Formula E testing from Donington Park has come and gone. Now, the long journey begins for the 40 cars to head to Beijing in time for the 2015-16 season opener on Saturday 17th October.
On the track, many questions remain about the pecking order, and these questions will not be answered until the first qualifying session of the season has finished. Off the track however, one question remains for UK readers. Who will be broadcasting season two of Formula E? As of writing, nothing has been officially confirmed. The most likely outcome is that ITV will continue to screen live coverage. Mentions of Formula E remain in ITV Sport’s Twitter bio, whilst ITV’s Formula E website has been giving testing updates over the past few weeks, although there was no ITV presence at Donington. So, why has there been no official announcement? I think there are three main reasons.
The first potentially contentious point surrounds whether a London ePrix will take place next June. As noted previously, the London ePrix weekend is taken up by the British Grand Prix. AUTOSPORT says that an early July slot is likely, but that’s yet to be made official. Were the London ePrix to be dropped, then this makes Formula E less attractive to UK broadcasters, given that the big season finale would instantly disappear from their radar. A peak audience of 1.2 million viewers watched the season finale on ITV’s main channel, a point Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag emphasises in his AUTOSPORT interview.
The second stumbling block is money. In order to get Formula E on free-to-air television for its inaugural season, I imagine ITV paid peanuts to broadcast it. It was an unknown entity, nobody knew what was going to happen. Now that we’re heading into season two, it is not unreasonable to expect that Formula E may well want a few more pounds off ITV in order to broadcast the series. If the figure ITV wants to pay and the figure Formula E thinks it should get are not in the same ballpark, that could be the source of some contention. Okay, this is mostly conjecture, but new motor sport series live and die off money, whether we like it or not. An extra million off ITV could be vital for Formula E’s health in the long term, however the investment off Liberty Global and Discovery Communications is believed to help Formula E enormously.
The third issue is pay-TV. I doubt Sky Sports would be interested, they have Formula 1, GP2 and GP3 for single-seater action. Formula E would add nicely to BT Sport’s portfolio, bearing in mind that the channel did show delayed highlights last season. However, the biggest link for me is between Formula E and British Eurosport. Eurosport are owned by Discovery Communications who, as mentioned above, have a minority investment in Formula E. I think, this early in its life cycle, it would be an absurd move to put Formula E live on pay-TV, and it would go smack in the face of Formula E’s ethos to be accessible to the public. I don’t think ITV4’s numbers for Formula E were big enough to attract major pay-TV interest, that could change though in the future if Formula E stayed on ITV to an increased number of viewers.
As of August 6th, an ITV spokesperson told this blog that the 2015/16 broadcast rights were still “to be decided.” In reality, I would be surprised if an agreement is not announced between ITV and Formula E soon. Last year’s deal was announced in March. But until that time comes, there is always a chance that another broadcaster could swoop exclusive live rights to Formula E.
Update on September 8th – No news to report publicly. Provisional schedules for the week commencing Saturday 17th October are released on Thursday 1st October. We should hear something before then, I’d be really surprised if we don’t.
Update on September 9th – Looks like we have an extra week to play with now that Beijing is on Saturday 24th October.