Nearly half way through the Summer break which means that ‘The Verdict so far’ series is entering the half way stage too. Parts 1 and 2 focused on each member of the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams as I analysed the strengths and weaknesses of each side. This part will look at BBC’s Formula 1 programming so far in 2013, whilst part 4 will look at Sky Sports F1’s programming – including that outside of race weekends. The final part will look at the ratings picture and compare and contrast with that in previous years.
For live races, BBC television produces 12 hours and 15 minutes of programming during a race weekend, from practice coverage on BBC Two on Friday mornings to the ever popular BBC Red Button Forum programme for an hour after the race on Sunday afternoons. Unsurprisingly, the amount of television BBC produces decreases significantly for the highlight races. BBC produces 3 hours and 15 minutes of programming for BBC One or BBC Two during a television highlights weekend.
One of the major changes in the way the BBC covered practice was that, for their live coverage, the programming is now on BBC Two instead of the BBC Red Button where possible. Since 2008, practice had been simply hooking up to Formula One Management’s World Feed from the five-minute sting until five minutes after the session. 2008 with ITV came with no commentary and no practice three online, whereas 2009 had Radio 5 Live commentary and was live on the Red Button. The coverage had worked perfectly well as it was.
The change to BBC Two meant that instead of it just being presented as another programme on the Red Button, it was now being treated as a network programme, with ‘The Chain’ opening and end titles, along with a proper introduction and outro from Suzi Perry. In some cases it meant that the slot was extended, for example, practice two in Canada had a great round-up of half an hour once the session had finished allowing Perry and Gary Anderson to round up the action. On other occasions though they were only on-air five minutes after the session, which I think renders having Perry as presenter there pointless.
I don’t really see the point of them having Perry and Anderson when there is over five minutes build-up and five minutes wrap-up, you may as well just stick to the World Feed instead of almost rushing on and off air, in my opinion. The other option would be to just extended it slightly, so the programming runs 15 minutes before and after each session for example so that Perry and Anderson are utilised more. A few weeks back, I noted how Perry, alongside Suzi Wolff were used for practice three in Canada and during a red flag period the production team chose to cut to them aimlessly filling instead of sticking with Ben Edwards in the commentary box which did not really work at all.
Still going strong on the BBC News Channel, Inside F1 airs during every Grand Prix weekend, typically Friday’s at 18:45 and Saturday’s an hour later, both editions presented by Lee McKenzie. The show normally recaps practice and has a guest or two on, albeit in only a fifteen minute slot. The show began alongside BBC’s Formula 1 coverage when it returned to the network in 2009, first presented in London at the BBC News room studio, before later just being done on location with Amanda Davies and later McKenzie.
I know this programme is just one that is probably there to fill a gap in the schedule without a dedicated audiences, but I do think BBC should do things with this show. Readers of this blog may well of heard of Murray and Martin’s F1 Special. Basically, what started off as a Qualifying update on ITV on Saturday evenings turned into a 15 to 30 minute show (depending on scheduling commitments) with Walker and Brundle. The show carried on for the first few years of ITV’s contract until Walker’s schedule slowed down.
Basically, my suggestion is, instead of having Inside F1 broadcast on Saturday evenings on BBC News Channel, why not have the Saturday evening edition broadcast on BBC One for 20 minutes at 17:15? I mean at the moment it seems a bit of a waste having Inside F1 going out on the BBC News Channel when most Formula 1 fans probably don’t realise it is on (after all the EPG has never specifically said ‘Inside F1’, it just says ‘Sportsday’). So for the live races, in my opinion they should put Inside F1 in the gap between Final Score and the main evening news bulletin. Maybe have Ben Edwards and David Coulthard present with A.N. Other a bit like the old ITV F1 style from fifteen years ago. Just a thought, at least that way viewers would be more inclined to watch on BBC One instead of the BBC News Channel as it currently is.
For the live weekends, since 2009, BBC have typically had between 50 minute and an hour of build-up heading into the race. The run time that BBC had for each race build-up was broadly similar to that of ITV before 2009, except BBC of course had no commercial breaks and in general the time was better utilised than ITV had previously used it. Not to take away from the latter, as their coverage had made huge strides forward since BBC’s exploits pre 1997. One of the reasons people liked BBC’s build-ups significantly more were because of their ‘do anything’ introductions with Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan and sporadically walking up and down pit lane to see who can find alongside scripted interviews.
The deal with Sky meant that, whilst the ten live races still had a 50 minute build-up, the highlight shows only received a 10 to 15 minute build-up in comparison. So, has the build-up been just as good with Suzi Perry presenting? I think, on the whole, it has. Whilst of course she is there to link everything together and ask Coulthard and Jordan questions, the overall package remains the same in terms of VT’s. For me, the BBC’s VT packages have, and always have been since 2009, top notch.
The thing with the pre-show is that it is largely scripted in nature, okay some of the discussion is on the spot opinion but the flow of the show is determined beforehand and all fitted in nicely beforehand, so from that perspective it is just like any other show for Perry. Sometimes it has to be said that she struggles finding the right question, but overall she is fine presenting the pre-show, whilst Coulthard and Jordan are great as always as pundits. The introductions have not been as great this year with Perry, Coulthard and Jordan, probably a step down from the past few years, but still good in their own respect and a step ahead of Sky’s.
Following the conclusion of each race, BBC One typically remains on air for about half an hour, followed by another hour on the BBC Red Button for their forum show. This has been the format since they won the rights back for the start of the 2009 season; beforehand on ITV there was no such thing as a forum show, just a wrap up on ITV1. Back in the ITV days the race weekend never felt ‘complete’, they were rushing off air occasionally to get to their next programme, whilst advert breaks disrupted the flow. The forum on BBC changed that completely. However, partially as a result of the rights deal with Sky, it is the part of the show that has become more weaker since 2012.
For some reason, it was decided half way through 2012 that there would be no forum for the highlights shows. Why? I’m not entirely sure. It appeared in Bahrain last year, but then I don’t think it appeared again. Which is a shame, as the forum was the best part of the BBC F1 race weekend for me. Like I alluded to above, the forum for me when BBC had full coverage gave ‘closure’ to a race weekend with their gentle wrapping up as everyone is packing ready for the next round. As thus, for the highlight races, there is normally twenty of so minutes of post-race with interviews from drivers up and down pit lane. In the time given on BBC One, they do a good job of wrapping up the action, although it is no substitute for the forum.
The forum has remained for the live races. It is still an extremely good hour of television, albeit in my view a step down from what we seen in 2011 and some of 2012. One of the things you can get into the habit to at times is aimlessly walking around and promote it as a forum which I felt happened one too many times so far this season. I think also Perry has struggled a bit due to the nature of the forum where it is more on the spot that the structured nature of the pre-show. Over time though, this should improve and she should get better as the season progresses. The BBC live shows would definitely be in a worser place without the forums, and it is vital that this component is not removed in years to come if BBC is to retain strong audience appreciation for Formula 1.
Outside of race weekends, although not produced by BBC’s Formula 1 team, BBC has broadcast some supplemental Formula 1 programming this year. Over Christmas, BBC Two shown the Racing Legends series whilst BBC Four in March aired a five part series entitled Motor Racing at the BBC: That Petrol Emotion. More recently, BBC has aired a Hunt vs Lauda documentary. All of the shows, in particular the Hunt vs Lauda documentary have been top notch and worth watching.
It is important in my view that BBC continue to screen motor sport documentaries to remind viewers of Formula 1’s past and to get that out to a mainstream audience for all to see. Alongside this, whilst BBC have not recently uploaded any new Classic F1 races online, their full archive of races can be found here. Back to the present day, for me, we were extremely lucky to have BBC’s level of coverage from 2009 and 2011, and it is unlikely that we will see that matched again for a long time, especially considering those programmes were again viewed by a large audience.
Has BBC’s new deal with Sky weakened their output? Yes, but for me their programming is still up their with the best. A little lower than their 2011 levels for the reason described above, but great nevertheless, and I hope those higher up are not silly, or foolish enough to pull the plug on the F1 contract any time soon. Rumours did begin a few weeks ago, but nothing has materialised. I think, and hope, BBC will see out their current contract in the very least. Any move otherwise would put Formula 1’s free to air future in jeopardy, and would require either ITV or Channel 4 to fill the void. Let us hope that does not happen.
Programming broken down as:
– 12 hours and 15 minutes for a live weekend: 15 minutes x 2 Inside F1. 100 minutes x 2 Practice. 70 minutes x 1 Practice. 135 minutes x 1 Qualifying. 180 minutes x 1 Race. 60 minutes x 1 Forum. 60 minutes x 1 Highlights.
– 3 hours and 15 minutes for a highlights weekend: 15 minutes x 2 Inside F1. 75 minutes x 1 Qualifying. 90 minutes x 1 Race.