The direction never taken: Formula 1 and Channel 4

On July 29th, 2011, a new broadcasting deal for Formula 1 in the UK was announced by BBC and Sky Sports, that would change the Formula 1 broadcasting landscape in the country. The deal, which was a result of the licence fee settlement that the BBC had agreed to, stated that BBC would broadcast half of the twenty races live, with the other half being broadcast in highlights form. Sky Sports would broadcast every single session of the 2012 season live, half of them, exclusively.

As I have stated many times in this blog, not least in my ‘The Verdict so Far’ series to begin this blog, this was a major change for Grand Prix broadcasting in this country as the below graph helps illustrate:

Figure 1.1.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC received thousands of complaints, over 5,000 in total, along with 8,000 responses to the blog on the issue. The question, for many, was “did the BBC prevent ITV or Channel 4 from taking full F1 rights for their own greediness?”. BBC would, quite obviously, say no, chances are we will never know the full answer.

But what we do know is that Channel 4 were definitely putting a serious bid on the table to take exclusive Formula 1 rights from the 2013 season onwards. The same applies for ITV, although there is no proof of that in the form of actual plans, whereas for Channel 4, there is. These documents from the Graphical House website show that Channel 4 were definitely taking a potential bid seriously with a very slick overview of what they were planning.

Although the Graphical House website pulled a few of the important pages, Phil Duncan’s Daily Mail blog has these pages which make for interesting reading. Ignoring the show names, as these are generic titles and are probably not worth focussing on, I do think the ten point plan is worth looking into.

The ten point plan that Channel 4 proposed in Summer 2011 to try and capture exclusive UK F1 rights.

With that in mind, for the remainder of this post, I’m going to play devils advocate and pretend that the BBC and Sky deal did not happen. Never. Kaput. Zilch. Whatever you want to call it. And I’m going to pretend that these ten points were involved in Channel 4’s Press Release stating that they had won the Formula 1 rights from BBC. My first thoughts though writing that, is “how would the F1 fans have responded?”. I don’t think the move would come with much approval, that’s for sure, and I believe many would see it as a step backwards, with commercials in the live race. But on the other hand, surely if it safeguards Formula 1’s future on free to air television, then that has to be, under any circumstances, a good thing?

The first point talks about their motor sport coverage across their networks saying that it will be “more extensive [..] than ever before”. That is really a given, as Channel 4 have never had the rights to Formula 1 before, so that is not particularly surprising. It may well mean more coverage than BBC and ITV before it, which, given that Channel 4’s audience share is lower than BBC’s and ITV’s is again unsurprising as the more airtime that they dedicate to Formula 1 will lift their all-day share. This leads somewhat onto their second point with “more live hours of racing free-to-air”. Ignoring the “no pay-wall” bit, which is obviously aimed at Sky, the main jist of the point suggests that Channel 4 probably would have considered taking the GP2 and GP3 rights from Eurosport. Point 3 suggests the above would be repeated in primetime too, alongside the F1. If I had to guess how their schedule would look, had it been on Channel 4:

Fridays
08:30 to 11:00 – LIVE F1: Practice 1 [E4]
12:30 to 15:00 – LIVE F1: Practice 2 [E4]
19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Friday Summary [Channel 4]

Saturdays
09:30 to 11:15 – LIVE F1: Practice 3 [Channel 4]
11:15 to 12:00 – GP2: Qualifying [Channel 4]
12:00 to 14:30 – LIVE F1: Qualifying [Channel 4]
14:30 to 16:00 – LIVE GP2: Race 1 [Channel 4]
16:00 to 17:15 – LIVE GP3: Race 1 [Channel 4]
17:15 to 20:00 – GP2 + GP3 [E4]
20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Saturday Summary [Channel 4]

Sundays
08:15 to 09:15 – LIVE GP3: Race 2 [Channel 4]
09:15 to 10:45 – LIVE GP2: Race 2 [Channel 4]
10:45 to 11:45 – F1: Qualifying [Channel 4]
11:45 to 16:30 – LIVE F1: Race [Channel 4]
16:30 to 19:00 – GP3 + GP2 [E4]
19:30 to 21:00 – F1: Sunday Summary [Channel 4]

I could not see Channel 4 broadcasting GP2 and GP3 Qualifying like Sky Sports F1 do, only the live races on their main channel, although I do think they would broadcast GP2 highlights before F1 Qualifying on the Saturday as I have outlined above.

In the same way ITV4 did in 2008, I think Channel 4 would have an on-air team for GP2 and GP3 with an interview or two before and after the races. It’s difficult to know whether they would actually cover GP2 and GP3, my guess is yes, but there again we don’t know the real reasons behind ITV choosing to cover GP2 live in 2008, maybe they did it because they knew it would be their last year covering Formula 1 live. Of course, for Channel 4, the other question would be whether they would expand their motor racing portfolio outside of Formula 1 and the respective support race series’. To my knowledge, they have never covered major international motor sport livetheir only major live sports recently has been horce racing and athletics, with the corporation winning the rights to the Paralymics in August.

The “red button hideaways” point is interesting. At the moment, or in the 2009 to 2011 BBC deal, practice was broadcast behind the Red Button along with extra streams, such as onboards. The pit lane channel was not introduced by Formula One Management until this season, but BBC have chosen to take that as well, so we will include that too. As I indicated above, I think practice on the Friday’s would be on E4 with Saturday practice (typically the more important) on Channel 4. But what about the extra streams? If there are going to be no “red button hideaways”, then where do they go? One option would be to have Formula 1 programming in the Channel 4 portfolio over three channels, so you could have:

– main feed on Channel 4
– onboard feed on E4
– pitlane feed on More4

The latter two would probably draw more attention on E4 and More4 compared to the Red Button as channel hoppers are more likely to come across it, plus they are much more easier to access than the “hideaways” that Channel 4 describe above. Aside from that, you could then have an extra three onboard feeds, plus the driver tracker, on the Channel 4 website in a similar vein to what the Sky Race Control is. Having the onboard and pitlane feeds also free-to-air, it means that the viewer could watch the main feed and record the pitlane feed if they wished to, something that is not always possible with Red Button “hideaways” on Sky Sports.

One point I have not addressed in any of the above is the dreaded commercials. While there would definitely be adverts in the race, I think Channel 4 would learn the lesson from ITV and schedule adverts for a much shorter duration, in a similar vein possibly to their old cricket coverage, with 6 x 1 minute breaks per hour, meaning that you are not cutting away from the coverage in ‘big chunks’. I think fans would accept this a lot more than say fewer breaks, but of a longer length per hour.

Moving on from the race weekend scheduling, the ten point plan makes note about the Formula 1 archive and original programming. While Classic F1 races would probably be kept online, a Legends series, akin to the one Sky Sports F1 currently do, would probably be covered in some detail by the broadcaster. Aside from that, they note factual programmes, which is one of Channel 4’s expertise and an area where I am sure that they would do very well in.

One other thing I would have liked about this deal is having the races on the 4oD channel on YouTube as YouTube is so much better than watching videos off the BBC website and the Sky Sports website, the latter in particular is not the best site for watching videos off.

So, in conclusion, ignoring the quality of the broadcasting this year, would Channel 4 have been the better option for the majority of viewers watching? Absolutely, as it would have kept every race live on free-to-air television, which is fundamental in my opinion. By having the 50/50 mould we have now, an irreversible step has been taken. One day, Sky will have full, exclusive rights to Formula 1, and one day, someone at BBC Sport may choose to pull the plug…

Agree with my points? Disagree with my points, or do you have anything to add? Comment anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

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13 thoughts on “The direction never taken: Formula 1 and Channel 4

  1. Just read it & this would have been 110% better than BBC/Sky – even a BBC/C4/Sky deal would have been ok but with all coverage available “live and free” (to quote itv’s football promos).
    As with a lot of people, I have no problem with Sky having rights to show anything but I don’t like it when they have EXCLUSIVE rights!

  2. Interesting points here.. And thanks for linking this in my comments on the deal that changed it all blog… You’re suggesting that C4 would have broadcast the GP2 and GP3 races… I have to disagree there… For 2 reasons… Firstly I always thought that the GP2 GP3 and indeed the Porsche supercup were sold as sparate packages which would explain why eurosport were able to keep the Porsche supercup but lose GP2 and GP3 so cost for channel 4 would be one big issue… And last I heard their budget wasn’t that big… Second is commitment… By which I mean they couldn’t do the schedule you suggest especially for a Saturday because of their horse racing commitments which they are obligated to show.. On their main channel as I understand.. At best I would wager that GP2 and GP3 would be shoved to E4 or more likely more 4… As I can’t see a main terrestrial channel devoting their entire Saturday schedule to one sport… Not even football gets that

  3. I would show GP2 & GP3 on More4, along with F1 Practice Sessions.

    Friday:
    08.30 – 11.00: FP1 LIVE (More4)
    12.30 – 15.00: FP2 LIVE (More4)
    18.30 – 19.00: Inside F1 (C4)
    19.00 – 22.30: Practice Re-run (More4)

    Saturday:
    09.30 – 11.30: FP3 LIVE (More4)
    12.00 – 14.30: Qualifying LIVE (C4)
    14.30 – 16.00: GP2 R1 LIVE (More4)
    16.00 – 17.30: GP3 R1 LIVE (More4)
    18 30 – 19.00: Inside F1 (C4)
    19.00 – 20.15: FP3 Re-run (More4)
    20.15 – 21.30: Qualifying Re-run (More4)

    Sunday:
    08.00 – 09.15: GP3 R2 LIVE (More4)
    09.15 – 10.45: GP2 R2 LIVE (More4)
    10.45 – 12.00: Qualifying Re-run (C4)
    12.00 – 16.00: F1 Race LIVE (C4)
    18.30 – 19.00: F1 Round-up (C4)
    19.00 – 20.30: Race Highlights (C4)

    Monday:
    19.00 – 20.15: Qualifying Re-run (More4)
    20.15 – 22.30: Race Re-run (More4)

    This would be an ideal schedule for F1 on Channel 4 and More4. I think the live race should be shown without adverts. On the race re-run it should only have adverts during a Safety Car phase or shown on a timer, so for every 2 minute break, go back 2 minutes in the race.

  4. I would adopt a Russian approach to showing F1, which is have adverts but cut back the length of the advert in the race, so viewers get to see every racing lap in delayed-as-live coverage.

    • Funnily enough, I think that was mooted when ITV first got the F1 coverage, but never made it to fruition (haven’t got it on me, but pretty certain that it is mentioned in Murray Walker’s book).

  5. Channel 4 would struggle to show F1 and Horse Racing on a Saturday, so I think Horse Racing would be shown from 13.00 – 14.30 on More4, then continue on Channel 4. The F1 schedule should go as follows:

    Thursdays:
    19.00 – 21.00 – Classic F1 (More4)
    21.00 – 22.00 – F1 Show (More4)

    Fridays:
    08.30 – 10.45 – FP1 LIVE (More4)
    10.45 – 12.30 – FP1 (More4)
    12.30 – 15.00 – FP2 LIVE (More4)
    15.00 – 17.00 – FP2 (More4)
    19.30 – 21.00 – Friday Summary (C4)

    Saturdays:
    08.00 – 09.30 – GP2 Qualifying (More4)
    09.30 – 11.30 – FP3 LIVE (More4)
    12.00 – 14.30 – Qualifying LIVE (C4)
    14.30 – 17.30 – GP2 & GP3 LIVE (More4)
    17.30 – 20.00 – GP2 & GP3 (C4)
    20.00 – 22.00 – Qualifying (C4)

    Sundays:
    08.00 – 10.45 – GP2 & GP3 LIVE (C4)
    10.45 – 12.00 – Qualifying (C4)
    12.00 – 16.30 – Grand Prix LIVE (C4)
    16.30 – 19.00 – GP2 & GP3 (More4)
    19.30 – 21.00 – F1 Summary (C4)

    Mondays:
    12.00 – 14.00 – Classic F1 (E4)
    14.00 – 18.00 – GP2 & GP3 (E4)
    18.00 – 19.15 – Qualifying (E4)
    19.15 – 22.00 – Grand Prix (E4)

    If Channel 4 were to use E4, it should only be used for repeats because it is more of an entertainment channel.

  6. I think all sports programmes should be owned by 2 broadcasters at a time, free-to-air live and pay-to-view live. For example, F1 should be broadcast by Sky Sports and BBC, rather than just 10 live races (roughly on BBC).

    BTCC – ITV & Sky Sports
    WTCC – ITV & Eurosport
    F1 – BBC & Sky Sports
    Moto GP – BBC & BT SPORT

    The rule to follow between the broadcasters should be free-to-air has a shorter show but with all action live.

    eg. F1 races:
    BBC LIVE – 12.00 – 15.30
    Sky F1 LIVE – 11.30 – 16.00

  7. Looking back at this, I think this is how It would’ve gone for the standard European weekend. E4 wouldn’t be likely to show many F1 shows though, as their main base is sitcoms. I think they would show the delayed press conferences, and they’d also show all the sessions from all 3 categories on the Monday on 4seven.

    Thursday:
    18:30-19:15 Drivers Press Conference [More4]
    19:15-21:00 Classic F1 [More4]

    Friday:
    8:40 – 10:55 LIVE: F1: FP1 [C4]
    12:45 – 14:40 LIVE: F1: FP2 [C4]
    18:30 – 19:30 F1: Friday Round Up [E4]
    19:30 – 20:25 GP2 & GP3 Friday Highlights [More4]
    20:25 – 21:00 Teams Press Conference [More4]

    Saturday:
    8:00 – 8:50 GP2 & GP3 Friday Highlights [C4]
    8:50 – 9:45 Friday Round Up [C4]
    9:45 – 11:25 LIVE: FP3 [C4]
    11:25 – 11:55 GP3 Quali Highlights [More4]
    11:55 – 14:30 LIVE: Qualifying [C4]
    14:30 – 16:00 LIVE: GP2 Race 1 [More4]
    16:00 – 17:20 LIVE: GP3: Race 1 [More4]
    19:00 – 20:30 Qualifying Re-Run [E4]
    20:30 – 21:30 Saturday Round Up [E4]

    Sunday:
    8:15 – 9:15 LIVE: GP3: Race 2 [E4]
    9:15 – 10:30 LIVE: GP2: Race 2 [E4]
    10:30 – 11:30 Saturday Round Up [C4]
    11:30 – 16:30 LIVE: Race [C4]
    16:30 – 17:30 GP3 Race 1 & 2 Highlights [More4]
    17:30 – 19:00 GP2 Race 1 & 2 Highlights [More4]
    19:00 – 21:00 Race Re-Run [4seven]
    21:00 – 22:00 Sunday Round Up [E4]

    Monday:
    11:00 – 12:35 FP1 Re-Run [4seven]
    12:35 – 13:30 GP2 & GP3 Friday Highlights [4seven]
    13:30 – 15:05 FP2 Re-Run [4seven]
    15:05 – 15:35 GP3 Quali Highlights [4seven]
    15:35 – 16:40 FP3 Re-Run [4seven]
    16:40 – 17:40 GP3 Race 1 & Race 2 Highlights
    17:40 – 19:05 Qualifying Re-Run [4seven]
    19:05 – 20:00 GP2 Race 1 & 2 Highlights [4seven]
    20:00 – 22:00 Race Race Re-Run [4seven]

  8. Reading Ofcom’s section about sport, my understanding is that no broadcaster is forced to take ad breaks during an F1 race. As with Sky, cut-aways are needed during interludes (i.e. Red Flag) or chatter but the whole race can be broadcast in its entirety.

    This point also makes me feel that ITV took ad-breaks just for sponsorship purposes. This gives themselves and the teams more income opportunities. However, it ruined the experience of a live race for the fans.

  9. I think Channel 4 would come up with their own F1 dedicated channel, Channel 4 F1. This is because of the 10 point plan and I don’t think it would fit into their usual Channel 4 schedule with Horse Racing and Paralympics.

    My schedule for this channel would run as follows:

    Thursday:
    15:00 – 16:00: F1 Documentary
    16:00 – 18:15: Classic F1
    18:15 – 19:00: F1 Preview
    19:00 – 20:00: F1 Legends
    20:00 – 21:30: Inside F1 with… (team/driver)
    21:30 – 00:00: Classic F1

    Friday:
    06:00 – 08:30: Classic F1
    08:30 – 10:50: FP1 [Live]
    10:50 – 12:30: FP1
    12:30 – 15:00: FP2 [Live]
    15:00 – 16:45: FP2
    16:45 – 18:30: GP2: Practice & Qualifying
    18:30 – 19:00: F1 Summary
    19:00 – 22:30: FP1 & FP2
    22:30 – 23:30: F1 Legends
    23:30 – 00:00: F1 Summary

    Saturday:
    06:00 – 09:30: FP1 & FP2
    09:30 – 11:15: FP3 [Live]
    11:15 – 12:15: GP3: Qualifying
    12:15 – 14:30: F1: Qualifying [Live]
    14:30 – 17:30: GP2 & GP3: Race 1 [Live]
    18:30 – 19:00: F1 Summary
    19:00 – 21:30: FP3 & Qualifying
    21:30 – 00:00: GP2 & GP3: Race 1

    Sunday:
    06:00 – 08:00: Murray’s Memories
    08:00 – 10:45: GP2 & GP3: Race 2 [Live]
    10:45 – 12:00: F1: Qualifying
    12:00 – 15:45: Grand Prix [Live]
    15:45 – 16:30: GP Extra [Live]
    16:30 – 19:00: Grand Prix
    19:00 – 19:30: F1 Summary
    19:30 – 22:00: Grand Prix
    22:00 – 00:00: GP2 & GP3: Race 2

    Monday:
    06:00 – 15:00: F1 Weekend
    15:00 – 19:00: GP2 & GP3 Races
    19:00 – 20:00: Weekend Round Up
    20:00 – 21:15: F1: Qualifying
    21:15 – 23:45: Grand Prix
    23:45 – 00:00: F1 Best Bits

    Tuesday:
    15:00 – 17:15: Classic F1
    17:15 – 18:00: F1: Weekend Update
    18:00 – 19:00: F1 Legends
    19:00 – 20:15: F1: Qualifying
    20:15 – 22:45: Grand Prix
    22:45 – 23:30: GP Extra
    23:30 – 00:00: F1 Legends

    I think the channel would start at 06:00 between Friday and Monday, with Thursday and Tuesday starting from 15:00.

  10. […] And you have to feel so bad for Channel 4. they were told just before Christmas that they had got the rights, and in the 3 months they worked their arses off to get to Melbourne for the saeson opener, a job well done, and their coverage was superb. It is not correct that their reward is to axe their coverage after 3 seasons. And remember as well, they’ve been waiting for this moment since 2011. […]

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