Coulthard: C4 F1 2019 deal “a good compromise” for UK fans

Channel 4’s Formula 1 television deal to air highlights of every round, plus live coverage of the British Grand Prix in 2019, is “a good compromise” for fans, according to the man who has been part of the UK F1 broadcasting picture for the past decade.

For the past three seasons, the free-to-air broadcaster has aired half of the F1 season live, with the other half airing in highlights form. That arrangement ended following Abu Dhabi, with Sky grabbing the exclusive rights in March 2016, and opting the sub-let the free-to-air element out to Channel 4.

Speaking to this site at the Autosport Show from the W Series stand, racer turned analyst David Coulthard said “Irrespective of my personal involvement with Channel 4 in the past, I’m just a great believer that Formula 1 in the UK market should be available free-to-air. I understand the commercial aspects, how Sky operate, they have a great platform and great coverage.”

“However, all credit to the current management at Channel 4, and at Sky, to have rescued from what seemed like not having any free-to-air Formula 1 to having a collaboration where Sky are the majority broadcaster with all the live events, and Channel 4 are able to do highlights along with the British Grand Prix being live.”

“I think that’s a good compromise and enables the UK to still enjoy its Formula 1 whether you want it live or edited,” Coulthard added.

Although this site expects Whisper Films, whom Coulthard is part of, to continue to produce Channel 4’s coverage, Coulthard could not confirm if he will be involved in front of the camera, with several elements between Channel 4 and Sky to be finalised.

“I’m still not yet in a position to be able to confirm whether I’ll be involved in the broadcast or not, but irrespective, I think Channel 4 will do a great job,” Coulthard told me.

“The actual agreement came together quite late, it obviously dilutes in terms of what we [Channel 4] are able to do and therefore reduces the amount of on-screen talent. Channel 4 are still working on how that will look and who’ll be involved.”

As revealed before Christmas, John Curtis, who previously worked with Sky, is now leading up Whisper Films’ F1 production team, with Mark Wilkin stepping aside, whilst the length of the individual race edits are set to decrease slightly compared with previous years.

Judge new F1 broadcasting graphics “on its merits”
Coulthard, who has been part of the BBC’s and more recently Channel 4’s F1 coverage since 2009, was cautious on some of Formula 1’s new on-screen graphics that are set to appear for the first time this season.

“I take the view of ‘let’s try anything and everything’ and then judge it on its merits rather than poo-pooing something before it’s actually been introduced, especially when it comes to broadcast and graphics,” Coulthard said.

His comment was in relation to reports prior to the Christmas break that FOM are introducing a new ‘overtaking probability’ graphic, using Amazon Web Services’ machine learning technology this year, in a continued effort to bring in a different audience to the sport.

“We were once young guys, and we have a different view of life compared to the current younger generation,” he added. “I’ve got a ten-year-old son and he continues to surprise my wife and we have to accept that every generation has different opportunities, needs, requirements and aspirations, and we should embrace that.”

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BT Sport to show every WRC stage live this year

BT Sport are to show every stage of the 2019 World Rally Championship live, this site can confirm.

In previous years, BT only aired stages that WRC covered live via their World Feed. The boundaries changed in 2018, as the series launched their over-the-top platform All Live, which covered every stage of the championship live. Despite this, BT and other pay-TV broadcasters did not air the All Live content.

Now in its second season, the UK are amongst three markets (the others being France and Greece) that are taking the All Live output. The plan is for BT to air the All Live content behind their Red Button service.

Speaking to me at the Autosport Show, WRC Promoter Oliver Ciesla explained the reasoning behind the year-on-year change.

“Last year the service was new, so we first needed to check the technical stability,” Ciesla said. “We wanted to make sure that the product, and the way we shape it, is good for the market. With the product being mature now for 2019, we bring it to the market.”

“There is a big appetite in the market from digital and pay channels for live content at world championship level. It’s not to broaden the audience, it’s more an additional service for the hardcore fans, they want more, they get more.”

“For domestic events in the home country however, we’re always trying to make sure that they get the maximum free-to-air coverage.”

Channel 5’s UK TV rights up in the air
Question marks remain over which UK broadcaster will air free-to-air coverage of the championship with Ciesla unable to confirm a broadcaster, despite the first round in Monte Carlo being less than two weeks away.

Regular highlights returned to free-to-air television in March 2013 on ITV4, with Channel 5 picking up the baton since 2016.

Ciesla ruled out the possibility of airing stages live via social media, to try to attract a different audience towards All Live. “There is an opportunity to put live streams on our social media channels, but at the moment this is not part of our media mix, we commercialise that in a different manner,” Ciesla added.

“We have increased the global television audience by 40 percent since we started on the job, plus introduced all of the digital and pay services,” Ciesla said. “There is still some space for us to grow on either side.”

In addition, WRC announced during the Autosport Show that All Live will air in the Spanish language for the first time, a natural step for a series that has four rounds in Spanish speaking countries (Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Spain).

Scheduling: The 2019 Marrakesh E-Prix

After Antonio Felix da Costa won the opening round in December, the Formula E season heads to Morocco for the Marrakesh E-Prix! It is the third E-Prix in Morocco, which remains in its January slot.

All the action for UK fans airs live on YouTube and BT Sport. Eurosport is airing delayed coverage of qualifying, followed immediately by live coverage of the race. Meanwhile, Final Score delays the BBC’s Red Button output, however the race still airs live via BBC’s online platforms. Highlights air on Quest on Saturday evening, repeated on Sunday morning.

Following its first outing last month, Formula E’s bespoke YouTube show Voltage returns in Marrakesh, with XO stars Stephen Tries and Will Lenney the guests this time around.

The Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series, which supported the main attraction in Saudi Arabia, returns to the Formula E support bill next month in Mexico City.

Formula E – Marrakesh
All sessions air live via YouTube and the following UK channels…
11/01 – 14:15 to 15:00 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
12/01 – 07:10 to 08:15 – Practice 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
12/01 – 09:00 to 10:00 – Practice 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)
12/01 – 10:45 to 12:15 – Qualifying (BT Sport/ESPN)
12/01 – 13:30 to 14:30 – Qualifying Delayed (Eurosport 2)
12/01 – 14:30 to 16:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BT Sport/ESPN
=> live on BBC’s website and Connected TV
=> live on Eurosport 2
12/01 – 14:30 to 16:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
12/01 – 17:25 to 19:25 – Race: World Feed Delayed (BBC Red Button)
12/01 – 22:30 to 23:30 – Highlights (Quest)

As always, the schedule will be updated if anything changes.

Analysis: The decline of the F1 season review

The official 2018 Formula One Season Review, produced by Formula One Management might go down as one of the championship’s poorer productions. To casual observers, that statement might seem like an extreme exaggeration, but the 2018 review saw a major shift in the style of the review produced.

Formula One has produced an official season review dating back to the 1980s, then on VHS and more recently on DVD. FOM released the early reviews for the first time on DVD in recent weeks in the run up to the Christmas period.

Inevitably, one can draw comparisons between the quality of the historical reviews, and the 2018 offering. The official season review has gone through many different iterations in differing shapes and sizes.

In the early to mid-1990’s, the likes of Tony Jardine, Matt Lorenzo and even chat show host Jonathan Ross voiced the reviews. They were generally much more colourful than recent offerings, helped by a script that was willing to poke fun at the action every so often.

Since the early 2000’s, Ben Edwards has voiced most of the reviews. Despite his best efforts, the reviews have become formulaic and stale over the years, not helped by the wealth of footage already in the public arena.

The length of the reviews has increased drastically over the years, and whilst an extended edit is sometimes good, the review became a marathon that even the most dedicated fan found difficult to navigate through. Four and a half hours of Mercedes domination is not the best way to spend a Christmas…

For 2018, FOM opted to overhaul the official season review. On the front of it, that sounds like a good thing, with the possibility of a tighter edit and script making for a better programme that set the pulse racing.

However, instead of using a bespoke voiceover, FOM for the first time used live commentary from Sky Sports, with Tom Clarkson providing additional input between each race. Suffice to say that the result was a drastic cut back in the amount of action on offer.

Midfield action ignored
The narrative in 2018 was Lewis Hamilton versus Sebastian Vettel in the Fight for Five, which is obvious throughout the review. By using Sky’s commentary combined with the World Feed pictures (including the full F1 graphics set), FOM omitted vast amounts of action further down the field.

FOM ignored mid-field incidents, such as the clash between Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly in Azerbaijan, as well as Fernando Alonso’s knock with Lance Stroll in America. There is no transition between shots within each race, as the review simply fails to tell the race-by-race story, and why X ended up in front of Y.

The worst edit though goes to the German Grand Prix, which transitioned from a dry to wet race. On any other season review, there would have been something new, an alternative angle, a new spin not captured on the World Feed output (such as Stroll’s excursion), or snippet of team radio that told viewers something revealing that may make the news wires over the festive period. Not here.

2018 German GP - season review edit.png
From one frame to another during FOM’s German Grand Prix edit in the season review. Multiple positions have changed according to the timing tower, but the review does not cover these. Plus, the second frame has a little bit of drizzle…

The Hockenheim circuit is bone dry in one shot, and in the next, the track is wet without any explanation. As a rule of thumb throughout the review, if FOM did not cover the incident on the main World Feed, chances are that it failed to make the official season review as well.

In a sport such as Formula 1, there is always something new to air, irrespective of how well the World Feed captured the action. As much as FOM have improved their offering with more footage now in the public domain, there is always a hidden gem that most fans have not previously seen before, only uncovered long after the event.

On an editorial level, other decisions taken for the season review, such as displaying the top ten grid order but only the top three finishing positions were baffling. It feels like FOM treated the 2018 review as an afterthought, possibly because they see other developments (such as F1 TV) as bigger revenue streams compared to the antiquated season reviews.

F1 2018 “Best Bits”
A season review is something that should cover the entire field, not just the first dozen cars. In my view, the 2018 season review is a “best bits” snapshot that fails to do 2018 justice.

One of the best reviews for me back in the day was 1995, which covered the pre-season driver market shake-up and the 17 races in reasonable detail. The review also covered the midfield action, highlighting the more amusing moments, such as the best spins and wet weather drives, in several fun (but cheesy) VT’s. Having never watched F1 back in 1995, the review did the job for me.

f1 season review lengths
A look at the length of the F1 season reviews. Left: the length of the main feature. Right: the length of the main feature divided by the number of races, to show the average length per race.

Taking Sky’s live commentary in 2018 meant that there were fewer break points for the editors to take, resulting in a poorer edit. The official 1993 season review clocked in at 95 minutes for 16 races.

The South African round that year, and the 2018 Australian race, had an edit of around 3 minutes and 40 seconds for the racing action (excluding qualifying). Yet, the tighter edit for South Africa 1993, combined with the distinctive voice over from Ross, allowed for eleven snippets of action, compared with just six for Australia 2018, including start and finish.

And 1993 was one of the shortest of reviews of its time, meaning that the comparison is a generous one. The statistics show that each 2018 weekend had six and a half minutes of action in the review, the shortest since 1996, and fourth shortest since 1990.

Although the length of the season review is like 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000, the additional races in 2018 means that fans get fewer minutes per race than the late 1990’s. The bulky top 10 run down of qualifying and padding compared to the reviews of yesteryear means that 2018 is, in my view, at the back of the pack.

The fact that FOM opted to use Sky’s live commentary in their season review instead of another broadcaster is irrelevant, the criticism would have remained. Using live commentary in a season review situation does not work, and resulted in a much poorer product.

The season ending in late November probably does not help the season review’s cause, as FOM and Duke Video race to get the review out and on the shelves before Christmas. The main review is 136 minutes long, and would have benefited with an additional 45 minutes added to the main review, but the core problem remains the way that FOM have produced the season review.

I hope the style of the review changes again for 2019, because in my view the 2018 style has left Formula 1 fans, including myself, short-changed.

Maybe, we need to wait until February or March for the proper 2018 review. Enter, Netflix

Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict Revealed

Following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, this site offered readers the chance to give their verdict on the 2018 motor racing broadcasting picture, to have their say on proceedings. Thanks to everyone who commented on the original post and gave their thoughts.

The 2018 Formula One season was the last of the original 2012 to 2018 UK television contract, originally signed between the BBC and Sky Sports in July 2011. Channel 4 took over the BBC element from 2016 onwards, and whilst they will remain part of the F1 broadcasting picture in 2019, their role has diminished, with just one race live and all the rest airing in highlights form.

For the third consecutive season readers, including George O’Donnell, praised Channel 4’s output. A long-term viewer of Formula 1, Noggins summarised their view point:

I have been watching F1 for over 50 years and have seen the world, the sport and coverage change enormously. But never has the sport had such wonderful, professional, entertaining coverage as it has had (on live weekends, especially) with Channel 4 / Whisper Films. The quality of the production is outstanding and the real passion of the entire team has been tremendous.

In particular, there was praise for presenter Steve Jones and lead commentator Ben Edwards. “Down to earth”, “chirpy presence on-screen” and “waxing lyrical about the sport” were some of the phrases used by the likes of Peter and Lesmo in relation to Jones.

Peter offered further insight on Karun Chandhok, showing exactly why Sky have picked his services up for 2019. Not everyone was happy with Channel 4’s output though. gwilym.t outlined Channel 4’s positives, but noted “the lack of technical coverage” during their broadcasts. Rhys Benjamin went a step further, and hopes their coverage is radically different next year:

The content itself is also looking very tired, given that they had known this was their final year. It doesn’t match up to a lot of the features that Sky do or the BBC (between 2009 and 2012; the BBC’s product went downhill rapidly from 2013-15) did. I still hope (and pray) that next year’s highlights are a Sky production and simply plonked on C4 (as they were for the 2013-14 Ashes series, albeit plonked on Pick). I can’t see C4 simply having any motivation next year.

A recurring theme of the past, Ted Kravitz and Martin Brundle continue to whet the appetite for Sky’s Formula 1 audience. Peter says that Kravitz “remains the eminent pro”, whilst gwilym.t praised several members of their 2018 team:

Ted Kravitz continues to be a gem, charismatic and entertaining as hell, whilst still being insightful, Martin Brundle continues to be the class of the commentary field, though I do feel that his passion is just starting to wane a little bit. Paul Di Resta has come a long way this year, proving he can fill Martin’s shoes, and he’ll only get better with experience, and Anthony Davidson has been great in practice throughout the year.

Rhys Benjamin offers a different take on David Croft’s commentary puns, stating that they are turning into ‘Murrayisms’! Whilst there have been some positives for Sky in 2018, the quality of their overall product came under fire. Noggins says that Sky appear to be “going through the motions”, but others had a more damming assessment:

The features they put out were absolutely dire. There’s literally no point watching their tired Top Gear esque build up, as you’d get more insight by spending an hour reading the likes of Joe Saward or Autosport before the session gets going. – Lesmo

To summarise Sky’s year I’d say this, they’ve had season like McLaren and Williams, a few minor highlights, but now living off their past glories, they need change in all areas of they are too attract the sort of audience F1 needs, it’s evident in the fall in Sky’s viewing figures compared to 2012-13. Though I will say that the signing of Jenson Button for next year is great. – gwilym.t

Outside of the Channel 4 and Sky sphere, several readers commented on Formula One Management’s offering this season, with Tom Clarkson’s Beyond the Grid podcast quite rightly receiving recognition from George O’Donnell and Lesmo.

The highlight of the year for me is the ‘Beyond The Grid’ podcast with Tom Clarkson. I think Tom is one of the more underrated journalists in the paddock. His interview questions really get the most out of his guests, and the podcasts are captivating listening. The one hour long form gets much more out of the guests than TV features and I’ve learned a lot which I haven’t learned from all the hours of features which BBC/Channel 4/Sky have produced over the past 10 years.

Readers were critical of other aspects in FOM’s control, with Rhys Benjamin criticising the “clunky” 2018 graphics set, whilst Andy believes Liberty Media are “dumbing down” the end product.

As always, the above is a snapshot of the conversation happening on the site, some of the posts cover a lot of ground that this article does not, and is very much worth a read as we head towards the start of another season.