Director questions BBC’s F1 2015 closing video

Many of you reading this will remember the BBC’s closing video to the 2015 Formula One season. The song ‘Coming Home’ by Sigma and Rita Ora played over in the background and featured three painters (meant to represent Suzi Perry, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard) painting walls around a disused factory to depict the season just gone.

As a closer, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was one of BBC’s best efforts. For those that don’t remember, have a watch:

Then, have a watch of this video for the artist SOFLES, released in November 2013.

Notice a resemblance? You’re not the only one. The director behind the ‘Limitless’ music video Selina Miles has written a Facebook post about it. Mainly directed at Nike for a separate infringement, Miles also says: “I was emailed by someone from the BBC about this project, and I replied with some rough schedule dates and never heard again. Copied from their email: ‘I have been very impressed with your graffiti films and your use of hyper time-lapse and stop frame techniques and was wondering if you would be able to help us on a project. I understand that the practicalities of this could be impossible as you are Brisbane based but I work on the BBC’s coverage of Formula 1 motor racing. We are always looking for different ways to close the end of the season and bring together some of the many great images we’ve experienced. I saw the films you have done with Sofles and loved them.’

The story has been picked up by The Guardian. In it, they say that a BBC spokeswoman “said they had not received any communication from Miles regarding the accusation and as such would not provide comment.” I would not be surprised if there are a lot of subtle examples of this out there. Inevitably, those within the sporting world and beyond find inspiration from a variety of different sources. It is just that in this instance it appears to be a more obvious than other examples, which is why we are hearing about it in the press.

Addressing Formula E’s issues in the UK

Formula E in the UK at the moment has its problems. I hate to say that, but over the past year, something has gone wrong with the advertising of the series. The electric Formula E series began on September 13th 2014, with the Beijing ePrix. ITV have had the broadcast rights in the UK since the series began.

The inaugural race peaked with 477k (6.8%) for its live airing. Combined with the highlights programme, the race peaked with 713k. Inevitably numbers dropped across the first season. Races delivered numbers that were below expectation, in some places poor (until we saw season two’s numbers). In my opinion, and I have been consistent in saying this all along, ITV’s advertising of the championship has been poor. We’re not expecting miracles, but sometimes during the first season it felt that the advertising was running on ‘auto tune’.

Nevertheless, the London ePrix and the publicity that surrounded that provided ITV and everyone surrounded with the series an opportunity to push Formula E into the mainstream. It was an opportunity to build the foundations for season two, to give those watching at the end of June races to remember. So, what happened? The championship decider was broadcast live on ITV’s main channel to a peak audience of 1.18m (10.7%). It was a fantastic way to end the first season, with the battle between Nelson Piquet Jnr and Sebastien Buemi going down to the wire.

Seeing an audience of 1.2 million would have been a great opportunity for Formula E to thrash out a new deal for season two with ITV. More importantly, use the Battersea Park exposure to get some extra live races on ITV’s main channel and get the publicity ball for the 2015-16 season rolling in early September. ITV could produce some ‘raw’ 10-second teaser trailers based on footage from the Donington Park test in August for usage on-air throughout late September and October. Maybe try and get other media outlets involved, talkSPORT, The Guardian, BBC Radio 5 Live or Sky Sports online. Give them publicity material to ramp up the interest in the series before the Beijing ePrix gets under way.

Unfortunately, the reality was somewhat different. ITV’s deal was not confirmed until the middle of September. You don’t ‘hold’ on announcing something if everything is rosy. Evidently, there was some disagreement between the two parties which prevented an announcement. The only thing different between seasons one and two is that highlights would now air on ITV’s main channel. On the face of it, it seemed like a good move. But the problem, and this continues to manifest itself, is scheduling. A 60-minute slot on ITV(1) on Sunday mornings is unlikely to build a large audience, simply because there is not much of an audience around. A better answer would have been a race replay on either Saturday or Sunday afternoons (round dependent).

When the viewing figures for Battersea Park were released, I said the following: “This [the contract] requires commitment from both sides. I think logical progression from both sides would be to retain the current deal, but air the opening race of the 2015-16 season on ITV, along with two or three other races.” In my opinion, that’s not moving mountains. It’s simply putting Formula E in front of more faces. ITV’s main channel reaches more people than ITV4, that is a fact. The opening round of the 2015-16 season peaked with 168k (2.4%) for its live airing, including ITV’s highlights programme on Sunday morning, the peak number rose to 488k, a drop of 31.6 percent year-on-year. Even accounting for the season one hype, the drop of that scale was surely unexpected. Inevitably, the scheduling of the race with MotoGP and Formula 1 also on the same weekend did not help, but clever scheduling could have helped offset that.

Let’s take a look at the schedule for ITV(1) on Saturday 24th October:

06:00 – CITV
09:25 – The Jeremy Kyle Show USA (R)
10:10 – Countrywise (R)
10:40 – The Jeremy Kyle Show (R)
11:45 – ITV News
11:55 – Downton Abbey (R)
13:00 – The X Factor (R)
15:00 – Live Rugby World Cup
18:30 – ITV News
19:00 – The Chase
20:00 – The X Factor
22:25 – The Jonathan Ross Show

You’ve got the usual peak time line-up with The X Factor leading proceedings. But earlier in the schedule, you have two and a half hours of ‘dead air’ from 09:25 to 11:45. There are five and a half hours of repeats. The Beijing ePrix on ITV4 felt ‘separate’ to the main billings on ITV with the Rugby World Cup. Why not do some cross-advertising. “Your sporting weekend on ITV: the Rugby World Cup and the brand-new Formula E championship. Live and free on ITV.” ITV failed to cross-advertise two sporting events, which in my eyes was a missed opportunity to showcase Formula E to a wider audience. If you have X less-popular sport and Y very-popular sport on the same day, you should incorporate both into the same advertising campaign. Let’s turn the schedule above into the below:

06:00 – CITV
08:00 – Live Formula E: Beijing ePrix
10:20 – Downton Abbey (R)
11:25 – ITV News
11:35 – The X Factor (R)
13:35 – Formula E: Beijing ePrix
15:00 – Live Rugby World Cup
18:30 – as above

So, what have I changed? I’ve removed the morning repeats. Yes, they may draw good numbers, but frankly ITV should not be airing repeats of that nature on a Saturday morning. Air something new, be innovative and creative. Airing repeats of The Jeremy Kyle Show certainly does not tick those boxes. Moving the Beijing ePrix to ITV’s main channel in my opinion shows some scheduling creativity. I have chopped some post-race analysis off the live airing so that the repeat airing at 13:35 is in a longer 85-minute timeslot, allowing ample time for build-up (20 minutes), the full race (45 minutes) and post-race analysis (20 minutes) before the rugby, including adverts.

It is a tried, tested and successful formulae: ITV did it for twelve years with Formula 1. It is a Saturday afternoon, it’s where viewers expect sport to keep them hooked. I’ve kept the Downton Abbey and The X Factor repeats as I appreciate that they serve a purpose and I understand why they are in the schedule. The lost bit of CITV would be moved to the CITV channel or recaptured on Sunday morning. If ITV did the above, and the ratings were below average (let’s say below 500k for Formula E), you can at least say you tried. And that is where ITV are struggling. Again, this is not suggesting “every race should be on ITV”, it is suggesting that you use a select number of races as a shop window until the series grows further. I want Formula E to succeed, but at the moment the numbers show that the series in the UK is in reverse. Viewing figures this season have been down around 40 percent on last year’s average audience of 216k (2.6%).

However, there are issues that are out of ITV’s hands. The scheduling of the series as a whole needs to be revisited for the 2016-17 season. Formula E cannot build an audience with an imbalanced schedule, and that applies for every country. Races should happen at regular two or three week intervals (Christmas the exception). I appreciate that scheduling takes time to perfect, but you are not going to sustain and keep an audience if there is only one race in a five-week period. ITV would argue, quite rightly, “how can we advertise an event that takes place once every five weeks?” That also applies to the wider media.

If an event of Formula E’s nature takes place infrequently, the wider media are less likely to pick up and follow the series around the globe. Chances are, you would have only known about Sam Bird’s victory in the Buenos Aires ePrix yesterday if you have been following Formula E’s social media channels. Very few (if any) Formula 1 journalists on Twitter were tweeting about it, why? I simply do not know. The point is Formula E cannot grow on its own. It needs help from its stakeholders and broadcasters, including ITV.

The news earlier today that the Mexico City ePrix will not be shown live on ITV4 was met with disappointment, but you cannot be surprised looking at the viewing figures. I worry whether ITV are going to ditch Formula E at the end of season two, because it feels like their interest has been waning for a while. From 2017, horse racing will be filling up a lot of weekend hours on ITV4, which is unlikely to leave room for Formula E. I cannot emphasise this point more: if Formula E wants to grow in the UK, it has to have a presence (preferably live) on free-to-air television. Pay-TV is not the answer to growing a fan base. Live streaming is, partially, the answer. But free-to-air gives you access to millions of viewers. Live streaming does not.

If ITV decides they don’t want Formula E, there is one direction where Formula E could head. And that is live, on the BBC…

ITV4 bumps Mexico City ePrix to late-night due to snooker coverage

ITV will not be airing next month’s Mexico City ePrix live, it has been confirmed.

During the Buenos Aires ePrix highlights programme, presenter Jennie Gow confirmed that ITV4’s coverage of the Mexico City round on Saturday 12th March will be delayed due to live coverage of Snooker’s World Grand Prix tournament, which is airing on ITV4 from Tuesday 8th March through to Sunday 13th March. The Mexico City ePrix is currently due to air on ITV4 at 23:15 on the Saturday.

From a viewing figures perspective, it is a sensible decision. According to overnight viewing figures, yesterday’s Buenos Aires ePrix attracted an audience of 132k (0.7%), recording a 5-minute peak of 248k (1.2%) on ITV4. Whilst the peak audience was the highest of the season for Formula E, it was down 41.3 percent on last year’s figure of 423k (1.9%).

In comparison, the aforementioned World Grand Prix snooker tournament last year attracted average audiences of anywhere between 150k and 500k depending on the session and time of day. The semi-final session last year on the Saturday evening recorded a 5-minute peak of 422k (2.0%). The decision may well have been different had Formula E’s figures held up more this season, although I feel ITV’s extremely poor promotion of the series is to blame for that.

Either way, I hope ITV air their live coverage online, I would be surprised if they bump anything on ITV2 or ITV3 for the Mexico City ePrix (the chances of it bumping any of their main channel’s line-up is zero). If ITV do not air coverage online, you have to hope that the official Formula E YouTube stream is not geo-blocked otherwise UK fans will be hunting out other methods of viewing. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if live coverage turned up on BT Sport, but we will see.

Update on February 10th – Good news, the official Formula E website will be streaming the ePrix live. The website explains that Mexico was pencilled in for March 19th but was moved to March 12th. Ali Russell, Director of Media and Communications at Formula E said: “While it is very unfortunate that the scheduling clash means the Mexico race will not be shown live on television in the UK, this does give us the opportunity to stream the race live on the internet and opens up the opportunity for a whole new audience to experience the thrill of Formula E.”
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Alain Prost enters frame for Channel 4 role

The never ending wheel that is Channel 4 speculation appears to have lit up with news coming out of Buenos Aires that four-time world champion Alain Prost could be part of their Formula 1 team.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk (NBC) prior to this weekend’s Formula E race in Argentina, Prost said that he is not going to part of Renault’s Formula 1 team. Prost added: “I prefer to be away from the operational work because it’s too complicated anyway with Formula E and the ambassador role and Canal+ [in France] and maybe Channel 4 [in Britain], different things that I have to do.”

Confirmed
– David Coulthard (link)

Expected to be confirmed
– Ben Edwards (link)
– Steve Jones (link)

Inconclusive
– Alain Prost
– Eddie Jordan (linklink)

Ruled out
– Suzi Perry (link)
– Martin Whitmarsh (link)

Clearly Prost would not have mentioned Channel 4 had he not been contacted by either the network themselves or Whisper Films. So, it looks like we have a new name in the punditry frame… I would be happy with this if it came off. Prost has experience of course at the top level of motor sport, but also brief experience as a team manager so is well positioned to comment on the action both on and off the track.

As noted though, Prost is does Formula 1 work with Canal+, so he would have split the two roles. Logically, Prost would be part of Channel 4’s live races I reckon if the two sides agreed terms.

Update on February 7th – Alain Prost, this time speaking to Motorsport.com: “There is nothing done with UK TV [Channel 4] but it could be nice. I will continue with Canal + as usual for sure. I do not know why people are talking so much about UK TV, maybe it is because I am friends with David [Coulthard], but we see what the future holds.”

Update on February 9th – The same quotes have been published on James Allen’s website, the article on there written by Alex Kalinauckas. Fitting in with the who Steve Jones follows, Kalinauckas is also reporting that Lee McKenzie will be part of Channel 4’s team. Edwards, as expected, and also Guy Martin will also feature. It should be noted that Martin does regularly present on Channel 4 but the wording implies that Martin will not be lead presenter.

Suzi Perry not part of Channel 4’s F1 team, but what about Eddie Jordan?

It is official – Suzi Perry is not part of Channel 4’s Formula 1 team. This evening, the former BBC F1 presenter confirmed on Twitter that she would not be part of the channel’s new line-up, whilst also ruling herself out of a Top Gear role.

To regular blog readers, the news should not be a surprise given that this site first reported the information on January 16th. It looks like, barring a major change of direction, that Steve Jones will be leading Channel 4’s coverage when the Formula 1 paddock arrives in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix.

The other major story this evening, first reported by Radio Times and then The Guardian, that Eddie Jordan will be part of BBC’s new Top Gear team. The Guardian believes that Jordan’s Top Gear deal “is almost certain to be finalised in the coming days.” That news comes at loggerheads to Charles Sale’s report a few weeks back which claimed Jordan will be part of Channel 4’s F1 team. It is highly unlikely that Jordan will be part of both teams, so one report is right and the other is wrong. I’m leaning towards Radio Times with this one. It’s plausible that Jordan could balance Top Gear with Channel 4’s live races only, but I don’t see it happening.

The Guardian’s report (if true) eliminates another player that could have been a permanent part of Channel 4’s team. Based on the survey results from the beginning of January, you would have to hope that Channel 4 have managed to get either Mark Webber or Allan McNish on-board. If not, then you’re looking towards Graeme Lowdon or Susie Wolff. Martin Whitmarsh ruled himself out two weeks ago, whilst Lowdon as part of Manor have today confirmed a Le Mans entry.

In 42 days, the lights will go out for the first practice session of the 2016 season. In 43 days, Channel 4’s first highlights programme goes to air. And yet, there is still a lot to learn…

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