Addressing Formula E’s issues in the UK

Formula E in the UK at the moment has its problems. I hate to say that, but over the past year, something has gone wrong with the advertising of the series. The electric Formula E series began on September 13th 2014, with the Beijing ePrix. ITV have had the broadcast rights in the UK since the series began.

The inaugural race peaked with 477k (6.8%) for its live airing. Combined with the highlights programme, the race peaked with 713k. Inevitably numbers dropped across the first season. Races delivered numbers that were below expectation, in some places poor (until we saw season two’s numbers). In my opinion, and I have been consistent in saying this all along, ITV’s advertising of the championship has been poor. We’re not expecting miracles, but sometimes during the first season it felt that the advertising was running on ‘auto tune’.

Nevertheless, the London ePrix and the publicity that surrounded that provided ITV and everyone surrounded with the series an opportunity to push Formula E into the mainstream. It was an opportunity to build the foundations for season two, to give those watching at the end of June races to remember. So, what happened? The championship decider was broadcast live on ITV’s main channel to a peak audience of 1.18m (10.7%). It was a fantastic way to end the first season, with the battle between Nelson Piquet Jnr and Sebastien Buemi going down to the wire.

Seeing an audience of 1.2 million would have been a great opportunity for Formula E to thrash out a new deal for season two with ITV. More importantly, use the Battersea Park exposure to get some extra live races on ITV’s main channel and get the publicity ball for the 2015-16 season rolling in early September. ITV could produce some ‘raw’ 10-second teaser trailers based on footage from the Donington Park test in August for usage on-air throughout late September and October. Maybe try and get other media outlets involved, talkSPORT, The Guardian, BBC Radio 5 Live or Sky Sports online. Give them publicity material to ramp up the interest in the series before the Beijing ePrix gets under way.

Unfortunately, the reality was somewhat different. ITV’s deal was not confirmed until the middle of September. You don’t ‘hold’ on announcing something if everything is rosy. Evidently, there was some disagreement between the two parties which prevented an announcement. The only thing different between seasons one and two is that highlights would now air on ITV’s main channel. On the face of it, it seemed like a good move. But the problem, and this continues to manifest itself, is scheduling. A 60-minute slot on ITV(1) on Sunday mornings is unlikely to build a large audience, simply because there is not much of an audience around. A better answer would have been a race replay on either Saturday or Sunday afternoons (round dependent).

When the viewing figures for Battersea Park were released, I said the following: “This [the contract] requires commitment from both sides. I think logical progression from both sides would be to retain the current deal, but air the opening race of the 2015-16 season on ITV, along with two or three other races.” In my opinion, that’s not moving mountains. It’s simply putting Formula E in front of more faces. ITV’s main channel reaches more people than ITV4, that is a fact. The opening round of the 2015-16 season peaked with 168k (2.4%) for its live airing, including ITV’s highlights programme on Sunday morning, the peak number rose to 488k, a drop of 31.6 percent year-on-year. Even accounting for the season one hype, the drop of that scale was surely unexpected. Inevitably, the scheduling of the race with MotoGP and Formula 1 also on the same weekend did not help, but clever scheduling could have helped offset that.

Let’s take a look at the schedule for ITV(1) on Saturday 24th October:

06:00 – CITV
09:25 – The Jeremy Kyle Show USA (R)
10:10 – Countrywise (R)
10:40 – The Jeremy Kyle Show (R)
11:45 – ITV News
11:55 – Downton Abbey (R)
13:00 – The X Factor (R)
15:00 – Live Rugby World Cup
18:30 – ITV News
19:00 – The Chase
20:00 – The X Factor
22:25 – The Jonathan Ross Show

You’ve got the usual peak time line-up with The X Factor leading proceedings. But earlier in the schedule, you have two and a half hours of ‘dead air’ from 09:25 to 11:45. There are five and a half hours of repeats. The Beijing ePrix on ITV4 felt ‘separate’ to the main billings on ITV with the Rugby World Cup. Why not do some cross-advertising. “Your sporting weekend on ITV: the Rugby World Cup and the brand-new Formula E championship. Live and free on ITV.” ITV failed to cross-advertise two sporting events, which in my eyes was a missed opportunity to showcase Formula E to a wider audience. If you have X less-popular sport and Y very-popular sport on the same day, you should incorporate both into the same advertising campaign. Let’s turn the schedule above into the below:

06:00 – CITV
08:00 – Live Formula E: Beijing ePrix
10:20 – Downton Abbey (R)
11:25 – ITV News
11:35 – The X Factor (R)
13:35 – Formula E: Beijing ePrix
15:00 – Live Rugby World Cup
18:30 – as above

So, what have I changed? I’ve removed the morning repeats. Yes, they may draw good numbers, but frankly ITV should not be airing repeats of that nature on a Saturday morning. Air something new, be innovative and creative. Airing repeats of The Jeremy Kyle Show certainly does not tick those boxes. Moving the Beijing ePrix to ITV’s main channel in my opinion shows some scheduling creativity. I have chopped some post-race analysis off the live airing so that the repeat airing at 13:35 is in a longer 85-minute timeslot, allowing ample time for build-up (20 minutes), the full race (45 minutes) and post-race analysis (20 minutes) before the rugby, including adverts.

It is a tried, tested and successful formulae: ITV did it for twelve years with Formula 1. It is a Saturday afternoon, it’s where viewers expect sport to keep them hooked. I’ve kept the Downton Abbey and The X Factor repeats as I appreciate that they serve a purpose and I understand why they are in the schedule. The lost bit of CITV would be moved to the CITV channel or recaptured on Sunday morning. If ITV did the above, and the ratings were below average (let’s say below 500k for Formula E), you can at least say you tried. And that is where ITV are struggling. Again, this is not suggesting “every race should be on ITV”, it is suggesting that you use a select number of races as a shop window until the series grows further. I want Formula E to succeed, but at the moment the numbers show that the series in the UK is in reverse. Viewing figures this season have been down around 40 percent on last year’s average audience of 216k (2.6%).

However, there are issues that are out of ITV’s hands. The scheduling of the series as a whole needs to be revisited for the 2016-17 season. Formula E cannot build an audience with an imbalanced schedule, and that applies for every country. Races should happen at regular two or three week intervals (Christmas the exception). I appreciate that scheduling takes time to perfect, but you are not going to sustain and keep an audience if there is only one race in a five-week period. ITV would argue, quite rightly, “how can we advertise an event that takes place once every five weeks?” That also applies to the wider media.

If an event of Formula E’s nature takes place infrequently, the wider media are less likely to pick up and follow the series around the globe. Chances are, you would have only known about Sam Bird’s victory in the Buenos Aires ePrix yesterday if you have been following Formula E’s social media channels. Very few (if any) Formula 1 journalists on Twitter were tweeting about it, why? I simply do not know. The point is Formula E cannot grow on its own. It needs help from its stakeholders and broadcasters, including ITV.

The news earlier today that the Mexico City ePrix will not be shown live on ITV4 was met with disappointment, but you cannot be surprised looking at the viewing figures. I worry whether ITV are going to ditch Formula E at the end of season two, because it feels like their interest has been waning for a while. From 2017, horse racing will be filling up a lot of weekend hours on ITV4, which is unlikely to leave room for Formula E. I cannot emphasise this point more: if Formula E wants to grow in the UK, it has to have a presence (preferably live) on free-to-air television. Pay-TV is not the answer to growing a fan base. Live streaming is, partially, the answer. But free-to-air gives you access to millions of viewers. Live streaming does not.

If ITV decides they don’t want Formula E, there is one direction where Formula E could head. And that is live, on the BBC…

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17 thoughts on “Addressing Formula E’s issues in the UK

  1. If ITV do indeed drop FE for S3, BT could get exclusive rights and make a deal to prevent FE from streaming the sessions free. Wouldn’t be surprising consider they have stolen plenty of MSport off ITV already

  2. ITV will probably again show the final London race on ITV1, then probably ditch for Season 3, I don’t understand why Channel 4 don’t pick it up, especially if they don’t have the rights to GP2 and GP3, I think it could be a great way to expand output, cause without the horse racing now on Channel 4, FE would see increased exposure,

  3. I for one, cannot wait to see ITV go, and I know a few other people who think the same. I would love BBC to get the rights because as you said, it would cost a small amount compared to F1. they could get 5-6 years worth of FE for the amount they paid for F1. Also, with f1, they went to every race. Not only is there less races in FE, but ITV have proved that you dont need to go to them. I’d say that BBC might make the effort for the European Rounds and Battersea maximum. But that is still good. And also if they had Qualifying on then as well, it would make it even better. Or they could use just the World Feed and that would save them even more. However if BBC wernt to want it, i think it should go to Channel 5. They’re starting to rebuild a Motorsports portfolio with WRC highlights.

  4. Thanks for your excellent research any analysis. I have tried to like this new sport but like the great majority of the public find it boring. Joe bloggs isnt as easily fooled as you would think.I think you hinted ITV may not even pay for it and that would explain the dull static studio based bits which just wear you out before a wheel has turned. Then the coverage comes along and its like someone without a ticket has nipped over a fence and decided to cover the event. ITV probably do want it gone and maybe BBC can do it as they love cheap now. My own idea on it is that it was stupid to try and compare it to f1. I think as they have no emissions it should be indoors like ROC was this year.

  5. As we all know, the lowest common denominator likes to watch rubbish like Jeremy Kyle, Big Brother, Come Dine With Me etc…. the viewers get their fix of people humiliating themselves, pointless drama and “laughs”. Lowest common denominator programming requires very little mental effort from the viewer, and will always have higher ratings compared to “cerebral” viewing. The decision to air Jeremy Kyle repeats is therefore a commercial one.

    For example: Channel 4 airs “Come Dine With Me” repeats, seemingly 24-hours a day, because many “average people” love to watch loud-mouthed “extroverts” bitching and moaning about the most trivial matters, with an annoying narrator shouting from start to finish!!!! Humanity is doomed ….. 😦

  6. Everyone has access to ITV4, so where ITV airs repeats isn’t the problem in my opinion. The spike of viewing for the London race suggests people watched to see an event in London, rather than a Formula E race, otherwise their other viewing figures would be much better.
    As you have said, ITV could promote it better, the scheduling is far from good, but the product itself needs to improve.
    One thing I do find poor is ITV’s ‘build up’ hour, it’s just sub standard.

  7. the Fe is alright, but it’s hard to see through the incompetent ITV production. I reckon let Sky have a bash at on the F1 channel, or maybe even let the BBC pick it up for free in return for the usual BBC publicity through their news output.

  8. I think many broadcasters could do it better, but as stated ITV4 is available to everybody. Similarly, when ITV4 has Horse Racing, viewing shouldn’t be majorly affected because fans will follow, I have a similar opinion about F1 on 4, devoted fans will follow. Also commercial broadcasters are more likely to pick up casual viewers.

    If BBC gained the rights (based on UK):
    11.45 – 13.15: Qualifying Live (BBC2)
    15.30 – 17.30: ePrix Live (BBC1)

    If Channel 4 gained the rights (based on UK):
    14.30 – 15.00: Qualifying Highlights (C4)
    15.00 – 17.30: ePrix Live (C4)

    If Channel 5 gained the rights (based on UK):
    11.00 – 11.30: Practice Highlights (Spike)
    11.30 – 13.30: Qualifying Live (Spike)
    15.15 – 17.25: ePrix Live (C5)

    I would like to see the BBC gain coverahe rights because they could rebuild the sport well, e.g. early F1, loss of F1, rebuilding of F1 in 2009. However, C4 would be a good shout because they could cross advertise with F1. At the end of the F1 Qualifying, we will now go electric with FE Qualifying highlights followed by the Live ePrix. Built up throughout the week as a “‘motorsport marathon’ coming Saturday afternoon on Channel 4.”

  9. “….ITV’s advertising of the championship has been poor”

    ITV has been advertising this?????????????? Could’ve fooled me.

    Get races on the main channel + advertise!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Formula E on the BBC would be interesting, they’re making budget cuts but they could give the people something back (people’s broadcaster). They could advertise it strongly and join up with a Pay TV partner, i.e. BT.

    BT could show everything Live and advertise throughout all channels. They could give extra money to Formula E’s bosses to fund a stronger and bigger series and provide in depth news on their websites. The BBC could then show the Race and Qualifying Live to keep the best of the action free-to-air, as always wanted by Alejandro Agag.

    BBC could show (UK Times):
    11.45 – 13.15: Qualifying (World Feed) – BBC2
    15.15 – 17.30: ePrix (Studio) – BBC1
    19.00 – 20.00: Formula E Highlights – BBC2

    BT could show (UK Times):
    08.00 – 11.30: Practice 1 & 2 Live – BT Sport 2
    11.30 – 13.15: Qualifying Live – BT Sport 2
    15.00 – 17.45: ePrix Live – BT Sport 2
    21.00 – 22.30: ePrix Replay – BT Sport 1

    I think this would work for Formula e:
    – BT can advertise across any TV station.
    – BT can provide Agag and FE with PayTV money.
    – BBC keep coverage free-to-air.
    – BBC will aim to attract new viewers.
    – BBC can rebuild coverage, as seen with F1 in 2009.

    I think this is a win-win for Formula E and the fans, uninterrupted, live coverage of every race and extra money from PayTV networks to improve the structure of the sport and the calendar.

  11. Liking FormulaE myself. Something different.
    The itv build up is bad, could say amateurish
    Not even sure it needs that style of build up. To me thats the one thing that has been a big turn off from the itv channel coverage.
    Watched last 3/4 races on my tablet and cast to tv.
    The other problem is its so spread out race to race you almost forget what went on and when its next on, too bitty. The average watcher is losing interest to follow the series.
    Think it would work better as a winter season when f1 is not on and at least every fortnight.

  12. I’ve thought of an idea for coverage now.
    BBC share the rights with Eurosport. Eurosport get everything live, BBC get all races live (except Putrajaya, which is a delayed run) an half the qualifyings live, and in the event of odd number races, BBC get priority. and the pick it in the same way the F1 picks are done.

    • That would work quite well as Eurosport are the European rights holders anyway and the BBC partner with them for many sports good shout. As BOBBY said above, they gain Pay-to-view money and Free-to-air exposure on the most watched TV channel.

      • Exactly! I think it’s great. Also with 2 broadcasters as well, the money going into FE would be good, because FE is lacking it right now. It’s slightly different to the old MotoGP deal between the two. However the likelyhood of this happening in my opinion is quite low.

  13. I would love to see it stay Free-to-air, but think the BBC and Sky could join up again. Agag has said that all races must be Free-to-air, but Sky Sports could cross-advertise with F1. The races could feature on Sky F1 or Sky Sports 1 if direct clash. The BBC could show every race live with Highlights of Practice and Qualifying and Sky could show every session Live and Uninterrupted.

    BBC coverage:
    14.00 – 15.00: Practice Highlights (BBC2)
    15.00 – 15.30: Qualifying Highlights (BBC2)
    15.30 – 17.30: ePrix Live (BBC1)
    20.00 – 21.00: ePrix Highlights (BBC2)

    Sky F1 coverage:

    Non-F1 weekend:
    08.00 – 11.30: Practice 1 & 2 Live
    11.30 – 13.30: Qualifying Live
    15.00 – 18.00: ePrix Live

    F1 weekend:
    08.00 – 11.30: Practice 1 & 2 Live (SS1)
    11.30 – 13.30: Qualifying Live (SS1)
    15.30 – 17.30: ePrix Live (SF1)
    17.30 – 18.00: F1: Paddock Extra (SF1)

    On an F1 weekend, Paddock Live should be delayed to allow them to cut Live to the ePrix, other sessions should be broadcast on Sky Sports 1 (as stated). Delaying Paddock Live will be a good cross over point for Sky as they can keep hold of F1 fanatics and then show the ePrix. Finally, with BBC having Live race coverage and highlights of the rest, no major action is missed on FTA TV.

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