Now TV’s prices to drop, albeit temporarily

A good news story for Formula 1 fans is that the price of Now TV is set to drop, albeit temporarily. The price drop will apply from Thursday 14th August through to Thursday 27th November. Alongside this, a new Sky Sports Weekly Pass is being introduced. The prices are as follows:

– Day Pass: £6.99
– Weekly Pass: £10.99

At the end of the time period, both prices will go up. I assume the Day Pass will go back up to £9.99, whilst the Weekly Pass will go up to around £15.00. I’ve mentioned before my thoughts on those prices, the Day Pass in particular at £9.99 is a rip off to put it nicely. The new Day Pass price at £6.99 is better in my opinion, but we will see what happens come November.

I’m not going to do a full post such as this, because Sky’s and BT’s prices are both going up within the next two months, so it would be rendered redundant quite soon! With Singapore, USA and Brazil the only Sky exclusive races left, it means that fans can watch all three races for £20.97. If you were to change that to three weekly passes, and the price increases to £32.97. The weekly pass is definitely better value for money if you don’t want to take Sky’s TV packages.

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Trying to justify unpopular decisions

It is fair to say that over the past few years, Formula 1 has made some strange and unpopular choices. Whether it is your odd stewards enquiry decision, or something a bit more extreme, such as double points, the poor decision making has been an undercurrent throughout. This ‘odd’ decision making has not been limited to the FIA and FOM though. Earlier this year, the BBC and Gary Anderson parted company, a move which surprised many readers at the time, and still does considering his role has never really been replaced. The only technical expert now in the UK Formula 1 broadcasting scene is Ted Kravitz on Sky Sports F1. Whilst Kravitz is great at what he does, having only one technical person across two channels is simply not good enough.

The role of technical analyst can be traced by twenty years in the UK’s Formula 1 coverage. Starting off with Jonathan Palmer on the BBC in the early 1990’s, James Allen took over the baton when ITV started screening Formula 1 in 1997. When Allen moved to the commentary box, Kravitz became the technical expert from 2002 onwards, a role he has maintained across ITV, then BBC and now Sky Sports. With the increase of air-time that the BBC’s coverage gave from 2009 onwards, the role of technical analyst has become a vital commodity. Several years later, and Kravitz is now doing his own Notebook’s over on Sky Sports. When Kravitz defected to Sky, Anderson was brought on board over on the BBC. Sadly, it didn’t last long. Less than two years later, Anderson and the BBC parted company.

There’s two ways you can look at Anderson’s departure. One is that he simply walked, and the second is that he was fired. The truth is somewhere down the middle. As Anderson noted, he was typing up a resignation e-mail, only to get a phone call about the subject! So the BBC wanted to get rid of Anderson, and Anderson, feeling he was being misused, wanted to leave. When blog readers were asked about this subject earlier this year, a whopping 5,000 people responded – and 95 percent of you thought that BBC and Anderson parting company was a bad move all around. In a request for comment from this blog, Ben Gallop, BBC’s Head of F1, said that the team had been adjusted in order to to bring the “best package for audiences across TV, radio and online”. Half a season on from Anderson’s departure, has the BBC product benefited from Anderson’s departure?

I think, if you’re going to look at what Anderson brought to the broadcasts, the answer has to be no. As mentioned above, the BBC have not replaced him. We can run around that point as much as we can, but that is the fact. Tom Clarkson and Allan McNish may bring a lot to the team, but again, neither are technical experts. They do not have the knowledge or expertise with thirty years and beyond in the field like Anderson does. You can’t replace that expertise just like that. One train of thought is that the new deal that began in 2012 meant that Anderson was more expendable. You can’t get rid of commentators, you need someone to interview drivers, you need a presenter and analyst. That leaves Anderson left for the chopping block. It almost feels like that the role of technical analyst was kept on for 2012 and 2013 as an ‘olive branch’. The BBC may also think that they cannot provide much technical analysis during a highlights show. I thoroughly disagree with that thought, as you are basically saying that you cannot provide technical analysis for a casual audience.

By not hiring a replacement for Anderson, are BBC saying that technical analysis is a dying breed? Does the general Formula 1 audience not care about the latest technical innovations? I would hate to think that the answer to those two questions is yes, although Anderson’s comments back in February certainly hinted that the BBC believe that the latter is true. If anything, the technical aspect has been even more important in 2014. Just ask Craig Scarborough or Matt Somerfield and I’m sure they would confirm this. Earlier this year, Formula 1 was facing a barrage of criticism, because apparently the ‘new formula’ was not up to scratch. A lot of that, you guessed it, concerned the technical aspects. But where was Anderson? Well he wasn’t communicating that to four million people because BBC had decided otherwise! Anderson would have been fantastic earlier this year in justifying the new technology to viewers and explaining why it is necessary for Formula 1 to move with the times.

Anderson leaving the BBC was a sign that he felt that he was being misused. Half way through 2014, do I miss Anderson’s contributions? If I’m going to be honest, the truthful answer is that the void left has not been as big as I expected it to be. Whether this is a result of them not using enough of him in 2012 and 2013, I don’t know, but I’m not left feeling that I miss his input in the coverage. Despite this, I do think it was a big mistake for them to part company. 2012 and 2013 were the same formula in essence, whereas 2014 was a complete reboot, and he would have been one of BBC’s most important assets for 2014 (or, should have been). Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Brazil set to keep free to air Formula 1 coverage until 2020 amid speculation

One of the big broadcasting stories in the past 24 hours was the news revealed by Four Wheels that Globo will no longer be screening Formula 1 as of the start of the 2015 season. That article, has however since been denied by Globo. A Brazilian site, aptly named TV News, has today posted an article, quoting a Globo executive re-iterating that the channel will be keeping live coverage until 2020 as contractually required to do so.

Had Globo pulled out of covering Formula 1, it would have been a huge story given how long Globo has been covering the sport for. Four Wheels claimed that SporTV will take over the rights, which no longer appears to be the case. Globo has been covering Formula 1 since the 1972 Monaco Grand Prix. The TV News site says that Formula 1 viewing figures have dropped down to record lows, perhaps unsurprisingly given that Felipe Massa is the only main Brazilian driver on the grid. The numbers are half of what they were in 2008, and a quarter of what they were in Ayrton Senna’s heyday. As a result of the low numbers, one thing Globo have done is reduce their practice coverage, this came into effect from last month’s German Grand Prix.

Either way, the situation in Brazil is definitely one to keep an eye out for, if Globo’s ratings keep dropping, I suspect we will continue to hear these rumours in the months ahead…

Judging the current F1 Show format

Half way through the motor sport year, I tend to write several posts looking at BBC’s and Sky’s teams and programming in detail. In both 2012 and 2013, I went down this route, each member of each team was analysed one-by-one. For this year, I’m going to do things a bit differently. The main reason for this is purely because I haven’t watched as much of their broadcasts as in previous years, and also because I talk a lot about non-F1 motor sport now on this site as well.

As readers will know, back in April, I did not watch the Chinese Grand Prix live, and in addition to that, to be honest, not a lot has changed on the Formula 1 front. There are some things though, that have changed. Instead of focussing on everything, the next few posts will be limited to those points, and look at what should be changed going forward. The first two posts of the mid-season verdict I published last month, exactly half way through the Formula 1 and MotoGP seasons. The Formula 1 ratings piece can be found here, with the MotoGP article located here, both containing comments from the respective broadcasters.

The Sky Sports F1 team seen no departures over the Winter break and one addition in the form of Bruno Senna. Their programming slate has remained largely the same, the highlight no doubt being ‘Senna Week‘ from the beginning of May. Arguably, that was the channel’s best week since its inception in 2012. The main visible change for 2014 concerns The F1 Show. The show has been broadcast live from March to November on Friday’s since 2012. Previously, on non-race weeks, the show was presented from a studio, with no audience present. This was changed for 2014. After a successful trial pilot last Summer, the channel opted to switch studio’s permanently, with the studio audience a firm fixture for this season.

Every change has positives and negatives, and that is definitely the case here. Starting with the positives. The first, and I suspect there may be disagreement here, is social media. Sky promoting and actively encouraging social media involvement during the show with polls is a good thing. It is something that I have advocated in the past, and I am glad to see that Sky are doing live polls during the show. I can see the other arguments, for example “why are we wasting time on Twitter polls”, but in my opinion, the positives outweigh the negatives. Social media interaction is vital if you want the show to thrive and reach a new, bigger audience – across both Facebook and Twitter.

Another positive, in the words of Daniel Puddicombe who wrote about this in April, is that the audience brings an extra element to the show. It makes the show livelier with a studio audience, which was lacking a lot in 2013. The F1 Show in 2012 worked with Georgie Thompson and Ted Kravitz, because they bounced off each other brilliantly, however once Thompson left, the show fell off the rails. Last year, this was clearly evident, the Midweek Report with Anna Woolhouse was easily the more superior show, despite an infinitely smaller budget to play with thanks to the quality of guests and the discussion within the show. What Sky have done for this season is make the Midweek Report feel like The F1 Show of 2012, with The F1 Show becoming a lighter magazine show, rightly or wrongly with Natalie Pinkham now as one of the hosts. Pinkham works better with a studio audience, which is perhaps one reason why the format change was brought in for the first place.

Whilst there have been positives, one of the biggest negatives for me has been the quality of the guests on The F1 Show. In a few weeks time, MotoGP Tonight will be broadcasting live from BT Sport’s studios with current champion Marc Marquez as one of their guests. Unsurprisingly, tickets for that edition sold out fast. BT’s MotoGP coverage is five months old, and they’ve managed to get the world champion on. Two and a half years into The F1 Show, and I don’t think we have had one top-tier current racer in the studio. Having a studio audience is fantastic, but only if the calibre of guests live up to the standard.

Why can’t we have a member of the audience ask ‘a decision maker’, for example Christian Horner about double points? If Sky are to have a studio audience, they should exploit it. One of the biggest criticisms of Formula 1 this season is that the teams do not listen to fans; by appearing on The F1 Show, they have at least one avenue to change that perspective. The F1 Show may not be Question Time, and I wouldn’t expect it to be (after all, I’ve called it a ‘lighter magazine show’ two paragraphs above!), but guests with importance to modern day Formula 1 would be good. That way, Sky can quote the guests on the website over the weekend, which will only promote the show further. It is one thing Sky doesn’t do, promote their own shows after they have been aired, with quotes from X on relevant Y issue.

Sometimes their agenda is debatable, and focussing on the wrong areas. Again though, this is interlinked with the lighter touch and the quality of guests. The 2015 rules were a big focus at the end of June, but was treated as an afterthought on The F1 Show. One last negative concerns the scheduling, Friday nights at 20:00 does not work in my opinion, and may well hurt their ability to get top quality guests, unlike MotoGP Tonight which airs on Tuesday nights. Given that Midweek Report airs on a Wednesday, I don’t think the scheduling will change, however the Friday slot must take a chunk off its audience, and I would be surprised if many catch up with the show on the basis that the show is not ‘must see’. It should probably also be noted that the changes have not moved viewing figures, the numbers remaining below 100k, this despite the launch show in March 2012 attracting 200k to the channel.

Overall, have the changes to The F1 Show so far been for the better? I think this depends on what you are looking for. If you want just F1 discussion then you are better off watching the Midweek Report, however, if you want a bit of humour injected into it, then The F1 Show is your thing. Like I say though, Sky have to take advantage of having a studio audience for the format to work, and for that to happen, the quality of guests has to be better as we head into the latter stages of 2014.