BT Sport announces Melanie Sykes’s MotoGP departure

Melanie Sykes has parted company with BT Sport, it has been confirmed this evening, with Craig Doyle taking on more responsibilities with the team.

In a statement issued to The F1 Broadcasting Blog, BT Sport said: “We regret to say that Mel Sykes will no longer be a part of the presenting team on MotoGP for BT Sport. BT Sport’s approach is to operate a team of presenters and experts who work across both live and magazine programmes. Mel has other broadcasting commitments which prevent her from being able to do this and as a result working across BT Sport MotoGP programming is no longer viable. We wish Mel all the best in the future. Our team remain the same, we have a fantastic team of presenters and experts working across MotoGP, as the rugby season comes to an end, Craig Doyle will present more live MotoGP.”

Sykes was announced as BT Sport’s MotoGP presenter on February 14th after emerging as a late front runner for the role. Three and a half months later, and the partnership has ended. I made comments about the announcement at the same time, however, her parting company with BT Sport after four races was something that no one predicted. She was absent from BT’s Le Mans coverage, which their press office said was due to “personal circumstances”. Like I said at the time, I don’t want to be drawn into that on this blog because it has nothing to do with her presenting. The phrase that I do not understand at all from BT’s press release is ‘other broadcasting commitments’. Surely this is something that is agreed before the final contract is signed? If personal circumstances is the reason for her departure, then fair enough, but that phrase really confuses me, because it suggests that either BT did not negotiate the contract properly or Sykes was unaware of what was involved. At this point, I wonder who else was in the frame, not that they can go and approach them because I imagine none of those candidates are free.

On the presenting side of things, I don’t think the studio helped her one bit. Whilst she looked out of her depth in Qatar, you know what, part of me would have liked to see her out in Argentina and Texas. I’m not saying she would have been amazing, however, having her present from the studio in Argentina and Texas was completely the wrong decision and meant that she could not get used to the live and vibrant MotoGP paddock. The opening weekend in Qatar was not great to put it lightly, but what is done is done. BT have to take some blame here, and clearly their calculated risk to take Sykes on has not paid off. In some ways, I think BT have thrown Sykes under a bus through no fault of her own.

It looks like we will be getting Craig Doyle on Sunday’s and Chris Hollins possibly on Saturday’s. Whilst the rugby season has finished, so has the football season. With that in mind, surely Jake Humphrey has to be a contender to front some of BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage through the Summer? Personally, I’d say that is a no-brainer, however I’m not convinced that it will happen. It’s fair to say that BT’s coverage from a personnel stand-point has got off to the worst possible start. I think some will call that an exaggeration, but can you imagine if Suzi Perry or Simon Lazenby decided to leave their respective teams a quarter of the way through a season? No, me neither.

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New show with unseen FOM footage coming to Sky F1

A new show with never before seen footage from Formula One Management’s archive is coming to Sky Sports F1, it has been confirmed. ‘Tales from the Vault‘ will be presented by Steve Rider with the first show based around ‘team mates’. In front of a studio audience, Christian Horner and John Watson will be guests in episode one, which will be recorded on Thursday 26th June.

This seems like an interesting concept, especially with it all being new footage, I’m all for unseen footage being used considering the rich archive that FOM has which is frustratingly being unused. Biggin Hill is basically a goldmine for Formula 1 fans, so I’m fascinated to see what footage is in the Sky show, hopefully it doesn’t disappoint. I assume that this will be a half an hour show, I can’t see it being an hour long, however, that depends on what footage they have found in the FOM archive. Which brings us to the next point: has FOM sent unseen footage to Sky, or has someone had Sky had the ability to roam around Biggin Hill looking for footage?

One thing I’m wondering too is the type of footage that will be aired. Are we talking unseen camera angles from out on the race track, or off the record conversations in FOM’s archive that have not been released before? If someone at Sky has common sense, and one assumes the footage is interesting otherwise it simply would not make it to it, before episode one airs, they’d be hyping whatever footage goes to air through online and social media. I’m not convinced either that we need a studio audience personally, I’d have thought that the footage is the draw to the show rather than having an audience. Either way, I’m very pleased to see that this is happening and I will update this post with more details when the scheduling is confirmed…

Update on June 13th – Whilst no scheduling details have officially been confirmed, Sky have confirmed that the first ‘episode’ will be taped from 11:30 to 18:00, six and a half hours. Now obviously they won’t be taping for that entire time. If I had to guess, the first ‘episode’ will actually be split into two, taping from 12:30 to 14:30 and then from 15:30 to 17:30, which would be two hours each. Conveniently, there are two blank two hour slots on Tuesday 1st July and Wednesday 2nd July at 21:00 in the build-up to the British Grand Prix, so let’s see if it ends up in there…

Update on July 25th – Confirmed on The F1 Show that it will première on Sunday 24th August at 16:15, after the Belgian Grand Prix.

Update on August 6th – Sky have confirmed that each episode will be an hour long, the first two focussing on team-mates and underdogs respectively.

Scheduling: The 2014 Canadian Grand Prix

Formula 1 heads for its annual trip across the pond for the Canadian Grand Prix. The good news is that the race is live on both BBC One and Sky Sports F1, in my view it is always good to see a live race airing in primetime on free-to-air television. It’ll be interesting to see how the race coverage rates given that it is going up against Soccer Aid on ITV.

For the second year in a row, Natalie Pinkham will not be in Canada, this year she is presenting Sky’s coverage of the Hockey World Cup throughout the first half of June. I’m guessing both Rachel Brookes and Craig Slater will be out in Canada, Brookes presenting The F1 Show alongside Ted Kravitz. Kravitz will be back with the team after needing to go home from the Monaco Grand Prix weekend early. On a scheduling related note, I’m disappointed that BBC Three’s practice two coverage will not have more reaction and analysis, that being one of the highlights of last year’s coverage.

Whilst there is no GP2 and GP3 during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, there is BTCC and the IndyCar Series to whet the appetite. Below is the full schedule:

Thursday 5th June
16:00 to 16:45 – F1: Driver Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
21:30 to 22:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 6th June
07:00 to 07:15 – F1: Gear Up for Canada (Sky Sports F1)
14:45 to 16:50 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
14:55 to 16:30 – F1: Practice 1 (BBC Two)
18:45 to 21:00 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
19:00 to 20:35 – F1: Practice 2 (BBC Three)
21:00 to 21:45 – F1: Team Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
23:00 to 00:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)

Saturday 7th June
14:45 to 16:15 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
14:55 to 16:05 – F1: Practice 3 (BBC Two)
17:00 to 19:20 – F1: Qualifying (BBC One)
17:00 to 19:45 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)

Sunday 8th June
01:30 to 04:00 – IndyCars: Firestone 600 (BT Sport 2)
– repeated on Sunday 8th June at 13:00
11:15 to 17:40 – BTCC: Oulton Park (ITV4)
17:30 to 22:15 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 17:30 – Track Parade
=> 18:00 – Race
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live
18:20 to 21:00 – F1: Race (BBC One)
21:00 to 22:00 – F1: Forum (BBC Red Button)
22:15 to 23:15 – GP Heroes: Clay Regazzoni (Sky Sports F1)

Wednesday 11th June
20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report (Sky Sports F1)

Classic F1 on Sky Sports F1
I believe this is the first time that Sky have shown the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix. I am disappointed that it is not the full race given that races post 1996 have tended to be the full race, so one assumes this is the original ITV highlights minus pre and post race analysis. EDIT on June 5th: Or not, its since disappeared from the schedule.

31/05 – 21:00 to 21:40 – 1982 Caesars Palace Grand Prix Highlights
01/06 – 21:00 to 23:30 – 2007 Chinese Grand Prix
02/06 – 21:00 to 23:00 – 2012 Canadian Grand Prix (Sky commentary)
03/06 – 21:00 to 00:00 – 2011 Canadian Grand Prix
04/06 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 2007 Canadian Grand Prix
05/06 – 21:00 to 23:30 – 2008 Canadian Grand Prix
06/06 – 22:00 to 23:00 – 1978 Season Review
07/06 – 19:45 to 20:45 – 1991 Canadian Grand Prix Highlights
09/06 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix Highlights
10/06 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 1998 Japanese Grand Prix
11/06 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1983 United States Grand Prix West Highlights
12/06 – 21:00 to 23:00 – 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix
13/06 – 21:00 to 21:45 – 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix Highlights

As always, if there are any amendments, I’ll update this schedule.

Stirring the pot

For reasons discussed elsewhere, the Monaco Grand Prix weekend was interesting, and provided us with some fascinating sound bites. The first is from after the race, as Lewis Hamilton was interviewed by Sky Sports F1’s Natalie Pinkham, who it has to be said did a fantastic job in both post-session interviews with him and Nico Rosberg over the weekend. This is how it went down:

NP: “[Montreal] is going to be a good opportunity for you guys, but what about mending bridges with your friend?”
LH: “We’re not friends. We’re colleagues and we’ll work to get the team as many points as we can.”

And this is how Pinkham’s interview with Rosberg went:

NP: “Do you consider yourself to still be friends with Lewis?”
NR: “We’re always friends, we’ve always been friends. Friends is a big word. What is friends? We have a good relationship.”

Both interviews were broadcast live, or as close to live as possible, on Sky Sports F1. I don’t think Pinkham in the Sky piece was phishing for that comment from Hamilton, instead in typical Hamilton style he perhaps said a little too much in front of the cameras. Similarly, on Saturday, Hamilton made a comment to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Jennie Gow, saying that he will “take a page out of Senna’s book” during the race, implying that he could deliberately crash into Rosberg. Nowadays, as soon as any quotes like that are broadcast live, it goes straight onto social media and whipped into a frenzy from UK journalists to German journalists to journalists over the pond. It is the nature of the beast. As thus, the quotes above, along with the initial Rosberg incident were being discussed, and are still be discussed, across social media outlets and internet forums.

Sky Sports F1, along with any other broadcasters immediately discussed the Rosberg incident as soon as it happened on Saturday, getting opinions from others. Every opinion supposedly meant something, although Sky made the frankly pathetic decision of getting Flavio Briatore’s opinion, who himself is a known cheat for Singapore 2008. Apart from that, I can’t say I necessarily blame them for dedicating the majority of their hour post-Qualifying show to the incident. If I was making the editorial decisions that day, I’d have probably made the same choice. The viewing figures show that the right choice was made.

I’ve demonstrated in the past how the amount of air-time Formula 1 gets in the United Kingdom has significantly increased in the past decade, a picture that no doubt repeats itself across Europe. Which means that instead of just getting isolated interviews, you perhaps now even get analysis of said interviews during the live shows, i.e. “what did driver X mean when he said that”, despite the fact that the viewer has just watched with their own eyes and can interpret it for themselves! Given that there have already been many comparisons between Rosberg and Hamilton/Prost and Senna, I thought it’d be interesting to jump back to the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix in an era where Formula 1 had limited television coverage. On that day, Ayrton Senna ignored a pre-race agreement that said that whoever led into turn one between himself and McLaren team-mate Alain Prost would stay there. I’ll quote from The Life of Senna by Tom Rubython:

Journalists and the team, unaware of the accord, were bemused. He told them an accord had been breached. The hacks had no idea what he was talking about. [..] Senna explained to journalists afterwards: “He got the jump early, then I got the slipstream immediately, and I was in the slipstream all the way until the first corner and I got much more speed than him. So that is the truth.”

You can probably imagine what social media would have been like after that particular event had it been around in 1989, and with the extensive coverage like we have today! Very quickly, the news would have got out. Coverage of the Grand Prix in the UK in 1989 would have been live on BBC Two during Grandstand as most races during that time period were. Because of that, there was not much pre-race and post-race analysis. In fact, coverage may well have disappeared straight after the podium, with a few interviews being clipped onto the end of the highlights show. Either way, I don’t think that there would have been much external scrutiny from fans regarding any quotes Prost and Senna made during the broadcast, instead it would probably be one or two lines from Murray Walker noting what had happened, with AUTOSPORT magazine doing an analysis piece the following Thursday.

In 1989, there would not have been instant reporting where viewers get to know everything on a minute-by-minute basis. In any season where team-mates are battling and level pegging, the media will always look to see if they can find a story, it is their job to do that. The Prost and Senna story started at Imola, as noted above. The pot I think is stirred more nowadays, however I don’t think it has any effect whatsoever other than to fill internet pages. This is coming from someone though who was not around in the 1980s and did not start watching Formula 1 until 1999. What I do know, with the help of a scrapbook from the loft, is that tabloid style reporting has always been around. The scrapbook in question features pages and pages of quotes from newspapers from the 1976 season featuring James Hunt. From the outside, things may appear different because of social media. Fans have more access to Formula 1 journalists than ever before, but inside the paddock, I imagine nothing is fundamentally different when doing business.

The way fans consume Formula 1 has changed considerably as there are many more mediums available in 2014 compared with 25 years earlier meaning that fans are connected better than ever before, which, in my opinion is largely a brilliant thing. You just need to learn which journalists are actually being journalists, and which ones are there, but serving no real purpose. Or, as a third argument, you could say that they’re all as bad as each other, an argument I don’t subscribe to, but an interesting point of view nevertheless.

Monaco Grand Prix hits 2014 high

The on-going rivalry at Mercedes between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg helped the Monaco Grand Prix ratings in the UK, unofficial overnight figures show. After a bleak first four races, ratings began to pick up in Spain, signalling the start of a turnaround.

Race
Live coverage of the race itself, screened on Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 15:30, averaged 1.10m (12.1%). Finding an equivalent rating for last year is somewhat difficult due to the red flag period, but using a similar 12:00 to 16:15 slot brought an average of 889k (11.5%), so Sky was about 25 percent up year-on-year. BBC’s ratings were up 7 percent year-on-year. Highlights on BBC One from 17:05 averaged 3.33m (23.3%), up on the 3.11m (22%) recorded last year.

The combined figure of 4.44m is not only the highest number of the year so far, which in my view is a sign of how poorly the first four races did, but also the highest Monaco Grand Prix number since 2011. 2012 and 2013 averaged 3.80m and 4.00m respectively, whilst 2011 averaged a massive 4.99m. 2011 was helped somewhat by the red flag period which meant that programme sustained higher viewership numbers for longer. 2010 also slots in above 2014, which makes 2014 the third highest number in the past decade and a bit. On the front of it, its a very good number for the F1. It also makes for a potentially great Canadian Grand Prix number in two weeks time. The Track Parade from 11:30 averaged 268k (3.5%), whilst Paddock Live averaged 230k (2.2%) from 15:30.

Qualifying
The ratings trajectory for Qualifying was identical to the race. Sky’s live coverage from 12:00 to 15:00 averaged 578k (6.5%). That number is a record high for the channel where Qualifying is concerned. No doubt the Rosberg incident helped significantly, but I do admit to being surprised by that, mainly because they had an hour post-session reaction yet it rated higher than those programmes with only 35 minutes reaction. BBC’s highlights averaged 2.53m (16.8%). With both channels up on last year, the combined Qualifying figure of 3.11m is the highest for Monaco since 2011, and the second highest on record. From a ratings point of view, it was a very, very good weekend for Formula 1.

I’ll be interested to see if that was replicated across Europe. I think certain people in Formula 1 need to blame themselves for the poor start to the season ratings wise. When you are throwing negative hyperbole into the media about the sound, what do you expect? No one is going to be drawn towards a product that the main players are criticising, hence it really was no surprise that the first quartet failed to do well. For the moment, the media will continue to push the Hamilton and Rosberg angle, a good news story for Formula 1, as long as they can. In my opinion, the casual fans like personalities more than the technology. The Mercedes story is a great story for the media to push, and you can guarantee that Sky will be pushing it into Montreal. Whilst I may not like seeing ‘Hamilton overdrive’ at times, with ratings like the above, in some ways, I can’t say I particularly blame them.

Indianapolis 500
Over on BT Sport 2, live coverage of the Indianapolis 500 peaked with 36k (0.3%) at 18:50. The main programme from 16:30 to 21:00 averaged 23k (0.1%). The number is up comfortably on 2013, and at the lower end of the Sky Sports numbers. Since I’ve started this blog, a recurring question is always “why so low”, where the Indianapolis 500 is concerned. Sadly, the answer is, and always will be fairly simple for me to answer, as I noted two years ago.

The 2013 Monaco Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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