Looking ahead to 2017

I can’t promise that 2017 in the motor racing broadcasting world will be as interesting as 2016 has been now that the dust has settled on the next round of Formula 1’s television rights in the United Kingdom. However, there is still enough to intrigue as 2017 kicks into life.

The yearly Channel 4 and Sky television picks for the upcoming season should be revealed in the first half of January, as we find out which races Channel 4 will be screening live and which ones they will be airing in highlights form. Alongside that, there is also the question of whether we will see any changes to either team. This is a bigger question than most years given that three high-profile drivers retired at the end of 2016. Will Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg or Felipe Massa be lured towards either Channel 4, Sky or the BBC’s radio coverage?

2017 will see Formula 1 air in ultra HD for the first time. In many parts of the world, standard high-definition (HD) is still not the norm and I still watch Formula 1’s races on Sky Sports in standard definition (SD). So, whether Formula 1 is aired in ultra HD or not, doesn’t make much difference to me. However, the ongoing technological advancements as Liberty Media come on-board should be closely followed.

We are expecting an upgraded Formula 1 app in 2017, with live on-board footage present for the first time. I expect this to be geo-blocked in the UK and elsewhere, but for those countries that can receive it (assuming plans come to fruition), this will be a great addition to the product. Elsewhere, we might hear news about BT Sport’s MotoGP rights deal which is due to expire at the end of 2018. All of the above, and the usual pieces of news, viewing figures and scheduling information (and who knows what more) coming up on this site in 2017.

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The top 10 posts of 2016

There have been three major strands to 2016 from the perspective of The F1 Broadcasting Blog’s readers. The site recorded nearly half a million hits in 2016 with the main three topics of conversation: Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, Sky Sports and the ongoing saga surrounding Motors TV. Here is what you read most out of the content published during 2016.

10. Sky Sports to broadcast F1 exclusively from 2019 – March 23rd
After all the early year activity surrounding Channel 4, I thought it would become quieter for at least a year before the noise increased again. How wrong was I. On March 23rd, the bombshell announcement was made that Sky Sports had secured exclusive Formula 1 rights in the UK from 2019 to 2024 inclusive.

9. Formula 1 hits decade low audience in UK – April 18th
With no presence on BBC television in 2016, Formula 1’s UK viewing figures dropped considerably year-on-year. Here is the Chinese Grand Prix ratings report, which paints the overriding pattern for 2016 as a whole.

8. Channel 4 confirms Australian Grand Prix build-up programming – March 5th
Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage was eagerly anticipated by readers in the build-up to the 2016 Formula One season. The first sign of their Australian Grand Prix schedule came on March 5th, as ‘Speed with Guy Martin’ was announced.

7. di Resta to replace Brundle as Sky’s co-commentator in Canada – June 9th
Martin Brundle’s appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was preceded by a “medical procedure” which meant that he was out of action for the Canadian Grand Prix. Paul di Resta was drafted in as Brundle’s co-commentator for both the Canadian and European rounds of the 2016 season,

6. Channel 4 confirms F1 ad-break plan for live races – March 15th
With Formula 1 moving back to free-to-air commercial television, readers were concerned that Formula 1 races would be littered with adverts again. The good news was that Channel 4 would continue to air live races advert free, with the broadcaster confirming their plans in a press release following their initial announcement in December 2015.

5. What the future holds for Motors TV – July 5th
The future of Motors TV has been a hot topic in 2016. The channel was removed from Sky’s television platform in July and further research revealed that the channel was in financial difficulty. The Motorsport Network (led by Zak Brown) acquired the channel in November, securing the future of its underlying assets.

4. F1 teams “blocked” Sky UK exclusivity for 2016 to 2018 – March 24th
The news that Sky Sports would be broadcasting Formula 1 exclusively from 2019 onwards prompted a lot of negative reaction. This site revealed days after that announcement that Formula 1’s teams blocked an attempt by Sky to broadcast the sport exclusively with immediate effect following the BBC’s exit at the end of 2015.

3. Motors TV removed from Sky platform (and reinstated) – February 25th
A precursor to the fifth post above, the initial rumblings around Motors TV started in February, when the channel was removed from Sky. The channel was reinstated in early March having been absent for around a week.

2. Channel 4 announces Formula 1 on-air team – March 8th
After a long wait, Channel 4’s Formula 1 line-up was finally unveiled to the assembled media (including this site) on a cold March morning. Steve Jones, Mark Webber, David Coulthard, Karun Chandhok and more were some of the stars on hand as Channel 4’s coverage launched.

1. Davidson and Brundle highlight strengths and weaknesses in Sky’s Formula 1 team – July 16th
The most read piece that was published this year, by some margin. One of my mid-season pieces focussing on the strengths and weaknesses of Sky’s Formula 1 team went ‘viral’, with 25 comments on the piece alone and a lot of thoughts and opinion generated through Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

It has been an interesting year in the broadcasting world, and who knows what 2017 will bring us. From the racing perspective, a new battle at the front of the Formula 1 field? I hope so.

Merry Christmas from The F1 Broadcasting Blog

In the wider world, 2016 has not been a great year for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, there have been reasons to smile in 2016. Whether it has been the fantastic racing in MotoGP or the emergence of young talent in Formula 1, motor sport has provided us with plenty of entertainment this year, and for that, we are thankful.

For me, 2016 has been a year of change. Positive change. Attending Channel 4’s Formula 1 media launch in March, followed by attending the British round of the MotoGP championship in a professional capacity were both amazing experiences. From a site perspective, this has been by far the busiest year, but worthwhile at the same time.

I hope all of you reading this have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thanks for all your comments and thoughts as the year has progressed, it has been great to have you on-board for the ride. Stay safe over the holiday period, whatever you and your family are doing.

2017: we’re ready for you.

Cheers,
Dave
Owner of The F1 Broadcasting Blog

Steady as she goes, Sky Sports F1’s 2016 season reviewed

Each year when I write the season reviews for the BBC, Sky and Channel 4, I try to find something new to say. Some new insight or opinion about what new areas the broadcasters have tackled, or not as the case may be. The on-screen product should always evolve year-on-year with little tweaks here and there. But, this season it is tricky to say too much about Sky Sports F1 that hasn’t already been said.

Anyone who has read this blog will be able to accurately predict without reading further that I’m going to mention the lack of material outside of race weekends and that the team, led by Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson, needs a shake-up. It is the same story as we head towards 2017. It is surprising that Sky did not try new things, especially against new opposition in the form of Channel 4. Nevertheless, there were some changes compared to 2015 which is worth digesting.

Closer collaboration with Formula One Management
On the backdrop of a new deal with Formula 1’s media group to cover Formula 1 up to and including 2024, it was clear in 2016 that the working relationship between Sky and Formula One Management (FOM) was closer than before, the partnership spanning all of Sky’s broadcasting arms.

The main change in this area focussed on new virtual graphics that were provided by FOM for the Sky Pad, which were featured twice during the 2016 season. The graphics helped demonstrate the different braking points between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Gutierrez prior to their horror smash at the Australian Grand Prix. FOM also provided special graphics for the incident between Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel at the Mexican Grand Prix. I hope we see more of these graphics going forward as they help put into perspective how much of a difference even ten meters can make in some cases.

There has also been greater access to Bernie Ecclestone this year, unintentionally or not. The aura around him in recent years has reduced compared to the mid-2000s, and the aura was reduced further with what Martin Brundle described as one of the best features in his twenty years of making Formula 1 television. Brundle went to Ecclestone’s pad prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix for an excellent extended interview which aired standalone on the channel prior to the Christmas period.

Whilst closer collaboration is good, Sky have been unable to unlock FOM’s rich video vault which continues to limit the content that they can produce outside of race weekends. FOM are doing work themselves in this space, but it would make sense for Sky to assist where possible to bring new content to their audience. Tales from the Vault promised ‘unseen’ footage but failed to deliver, and other shows on the channel have regurgitated footage that has already been seen. Let’s have new angles and insight of past incidents. The footage does exist, it simply has not been exploited to a wide audience yet.

Stable team for Sky’s fifth season
Sky’s on-air team has barely changed since the channel launched in 2012. The only notable changes have been the departure of Georgie Thompson prior to the 2013 season and Paul di Resta becoming a regular fixture since he lost his Formula 1 drive. Apart from that, the team has been static. I find that disappointing considering Channel 4 grabbed the likes of Karun Chandhok and Mark Webber, suggesting Sky never went for either guy or both of them rejected Sky. The rhetoric “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” only works for so many years before a shake-up is needed.

Simon Lazenby has presented every race since 2012. At this stage, Lazenby is more Jim Rosenthal than Jake Humphrey in appearance, a good presenter. Lazenby comes across as presenting Formula 1 because “that’s his job” rather than someone who enjoys the intrinsic nature of the sport, whereas Humphrey and now Steve Jones clearly enjoy the paddock atmosphere. That’s how it comes across on-screen to the viewer watching the programme, in my opinion.

On the punditry side, as I’ve said before, Anthony Davidson and Martin Brundle are the highlights, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the line-up. Brundle is still one of the best analysts in the business, and Sky would be much weaker without him as we saw in the Canadian and Baku rounds in June. di Resta was an okay replacement as co-commentator alongside David Croft, but di Resta is not someone I see permanently in that role.

Ted Kravitz’s Notebook was its usual good self during 2016, although I didn’t watch every edition this season purely because of timing: with 21 races, it meant that not everything was consumed every weekend. I generally enjoyed Kravitz’s contributions, but would like to see Mark Priestley continue to be used more into 2017.

Priestley presented the weekly F1 Report and did appear during Sky’s main programming in the latter part of the season. I’d like to see him and Kravitz work on technical features together during 2017 detailing the various car changes. One of Sky’s highlights of 2016 was a fantastic piece between Priestley and Alex Zanardi, detailing Zanardi as he turned 50 years old. I would encourage readers to go out their way to watch the piece if you haven’t done so yet.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the direction given for the pen interviews this season. At multiple junctions, this season, it felt like Sky were trying to bait either Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton into giving a provocative response to questions for headlines. This line of journalism rarely works and will only lead to the interviewee clamouring up. If anything, the neutral approach should be taken so that more detail can be deciphered from the driver. It’s easy to blame the interviewer (Rachel Brookes) but actually the directive would have come from an editorial level at Sky.

Supplementary programming makes brief off-season return
In a season where Sky produced no new episodes of F1 Legends or Tales from the Vault, I was not expecting much new content to appear during the post-season period. Nevertheless, a few extended cuts did appear featuring Brundle’s interview with Bernie Ecclestone and an amalgamation of the various James Hunt pieces that have aired this season. A Journalist’s Special, combined with a quickly turned around special to mark Nico Rosberg’s retirement meant that Sky Sports F1 has looked busier than usual since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

What is unclear is whether Sky plan to continue in the same vein for 2017. 2016 saw The F1 Show cut down to just 30 minutes for each race weekend, with the F1 Report moving to a weekly format. Personally, I think the F1 channel has been worse off a result this season. The F1 Report was good, but the calibre of guests was not enough for me to tune in on a weekly basis. The moment viewers are trained to miss an episode, and you have potentially lost them forever.

Cost-cutting meant less documentaries throughout the season. There was so much scope for a 1996 retrospective strand considering three people in their team were involved in that season, and one of them was world champion! A few features did air during Sky’s race day coverage, but no stand-alone programming which was a huge disappointment. The features that did air could have been expanded upon. An inherent problem Sky have (and it continued in 2016) was that features were being hyped up far too much and failed to deliver. In some instances, there was more hype than the length of the feature itself which is ridiculous when you think about it.

Overall, 2016 has been a good year for Sky. Steady, stable and solid are all words that I would describe Sky’s coverage in 2016. Do they plan to change things for 2017? I can’t see it happening. Do things need to change? I don’t think they will see any real gain in change for the sake of change. In my opinion, Sky need to find ways to make their coverage fresh and cutting edge. After all, Sky are the ones that will be broadcasting every race exclusively live from 2019 onwards. The ‘fresh and cutting edge’ broadcaster are not words that I associate with Sky in 2016, but instead with the opposition, something that needs to change as we head towards 2019.

The magic 2016 numbers

2016 has been a record-breaking year for The F1 Broadcasting Blog, with nearly half a million hits from readers far and wide. As always, readers have accessed the site in a variety of ways. It hasn’t been much of a surprise to see the huge numbers: after all, 2016 saw a change of free-to-air broadcaster in the United Kingdom, which was followed by Sky’s shock announcement in March. From the perspective of this site, that is as big as you can get.

Outside of the United Kingdom, the audience reading this site from the USA, Ireland and Netherlands has increased. Since 2014, the amount of traffic coming from the Netherlands has almost doubled, something which can probably be said for many motor racing websites out there in 2016. It is the second year in a row that the blog audience has become more diverse, with the UK’s percentage dropping from 75 percent in 2014 to 74.3 percent in 2015 and now 72.7 percent in 2016.

Top 10 Countries – Percentage of all hits
01 – 72.7 percent (2015: 74.3) – United Kingdom
02 – 5.4 percent (2015: 3.8) – United States
03 – 2.7 percent (2015: 2.4) – Australia
04 – 2.3 percent (2015: 2.0) – Ireland
05 – 1.8 percent (2015: 1.3) – Netherlands
06 – 1.6 percent (2015: 1.5) – Canada
07 – 1.0 percent (2015: 1.0) – Spain
08 – 0.9 percent (2015: 0.8) – France
09 – 0.9 percent (2015: 1.0) – Germany
10 – 0.8 percent (2015: 0.9) – Italy

Surprisingly, the number of people coming to the site from search engines dropped in 2016 when comparing against other sources. Proportionally more people are heading to the site from Twitter and Reddit, which is good as it shows that social media (especially Twitter) works when publishing to those platforms.

Top 5 Referring Websites
01 – 63.1 percent (2015: 71.7) – Search engines
02 – 21.8 percent (2015: 17.0) – Twitter
03 – 6.0 percent (2015: 3.1) – Reddit
04 – 3.5 percent (2015: 1.9) – Facebook
05 – 1.0 percent (2015: 1.7) – F1Fanatic.co.uk

Given the biggest change this year, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see what topic dominates the top ten search queries.

Top 10 Search Queries
01 – f1 broadcasting
02 – f1 broadcasting blog
03 – channel 4 f1
04 – motors tv
05 – channel 4 f1 presenters
06 – f1
07 – channel 4 f1 team
08 – motors tv sky
09 – f1broadcasting
10 – c4f1

A lot of you headed straight to this site to find out news about Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in the early part of 2016, which is reflected in the search numbers above. For what it is worth, Channel 4’s new Formula 1 presenter Steve Jones doesn’t feature in around the top 50 search queries, with more people reaching this site by searching for the likes of Tom Clarkson and Martin Brundle. The other main subject which cropped up throughout the year was Motors TV, the channel disappearing and reappearing on a few occasions.

Statistics compiled and correct as of December 23rd, 2016.