Sky Sports F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict so far

Part 4 of ‘The Verdict so far’ series brings me to look at Sky Sports F1’s output so far this year. The first two pieces looked at each member of the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams as I focussed on the stronger and weaker areas of their line-ups. Part three looked at BBC F1’s output, suggesting ways that they could improve their programming further. This part looks at Sky Sports F1’s output, whilst part five will move away from analysis. Part five will look at the ratings picture and compare with 2012, to see if ratings have increased or decreased since this time last year.

Throughout a race weekend, Sky Sports F1 produces:

5 hours and 45 minutes – Practice 1, 2 and 3
2 hours and 35 minutes – Qualifying programme
4 hours and 45 minutes – Race programme
60 minutes – The F1 Show
45 minutes – Gear Up… and Ted’s Notebook

This totals 14 hours and 50 minutes of programming. It compares with 12 hours and 15 minutes of programming during a live race weekend for BBC. Note that neither GP2 or GP3, or the Press Conferences are included in the total above as Sky do not produce them programmes, they take the direct World Feed without any ‘colour’ around them.

Practice
From the beginning of 2012, Sky Sports have dedicated fifteen minutes pre-session to practice. Practice 1 and 2 have been hosted by Simon Lazenby whilst practice three on Saturday mornings has this season been hosted by Natalie Pinkham (last year Georgie Thompson). There tends to be about 15 to 20 minutes of discussion after the Friday practice sessions, however, only three to five minutes after practice three, with Sky continuing their ‘rush off the air’ technique. The latter is particularly frustrating, especially if an incident worth talking about takes place towards the end of that session.

An addition this year is Ted Kravitz’s Development Corner, which we have seen from time to time after practice one. Kravitz, on the Sky Pad, takes us through the latest technical developments as well as comparing different designs. It is definitely one of their better additions during the race weekends this year. Apart from that, there is not much to talk about, as not much has changed in terms of pre and post practice sessions for Sky, the producers choosing to keep to the same approach as 2012. I do wish, and this applies for Qualifying too, it seamlessly linked into GP2, but unfortunately for the moment it seems that particular boat has passed.

The major change comes during the actual session. Whilst it is true that Formula One Management (FOM) control the World Feed, the restrictions placed upon Sky have decreased for 2013. Last year, Sky were able to cut away from the World Feed during practice, but it had to be a full screen cut away to their own footage, they were not allowed to go picture-in-picture or anything similar to that. This season, Sky have a lot more freedom, they are allowed to go split-screen and are allowed to have their own captions over FOM’s World Feed where necessary. The captions are very useful, as it means we are treated with Mark Hughes’ predictions heading into each session which are insightful from time to time. The split-screen though is overused. In my opinion, only show us things we need to see! Cutting to split-screen every two minutes is quite annoying, especially as sometimes it doesn’t show us anything in particular. I do like the split-screen, but it can be unnecessary.

The F1 Show
The F1 Show continued this season on Friday evenings, with Ted Kravitz alongside Natalie Pinkham. I noted many times last year how for me The F1 Show was the strongest part of the line-up because of Kravitz’s presenting alongside Georgie Thompson, the two gelled together extremely well, and the show flowed nicely from the get go. It was therefore unfortunate when it was noticed that Pinkham would be taking over Thompson’s role for this season. I know some people disagree with me, but as a presenter I prefer Thompson compared to Pinkham. So far this season, I have seen nothing to change my assessment on that.

The show is still definitely worth watching, and produces some fantastic features, such as the Lost Generations mini-series, but I am not warming to Pinkham as a presenter. With Pinkham as presenter it feels too light hearted and bubbly, whereas with Thompson you could get serious discussion going as well as the light hearted bits in between. Kravitz is still great as the main presenter, and I really hope that doesn’t change any time soon. I’m not really open to the thought of Simon Lazenby taking over the role because as we seen during the audience special a few weeks back it leads to too much back slapping, whereas Kravitz does not really get involved with that, and rightfully so.

Although I enjoy it, I do think sometimes that it should be a TV version of The Racer’s Edge. The Racer’s Edge has some time constraints, but doesn’t feel rushed and lets the guest finish whatever point they are making, whereas on The F1 Show everything has to be fitted into an hour. I do wish they extended it to 90 minutes, have 70 minutes on the main features then take viewers questions from Twitter. None of this ‘send in your video clips’, just questions and answers. It worked well in the last twenty minutes each week on Ford Monday Night Football last season, so why not do it on The F1 Show? I should note: I do enjoy The F1 Show as it is, and have no problem with the current format, except I think now is the time to move it up a notch and make it more relaxed and less formulaic on a weekly basis. A move to Thursday evenings may help in that respect, as you’re more likely to get your core audience watching on Thursday evenings than Fridays.

Pre-Session
As in 2012, Sky dedicate an hours build-up to Qualifying with a 90 minute build-up for the race, both fronted by Simon Lazenby. The Qualifying build-up is largely similar to that of BBC, as the run time is similar. With that in mind, the structure as you would expect, and that hasn’t changed for 2013. The structure they use for their race programme has changed slightly, though. The first half an hour of the programme is now mostly on the track parade with Natalie Pinkham interviewing the drivers, albeit in a FOM role rather than a Sky role. It is something that has definitely been worth adding into the programme and I’m glad they chose to go down that route.

Unfortunately, the ad breaks are still a pain for the races that Sky broadcast exclusively live. In my view, they should adopt the same advert policy for every race weekend, but I don’t think that will happen any time soon. As time goes on though I guess they will become less of a nuisance in the race build-ups and viewers will accept it. The VT’s are a bit of a mis-match here and there. Some are good, whereas others I do find cringeworthy. Yes, it is good to see them trying new things but sometimes it does not come across well on screen. Some of the introduction VT’s fall into this category, I know I fall in the minority here based on the Twitter comments, but I’m not a fan of the poetry ones. As with everything here, it is personal preference and taste, so each to their own.

In terms of discussion, the fact that the line-up has settled down this year has helped a lot and has led to a more chat and less of a formulaic questions and answers style from early in 2012. Also, the Sky Pad has become significantly more integrated into the pre-show with it being moved outside. One of the highlights now is seeing the pole man taking Brundle around his lap on the Sky Pad. It is definitely good that it is the driver taking us around the lap, telling us about the moments he is having and where the time is won or lost instead of us being told that by someone else, as has been the case for many years.

Post-Session
Following each race, Sky Sports F1 is on air for about 90 minutes until between 16:00 and 16:30. The length is the same as what it was last year, but they have filled the time better this year in my opinion. Last year I felt the post show dragged and that it did not flow as well, this being down to Lazenby’s inexperience where Formula 1 was concerned. This has improved significantly for 2013, with Lazenby settling down and looking much more comfortable during the shows. It probably helps in this respect that I think BBC’s post-race coverage has got worse this year as I explained in my previous piece, Sky’s post-race is probably now equal, if not better than BBC’s.

Alongside the usual post-race interviews, Ted Kravitz’s Notebook has continued as part of the post-session wrap up on race day. His Qualifying Notebook is later on in the schedule, it would be sensible in my view to stick it on live between GP2 and GP3 instead of filler so that viewers have something to watch in between the two races. The Sky Pad has also become an integral part of the post-race show with Anthony Davidson analysing the race. Arguably, as I alluded to above, Sky’s post-race is more analytical than BBC’s and in my view digs deeper into the race than the latter.

At this point, I do not think that there are many ways for Sky to improve the way they present the post-race debrief. The only thing I would say is for Sky to get rid of the VT’s that they wrap around the breaks, this would allow them a few extra minutes of analysis or maybe to interview another driver live. The team radio pieces are good to lead into the break though, I will give them that. I’ll end this little block by talking about their Malaysian Grand Prix post-race show. That hour after the race was probably one of the best post-race shows that I have seen, and that is saying a lot. I also think that hour shown that Sky are not afraid to go off their usual approach.

Other programming
When analysing Sky’s coverage this season, what some people tend to forget is that their coverage actually began in February. At first, it seemed like Sky were going to show no testing coverage, or at least that is what their provisional schedules suggested. That soon changed, with a 15-minute round-up each day along with Ted Kravitz’s Notebook after each days proceedings being added to the schedule. More impressively though, Sky managed to twist FOM’s arm, so that they allowed Sky to film and broadcast the final test live, and in 3D. Ignoring the last bit, as 3D in my eyes is a gimmick, having testing live was very important for Sky, as it allowed them to fill the channel with content ahead of the new season. I enjoyed it to dip in and out of. Will they do it again in 2014? I hope so, as arguably that pre-season will be the teams’ most important in recent years.

It goes without saying that, as Sky Sports F1 is a channel and not a programme, you would expect to see a significant amount of programming in-between races. Thankfully, that area has improved for 2013. In 2012, the channel was missing some key features, such as Classic F1 races notably not in the schedules. For 2013 though, Sky are showing five classic races in the build-up to every race weekend. It is these classic races that help whet the appetite ahead of a race weekend. Their GP Uncovered series, ranging from the 1950 to 1970s has also featured in the build-up to the more traditional races, such as Monaco and Britain. The inclusion of these this year is definitely a plus.

The Midweek Report has began this season on Sky. Initially online, it was moved to a Wednesday slot at 19:00 on Sky Sports F1, which made sense, there is little point producing programming only for online. Presented by Anna Woolhouse, she is joined by two guests to review the previous race. It is good for what it is (clearly on a shoe-string budget against a green screen), although I admit that I have not watched every edition. Alongside the above, the F1 Legends series with Steve Rider has continued, whilst ‘Architects of F1’ has also began. I say began, it is basically the same programme, just under a different banner with different people. Saying that, the edition with Max Mosley was definitely worth a watch. Elsewhere, we have the GP2 and GP3 Series also on the channel, which Sky to their credit have been mentioning more on The F1 Show recently. I just hope that sometime in the future, it is more integrated into the weekend schedules and maybe given a presenter so it can build more of an audience.

One problem though with the majority of the other programming is promotion. It is still a problem, and a major problem. It did improve at the start of the season, but they appear to have fallen back into the trap of failing to promote. Take the Architects of F1 programme with Max Mosley. It was a fantastic programme, with some interesting quotes from Mosley. Why not run some quotes online and put them into an article, try and generate some discussion around the programme? Anything to try and get more people watching. At the moment it seems that one side is badly letting down the entire channel and depleting the ratings in the progress. Which is sad to see, as outside of race weekends the channel has produced some fantastic programming which is not being recognised sometimes.

The reality is, so far this season it has been about settling down for Sky, getting into a rhythm now that they are firmly into their contract. The main developments have been into trying to build their schedule further so it looks like a proper channel. The weekend coverage will tweak over time, but is now set in stone. In the first two parts of ‘The Verdict so far’ series, I have looked at each member of both the BBC and Sky Sports F1 teams. Parts 3 and 4 looked at their respective programming. There is only one part for me to look at. The ratings. Have they improved on 2012, or have they dropped even further? The final blog piece will be up next week.

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12 thoughts on “Sky Sports F1’s output: The 2013 Verdict so far

    • I think you will find that there is a difference between promoting a show before it airs and after it airs. It is all good promoting it after it has aired, but where is the promotion before it has aired?

      It is backwards logic to promote something online which first aired five days ago, don’t you think? Take ‘The Lost Generation’ which airs early next week. As of writing, there is no promotion online, at all. This is the story time and time again with Sky’s shows outside of race weekends. Where are the supplemental pieces to feed into the programming on the channel?

      The Legends page, for reference, is not linked off the home page and therefore is not easy to find. The ‘Epic Races’ pieces haven’t been updated for Germany and Hungary. The Sky F1 Insider pieces that were filmed and aired on The F1 Show months ago have only just on August 2nd been uploaded online.

      Architects of F1 with Gordon Murray first aired on the channel on July 7th. For some reason, it wasn’t put on the website until August 9th (see timestamp).

      I could go on…

      • Me thinks I detect jealousy. Did you fancy a job but your writing was too poor?

        Reading through your articles it is clear to me you know nothing about broadcasting. Ludicrous ideas and suggestions. If it is not your field of expertise then don’t pretend it is….

        The website is a news outlet. Why not talk about how much more news it covers than the other side? Or would that go against your anti-sky agenda?

      • Considering I’m 21 and still at University the answer to your first line is simply no. I’ve never said it is my field of expertise. I have an interest in the area, yes, but I have not been round the block and don’t claim to know everything inside out. But seeing as people do enjoy what I write, I must be doing something right. My thoughts are presented on this blog, hence why it is a blog. Nothing more, nothing less. At the end of the day, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.

        As for the website battle, I tend to stick to AUTOSPORT where that is concerned. In my view: quality over quantity. I can’t think of many stories that Sky have broke this year. In fact, it was AUTOSPORT (and BBC) who broke the Mercedes test story, whilst BBC of course broke the Hamilton story last year which Sky spent the next few weeks denying.

        I don’t have an anti-Sky agenda, if I did, I definitely wouldn’t have praised them for their testing coverage, for how they have improved the post-race show, for them screening Classic F1 races. Again, the list goes on…

    • Rather than just shouting ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ from your Osterley ivory castle, maybe you’d like to point out some examples?

  1. Interesting as always, thanks. Agree that the Sky Post race output is better this year. A good example is the way Anthony Davison on the Sky Pad demonstrated how Hamilton dropped from 2nd to 4th under safety car at Monaco. Visual demonstration was great, though clearly budget allows them to do this !! Use of Sky pad by AD (now that he is alone) is probably the biggest factor in Sky improvement post race.

    Lack of promotion of Classic GP’s series and additional material between race weekends on Sky is v frustrating. To be honest, I’d end up missing some of them if it were not for your blog…

    Have seen a couple of BBC Red Button shows and they appear to be less effective than previous years, probably needing the benefit of more races to allow Susi to gell with presenters….

  2. Sky F1’s output is too gimmicky for me, and the adverts and the endless repeated VTs make the pre and post shows tediously unwatchable.

    The vile Lazenby makes my blood boil, and there seems to be too many presenters, making it look like they can barely string together an independent sentence each. It’s too scripted also, they wouldn’t drop the Spice Girl piece in order to examine the tyre issues at Silverstone.

    The potential of the channel just seems wasted, and with 2013 viewing figures down over 20% on the 2012 figures (so far), it seems the original viewers are getting a little bored with Sky’s output.

    • The channel is too boring… nothing new, nothing original.
      Apart from the races and the amazing Ted Kravitz, only a few more minutes are watchable…
      Architects is good too as some retrospective GP’s.
      But that’s it…
      The channel is too expensive to keep, I predict this all system will collapse and either we have a streaming channel or the solution might be PPV.
      Thanks for your blog…
      Oh, and I’m trying to record ‘The Lost Generation’and nothing appears on tivo, tv guide, etc… 🙂

  3. I’ve thourroly enjoyed the classic F1 races that sky have put out (so much so I’ve put them onto dvd … copyright??? Pah lol) the architects of F1 series has also been great. Seeing Gordon Murray explain some of his designs on a white board with marker pen was amazing to my sad little mind. But again its the vt bits that let it down somewhat the start of the Monaco race programme turned into a glorified babestation audition and just made me cringe… also the vt just before the Spanish race was cheap and very tacky. Because of that I now only watch the track action and don’t bother with the other stuff. have seen a tiny bit of the BBC stuff. And from what I’ve seen. Its no better than sky. I’d say worse if anything. If some of skys stuff is tacky then the BBC has become bargain basement in my eyes. Agree with lack of promotion too… classic races don’t get mentioned online anymore.. pity because it lead to some great discussion on the Facebook page. Its good on the whole but room for improvement

  4. Having had time to settle in and develop their output these are my thoughts on Sky’s on-going F1 output.
    Opening titles – The visuals are good but Just Drive is an angst ridden teenage dirge. The Chain evokes anticipation and excitement, Just Drive makes me want to just slit my wrists.
    Opening VT’s – These vary between bland rehashed, over processed montages and appalling, self-indulgent, inappropriate TV masturbation. Pointing a projector at someone or a wall, then getting some actor to do a VO so cheesy it reeks like Camembert may work for the football sheep but F1 fans just cringe into the sofa. The opening VT should set the tone for the following show, it should enthuse and excite, not make you feel like you’ve been forced to watch a high budget student film. Sky’s opening VT’s don’t even justify their original playout, the fact that they get a reprise before the FOM ident is just cruel and unusual punishment.
    The Presentation Team/Commentary – I gave quite a detailed opinion in ‘The Sky Sports F1 Team: The 2013 Verdict so far’ but if I were in charge I’d let Lazenby go. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an incongruous anchor. He pays no attention to the item preceding him so if Sky do one of their ‘emotional’ VT openers he picks up off the back of them with a completely inappropriate tone. He’s technically a very average presenter, of the original 3, Thompson was by far the strongest potential anchor. Leaving personal preference aside she was the most technically adept of the presenting team. Lazenby’s most annoying traits are his ‘sport by numbers’ questioning of the colour team, reeling off the same generic, dull questions every GP and the very obvious way he listening to talkback. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anchor appear so disinterested in the sport they’re covering and deliver content with such a flippant tone.
    Insert VT’s – Some of these are so poor I wonder who clears them for broadcast. Two that stand out are the Jet Ski item from Monaco and the Croft chat from China but for different reasons, one editorially, one technically. The Monaco Jet Ski piece made no sense at all, to start with I thought I’d zoned out but re-watching it I hadn’t. They set up some sort of challenge on jet skis, with some sort of mechanic/scoring system/winner, yet at no point do they explain any of this, at all! It was like watching a child’s made up game where you have no clue what they’re doing. I know it was a fluff piece, probably built around some ulterior motive to see Pinkham in a wetsuit or get discount jet ski hire for their time off, but either way it was terrible. The Croft China chat embodies so many things that are technically wrong with Sky’s play-ins. It’s technically abysmal, there are so many things wrong with it Uni lecturers could use it as a case study of what not to do. I won’t go in to anorakie details (unless someone would like me to), suffice to say that there is no point in pushing ‘HD’ when the content is directed, shot and edited by someone of the level of a first year media student. The only VT that I’ve enjoyed this year was the Smedley/Massa chat, only because of the charismatic Smedley, although whoever set that up for Sky should get some credit.
    End Credits VT – These are immensely hit and miss, a few have been quite good but they’re overshadowed by the average dross. Apart from some really lazy editing the music is the real killer. It’s like the editor has Richard Madeley’s ipod, hits random and just uses whatever comes up.
    Overview – Sky seem to believe you can produce any sports coverage to some sort of formula (no pun intended). You simply cannot deliver football coverage to F1 fans, it’s counterintuitive, if we had that mind-set we’d be football fans. Their inability to perceive the difference was shown by their fan comments from (I think) Germany, we’re they seemed to choose fans who used the term ‘we’, as a football fan would. The fact that they don’t understand that most serious F1 fans support the sport as a whole, and while having their favourites do not support an individual driver/team like a football fan does, sums up their ignorance.
    Sky’s coverage is mediocre at best. Instead of focusing on the fact that you can watch Sky F1 on more devices than they sell in Currys they should try to understand the sport and the fans or employ someone who does. F1 is the fastest sport in the world, it should be exciting, enthralling, heart stopping, yet Sky cover it like a mid-season League One game. It starts with a downbeat opening tune, goes to a self-indulgent student film, then a disinterested anchor who chats with some embittered has-beens (excluding Hill), then the race/qually, followed by generic waffle, in program unrelated advertising and a random closing piece.
    The worst thing here is that the BBC appear to be copying Sky and while still better than Sky they are sliding head first down to Sky’s level.
    I should point out that I have no affiliation to either Sky or the BBC.

    • Interesting to note that Spa showed no difference at all and only supported all my previous points.

      Three weeks prep and still the opening VT is some lifeless montage, I thought someone might have to give it CPR after 30 seconds.

      Lazenby ‘played a blinder’ as he might say, by asking a variation of the now infamous Craig Slater faux pas. Asking Hamilton if the ‘British Summer of Sport’ had spurred him on…

      Yes Simon, I’m sure up until the summer Hamilton was just turning up and going through the motions but having seen The Ashes win, put in that extra 50%. Quite possible the most redundant ridiculous question you can ask a world class professional sportsperson.

      The best piece of the weekend was Brundle’s track history piece, the archive and sound bites would have made a way more appropriate opener than the horrible DOA thing they had.

      True to form they left us on some downbeat end VT, not just making me wonder if I can be arsed to watch the next GP but whether I can be arsed to carry on breathing.

  5. From what i’ve heard, Sky using split-screen for the practice cutaways vs cutting away completely last year was actually a decrease in freedom as far as FOM are concerned, in that FOM now at least get the world feed shown through all of the session pretty much, compared to last year. I wonder if that came (on Sky’s side) at the expense of allowing Sky to switch to a team-radio free feed during the longer cutaways/ driver interviews? as well as the Pit Radio live thing. i.e. from FOM to Sky: “You can have your overlays, predictions, Pit Radio Live but you have to show the world feed during your cut aways, rather than cutting away from the World Feed completely”.

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