Sky Sports F1’s mid-week output: The 2012 Verdict

Having looked at both BBC Sport’s and Sky Sports’ Formula 1 output at race weekends this season and at how both line-ups have performed, the latter two parts will focus on two separate issues. Part 6 (this part) will look at Sky Sports F1’s output outside of race weekends while part seven will look at the ratings picture from this past season and examine whether ratings have gone up or down as a result of the BBC and Sky deal that came into effect at the beginning of 2012.

Following the decision to create a channel for Formula 1 at the end of 2011, it meant that more programming had to be created so that Sky Sports F1 felt and looked like a channel. As thus, this season after every race weekend, Sky Sports F1 has broadcast:

Fast Track – a quick-fire look back at a race weekend accompanied by a backing track (30 minutes)
Weekend in Stills – photographs from a race weekend via Sutton images with a backing track (30 minutes)
Weekend in Words – a review of the interviews done across a race weekend (60 minutes)

Since the Summer break, when I did my August review, the only programme that has been added to the schedule was a six part series entitled “Britain’s Next F1 Star“, looking at the stars coming up through the ranks into Formula 1. Apart from that, though, nothing else has been added meaning that my mid-season thoughts are largely unchanged. Whilst I can see why some would find Weekend in Stills a good programme to watch, I don’t feel the same way for either Fast Track and Weekend in Words. Neither offer a new perspective for a race weekend, and instead are there to regurgitate material that has already been released. Weekend in Words in particular smacks of lazy programming in my opinion, at the best of times Formula 1 drivers sound and feel like ‘PR bots’ so I do not know why people would want to sit through this in any way, shape or form.

Instead, Sky should look at exploiting the footage that is hidden behind the Red Button and not released publicly and turn that into a programme. In my opinion there is so much programming that could be made from the footage, yet they are doing nothing with it. Whether that is for contractual reasons or not, I do not know. I made a little list back in August and will do the same below (although I won’t go back to that post to look at those thoughts, the list below will be similar to the one back then).

The Heart of Racing – an onboard view from one driver only, intersperced with their team-radio – whether its the race winner or someone further down (30 minutes)
Going Hybrid – a better version of the World Feed, except comprising of the World Feed, plus Onboard, Pitlane feeds and exclusive team-radio (60 minutes)
A Weekend with… – a weekend with a particular member of a team or an official looking at their activities during a race weekend from Thursday to Sunday from a video diary perspective (30 minutes)
The Little Extras – the little bits of footage that was shown on Sky Race Control during a race weekend, but never made the World Feed (30 minutes)
Extended Interview – an extended interview from the race weekend with no cuts (30 minutes – similar to the one they shown with Sebastian Vettel and Ted Kravitz following India. The beauty of that 15 minute cut was that it felt much ‘rawer’ than what it came across in the shorter 5 minute cut during the Indian Grand Prix race show as you seen a different side of Vettel and the laughs and jokes that do not come across in shorter cuts. The extended cuts would also show the drivers’ as more relaxed as well as the full answers to questions posed to them rather than a cut down version)

The thing is, at the moment there is nothing to entice me to watch Sky Sports F1 outside of race weekends, aside from The F1 Show, which is one hour out of a potential 15 hours (3 hours per day, Monday to Friday). The viewing figures outside of a race weekend are terribly low because there is zero incentive for anyone to tune in. All the channel consisted off for the majority of the year was repeat after repeat. Another show I would had, which I deliberately have not mentioned above is a studio show with journalists giving their opinion on all things Formula 1. It seems like this was trialled out in the Summer with David Croft presenting and I hope this returns in 2013 as it would significantly bolster their line-up. Unlike the above shows, it would not need to be every week, maybe six or seven editions a year spread throughout the year depending on what stories crop up in Formula 1, the benefit of having them spread out means you can get different journalists on screen and therefore different viewpoints.

As well as the above, a nod to the past must be given with documentaries being shown alongside the F1 Legends series. Unfortunately, though the signs are that Sky have been rejecting documentary series’, see these two tidbits here and here. The comment in the second link is staggering: “As an aside, when I approached the Head of F1 at Sky TV with the programme, (I showed him a 5 min clip) his ONE comment was ‘The interviews are crap but the old film is good.'” The fact that a dedicated Formula 1 channel is rejecting old documentaries shows that there is something seriously wrong with the decision making process. It is a channel that should be aimed at Formula 1 fans. You are not going to find Formula 1 documentaries that will cater to the casual Formula 1 fan, that won’t happen. They should be accepting the documentary offers as it would help increase the channel reputation and it would only help the channel further in the future. As with everything, you have to start somewhere, and it is not automatically the end of the world if one ‘bad’ documentary makes it to air. Whether it is old documentaries, or just ‘Top 10 Greatest Drivers’ and ‘Top 10 Greatest Races’ for example in the pre-season, things like this will help increase the reputation of the channel. Having a sparse channel outside of the weekend makes it look like the channel is run on a shoe-string budget which is not the impression they should be giving.

There are plenty of directions Sky could go with potential documentaries in 2013 but the outlook does not appear rosy. In 2012, you could argue that they were short of time as they only won the rights in July of 2011, but in March 2013, that argument falls down like a stack of cards. The channel should be stacked of programming come March, there really is zero excuse. After all, why bother having a dedicated Formula 1 channel, yet only make a half hearted effort of it? With the pre-season, as I noted above, they could air a ton of pre-season documentaries along the lines ‘Top 10s’ and get the contributions of their own on-air team alongside Formula 1 legends. Things like that would be relatively cheap compared to a detailed Formula 1 documentary on a team’s history, but it fills airtime, it does the job and brings a feel of ‘newness’ to the channel rather than yet more repeats. Sky seem to have the attitude that nothing before 2012 matters, hence why there is a heavy weighting on 2012 programming with the programming on ‘rinse and repeat’ in the off-season currently.

Which brings us nicely to classic races. The lack of classic Formula 1 races in 2012 on Sky Sports F1 was bewildering and staggering when you consider BBC’s fantastic classic F1 series online. Yes, they screened classic races from Monaco and Britain, but that was it. Nothing in the latter half of the season. In 2013, classic Formula 1 races is a must. Not season reviews, but classic F1 races. You may say, “they may not have the rights to screen them”. If so, it is beggars belief that they would create a channel without having the core archive rights beforehand as you leave yourself falling down a hole by doing that. In my opinion, classic F1 races are absolutely essential for the channel to succeed. After all, why bother building a channel without the core rights? It does not need to be tons of classic races, otherwise they will run out fast, but two or three a week would be sufficient before a race weekend. In fact, it does not even need to be a ‘classic’. Every race has a story. Why not exploit that story and re-tell the story in a new format (like ‘Senna’, but just one race), which goes back to the documentary mentions above.

With the above in mind, I would consider the following a strong schedule after a particular race weekend, in this case after the Australian Grand Prix and before the Malaysian Grand Prix:

Monday 18th March
19:00 – Replay from the Circuit
– replay of the Australian Grand Prix

Tuesday 19th March
19:00 – Fast Track
19:30 – The Heart of Racing
20:00 – Going Hybrid
21:00 – Classic F1: 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix

Wednesday 20th March
19:30 – A Weekend With…
20:00 – The Little Extras
20:30 – Extended Interview
21:00 – Classic F1: 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix

Thursday 21st March
19:30 – Weekend in Words
20:30 – Weekend in Stills
21:00 – Classic F1: 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix

Friday 22nd March
01:30 – Live from the Circuit
04:45 – Going Hybrid (R)
05:45 – Live from the Circuit
09:45 – The F1 Show
10:45 – Classic F1: 2001 Malaysian Grand Prix (R)
12:45 – Replay from the Circuit (R)
16:00 – Replay from the Circuit (R)
20:00 – The F1 Show (R)
21:00 – F1 Legends
21:30 – A Weekend With… (R)
22:00 – The Little Extras (R)
22:30 – Extended Interview (R)
23:30 – Fast Track (R)
23:30 – The Heart of Racing (R)

Saturday 23rd March
02:45 – Live from the Circuit
06:15 – Going Hybrid (R)
07:15 – Live from the Circuit
09:45 – Classic F1: 2002 Malaysian Grand Prix (R)
11:45 – The F1 Show
12:30 – The Little Extras (R)
13:00 – Replay from the Circuit (R)
17:30 – Replay from the Circuit (R)
20:00 – The F1 Show (R)
21:00 – Classic F1: 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix (R)

Sunday 24th March
06:00 – Live from the Circuit
12:30 – documentary
13:30 – Replay from the Circuit (R)
20:00 – Malaysian Grand Prix Highlights (R)

In the very least, there needs to be more content outside of race weekends. The media and sponsorship releases last week made no mention of any new content outside of race weekends, so time will tell whether the schedules look any different come late February and early March. I will praise the fact that they have some new content on over Christmas, specifically their 2012 season review and the twelve individual team reviews as they could have took the easier option and shut the channel over the Winter. Of course, with any new programming, it needs to be advertised – not once was Britain’s Next F1 Star trailed in adverts on Sky Sports F1, a problem that was common across the channel this season.

I don’t like to criticise, but it is not often a sport is given a dedicated channel and at the moment I do not feel Sky are exploiting the channel to its full potential outside of race weekends. This part of the ‘2012 Verdict’ may sound like the most critical, but for me, this was by far the weakest part of the product. Sky are approaching this as a ‘programme’ without thinking about the remainder of the channel. If they are thinking of it as a ‘programme’ then they should axe the channel in all honesty. There is nothing on Sky Sports F1 at the moment that they could not do on another Sky Sports channel. Which is why they need to bolster the content to justify the channel’s existence. Like I say though, this past season there may have been a perfectly valid reason that there was not enough time between July 2011 and March 2012 to commission, film and air content – although they did a very good job with what they did air, such as the Legends show which is returning in 2013. Hopefully the scope for that is expanded, also with sensible scheduling as once a week as I don’t think scheduling it after races worked.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Do you think Sky’s mid-week output needs to improve? Coming up in part seven, it is my look at the 2012 ratings.

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2 thoughts on “Sky Sports F1’s mid-week output: The 2012 Verdict

  1. SkyF1 need some original programming, at the moment it’s a 7 days a week station that has about 9 hours of content, if it wasn’t for FOM, SkyF1 would have about 9 minutes of content.

    Weekday viewing figures show that the station is practically dead, with most viewers seemingly watching a few minutes of output while waiting for a programme to start on another channel.

  2. There needs to be a lot more high quality programming & a reduction in the price (ie available as a stand alone channel for about £5 – £10) for me to even consider paying for Sky F1. At the moment I prefer to struggle with free sites.

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