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.
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.
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.
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.
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.