch, and we had a great time.”
…ITV’s F1 exit
“We went out on a high with Lewis winning the World Championship. It was the only time in our twelve years of doing Formula 1 that we had a British champion crowned on our live coverage. It was a great moment, with 13 million watching, mass-market free-to-air TV, it was just fantastic.
“The contract we had with Formula 1 ran until 2010, and in my head, I was thinking I’d get to 2010 and do something else outside of commentary. I had a young family at that point with two young sons, and had been to every single race for 16 years. It was a little bit of a shock in ’08, when ITV decided to prioritise Champions League over Formula 1, and the BBC got the rights.
“But equally, I had also started exploring the digital media space with blogs, and so I went into that. I realised that there was a very good business to be had there, around the monetisation of blogs with sponsored brands and things. It was about leveraging my personal brand that I’d built up on the broadcast side on a blog, and then working with companies that wanted to attach themselves to it. That was like chapter two of the story, which was really interesting.
“Would I still have been commentating on Formula 1 on television in 2011 or 2012? No. I’m a bit restless, I do things for a while, then I feel like I want to move on.”
…his post-ITV exploits
“I did the blog thing, which you’re now doing very successfully, and then the BBC came knocking in 2012, to ask me if I wanted to be their F1 correspondent on 5 Live. The only reason I said yes was because I had never done radio, ever. Most people do it the other way round, they do radio first then go into television.
“The radio has been reinvented by the internet, you can really do a lot with radio, and I just wanted to see if I could do it, and actually, it’s much more difficult than television. I set myself a challenge, I really wanted to master this. I had four years in that role which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed working with the BBC radio network, trying to provide insights for people alongside running the blog and the business. Four years was just about enough, time to move on.
“I’m in the third chapter of my career now, which is building this unique vision we have at Motorsport Network. I’m in a management role, I manage 500 to 600 people in 21 countries. We’ve got the Autosport Awards, Autosport International, Autosport.com, Motorsport.com, all the digital media platforms.
“It’s a very interesting business, three different segments, media, experiences and eSports, we’re talking in the back of the Le Mans eSports truck. We’re the only ones that are across everything, it’s a unique project, no one has ever tried it before and will ever try it again. So far, it’s going well, it’s really difficult, it’s a big challenge, but I love it.”
Typically, sporting events take place in confined spaces, such as football, tennis, and cricket. Motor racing in unique in its nature, it is unlike any other sport. Vehicles, on both two and four wheels, race around a large perimeter under timed conditions in the name of sport.
The latter is a greater logistical challenge than the former, on all fronts, including broadcasting the event.
In stadium-based sports, it is near impossible for the television director to miss the key action. The trajectory of the football determines what the director does next, a rule that applies for every single football match irrespective of whether it is the biggest game in the world, or the local Sunday league game down the road.
When you break it down like that, directing the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid is no different to directing the League 2 play-off final between Exeter and Coventry (notwithstanding the commercial requirements for both events). Both contain largely the same parameters.
A freelancer could direct a football match one week and a three-hour tennis game the next, without having specialist knowledge of either event.
In contrast, motor racing requires cameras at every corner to track the cars or bikes around the circuit. A director needs specialist knowledge of the track, the series, and the battles likely to emerge, which is an attribute you are unlikely to learn overnight.
“With motor sport, once you’ve gone around one corner, the cameras have got to be ready to pick up on the next corner, and so on,” explains Richard Coventry, who is British Superbikes’ television director.
“If someone makes a mistake, or goes to the wrong bike, then we’ve got to correct it and pick up further down the line. Motor sport is more difficult I would say to cover than field sport, although on a football match you can have upwards of twenty cameras, but you wouldn’t use them all in the same way.”
“In football, you could stay on the same shot for three or four minutes, it’s impossible to do that at a motor racing circuit unless you place a camera high-up at Knockhill!”
From local hosts to centralisation
Formula 1 races were produced by the local television broadcaster of the time up until the mid-2000’s.
The BBC directed the British Grand Prix until 1996, with ITV taking over from 1997. The direction varied dramatically from race to race. ITV were ahead of its time, others focused on the home town stars further down the field, and some simply struggled to cope with the ever-changing F1 world.
Standards improved as Formula One Management wrestled control away from local broadcasters, giving fans a consistent view of the product throughout the year. The Japanese Grand Prix was the penultimate race to fall out of local control, Fuji Television last produced the race in 2011. One race though has remained with the local broadcaster: the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix.
Tele Monte Carlo continues to produce the Monaco round of the championship, meaning that the level of expertise on-hand is lower than at the other twenty races in the calendar. This has always been an issue but has become exasperated in recent years as FOM have centralised production.
Is it no coincidence that some consider Monaco to be one of the worst races in the calendar for action? Without turning this into a piece about the racing: yes, Monaco does not feature as much overtaking as other races on the calendar, due to the nature of the street circuit, which has been the case for years.
But, when fans have called as race ‘boring’, you need to ask what draws them to that conclusion. Formula 1 attracts in excess 50 million viewers worldwide per race, all of them watching the same World Feed. Fans can only judge the race based upon the angles the producer chooses to air.
We assume that the production team have chosen the best angles, based on the expertise of those around them. Most of the time, FOM does the job well, because they have the experts there. TMC however do not cover the sport throughout the year in the same way FOM does, and therefore do not have as many experts on-hand.
For all the criticism I do give FOM, their direction generally feels well-defined, whereas TMC’s product throughout the years during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend is rough around the edges.
On their Fan Voice site (login required), FOM have outlined how the split between them and TMC works. TMC are responsible for “directing the world feed, choosing where the cameras and microphones are, selecting which subject to follow, doing all the replays.”
In turn, FOM are responsible for “onboard cameras and all [of the] trackside infrastructure are our bag, as is all the official timing, the graphics.” The site also talks about the barriers this presents, such as the inevitable language barrier.
The Monaco problem
The problems for TMC encompass the entire weekend. Starting with practice and qualifying, TMC missed crucial laps, with Daniel Ricciardo’s initial lap record omitted from the World Feed, commentators having to refer to the timing screens to try to build the excitement level.
Following qualifying, it was clear where the two main storylines sat heading into the race. The first: would Ricciardo hold on to claim the victory that slipped away from him in 2016; and secondly, how far would Ricciardo’s team-mate Max Verstappen climb through the field?
From the very first lap, the trajectory of the direction went south. The timing graphics displayed a yellow flag symbol, indicating danger, following a collision between a Force India car and Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley.
The symbol remained on-screen for the duration of the first lap, but TMC did not switch away from the leading contingent (although team radio from Hartley was played into coverage). At any other event, FOM would have jumped on-board with Hartley to show the viewers the extent of the damage, but not here. TMC’s World Feed output also did not capture the damage initially, FOM choosing to show this footage on its pit lane channel following its absence from the main feed.
It felt like the director was reluctant to switch attention away from the front-runners and towards Verstappen, failing to capture his moves on Ericsson and Hartley live. The on-screen timing graphics falling over at several points during the Grand Prix did not help, although it is unclear whether the blame here lies with FOM or TMC. But either way, it added to the poor presentation of the race, as a fan, I found it frankly frustrating to watch.
The timing pages should guide the production team towards the next on-track action, but TMC were seemingly not using this as a basis, something that became increasingly apparent in the latter stages as they failed to show how the likes of Esteban Ocon closed on the front-runners with relative ease. TMC failed to portray the sense of jeopardy that Monaco is meant to present.
On a brighter note, TMC were on-board Charles Leclerc’s Sauber as his brakes failed, smashing into Hartley’s Toro Rosso; whilst the introduction of a camera angle towards the end of the tunnel provided fantastic shots throughout the race weekend.
However, the ‘now available for live’ camera on the inside of Loews hairpin, was poor. The actual camera angle is good, but in the context of the camera angles before and after, switching from a camera angle with a car predominately in shot, to another predominately on advertising was jarring.
A good motor racing director can turn an average race into something watchable and engaging. A bad director on the other hand can persuade viewers to turn off an average race, and there is no doubt in my mind that TMC leans into the latter category.
Compared with motor racing, there are less variables with directing a football or tennis game, which makes the job of directing a motor race more critical than other sporting events.
If Liberty Media wants Monaco to receive a better rapport from fans watching the show, one step it desperately needs to take is to wrestle control off TMC, and to bring control of the Monaco World Feed in-house.
Over the years, this site has tended to cover television coverage more than other forms of media, with weekly television schedules whenever there is a Formula 1 race on. The site also has a dedicated page covering all the key UK television and radio contracts.
But, alongside your traditional methods, many championships allow you to watch their action online. Here, we look at what each championship offers directly to the consumer, bypassing the broadcasters, or not as the case may be. This article is aimed at UK readers, but the information may be useful for overseas readers as well.
Note – This is an experimentation post and may not cover every single series out there. Please leave a comment if you find this useful and would like to see this repeated in future with updated information.
Dorna Sports (review)
The commercial rights holder for MotoGP and World Superbikes, Dorna Sports have over-the-top platforms for both. Every session, including support races, airs live on the over-the-top platform with a dedicated on-site team. Full-length replays are available if you missed the action first time round, with the fan able to view the action from a variety of on-board camera angles. Access to the respective platforms also unlock MotoGP’s and World Superbikes’ rich archive.
Available via desktop, Android and Apple devices, the MotoGP package is priced at £174.36 for the complete season, or £44.45 in four instalments. The World Superbikes offering is considerably cheaper than MotoGP at £60.98 for the season, or £13.00 per month. Even considering the smaller calendar, on a per-race weekend basis, the MotoGP price works out at £9.18, whilst the Superbikes offering is just £4.69, a sign of their respective popularity.
Despite being one of the newer series in this list, surprisingly the electric Formula E championship does not have an over-the-top platform. Fans wanting to watch the action can find some live coverage on Formula E’s YouTube channel, but the availability depends on territory. UK fans can watch live practice on their YouTube channel, but no further than that.
The geo-blocking restrictions are lifted after the session for practice and qualifying, whilst full races are made available several weeks after the race, although one might argue that they have lost their value by that point in time. The lack of an over-the-top platform currently may come and bite them back in a few years’ time, especially considering the recent developments from Formula 1.
Formula One Management
Announced in February, Formula 1 has confirmed that their streaming service will launch ready for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. At launch, F1 TV Pro will be available via desktop and will only contain Formula 1 coverage; with other devices, and the appearance of the feeder series’ coming later in the year.
However, UK fans will not have access to the premium version due to the television agreements already in place. Barring some form of new arrangement between Formula One Management and Sky, do not expect UK fans to be able to access F1 TV Pro until 2025. F1 TV Access though, is another question…
GT Sport Organisation
GT Sport created and is responsible for the Euroformula Open and the International GT Open, both of which air live in the UK on BT Sport.
As with other championships on a similar footing, GT Sport live streams the action on their two YouTube channels, covering qualifying and the race: EuroFormulaOpen and GTOPENseries. English commentary comes from Ben Evans, who fans in the UK may recognise from BT Sport’s IndyCar coverage.
Unlike Supercars below, IndyCar does not currently offer an over-the-top product for overseas fans of the championship. Race Control only extends as far as live timing, but no visual imagery is involved. However, its social media offering is comprehensive, with live streaming of its feeder Indy Lights series, as well as live action from practice via their various outlets.
For fans without access to BT Sport, the full US race programme from either ABC, ESPN or NBC is uploaded to IndyCar’s YouTube channel around four days after the event. With IndyCar’s domestic rights in the US changing for 2019 in NBC’s favour, the streaming picture could change as well.
SRO Motorsports Group
Not to be confused with GT Sport’s portfolio of championships, SRO Motorsports Group is the commercial rights holder for several of the leading GT championships worldwide. If you are into GT racing, the GTWorld YouTube channel, operated by SRO, is the place to be.
It is on YouTube where SRO live stream the likes of the Blancpain GT Series and the British GT, for free. In addition, the Blancpain website plays host to live streaming of the GT Series.
Not in Australia? No problem. The Virgin Australia Supercars streaming service SuperView gives fans outside of Australia the ability to live stream, rewind and replay every Supercars qualifying and race session in 2018. The restriction that previously applied to the Australian Grand Prix weekend was lifted for 2018, meaning that all events are now available on the service.
Priced at £32.80 based on the current conversion rate for the complete season, SuperView is a steal if you are looking to watch some motor racing action at your leisure throughout 2018. With 16 races across the year, the series costs UK fans just £2.05 per race weekend.
However, you can only do that up and until the next rally comes along: there is no way to view the ‘All Live’ content once it disappears from the schedule a few days after the event finishes. Whilst the live element is great, WRC’s over-the-top product is still rough around the edges which is worth bearing in mind if you are unlikely to watch the action in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, WRC’s pricing structure remain extremely good value for money.
Are there any other major championships that have streaming capability that I have not mentioned? Have your say in the comments below.
In addition to all the discussion around Formula 1’s new graphics suite, the past week saw a variety of broadcasting related announcements, covering both F1 and the IndyCar Series.
F1 documentary series to air on Netflix
Netflix are to air a ten-part documentary series in 2019 focusing on the inner surroundings of Formula 1. The deal between the two parties has been mooted for several months, with an official announcement coming on the Saturday of the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
Filming has already started, and will continue throughout the 2018 season, with the production team revealing “the intense fight for the heart, soul, and direction for the future of this multibillion-dollar business.” James Gay Rees, who was previously part of the making of Senna, and Paul Martin for Box to Box Films, are the executive producers.
The Netflix series builds on the foundations laid by Amazon’s Grand Prix Driver. The four-part Amazon series focused on McLaren’s pre-season exploits prior to Australia 2017, whereas the Netflix programming has a wider remit across the whole year. I enjoyed Amazon’s documentary, and if this is half as good as that, Formula 1 fans will be in for a treat.
Sean Bratches, F1’s Managing Director of Commercial Operations, said “Formula 1 is a global sport that we are actively repositioning from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand. This series will unleash a compelling vantage point to the sport that will delight fans and serve as a catalyst to entice new fans.”
Bela Bajaria, Vice President of Content for Netflix, said “This partnership with Formula 1 furthers our mission of working with world-class brands and production partners to produce best-in-class unscripted series. We can’t wait for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix and to embark on an incredible season across the world.”
In a second announcement from Formula 1 last week, the organisation confirmed that coverage was returning to free-to-air broadcaster CCTV in China, with all qualifying and race sessions airing live on the network throughout 2018.
ESPN’s US coverage receives complaints
Bratches’ former home ESPN was subject to numerous complaints over the Australian Grand Prix weekend. The US broadcaster, which took over from NBC as rights holder for Formula 1, was expected to take Sky UK’s pre-race build-up show ‘On the Grid’. However, the show failed to make the air at the expected time, with a variety of technical issues.
ESPN released a press statement late on Sunday evening apologising for the difficulties. “We deeply apologise to Formula 1 fans for the technical issues that caused them to miss the first 20 minutes of the pre-race show for the Australian Grand Prix. We are sorry that our first F1 telecast did not go as smoothly as we would have liked but we are taking steps to prevent those same issues from occurring in the future.”
The secondary problem is commercial breaks. Formula 1 commentary in the UK is free-flowing, as Sky Sports air F1 uninterrupted, whereas ESPN in the US take commercials. This is a major issue if something happens whilst ESPN is on a commercial break.
Historically, US viewers had a dedicated commentary team for their audience meaning that the lead commentator could re-cap the action on return. Forcing Sky’s UK commentary team to do the same thing would disturb the flow for anyone taking the UK coverage uninterrupted and would provoke a backlash from UK viewers.
One approach would be to have Sky’s F1 presentation team (i.e. Simon Lazenby) do a voice over for US viewers leading back into the UK commentary at a given point, that way the commentary flow is untouched.
In further news, ESPN’s coverage of the Grand Prix rated lower than NBC’s coverage in recent years. According to Showbuzz Daily, ESPN2’s show failed to make the top 150 for original programmes on Saturday, recording under a 0.05 share in the adults 18 to 49 metric. Last year’s NBC coverage averaged 238,000 viewers, whereas 2016’s show averaged 222,000 viewers.
International television rights for IndyCar up for grabs
The IndyCar Series is heading to NBC from 2019, with their existing US agreement with ESPN and ABC Network coming to an end after this season, the two sides confirmed last week.
The three-year deal will see eight races, including the Indianapolis 500, broadcast on NBC’s main channel with the remaining races airing on NBC Sports Network.
In addition, NBC’s over-the-top platform, dubbed NBC Sports Gold, will offer an IndyCar package consisting of every race from the feeder series Indy Lights, plus all practice and qualifying sessions from the main series not broadcast on one of NBC’s linear television channels.
As part of the press release, NBC touted the fact that IndyCar’s viewing figures have grown in recent years with the broadcaster as part of the shared contract with ESPN/ABC. “We’re honoured to bring the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in all of sports, to NBC, further enhancing NBC Sports’ Championship Season,” said Jon Miller, NBC’s President of Programming.
“We’ve seen consistent growth for INDYCAR on NBCSN in the past decade, and we hope to continue that growth throughout the series by leveraging the television, digital, production and marketing assets that make NBC Sports a powerful media partner.”
IndyCar officials have also confirmed that the international broadcasting rights for the series are up for grabs at the end of 2018. For UK fans, it helps clear up a few things. BT Sport have a deal to with ESPN’s international arm to air a range of content up to and including the end of 2022. Separately, IndyCar’s non-domestic rights sit with ESPN’s international arm.
ESPN International are the ‘middle man’ here, if that man changes then BT Sport will need to negotiate with the new ‘middle man’ if they want to continue to air IndyCar, unless IndyCar go direct to a broadcaster, for example Eurosport (see below).
Mark Miles, the CEO of IndyCar’s parent company Hulman and Company, said “We will now move to working on the international rights licensing right away. We’ve had a lot of those very early conversations to understand both from an agency perspective and individual broadcaster perspective who wants to talk to us.”
“[The NBC deal] does not preclude an ongoing involvement by ESPN International. Although with any result, I think it will change. There may be countries where we go direct to broadcasters in any major country with IndyCar interests. I see us being at the table, even if we go with a distributor or packager like ESPN International.”
“There are a number of agencies that would love to compete with ESPN International for whatever we’re willing to license as part of a package, and there are a number of countries where we’re already having direct conversations with broadcasters. It will be some kind of a mixed approach undoubtedly.”