Sky reap the rewards as Channel 4’s highlights struggle in late-night slot

With little to play for, the viewing figures for the Brazilian Grand Prix were on the low side last weekend, overnight numbers show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast exclusively on Sky Sports F1, averaged 1.00m (7.1%) from 15:00 to 18:30. Sky’s number is in-line with 2014, whilst marginally down on last year’s figure of 1.13m (6.7%) over an extended time slot. On one hand, you could argue that viewing figures should be higher with no competition from Premier League football, but on the other hand, both championships have been finalised, so F1 is lucky that numbers were not significantly lower than that.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 1.60m (9.8%) at 17:30, only slightly down on last year’s peak audience of 1.75m (8.1%). The race was re-markedly stable, remaining between 1.49 million and the 1.60 million viewers between 16:15 and 17:35.

Channel 4’s highlights aired in a later slot compared with last year, and suffered badly as a result. Their programme averaged just 968k (13.0%) from 22:35 to 00:45 on Sunday evening, a decrease of 453,000 viewers on last year’s number of 1.42m (10.6%) and their second lowest rating for a race highlights programme. Channel 4’s coverage peaked with 1.38m (13.1%) at 23:00.

It is the second race in a row where Sky have beaten Channel 4, and the third time this season, all in similar circumstances where Channel 4’s programme have aired in a late-night slot. Channel 4 should overhaul the deficit to Sky in the consolidated audience figures, with viewers watching their programme later in the week.

The combined average of 1.97 million viewers is the second lowest audience of the season, only just ahead of June’s Canadian Grand Prix which averaged 1.93 million viewers. To be below two million viewers for Brazil under any circumstances is pitiful. The likes of Sky Go and Now TV will push the audience up by a few hundred thousand viewers, but it is still a dreadfully low number.

For the fourth time this season, Formula 1 recorded a peak audience of below three million viewers, with a combined peak of 2.98 million viewers, down 19 percent year-on-year. For a race that can easily average above four million viewers in the right circumstances, the figures for Brazil last weekend were comfortably the lowest of the modern era for Interlagos.

Due to its earlier time slot, Channel 4’s qualifying highlights programme unusually performed better than their race day show. Highlights of qualifying averaged 1.14m (5.4%) from 19:30 to 21:00, however it was below Channel 4’s slot average. Their show peaked with 1.49m (7.2%) at 20:20, the peak coming just after BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing concluded.

Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 436k (3.7%) from 15:00 to 17:45, comfortably their largest ever figure for a Brazilian qualifying session. An audience of 743k (5.5%) were watching as Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position.

The combined average audience of 1.58 million viewers is down by around 80,000 viewers year-on-year, and the lowest for Brazil since 2008.

The 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


Vernon Kay announced as Channel 5’s new Formula E presenter

Vernon Kay will present live coverage of the upcoming Formula E season for Channel 5, the broadcaster has confirmed.

Press details for the upcoming Hong Kong E-Prix also note that the broadcaster will be on-site for season four, as suggested last month. Kay has previous for hosting sport, having hosted American football for Channel 4 previously. He is probably most famous for presenting the likes of All Star Family Fortunes and Splash! for ITV in recent years.

Channel 5 says that Kay will present “all the action live from the paddock as round one and two of the 2017/18 Formula E Championship spark into life at the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix on December 2-3 around the Victoria Harbour front.” It marks a significant shift for the broadcaster from the low-budget studio that was used during their first season covering the sport.

In the official press release, Kay says “Formula E remains an incredible spectacle within the world of motorsport. I can’t wait to get track-side and present all the electric action, right from the heart of these amazing cities.” The announcement means that Andy Jaye no longer appears to be involved in Channel 5’s output, having hosted coverage last year.

The remainder of the punditry line-up is unknown as of writing. Also unconfirmed is the schedule for Hong Kong. Provisional schedules for Hong Kong suggest that Channel 5 will be airing both races on tape-delay from 09:00 to 10:45 on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd December respectively. The press release from Formula E also states that Channel 5 will broadcast live coverage from selected races, which cannot be seen as good news and a downgrade on previous years.

Initial reaction to Kay’s involvement is mixed, and very much reminiscent of the reaction when Melanie Sykes became BT Sport’s MotoGP presenter and when Steve Jones became Channel 4’s F1 presenter. The outcome was different for both: Sykes’ gig lasted three months, whilst Jones is coming to the end of his second season as Formula 1 presenter, a role he has settled into very well.

Whilst Kay does come from a similar background to Sykes, he has the advantage of having presented sport before. I suspect that, even though the Formula E race is live, the build-up segments might be pre-recorded in advance, allowing a certain degree of preparation beforehand for Kay and his co-presenters to prepare their lines. The post-race part is always the trickier element to master and requires a significant amount of research in advance. Kay is enough of a veteran for me to feel that he will be just fine in the role.

The important thing which we should not forget is that, for the first time, a UK broadcaster will be on-site at every round, which is a massive step in the right direction if the series is to grow and flourish in this country. I suspect North One Television, who are producing Formula E content from this season onwards alongside Aurora, have helped put Channel 5’s package together.

Updated on November 15th.

Julian Ryder to bow out of MotoGP commentary role following 2017 season

Julian Ryder is to retire from his MotoGP broadcasting duties at the end of the 2017 season, this site can confirm. It means that his commentary alongside Keith Huewen for BT Sport in Valencia, will be his last in MotoGP, for now at least.

Ryder follows MotoGP World Feed lead commentator Nick Harris in retiring, Harris also bowing out this weekend. BT nor Ryder have yet to comment, but I have been able to independently verify the news with multiple sources, whilst stars from the paddock fraternity have noted it on social media.

Involved in motor cycle racing for over 30 years, Ryder started off as a journalist before moving into the television space with Eurosport in the late 1980s. Ryder’s first major stint was with Sky Sports, working alongside the likes of Huewen and Martin Turner (more recently Sky’s Head of Formula 1) on their World Superbikes coverage.

Into the new millennium, Ryder moved to Eurosport, covering MotoGP with Toby Moody and Randy Mamola, forming a partnership that became universally liked by viewers from the beginning until Eurosport’s coverage ended in 2013. Ryder made the switch with MotoGP to BT Sport, reforming his partnership with Huewen, lasting for four seasons.

BT Sport’s presentation line-up has changed various times since their coverage started in 2014, with Melanie Sykes, Abi Griffiths, and Iwan Thomas coming and going at various stages. Ryder’s departure appears to be his decision as opposed to a BT influenced move. It is fair to say that BT will lose his vast array of knowledge and expertise spanning the three classes on the MotoGP programme, which will be incredibly difficult to replace.

> Interested in how motorcycle television broadcasting works? Head over here and here for a behind the scenes look…

The problem for all motor sport series, especially MotoGP and Formula 1, is that as the number of races increases, so does the demand and strain on all involved with the championship, including broadcasters’ and journalists. The more races you add to the calendar in fly-away locations, the less desire there is to continue said travel.

If broadcasters want to retain their best talent, both in front and behind the camera, they need to strongly consider rotating their talent better, including commentary or, as an alternative, to call some of the fly-away races from London. For next season, I would expect Neil Hodgson and Colin Edwards to be the prime candidates to fill Ryder’s void, in what could be BT Sport’s fourth and last season covering the sport.

Either way, the 2017 Valencia MotoGP round marks the end of an era, with two legendary commentators heading to pastures new outside of the MotoGP paddock.

Update on November 10th – Speaking at the start of BT Sport’s coverage of the first MotoGP practice session on Friday morning, Ryder said, “My name is Julian Ryder, I’m here for the last weekend of my MotoGP career.” Ryder also explained his reasoning at the start of the broadcast. “I decided that I can’t deal with the travel anymore, I’ve got other jobs I want to do, so I’m quietly out the door on Sunday.”

Speaking to Keith Huewen, Ryder said that “it has been the pleasure of my professional life to commentate with you. It has always been fun, as it should be!”

Predicting the 2018 calendar pick order

Since The F1 Broadcasting Blog first appeared online in April 2012, a yearly piece during the Summer has been to ‘predict’ the calendar picks for both the UK free-to-air broadcaster and Sky Sports, with predictions made around which races the free-to-air channel will air live and which races will air in highlights form. The series of posts ends with the 2018 version, as from 2019 onwards Formula 1 will air exclusively live on Sky Sports.

The provisional calendar for the 2018 Formula One season, unveiled in June, features 21 races. The French Grand Prix is back on the calendar for the first time since 2008 as part of a triple-header of races. The German race makes its biannual return, whilst the calendar sadly does not feature the Malaysian Grand Prix. Of note also is that the Chinese and Singapore rounds of the championship are provisional and may disappear (now, that does not appear likely).

The calendar currently is as follows:

F1 2018 calendar

France takes the slot previously held by Baku, with Baku in turn sending Russia to fill the gap left by Malaysia. The rest of the calendar is again fairly static, with no sign of a shake up from Formula 1’s new owners Liberty Media yet.

For the final time, the pick process goes as follows:

– Channel 4 pick three races (pick 1, 2 and 3)
– Sky pick three races (pick 4, 5 and 6)
– Channel 4 pick one race (pick 7)
– Sky pick one race (pick 8)

This continues until there are no races remaining. There are 21 races on the calendar, so Channel 4 will screen ten races live with Sky screening eleven races exclusively live. If a race disappears from the calendar, the picks do not change retrospectively. Germany was dropped from the 2015 calendar after BBC’s and Sky’s plans were publicly confirmed, but the picks stayed the same, meaning BBC were able to broadcast three races in a row live.

As with all even-numbered years, the summer of sport means a popular football competition, and in 2018 it is the turn of the World Cup. There are two dates to be aware of: the group stages with the French Grand Prix, and the round of 16 a week later with the Austrian Grand Prix. As usual, there are a few weekends where MotoGP and Formula 1 clash, the British round of the MotoGP season again falls on a Formula 1 weekend. The new Thailand MotoGP round will also clash with the Japanese Grand Prix, although there should not be a direct clash.

Channel 4 pick Britain, Abu Dhabi, and USA (pick 1 to 3). In the two years that Channel 4 have aired Formula 1, Canada has not been one of their races, with the broadcaster choosing Mexico in 2016 and USA in 2017. I thought Mexico in 2016 was a bit awkward for Channel 4, as the race finished just before 21:00, and they ended up rushing off-air, whereas USA blocks out all of primetime, meaning that there is more breathing room afterwards. Britain and Abu Dhabi as usual are the first two live picks for Channel 4, the former not clashing with either Wimbledon or the World Cup final. A slight aside to this: if the Wimbledon final does go beyond three sets, it will clash with the World Cup final on July 15th. The Wimbledon Men’s final usually starts at 14:00, with the football World Cup final starting at 16:00. I imagine the former will begin earlier, but it is astonishing that the planning so far has not prevented that from happening.

On the back of this, expect Sky to pick Canada, Mexico, and Brazil (pick 4 to 6). By picking USA, Channel 4 have essentially goaded Sky into picking Mexico and Brazil at an early stage. Failing to pick one or the other would result in Channel 4 having two big prime time races at the end of the season. Sky’s third pick would be Canada, which takes place the weekend before the World Cup begins so is in a good position on the calendar. Following the first six picks, the picks alternate for the remainder of the process. I would love to see Channel 4 pick Australia (pick 7), even I think it is highly unlikely. Australia has not aired live on free-to-air television since 2011, and arguably it may not make commercial sense for Channel 4 to air the race live as a higher proportion of viewers will be watching later in the day, depleting the number of viewers who will watch the adverts in full. So, this is more a ‘like to see’ pick more than anything.

With Monaco and Singapore both on the table, expect Sky to pick Singapore (pick 8) here. Singapore when live can rate higher than Monaco, in 2017, Singapore averaged half a million more viewers than Monte Carlo. Nevertheless, Monaco is still a race that can draw casual viewers. 2017 saw hot weather on Monaco race day which depleted viewership, but it can still rate highly on a good day, so I would expect Channel 4 to pick Monaco (pick 9).

We are left in this position:

March 25th – Australia (Melbourne) – Channel 4 (pick 7)
April 8th – China (Shanghai)
April 15th – Bahrain (Sakhir)
April 29th – Azerbaijan (Baku)
May 13th – Spain (Barcelona)
May 27th – Monaco (Monaco) – Channel 4 (pick 9)
June 10th – Canada (Montreal) – Sky (pick 4)
June 24th – France (Paul Ricard)
July 1st – Austria (Red Bull Ring)
July 8th – Britain (Silverstone) – Channel 4 (pick 1)
July 22nd – Germany (Hockenheim)
July 29th – Hungary (Budapest)
August 26th – Belgium (Spa)
September 2nd – Italy (Monza)
September 16th – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Sky (pick 8)
September 30th – Russia (Sochi)
October 7th – Japan (Suzuka)
October 21st – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Channel 4 (pick 3)
October 28th – Mexico (Mexico City) – Sky (pick 5)
November 11th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky (pick 6)
November 25th – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – Channel 4 (pick 2)

Bahrain is the best timeslot left, so expect Sky to pick Bahrain (pick 10), although there is the small matter of qualifying potentially overlapping with the Grand National. With Germany back in the picture, I would expect Channel 4 to pick Hungary (pick 11), meaning that the free-to-air broadcaster heads into the Summer break with a live race. Because of Channel 4 picking both Britain and Hungary, it means that Sky automatically get Germany (pick 21) to avoid Channel 4 airing three races in a row live. Sky picking Belgium (pick 12) follows with Channel 4 automatically getting Italy (pick 19).

2018 sees the French Grand Prix return to the calendar, and the free-to-air broadcaster has history of airing the first race at a new circuit live (Russia 2014 and Baku 2016 were both live on free-to-air). However, the return of the French round will directly clash with two games from the World Cup group stage in Group G. Two games in Group G kick off on the 23rd and 24th June at 13:00 BST / 15:00 MSK. I would therefore expect Channel 4 to pick Austria (pick 13), which in turn means that Sky automatically get France (pick 20). Channel 4 certainly do not want an F1 race that may end up clashing with an England game.

The schedule therefore looks like this:

March 25th – Australia (Melbourne) – Channel 4 (pick 7)
April 8th – China (Shanghai)
April 15th – Bahrain (Sakhir) – Sky (pick 10)
April 29th – Azerbaijan (Baku)
May 13th – Spain (Barcelona)
May 27th – Monaco (Monaco) – Channel 4 (pick 9)
June 10th – Canada (Montreal) – Sky (pick 4)
June 24th – France (Paul Ricard) – Sky (pick 20 – automatic)
July 1st – Austria (Red Bull Ring) – Channel 4 (pick 13)
July 8th – Britain (Silverstone) – Channel 4 (pick 1)
July 22nd – Germany (Hockenheim) – Sky (pick 21 – automatic)
July 29th – Hungary (Budapest) – Channel 4 (pick 11)
August 26th – Belgium (Spa) – Sky (pick 12)
September 2nd – Italy (Monza) – Channel 4 (pick 19 – automatic)
September 16th – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Sky (pick 8)
September 30th – Russia (Sochi)
October 7th – Japan (Suzuka)
October 21st – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Channel 4 (pick 3)
October 28th – Mexico (Mexico City) – Sky (pick 5)
November 11th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky (pick 6)
November 25th – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – Channel 4 (pick 2)

Logically at this point, Sky may pick Azerbaijan. However, with Sky having already lost out on Australia, picking Azerbaijan means that they cannot pick China and Spain, leaving Channel 4 with a strong start to the season. So, a secondary domino effect starts here. Sky picking Spain (pick 14)Channel 4 automatically getting Azerbaijan (pick 17).

With only one lunch time race left, the logical option is for Channel 4 to pick Russia (pick 15), resulting in Sky automatically getting Japan (pick 18). The last race, China, as a result goes to Sky (pick 16).

Which leaves us with a final calendar of:

March 25th – Australia (Melbourne) – Channel 4 (pick 7)
April 8th – China (Shanghai) – Sky (pick 16)
April 15th – Bahrain (Sakhir) – Sky (pick 10)
April 29th – Azerbaijan (Baku) – Channel 4 (pick 17 – automatic)
May 13th – Spain (Barcelona) – Sky (pick 14)
May 27th – Monaco (Monaco) – Channel 4 (pick 9)
June 10th – Canada (Montreal) – Sky (pick 4)
June 24th – France (Paul Ricard) – Sky (pick 20 – automatic)
July 1st – Austria (Red Bull Ring) – Channel 4 (pick 13)
July 8th – Britain (Silverstone) – Channel 4 (pick 1)
July 22nd – Germany (Hockenheim) – Sky (pick 21 – automatic)
July 29th – Hungary (Budapest) – Channel 4 (pick 11)
August 26th – Belgium (Spa) – Sky (pick 12)
September 2nd – Italy (Monza) – Channel 4 (pick 19 – automatic)
September 16th – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Sky (pick 8)
September 30th – Russia (Sochi) – Channel 4 (pick 15)
October 7th – Japan (Suzuka) – Sky (pick 18 – automatic)
October 21st – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Channel 4 (pick 3)
October 28th – Mexico (Mexico City) – Sky (pick 5)
November 11th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky (pick 6)
November 25th – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – Channel 4 (pick 2)

If there are any calendar changes, I will update this post as and when, otherwise we should find out the confirmed Channel 4 and Sky F1 picks close to Christmas or in early 2018, for the final time.

Scheduling: The 2017 Valencian MotoGP / Brazilian Grand Prix

Two riders. One championship. Marc Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso. One of them will become 2017 MotoGP World Champion in Valencia.

As always, the MotoGP weekend will air exclusively live on BT Sport, with highlights in a Monday evening time slot on Channel 5. Suzi Perry is back fronting BT Sport’s coverage alongside the likes of Gavin Emmett and Neil Hodgson; Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder will be on commentary.

The race is significant from a broadcasting perspective as it will mark Nick Harris’ last race commentating on Dorna’s MotoGP World Feed, having been involved in the motoring world for 36 years! His successor from 2018 onwards has yet to be announced.

Elsewhere, the Formula 1 season is not quite over, with the penultimate round of the championship in Brazil airing exclusively live on Sky Sports F1. Following Channel 4’s highlights programme is 1: Life on the Limit, which follows Formula 1’s pursuit for safety over the years. It is the first time that the film has aired on Channel 4, with various airings on ITV4 in the past year and a half.

Due to international football, the BBC’s coverage from Brazil is on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra for the complete weekend.

MotoGP – Valencia (BT Sport 2)
10/11 – 08:00 to 15:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 1
=> 10:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 12:00 – Practice 2
11/11 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
12/11 – 07:30 to 09:15 – Warm Up
12/11 – 09:30 to 15:00
=> 09:30 – Moto3 race
=> 11:15 – Moto2 race
=> 12:45 – MotoGP race
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Valencia (Channel 5)
13/11 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Channel 4 F1
11/11 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights
12/11 – 22:30 to 00:45 – Race Highlights
12/11 – 00:45 to 02:45 – FILM: 1: Life on the Limit

Sky Sports F1
10/11 – 11:45 to 14:00 – Practice 1
10/11 – 15:45 to 18:00 – Practice 2 (also on Sky Sports Main Event)
11/11 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Practice 3
11/11 – 15:00 to 17:40 – Qualifying
12/11 – 14:30 to 19:15 – Race
=> 14:30 – Track Parade
=> 15:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 15:30 – Race
=> 18:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
08/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
09/11 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Driver Press Conference
09/11 – 20:00 to 20:15 – Paddock Uncut
10/11 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Team Press Conference
10/11 – 19:00 to 19:30 – The F1 Show
16/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
10/11 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
10/11 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/11 – 15:55 to 17:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12/11 – 15:30 to 18:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

If anything changes, the schedule will be updated.