Looking at NBC’s Road to Mercedes

The F1 Broadcasting Blog tends to only focus on the programming that BBC Sport and Sky Sports produce in relation to Formula 1. Given that the blog is UK-centric, that’s perhaps not surprising. However, over in the States, one broadcaster produced some top quality content in 2014 that is definitely worth reviewing on the blog. Enter NBC Sports.

It was announced in October 2012 that NBC Sports would be taking over the rights to cover Formula 1 in America, succeeding the SPEED Channel in covering the sport. NBC’s coverage, plus the return of the United States Grand Prix, has meant that viewing figures have surged in the States. Whilst numbers are still relatively small, and have yet to break into the millions, the rise can only be seen as good news for the sport, which looks to exploit the American market further.

One aspect outside of the NBC F1 team’s control is the number of commercials, however what they produce is of course in their control. Alongside its usual Off the Grid programme, which goes behind the scenes during a race weekend, NBC have also produced two documentaries under the Road To strand. This began with the Road to Ferrari, and has since been followed by the Road to Mercedes. The Road to Mercedes documentary premièred on NBC Sports during the 2014 United States Grand Prix weekend and, as with Off the Grid, it was presented by Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales. Immediately this is a striking difference compared to other Formula 1 programming that readers may have watched: Swales is normally a producer, yet he presents some of NBC’s programming alongside Buxton.

Will Buxton and Jason Swales at Reims for the Road to Mercedes documentary.
Will Buxton and Jason Swales at Reims for the Road to Mercedes documentary.

The title of the programme might give a clue about what it is about, a journey from Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix to Hockenheim, the home of Mercedes and home to the German Grand Prix (for 2014, at least). The journey, done aptly in a Mercedes GL63 AMG, takes Swales and Buxton through several motor sport hotspots. After going over the ferry (which was not Buxton’s favourite point!) from England into France, the two take a trip to Reims, the first of several trips down memory lane. The imagery at this point is simply stunning, looking down the old, disused pit lane at Reims. Some of the shots really help put things into context between the modern and ancient. It beggars belief that the old pit lane is still standing after nearly fifty years, but it is.

As night dawned, France turned into Germany, and quickly Reims turned into the Nürburgring. “When I think of the Nürburgring, I don’t think of this,” says Swales. Of course, Swales is comparing the current Grand Prix circuit to the Nordschleife. Before going around that beast though, Buxton and Swales take the Mercedes road car around the modern Nürburgring along with a visit to the Kiemele museum in Ditzingen. The Kiemele museum aims to restore old Mercedes cars back to a usable state. Buxton notes that it takes the museum 3,000 hours to restore one car, a mammoth effort just to get it into working condition. It was not long before Buxton ended up behind the wheel of one of the many cars that Kiemele had restored!

Will Buxton as a passenger. Going round the Nordschleife. In the rain...
Will Buxton as a passenger. Going round the Nordschleife. In the rain

Next up, Buxton and Swales head to a Mercedes factory, in which we learn that producing a V8 engine takes only three and half hours – simply ridiculous and shows how sublime the work that Mercedes do is. A programme called the Road to Mercedes would not be complete without heading to Mercedes’ homeland: Stuttgart, which is where the Mercedes-Benz Museum is located. Buxton describes it best as “heaven”, with many classic motor racing cars on display. It was simply amazing to see the wide range of machinery. If you ever go to Germany, I get the impression that this is one place that must be on the ‘bucket list’ of places to visit.

The journey concludes at Hockenheim during the 2014 German Grand Prix weekend, in which Buxton gets a rare interview with Dieter Zetsche, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. Following a recap of the race, it was clear that Hockenheim was not the final stop. Instead, it was back to the Nürburgring, except this time it was the Nordschleife in a Mercedes SLS. In the rain, with Nico Bastian driving Will Buxton around the monster of a track. Typically, Flight of the Valkyries can be heard in the background as Bastian tackles the beast and Buxton hangs on as best as he can! Again, like at Reims earlier, this produced some fantastic imagery as the Mercedes SLS snapped sideways on a few occasions.

“I feel sick,” Buxton exclaims as he gets out of the SLS. The programme is just one of many excellent programmes that the NBC Sports have produced in the past two years, showing that it is not just BBC and Sky that produce good Formula 1 programming.

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Scheduling: The 2015 Barcelona test 1 on Sky Sports F1

Following the Jerez test, the Formula 1 teams and drivers have a little break before action resumes for the first of two tests at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

As with the first test, Sky Sports News will be covering the action throughout the day with live updates. Sky Sports F1 will again broadcast a 15 minute round-up at 21:00 (under the Paddock Uncut title), Ted’s Notebook follows it at 21:15. There are multiple repeats, there are many more repeats than those listed below, twelve airings in total for the Day 1 highlights for example.

In between the Jerez and Barcelona tests, there is a live ‘Development Special’ on Sky Sports F1, hosted by Anna Woolhouse with guests Craig Scarborough and Steve Clark.

Wednesday 11th February
20:30 to 21:15 – Live Midweek Report: Development Special

Thursday 19th February
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 1 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– Ted’s Notebook at 21:15

Friday 20th February
20:15 to 21:00 – Day 1 Highlights (R)
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 2 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– Ted’s Notebook at 21:15

Saturday 21st February
20:15 to 21:00 – Day 2 Highlights (R)
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 3 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– Ted’s Notebook at 21:15

Sunday 22nd February
20:15 to 21:00 – Day 3 Highlights (R)
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 4 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– Ted’s Notebook at 21:15

If anything changes, I will update the schedule above.

BT Sport to continue showing IndyCar until 2022

BT Sport are to continue showing the IndyCar Series through ESPN for the next seven years, it has been confirmed.

The announcement today said that BT Sport’s and ESPN’s integral relationship will be continuing, with IndyCar continuing as a result on ESPN. The announcement said that: “Among a wide range of content, programming supplied during the course of the agreement will typically feature the Verizon IndyCar Series, NCAA College Football and Basketball, X Games, the AFL (Australian Football League) and more.”

I assume that the agreement is from January 2015 to December 2022, or something of that effect (assuming BT Sport is still in operation in 2022 and that the landscape has not changed dramatically again by then!). IndyCar has been shown through ESPN UK under BT Sport’s ownership since 2013 after Sky Sports stopped showing the series at the end of the 2012 season.

Doing the sums: the cost of viewing F1 and MotoGP in 2015

For those of you who want to see every race of Lewis Hamilton’s 2015 Formula One championship title defence, unfortunately 2015 is another year where you will be paying more money than ever before. If you’re a MotoGP fan too, you may end up parting company with nearly £1,000. But, as always, there are cheaper options if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of quality too. A wide variety of options are available, depending on what exactly you want. I have done this post for the past few years, so the below is mostly copy and pasted from previous years with a few changes here and there to fit the narrative.

Starting with Sky, the first option is to switch from your current provider to Sky, purchasing the Sports Pack on top of the basic Original Bundle. The Original Bundle was previously called the Entertainment Pack, Sky choosing to re-brand the packages during 2014. The Sports Pack costs £24.50 a month (an increase of £2.50 compared with this time last year), meaning that when you include the compulsory Original Bundle, this option will put you back £46.00 a month. Given that 12 months is the minimum subscription (see the small print here), this is £552.00 for the year, a whopping £30.00 higher than the equivalent package twelve months ago.

To watch Sky Sports F1 in HD, you need the Family Bundle, at a cost of £33.00 per month. Aside from the Family Bundle, you need the Sports Pack and the HD Pack. As noted above, the Sports Pack is £24.50 a month, and to watch Sky Sports in HD, that is an extra £5.25 a month. Add them three numbers up brings you to £62.75 a month. That’s a staggering £753.00 across the year. If Sky want to make HD the norm (which frankly in 2015, it should be), then the HD Pack and the extra cost that comes with it should be abolished as well. The same applies for Virgin Media as well.

Moving away from TV, and we move towards viewing Formula 1 via Sky Go’s Monthly Ticket system. Unfortunately, Sky do not offer the Sports Pack on its own, you need to have the Family Bundle as well at a cost of £35.00 a month. The benefit of Sky Go’s Monthly Ticket is that it is simply that – a monthly ticket which you renew, if you wish, every month. I assume that this is still the case, although I cannot see any reference to the phrase ‘monthly ticket’ on Sky’s website (if it is no longer a monthly ticket, can someone leave a comment, and I’ll adjust as necessary). With that in mind, the 2015 calendar is as follows:

– March 15th – Australia (Melbourne) – Sky
– March 29th – Malaysia (Sepang) – BBC and Sky
– April 12th – China (Shanghai) – Sky
– April 19th – Bahrain (Sakhir) – BBC and Sky
– May 10th – Spain (Barcelona) – Sky
– May 24th – Monaco (Monaco) – Sky
– June 7th – Canada (Montreal) – BBC and Sky
– June 21st – Austria (Red Bull Ring) – Sky
– July 5th – Britain (Silverstone) – BBC and Sky
– July 19th – Germany (TBA) – Sky
– July 26th – Hungary (Budapest) – BBC and Sky
– August 23rd – Belgium (Spa) – BBC and Sky
– September 6th – Italy (Monza) – Sky
– September 20th – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Sky
– September 27th – Japan (Suzuka) – BBC and Sky
– October 11th – Russia (Sochi) – BBC and Sky
– October 25th – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Sky
– November 1st – Mexico (Mexico City) – Sky
– November 15th – Brazil (Interlagos) – BBC and Sky
– November 29th – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – BBC and Sky

If you want to watch every race live:

– ticket 1 can be used from March 13th to April 13th (Australia and China)
– ticket 2 can be used from May 7th to June 7th (Spain and Monaco)
– ticket 3 can be used from June 19th to July 19th (Austria and Germany)
– ticket 4 can be used from September 1st to October 1st (Italy and Singapore)
– ticket 5 can be used from October 16th to November 16th (USA and Mexico)

Five tickets at £35.00, one less than in 2014, is £175.00 at most. The Now TV online service comes next in the Sky offering. To view the six Sky Sports channels for a 24 hour period, it costs £6.99. However, this is a ‘limited time offer’. How long is limited? How long is a piece of string? If it stays at £6.99, then you can watch the ten Sky exclusive races for £69.90. If you want to add Qualifying to that, however, this will increase to £139.80. The final option from Sky comes from their Sky Sports TV service for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. At £9.99 per month, it means that you can get five tickets for £49.95. If you’re an F1 addict and don’t care about other sports, why pay silly money when you can get away with parting company with only £49.95 for the year?

Over on Virgin Media, their Sky Sports Collection pack is available for £27.25 (no change). Interestingly, you can now add Sky Sports with any of their TV packages. Their basic More TV package is only £13.00 with the V HD Box, so you’re looking at £40.25 a month, or £483.00 a year. Furthermore, Sky Sports F1 is now available on the Virgin Media platform in high definition, which is an extra £7.00 a month. Factoring that in brings the cost to £567.00 a year.

As of writing, Sky Sports F1 is also not available on BT Vision or Freeview, meaning that the above are the only viable options.

To summarise, if you are a Formula 1 fan:

£753.00 a year – Sky TV – Family Bundle, Sports + HD Pack (up £102.00)
£567.00 a year – Virgin Media TV – V HD Box + More TV + Sky Sports Collection + HD
£552.00 a year – Sky TV – Original Bundle + Sports Pack (up £30.00)
£483.00 a year – Virgin Media TV – V HD Box + More TV + Sky Sports Collection (down £78.00)
£209.70 – NOW TV – Practice, Qualifying and Race (down £90.00)
£175.00 – Sky Go Monthly Ticket (down £35.00)
£139.80 – NOW TV – Qualifying and Race (down £60.00)
£69.90 – NOW TV – Race (down £30.00)
£49.95 – Sky Sports TV App (down £9.99)

But what if you like two wheels too? You’ve already parted company with several hundred pounds to watch Formula 1 for the year – what now? For those who are fans of both F1 and MotoGP, 2015 will be just as expensive as 2014. Add the BT Sport options from here (non F1 fans will be interested in reading that link) on top of the Sky and Virgin Media options above. On Sky:

– BT Sport is free if you have BT Broadband
– BT Sport is £13.50 a month if you do not have BT Broadband
– BT Sport HD is an extra £3.00 a month

This means that, for both Formula 1 and MotoGP, there are eight possible combinations.

£951.00 a year – Sky TV – Family Bundle, Sports + HD Pack + BT Sport in HD (up £120.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in HD and MotoGP in HD [if you have no BT Broadband]

£915.00 a year – Sky TV – Family Bundle, Sports + HD Pack + BT Sport (up £120.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in HD and MotoGP in SD [if you have no BT Broadband]

£789.00 a year – Sky TV – Family Bundle, Sports + HD Pack + BT Sport in HD (up £102.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in HD and MotoGP in HD [if you have BT Broadband]

£753.00 a year – Sky TV – Family Bundle, Sports + HD Pack + BT Sport (up £102.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in SD [if you have BT Broadband]

£750.00 a year – Sky TV – Original Bundle + Sports Pack + BT Sport in HD (up £48.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in HD [if you have no BT Broadband]

£714.00 a year – Sky TV – Original Bundle + Sports Pack + BT Sport (up £48.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in SD [if you have no BT Broadband]

£588.00 a year – Sky TV – Original Bundle + Sports Pack + BT Sport in HD (up £30.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in HD [if you have BT Broadband]

£552.00 a year – Sky TV – Original Bundle + Sports Pack + BT Sport (up £30.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in SD [if you have BT Broadband]

Even after that you could say “but has BT Broadband gone up in the past year?” I don’t know the answer to that, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the answer is “yes”.

Meanwhile, over on Virgin Media…

– BT Sport is free with the TV XL package
– BT Sport is otherwise £15.00 a month

Which means that it is:

£747.00 a year – Virgin Media TV – V HD Box + More TV + Sky Sports Collection + HD + BT Sport
=> this will get you Formula 1 in HD and MotoGP in HD

£747.00 a year – Virgin Media TV – V HD Box + XL + Sky Sports Collection + HD + BT Sport
=> this will get you Formula 1 in HD and MotoGP in HD

£663.00 a year – Virgin Media TV – V HD Box + More TV + Sky Sports Collection + BT Sport (down £12.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in HD

£663.00 a year – Virgin Media TV – V HD Box + XL + Sky Sports Collection + BT Sport (up £30.00)
=> this will get you Formula 1 in SD and MotoGP in HD

A final option for MotoGP fans would be to go for their video pass, which works out at about £83.00 based on the current conversion rate. Interestingly, thanks to the way the calendar has worked out, the alternative options are cheaper: whilst Sky’s prices have increased significantly, their Now TV service may prove to be a cheaper option for some.

All prices correct as of Monday 19th January 2015. Information contained in this blog post is subject to change.

Formula E sparks off the line

The inaugural Formula E season has begun in fantastic style with close racing in each of the four rounds so far. As the championship nears the half way stage of its season, it is too early to tell whether it will be a long term success story. But how have things been doing on the broadcasting side?

Viewing figures – the UK story so far
Interest was high for Formula E’s inaugural race back in September, with a peak audience of 477k (6.8%) for the live airing. When factoring in the evening highlights, this figure increased to 713k. A combined average of 426k dropped sharply to 160k for round two in Putrajaya, thanks to a clash with the Formula 1 season finale. Numbers have increased since then, however. An average of 197k (1.1%) tuned into the Punta del Este ePrix, with 260k (1.2%) tuning in last weekend for the Buenos Aires round of the championship. The peak of 423k (1.9%) for Buenos Aires was still down on the figures recorded in Beijing. Highlights of both Punta del Este and Buenos Aires are not included, as the airings were next day and the figures for both were negligible.

Stunning backdrops has been a key feature of Formula E. No desert races so far...
Stunning backdrops has been a key feature of Formula E. No desert races so far…

The increase in viewing figures is a good sign and one that should continue. Whether the figures are any good is a matter of opinion. I would have liked to seen both the Punta del Este and Buenos Aires figures to be higher given their primetime slot, so to see a peak of less than 500k could be construed as somewhat disappointing. The reaction from those that have been watching has been positive, so word of mouth hopefully will increase the numbers further. From ITV’s perspective, I think it would be great if the last three races this season were simulcast on their main channel. Monte Carlo, Berlin and London are all in mid afternoon slots, with no Formula 1 competition. Monte Carlo will be straight after the F1 Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying session and would be fantastic to showcase on the main ITV channel, Berlin will be two hours before The FA Cup Final, whilst I assume London will be live on-location. Last Saturday, ITV’s main channel hovered around 500k during the afternoon, and I have no doubt that Formula E would do better if promoted for the last few rounds.

By broadcasting the last three rounds on ITV’s main channel, it would show that ITV Sport are committed to the series and want Formula E’s audience to increase further ready for season two. This point is absolutely critical. If Formula E is to be successful in the UK, it has to stay live on free-to-air television, I cannot emphasise that point enough. It can not be snapped up by BT Sport for ridiculous amounts of money.

The product
The first four Formula E rounds have been held in picturesque locations, which makes for great television. There is nothing worse than watching a motor race in the middle of the desert with only a handful of people there. The crowds seem vibrant and colourful, which makes for a better product on-screen. The team which organised the locations deserve full marks, because they have got things spot on so far. Compare the images in this article with any image from Formula 1’s races in Valencia or Korea, and they are a world apart.

One of the many camera angles during the 2015 Buenos Aires ePrix.
One of the many camera angles during the 2015 Buenos Aires ePrix.

The direction for the most part has been good during the opening four races. There have been a few dodgy moments, notably during the pit stop sequences. The pit stop sequence has probably been the weakest point of Formula E’s product. It doesn’t yet seem ‘fluid’ to me, the lack of on-screen graphics does not help explain to the viewer what is going on. I think they could do with a pit stop tower, like what we see in IndyCars, which they call the ‘race off pit lane’ to see how many positions car X has gained from the start of pit lane to the end of pit lane.

One great point about the direction is that the cars look the part. They look fast. The reason for this is because the camera angles chosen have been simply fantastic, and make you feel ‘up close and personal’ with the action. The team have really excelled with the camera angles, and should be credited for that. The camera angles used in Formula E only serve to highlight the shortcomings of Formula One Management’s (FOM) on-screen product: in Formula E, the car is the primary focus, whereas you’re never quite sure with FOM whether its the Red Bull car or Rolex advert that is the focus. Concerning the music, I’m not too fussed with it now. I don’t feel like its been overused or underused, its use is just fine for me.

Overall, Formula E has got off to an excellent start, with close racing combined with excellent commentary and stunning locations making for a great product on and off the track.

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