The third season of the electric Formula E series made a splash with a new graphics set debuting at the Hong Kong ePrix.
The series has now decided to follow Formula 1 and MotoGP’s lead, amongst others, with its more simplistic and less stylish graphics set. Whilst their previous graphics set was a good starting point, it had two major problems: an overly complex speedometer which made that particular graphic difficult to decipher for a casual viewer, and the graphics set looked ‘blocky’ when watching in standard definition.
Their new graphics set solves both problem areas, but also retains many of the characteristics from their first iteration, such as battery power levels.
I really like the new suite. Of course, there are things that could be improved going forward. As I’ve mentioned before, a ‘race off pit lane’ graphic is needed. It still feels like two separate races before and after the car swaps, which shouldn’t be the case. There’s work to be done on that front I feel, the new graphics need to convey the information better. The commentators rely on the TV graphics as well as the timing screens, so any changes to the TV graphics set to help the changeover will be beneficial going forward.
Also receiving a face lift for the season three opener was the championship’s signature titles, which now uses real footage from seasons one and two instead of pure CGI car footage. I’m a big fan of the titles, the closing shot into CGI and then the Formula E logo is cleverly done. “Let’s Stand Together” continues to be a winner for the closer (even if Channel 5 did cut this off, see below). Furthermore, the Segway starting sequence remained, with floating virtual graphics, a nice addition.
A new commentary duo is born
Out goes Jack Nicholls and in comes Martin Haven. ‘Axing’ is the wrong word, because Nicholls is committed to BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 coverage, so could not be part of Formula E’s team in Hong Kong or Marrakech next month. Going forward, expect to see the Haven and Dario Franchitti duo to continue, at least on a part-time basis.
Based on today’s evidence, Haven and Franchitti will live up to the Nicholls and Franchitti partnership from before it. Haven’s style is a natural fit for Formula E, and I’m glad that the combination of him and Franchitti appears to be working from the get-go, it is not always guaranteed that will be the case and requires commitment from both sides.
I’m pleased that Haven has got his big break as well. For years, as long as I can remember (at least 10 to 15 years, probably more), Haven has been commentating on a variety of events for Eurosport from single-seater to endurance racing. Most of these have been from off-tube in London instead of actually on-location, so it is great to see Haven lead the World Feed commentary for an international motor sport event. If Nicholls is unable to commit going forward, I hope Formula E stick with Haven and Franchitti instead of swapping and changing (where schedules allow).
Channel 5’s coverage gets off to a shaky start
The Hong Kong ePrix was Channel 5’s first live motor racing event since 2002, when the channel aired the MotoGP series. The main positive is that the race aired without interruption and that it was live free-to-air. In a parallel universe, Channel 5 could have passed on Formula E, leaving it on either BT Sport or Eurosport in front of an even lower audience. So I think we need to applaud Channel 5 for showing Formula E in the first place when the series failed to build any meaningful audience on ITV or ITV4.
As expected with no studio coverage, it was clear that Channel 5’s budget for Formula E was very low, if not approaching zero. The pre-race segments were nicely done given that it was the first race of the new contract, with a tailored cut-away to Nicki Shields to take into account the necessity of commercial breaks. The timing of the post-race ad-breaks however was the overwhelming negative, with the first break taken immediately as Sebastien Buemi won the race, no breathing space was given. The remaining breaks were clunky, with viewers missing a significant amount of post-race content along with the “Let’s Stand Together” closure.
I don’t know whether this was deliberate or whether the producer had no motor sport experience (and therefore was simply doing as directed). But either way, it wasn’t great and is a lesson to learn for Marrakesh in my opinion. Channel 4 run their live F1 coverage without adverts for around 105 minutes whilst BT Sport regularly run MotoGP races without adverts so it can be done properly. An alternative solution would be for Channel 5 to run a longer post-race segment, staying on air longer, meaning that they can cover everything from the World Feed (i.e. from 08:30 to ~11:00 in Hong Kong).
Viewing figures better than season two
Live coverage of the Hong Kong ePrix was in-line with Channel 5’s Sunday slot average and some of Formula E’s best non-London numbers in the UK since season one. From 08:30 to 10:30, Formula E averaged 206k (3.3%). In the same slot for the past two weeks, children’s programming has averaged 228k (3.4%) and 215k (2.8%) respectively. When you consider that Formula E haemorrhaged viewers wherever it was placed on ITV or ITV4, these numbers should be considered good.
The Beijing race in 2015 averaged 88k (1.4%), peaking with 168k, so Channel 5’s coverage comfortably beats that number. It is down however on Formula E’s inaugural race in September 2014 which averaged a strong 266k (4.0%) live on ITV4. Spike’s replay yesterday averaged just 27k (0.4%) from 11:00 to 13:00, a poor number overall.
Channel 5’s audience started with 244k (4.8%) at 08:30, but quickly dropped to a low of 150k (2.6%) at 08:50 as the kids’ audience dispersed. Viewing figures picked back up to 258k (4.1%) at 09:05, reaching a peak of 294k (4.4%) at 09:25. Around 240k were watching when the race finished, with 122k (1.9%) sticking around until the end of the programme.