Analysis: A new world for Formula 1

This morning’s announcement that Sky Sports will be broadcasting the final test of 2013 live for two hours each day – and in 3D – opens up a whole new world for Formula 1, and leaves more questions than answers.

The key detail for me, as a Formula 1 fan, is that this will be the first time ever that testing will be broadcast live. With the Sky Sports F1 channel choosing to stay on air over Winter, inevitably questions turned to what coverage Sky would provide. The initial outlook did not look promising, not a lot of coverage was scheduled on that channel and the line-up was beginning to look sparse. The move to broadcast two hours a day live though for the final test from Thursday 28th February to Sunday 3rd March is an interesting one. We must remember here that this is a dedicated Sky Sports F1 channel. But at the same time, I do wonder if the demand is there for live coverage of testing. I’m looking forward to the coverage, as a Formula 1 fan, even testing does interest me somewhat. I will be looking forward to see what Sky do with the two hours.

In terms of audience figures, I don’t expect much more than 50,000 viewers for the live coverage – that depends somewhat on how the story of testing turns out and whether we go into the last test with a story or a bit of intrigue. The last test is also helped by the fact that it runs through the weekend, I suspect Sky are more interested in the Sunday figures than the Thursday figures, for example. The figures could well dictate their approach to the 2014 pre-season, and whether two hours live every day for testing may become the norm. I don’t think live all-day, every day will happen. Nor do I think it should happen. There is a limit on everything, and I think broadcasting every minute of testing live would break the limit. I would much rather a good half an hour, or an hour, of highlights well packaged in the evenings instead of an entire day live. An hour of highlights for testing appeals to me a lot more than a full day live. How Sky’s coverage rates though, may change the way we consume testing. At the moment it is through the likes of Twitter and AUTOSPORT Live, if Sky’s coverage does better than expected then they could get other foreign broadcasters’ on board and pitch it back to Formula One Management to try and get a World Feed on-air for the 2014 pre-season.

Who is producing that 2D feed in Barcelona for Sky to show, currently, is unclear. Like with a race weekend, all moving content during a test is controlled by Formula One Management (FOM). Sky cannot, as far as I understand it, just put a few cameras around the circuit, all things have to go through FOM. So whether it is FOM that has given Sky the go-ahead to produce the content for the Barcelona test, or whether it is FOM that have said “we’ll produce it”, who knows. If it is Sky that are producing it, then an interesting question and thought has to be whether this could end up being the first move by Sky to try and make themselves the producers of the World Feed. This was first suggested by The Times’ motor sport reporter Kevin Eason at the back end of 2012. In that report, Barney Francis, the Managing Director of Sky Sports said “Would we take it on and do it? We would challenge ourselves to do any sports production. We are well tuned, we have good individuals at the top and farther down the chain. It is a hypothetical question and would need FOM [Ecclestone’s F1 business] to suggest they don’t want to do it any longer.” Whether Sky are looking at the test as an opportunity to make in-roads into possibly producing the World Feed in the future, remains to be seen.

Although, for a Formula 1 fan, the key point for me was testing being broadcast live for the first time ever, the key line that Sky took, perhaps unsurprisingly, was that the Barcelona test would mark the first time ever that Formula 1 would be screened live in 3D. Unfortunately here, I don’t really hold a high view of 3D television. I think as a viewer you fall into two categories, you either ‘love it’ or ‘loathe it’. I fall into the latter and think, to be brutally honest, that it is nothing more than an expensive waste of money, and a gimmick. I’m not the only one that holds that opinion, in the film industry, 3D has been in decline for a long time, whilst in general, 3D does not work well for fast moving images. As this AUTOSPORT Plus article notes (subscription required): “Furthermore, just to point out the difficulties, 3D cameras at the moment do not have the capability to focus manually – it can only be done with a tape measure from a set distance. So if a car is just one metre off-line, the 3D footage will be totally out of focus – which isn’t much use for a fast-paced sport like F1.”

On the other hand, by filming and showing a test in 3D, there is the argument that not many people will be watching, therefore if it does turn into a failure, then it can be quickly forgotten about. My fear here is that it will quickly be forced upon us by Sky as they seem very high on 3D, you only need to look at football to see that they are broadcasting more and more games in 3D when resources would be better spent on improving the quality of their programming. Nevertheless, Sky have the 3D resources, so it will be their production for the 3D feed. I think a lot of people within the Formula 1 paddock will be watching intently to see how it goes, if it is a success, then 3D in Formula 1 may be only just beginning.

And if that is being produced by Sky, then FOM may be looking more behind than in front…

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