News round-up: Turner returns to F1 fold; F1 adjusts OTT pricing; Barrat joins Formula E’s TV team

As part of a new strand on Motorsport Broadcasting, we will begin to round-up the stories behind the camera that may not have featured in one of the main articles on this site.

The regular round-up will include snippets from across the landscape, every two to four weeks. In the first round-up, a familiar name returns to the F1 fold, plus a whole lot more…

Formula 1

  • After leaving his role as Sky’s Head of Formula 1 in 2017, Martin Turner is back in the F1 fold. Turner is supporting F1 with their new digital programming, including the Weekend Debrief, which Ted Kravitz presents. Both Turner and Sky’s current Head of F1 Scott Young are involved in the production of the show, in a collaboration between F1 and Sky.
  • Formula 1 continues to tweak the format of the post-session ‘interview pen’ for broadcasters. During the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, each ‘group’ could ask each driver one question post-qualifying, with up to three minutes allocated post-race, although I understand that the situation is fluid depending on the race in question.
  • Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi’s voices will be on show in the upcoming F1 2019 video game. As in real life, the two lend their dulcet tones to the Formula Two action, which makes its debut in the gaming series.
  • The Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw Max Chilton partner Jolyon Palmer in the BBC 5 Live booth for practice and qualifying. Two weeks later for Barcelona, Tom Gaymor was alongside Palmer on Friday, with Marc Priestley joining him on Saturday.
    • An unusual set of teams, 5 Live’s coverage for both races was based back in the UK, with only Jennie Gow on site. With Jack Nicholls on Formula E duty, 5 Live’s commentary often this year is coming off-tube from the UK.
  • Formula 1 has adjusted the pricing for their over-the-top platform. The premium tier, F1 TV Pro, has had its price reduced from $99.99 to $79.99, or roughly equivalent depending on territory. Formula 1 has yet to give an official reason as to why, although the service experienced problems during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend. Speaking to journalists in Spain, Chase Carey said that it may take ‘another year’ to iron the bugs out of F1 TV.
  • In a change for 2019, selected journalists and outlets can now film content from inside the F1 paddock. The likes of Motorsport Network and Peter Windsor are already taking advantage of the change. However, there are restrictions in place, so that journalists are not treading on the toes of television broadcasters.
  • Sky Sports have launched a YouTube channel for their Formula 1 coverage. As a general rule, anything filmed outside of the race track has unrestricted worldwide access, such as this piece with Sebastian Vettel and Martin Brundle (currently at 97,000 views), however anything filmed inside the circuit, such as this Behind the Scenes feature with McLaren (currently at 10,000 views) is geo-blocked to UK only.
  • Both Porsche Supercup and Formula Three launched their 2019 campaigns in Barcelona, with updated graphics sets. With large fields, the graphics did not offer as much capability as the Formula 1 and Two sets. Nevertheless, Formula Three’s coverage saw the addition of team radio for the first time at that level.

Formula E

  • The Gadget Show’s Georgie Barrat will be part of Formula E’s television team for the remainder of the season, substituting for Nicki Shields who is on maternity. Barrat made her debut with the team in Monaco, although she has been inside the Formula E paddock before, filming a special edition of The Gadget Show during the 2017 Hong Kong E-Prix.
  • As with Formula 1, TMC directed the Monaco E-Prix last weekend, with Aurora Media Worldwide having a smaller on-site presence than usual.
  • Fans of Formula E can now race against their favourite drivers in real-time, as Virtually Live Ghost Racing is now available to download for free on iOS and Android.
    • The game re-creates every Formula E circuit, also doubling up as a second-screen experience, allowing fans to also ride on-board with their favourite drivers. Ben Constanduros and Chris McCarthy share the commentary duties throughout the season.

W Series

  • The news that W Series may become part of the F1 support bill next year in some capacity raises the question of which UK broadcaster would air the series if that scenario came to fruition.
    • Sky airs F1 exclusively live (for every race bar Britain), and may have some say as to whether Channel 4 can show W Series live, if it is part of the F1 under-card.
    • Porsche Supercup’s contract with Formula 1 expires at the end of 2019, which may open an opportunity for W Series.
  • Whisper Films, who produces the World Feed, noted in the run-up to the first round in Hockenheim that half of their “production crew for the 4 May will be female.”
    • Insiders pointed out to this site that many people working on the production were freelance and male, and are unlikely included in Whisper’s headcount.
    • picture of the on-site Channel 4 crew from F1’s Australian Grand Prix (also a Whisper production) highlights the gender imbalance. This is an industry problem as opposed to a Whisper-only problem, but writing statistics that are factually inaccurate will not make the problem disappear.
  • UK viewers will have access to live coverage of qualifying from Zolder onwards. Coverage from Hockenheim was geo-blocked for UK fans, but series organisers have confirmed that fans will be able to watch qualifying across Facebook and Twitter moving forward.
  • More than a week after the first event has concluded, and W Series have yet to upload highlights of the race to YouTube.
  • Prior to the inaugural race, organisers announced that Pitch International will “sell rights to broadcast W Series around the world” outside of the UK. As of writing, series organisers have yet to announce further rights details post-Hockenheim.

Elsewhere

  • Motorsport Network’s over-the-top platform has grabbed live coverage of the Japanese Super GT series. The championship, which features the likes of Jenson Button, initially opted not to pursue an English language live stream for 2019. Super GT in recent years has gained a cult following through NISMO TV’s YouTube stream, a deal which ended following the 2018 season. Instead, the series will air worldwide on Motorsport Network’s portfolio of outlets.
  • A bout of prolonged sickness has left BT Sport’s MotoGP presenter Suzi Perry on the side-lines in recent races. The existing BT team have helped cover the gap, whilst three-time British Superbike champion Niall Mackenzie joined the crew last time out.
  • The UK arm of the TCR Series will not air live in 2019. Instead, highlights of the series will air across the Fast Zone programme on Sky Sports, as well as Motorsport.tv, Front Runner and YouTube.

Spotted anything worth reporting? Drop a line in the comments section below.

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Casting an eye over F1’s podcasting exploits

Podcasting is increasingly playing a major role in the broadcasting landscape, as fans look to listen to their favourite stars on the go, whether it is on the tube, on the train, or out on the run. Last year, Formula 1 got in on the act with their own podcast.

Daniel Finley (@DF190587), a regular Motorsport Broadcasting reader, sent in his thoughts on the podcast so far…

At the end of June 2018, a teaser trailer for an upcoming podcast appeared across Formula 1’s social media platforms. The trailer promised to give you insights into what the drivers, team bosses and other stars get up to ‘Beyond the Grid’. The trailer included snippets from interviews with Lewis Hamilton and Gerhard Berger.

A few days later, Formula 1 published the first episode, as presenter Tom Clarkson interviewed Hamilton in a 54-minute piece. The tagline “F1 has given me a life – but it’s also broken me” was centre of attention.

This week saw the publication of episode 38 (an interview with James Allison), and with the first anniversary fast approaching, now feels like a good time to provide a review.

A different medium, the same rewards
Podcasting in general is a very popular media outlet. Just last week at the Digital Content NewFronts conference, it was revealed that the New York Times podcast ‘The Daily’ reaches two million listeners per day, an astonishing statistic. Public data on the number of subscriptions and listeners is difficult to come by.

The top ten sports podcasts in the UK on iTunes contains mainly football based podcasts. At the time of writing ‘Beyond the Grid‘ was ranked the 11th most popular show in the sports category which does suggest that it is doing well, with an average rating of 4.9 out of 5.

Interestingly, Beyond the Grid is not the highest ranked F1 podcast currently: that honour goes to Whisper Films for Channel 4’s F1 podcast ‘On the Marbles‘, which is currently 9th in the charts after just four episodes.

There are of course other long-running F1 podcasts available. BBC Radio 5 Live have published a podcast, ‘Chequered Flag Formula 1‘, for over a decade. Their offering includes a preview and review of a race weekend, which is useful if I have not been able to follow full weekend, but for me of limited benefit most of the time.

The 5 Live team does offer some special episodes but these are sporadic. Recent special episodes have included a debate on the newly created W Series, and a discussion with Bernie Ecclestone.

Of the 37 Beyond the Grid episodes so far, nine have featured current F1 drivers, with five featuring current team bosses. The rest feature past F1 drivers, old team bosses and other F1 celebrities, including a particularly special episode with a certain legendary commentator.

In true podcasting form, episodes are available free of charge through popular podcast applications. There are, of course, some adverts often at the beginning, middle and end of the episode that Clarkson reads out featuring sponsors Bose. While they may break up the flow of the podcast it is a small price to pay for a free product (and there is always the fast forward button).

Each episode last around an hour, giving enough time to chat to the guest in detail. Clarkson conducts each interview in a professional but relaxed manner, and is well prepared for each guest. It is clear that he knows each guest well, often referring to the first time he met the guest, helping to build-up rapport between Clarkson and the listener.

The highlights so far
I have thoroughly enjoyed every episode to date, they are informative and provide some great anecdotes that are not often heard. Some highlights for me include:

  • Episode 7 with Christian Horner included a guest appearance from Geri, Horner’s wife, and was recorded the day after Daniel Riccardo’s announcement that he would be moving to Renault.
  • Episode 20 with Claire Williams provided a fantastic insight into her early years around F1, getting to know the drivers as they stayed at the family home, as well as her current role in F1.
  • Episode 22 with Emerson Fittipaldi was an emotional listen, as Fittipaldi described his time with Ayrton Senna.
  • Episode 23 with Rob Smedley, in particular when he was discussing the 2008 title loss.
  • Episodes 27 and 28 were special episodes with Ross Brawn and Sabine Kehm respectively, to celebrate the 50th birthday of Michael Schumacher. Both episodes provided great stories from their times with Michael.

My absolute favourite to date is episode 34 with the legendary Murray Walker, to celebrate the 1,000th F1 race. If you are only going to listen to one episode then this is the one. His knowledge and passion for F1 remains, and the final two minutes of the podcast are enough to make the hairs on your neck stand up.

In my opinion the podcast is a very welcome addition to the overall broadcasting offering by Formula 1, under Liberty Media. I would certainly have no hesitation of recommending the podcast to new and long-time followers of F1.

I look (and listen) on with interest to see how the podcast will develop. Clearly there are several current drivers and team bosses who have not been interviewed yet, which are obvious future candidates for Clarkson to chat to.

I personally would love to see the podcast extended to include some people who are not normally heard/seen from F1. Perhaps a pit lane mechanic, a member of the hospitality side within a F1 team, or who knows maybe even an interview with Chase Carey.

In the meantime, go ahead and give the podcast a listen.

Fancy contributing to Motorsport Broadcasting? Head over here for further details…

New opening themes for Sky’s and Channel 4’s F1 coverage

Both Sky Sports and Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2019 opened with a new theme in Australia, stepping away from their previous efforts as a new era of broadcasting began down under.

Outlands in, Just Drive out at Sky
For Sky, Alistair Griffin’s Just Drive has been a fixture of their opening titles since their very first show in 2012. After seven years, Just Drive steps aside for Outlands by Daft Punk, the song most famous for featuring in Tron: Legacy back in 2010.

The new titles, an effort spanning multiple creative agencies and over 40 people, are six months in the making. As with Sky’s new Formula 1 pre-season trailer, their in-house Creative Agency steered this project from initial concept to delivery.

By Sky’s side were The Mill, Trim and Envy, responsible for visual, edit and sound respectively. The 2019 opening sequence shows the weekend build-up to a crescendo, utilising a ‘left to right’ movement throughout, giving it a ‘big time’ feel.

The intro is a significant improvement on previous efforts where the opening sequence inter weaved Sky’s own personnel with the racing action.

Writing on his Behance profile, Chris Sharpe, Design Director at Sky Creative takes us through the titles. “The new title celebrates the raw and visceral aspects of the live sport. Showcasing the theatre of a weekends coverage, from team preparation to chequered flag, while also encapsulating the story and drama of the previous season’s championship,” explains Sharpe.

“The simple but consistent left to right mechanic weaves its way through the edit, finishing with a spectacular CG move. The sequence signs-off with an unachievable grid moment, leaving the viewer with an unforgettable start of race experience.”

The Mill’s Director for the piece, Ivo Sousa adds “My focus from the offset was demonstrating the importance of the team behind each driver. Each role is essential and preparation is meticulous, every part of the process counts. The engineering details are insanely intricate and yet, in contradiction, the sport is a brutal force.”

The team filmed footage during last year’s US Grand Prix weekend, whilst Silverstone played host to the opening Mercedes shoot. As with all films, some footage did not make the final cut, with the shot described by Rachel Brookes last October featuring Sky’s personnel turning their heads on cue absent.

Genesis in, The Chain out at Channel 4
With Channel 4 unable to secure Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain for 2019, the free-to-air broadcaster too had to look elsewhere for inspiration.

In comes in French duo Justice, with Genesis, which has an opening salvo famous for appearing across many different forms of artwork. The imagery is in a similar style to that of Channel 4’s previous introductions, although a step below the BBC’s efforts from 2009 to 2015.

For both Channel 4 and Sky, the music feels like an afterthought, which is not a surprise considering both broadcasters were hoping to use The Chain as revealed on this site last week. Both tracks are fine, but neither live up to The Chain, admittedly finding a track that does live up to The Chain is a difficult task.

In situations like these, I suspect both broadcasters cut two or three different versions of their respective title sequences ready for use, one with The Chain. If you overlay The Chain over the top of Sky’s visuals, you get a good match. The race for The Chain has resulted in better visuals than sounds in my opinion, on both sides.

Elsewhere, Formula 1’s own opening titles received a makeover. Brian Tyler’s F1 theme remained for a second consecutive season, with his evocative track. This year’s introduction from F1 is an example of where the imagery does not fit the sound, whereas last year, the timing was on point.

However, this year’s effort focusses on each outfit in a logical order, starting with the lower six teams, before moving on the top four teams, whereas there was no logical order to last year’s introduction. With that in mind, if the intention of the 2019 piece is to help newer fans get into the sport, then it is a job well done.

Live F1 testing coverage peaks with 96,000 viewers on Sky

Live coverage of the first Formula 1 test of 2019 peaked with just under 100,000 viewers in the UK on Sky Sports, overnight viewing figures show.

The pay-TV broadcaster aired the four afternoon sessions live from Barcelona last week from 13:00 to 18:00. The first four hours consisted of on-track action, with a review show airing from 17:00 onwards.

As always, figures exclude those that watched via Sky Go and Now TV, the former of which may be higher than usual with testing taking place during the week when people are normally at week as opposed to the weekend.

The audience figures for the on-track action peaked on the first day of running, with an average audience of 58k (0.79%) watching across the F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event. A peak of 96k (1.45%) watched day one, although the number of viewers the programme reached will be higher than usual due to the dip in and out nature of testing.

The remaining days fell into a similar ballpark for the live on-track segment from 13:00 to 17:00, averaging 37k (0.59%), 35k (0.53%) and 37k (0.58%) respectively, all peaking with around 65,000 viewers.

Although lower than most Formula 1 figures from 2018, live testing rated higher than all but two GP3 races and higher than most Formula Two races last season. In the grand scheme of things, audience figures are not spectacular, but on an expected level for a week day.

Welcome to F1 2019, the evening wrap-up show, fluctuated throughout the week. The first and third days averaged 21k (0.16%) and 21k (0.17%) from 17:00 to 18:00 on Sky Sports F1. Days two and four performed better, averaging 38k (0.32%) and 50k (0.40%). Certainly, the trend as the week progressed leaned slightly towards the review show if anything.

The review show recorded its highest peak figure on Thursday, when 72k (0.50%) were watching at 17:50.

Year-on-year, audience figures for testing have increased based on the first airing. However, comparisons are difficult as Sky repeated last year’s content (Paddock Uncut and Ted’s Notebook) ad nauseam meaning that the individual shows reached a higher number, whereas Sky are not repeating this year’s testing content on the channel.

A better comparison is with Sky’s 3D experiment in 2013, when the broadcaster aired testing live. In 2013, Sky aired two and a half hours of testing live, repeating the showing later in the night. Combined, the audience peaked with around 120,000 viewers on three of the four days, higher than the highest peak in 2019.

In the six years between 2013 and 2019, Formula 1’s UK viewing figures have dipped, so a drop between both years expected. The drop may also suggest that five hours of live testing content per day to air on TV is simply too much and that two and a half hours, as we saw in 2013, is the right amount.

However, if the reason for testing not returning in 2014 was because viewing figures were too low, then Sky’s viewing figures for this past week may not bode well for live testing returning to Sky’s schedules for 2020.

Barcelona test 2 update
Live coverage is not returning for the second Barcelona test, which begins today. As reported earlier, last week’s coverage was a one-off effort between Formula 1 and Sky to inform future decision-making.

In a departure from previous years, Sky are not airing their round-up shows for the second test, which typically consisted of Paddock Uncut and either Ted’s Notebook or #AskCrofty. Instead, fans will need to keep an eye on F1’s social media platforms and Sky Sports News to find testing updates.

F1’s over-the-top platform is scheduled to air a review show following Friday’s running, but it is currently unclear if Sky Sports F1 will also carry the show via their channel.

overnights.tv-bannersF1

A step too far? Reviewing live F1 testing

Testing is, by its very nature, boring.

No matter which way you gloss over it, testing is boring. During testing, Formula 1 teams run their own programmes, with varying strategies, tyre choices, fuel loads, engine settings, which makes it difficult to analyse instantly.

Yet, fans clamour for live testing coverage, and I hold my hands up, that includes me too! February comes around, the tweets amplify, we get excited in anticipation for another season of racing, but the earliest we get to see live action over the airwaves is in the middle of March for Australia.

That was until this past week, when Formula 1 for the first time aired the entirety of the first pre-season test live on their over-the-top platform as a one-off experiment. How did the coverage look, and are we likely to see it return?

Data gathering exercise for Formula 1
From the outset, the rationale for producing a World Feed for the first test from Formula 1 and Liberty Media was to gather user data, informing future decision-making around testing heading into 2020. F1 never produced a World Feed for testing while the sport was under the custodian of Bernie Ecclestone and CVC.

This week, F1 has gathered a significant amount of data from users accessing F1 TV’s premium tier: how long each user accessed and watched testing for, what parts of the day were more popular than others, and most importantly how many watched, amongst many other artefacts.

Of course, like many data gathering exercises, this exercise is incomplete, given that F1 TV Pro is geo-blocked in some territories. The fact that testing ran from Monday to Thursday instead of say, Thursday to Sunday was another downside, with lower metrics mid-week compared to a weekend slot.

In addition, Sky Sports opted out of broadcasting the morning session in the UK and Italy, an odd decision considering that is when the fastest times are set. Had F1 in a parallel universe streamed testing live on YouTube, the metrics would be significantly different.

But, as insiders closer to the scene pointed out, the exact wording of each broadcasting contract may prevent that from happening, depending on the language used (for example ‘event’ or ‘race weekend’). And live testing is not worth wrangling with a broadcaster over for what is essentially an add-on.

F1 TV Pro and Sky was what fans got, but it in the very least provides Formula 1 with a baseline to work with, which they can model and extrapolate against to try to work out how many viewers testing could get if streamed live, partial or in full, on social media. Live testing could live or die based on the metrics from this past week.

Slimmed down production on offer
F1 and Sky Sports worked together on the daily ten-hour offering, providing a hybrid offering on and off-screen. Whilst F1 provided the graphics and track side cameras, Sky provided interviews from the paddock via Sky Sports News reporter Craig Slater, the latter at the test regardless of F1’s own offering, so made logistical sense.

Sky brought most of their team to the test, including Simon Lazenby, Karun Chandhok, Johnny Herbert, and David Croft, with Rosanna Tennant, Will Buxton, Tom Clarkson and Alex Jacques playing their part from FOM’s in-house team.

The World Feed output was slimmer than a normal race weekend. F1 were never going to take the full ‘bells and whistles’ product of a race weekend, but what they did was generally good, even if it was unclear why the director was following a specific car from time-to-time.

There were fewer track side cameras, and no live on-board footage on offer, the latter not a huge surprise in the secretive testing environment, although the F1 production team did play delayed on-boards into the broadcast each day.

The lack of timing graphics on display however made the coverage less engaging, and was by far the biggest flaw of F1’s testing experiment. Static times for individual drivers appeared on-screen after each lap, but other timing information, such as the timing tower was noticeably absent, despite this data being available elsewhere for free.

Most of the commentary was discussion based and unrelated to the on-track action, which was fine to a degree, but given the fact that F1 were covering the whole test live, the coverage would have benefited from having additional on-screen information to help paint the overall picture. When Sky covered testing live in 2013 as part of their 3D experiment, their bespoke graphics set displayed some live timing data.

Having graphics displayed on-screen to show that driver X was on lap Y of a run would have been extremely helpful to both the commentators and the viewers watching, keeping fans engaged for longer and crucially for F1 from a data gathering perspective, reduce the bounce rate.

Who was present… and who was absent?
Ignoring the timing gripe, the commentary itself was excellent with a variety of voices on offer throughout, helping to keep the coverage fresh.

There was nice, free-flowing, sometimes irrelevant, discussion on many topics aided by #AskCrofty during the first two days, including F1 in 2021, an in-depth team by team outlook on the season ahead, and the impact Brexit will have on F1 (admittedly a topic that ruffled a few feathers, but an important conversation nevertheless).

The hybrid setup between F1 and Sky resulted in some unique commentary trios, with Buxton, Chandhok and Croft in the box at the same time on Monday afternoon, a real treat for fans who never have previously had these three voices together in the same broadcast.

From the outset, hearing Chandhok talk eloquently about a range of topics in detail during his stints on-air, it is clear to me that he is going to be a huge addition to Sky’s F1 team this year, bringing a vast array of knowledge and experience to the table.

A surprise standout for me also was Lazenby. Traditionally Sky’s lead Formula 1 presenter, Lazenby made his commentary box debut on Tuesday afternoon. Fans saw Lazenby in a different light to usual in the box, and if the opportunity arose, I would not mind hearing him as a guest in the box during a practice session this season.

Jacques and Buxton from the F1 digital side put in marathon shifts in the commentary box across the four days, with many anecdotes and tales to tell. Their efforts, as well as those working behind the scenes on the whole operation, I should applaud.

The end of day wrap-up shows had a Sky feel to it, with only Sky on-air personnel involved. If you watched the entire day of coverage until that point, some of the discussion felt recycled. On the other hand, if you opted out of the on-track action, there is an argument to suggest that the wrap-up show as a standalone offering was inferior to last year’s digestible, but short, round-up that Sky offered.

A major absentee on-screen was Ted Kravitz, with no reference to him throughout Sky’s coverage. Normally at this stage, Kravitz is on-air with his trademark Notebook programme as well as Development Corner, both of which have formed part of Sky’s testing offering in recent years (one of the reasons why the wrap-up show felt inferior in comparison).

Fans noticed Kravitz’s absence across social media but, as of writing, neither Sky or Kravitz have commented on the record about his status, and whether he is still with the broadcaster.

Too far in one direction?
There is only so much you can talk about in 40 hours of on-track action during testing without the discussion becoming repetitive. I absolutely enjoyed the commentary, primarily the reason I stuck with the live coverage for Monday and Tuesday afternoon (when the UK had access to it). The product was decent, although the novelty began to wane after a while.

With additions on the graphics side, the commentary would become more meaningful and focused on the on-track action, as well as being discussion based, resulting in a better balance rather than it feeling like a radio feed. During the test this week, timing has been an afterthought.

If it is simply not possible to present additional on-screen graphics, I hope there is a world where F1 produces a basic World Feed for testing for those that want to watch it, and then go on-air with a full product towards the end of the day, consisting of the final phase of on-track running and an additional hour of genuine analysis on what each team was doing.

I use the word ‘genuine’, as the end of day wrap-up show never provided that in my view because the talent on-air had not had the opportunity to dissect the day’s events as they were on-air from the get-go. Okay, there was rotation, but there was never a fresh pair or eyes to provide new analysis within the review show.

For me, there is a limit. Two or three hours of discussion and action per day, fine. Five or six hours, and my attention will dip, unless the F1 production team make changes for 2020, although some of these may need the approval of all ten teams. I like what F1 did this year, the only way they will know if live testing is going to work is by doing it, and I applaud the team for doing that.

Is there an audience for testing all day, every day? Only F1 knows the answer to that question…