BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP

BT Sport look likely to continue broadcasting live coverage of MotoGP beyond their existing contract, this site can exclusively reveal.

There have been rumours in recent months that BT Sport may be embroiled in a battle with Sky Sports to continue showing the championship beyond 2018, with Dorna apparently looking elsewhere. But Dorna, who are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, have told this site that they are “very happy” with BT’s coverage. BT won the UK television rights to MotoGP in 2013, ending the BBC’s free-to-air coverage. Since then, live action has aired on pay television in the UK, with free-to-air highlights switching from ITV4 to Channel 5 more recently.

According to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, BT Sport’s live coverage has averaged 117k (1.3%) on race-day for the first half of 2017, 186k (1.8%) for the MotoGP race itself, regularly peaking with around 250,000 viewers. Channel 5’s highlights have averaged 446k (2.5%) at the half way stage of the season. BT’s television audiences are marginally down year-on-year, whilst Channel 5 is up by 40 percent on ITV4’s numbers from one year ago.

Speaking to me during the British Grand Prix weekend, Manel Arroyo, Dorna’s Managing Director for Media said “We are talking with BT, to extend the relationship. We are comfortable and happy with the work that has been delivered by BT. We’re very happy with the evolution of live coverage on BT compared with the BBC previously. The existing format, where we have full live coverage on BT Sport, with highlights on free-to-air, can continue in the future. We’re talking to BT at the moment.”

Perhaps an indirect worry is that the attendance for the British round of the championship was the lowest for many years, with 56,008 showing up on Sunday compared with 73,000 for the past two years. Arroyo defended the direction taken by the championship in recent years to switch from a free-to-air model to pay in various territories, noting that it is the wider industry trend and it brings opportunities for future expansion. “For me, it is not just about the money. The pay TV platforms have tools that allow fans to have a better, more expansive experience than on linear TV.”

“Pay TV gives you the possibility to have multiscreen, more data. It is a path that we started many years ago, it is the new world and the new way that fans can watch races. We still play some of our content on free-to-air, but clearly there is a switch to digital platforms. What Dorna is doing is trying to be aware of what is going on in the market and preparing for everything,” Arroyo noted.

Beyond the next television deal in the UK, there is the much wider question of whether exclusive MotoGP programming may play out on the likes of Amazon Prime or Netflix in the future. “We are aware of these services,” Arroyo said. “We haven’t been talking to Netflix, as they have said that they are not going to invest in sports, but Amazon and other social networks for sure. The live content must be paid, as it costs a lot of money to produce the quality that we offer to our fans. It is something that we need to work on seriously moving forward.”

There will be further quotes from Arroyo on this site in the next week.

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Scheduling: The 2017 Italian Grand Prix

The 2017 Formula One season heads to the last stop on the European calendar, the Italian Grand Prix! The race will air live on Sky Sports F1 and their Main Event channel, with highlights on Channel 4. After this round, the next highlights programme for Channel 4 is not until Japan, with both Singapore and Malaysia live on free-to-air television.

On the Sky side of things, Johnny Herbert is back with the team, having been absent since the Canadian Grand Prix back in June. Also on Sky, as noted last week, is a new show called The Inside Line. The show, produced by Inverleigh, airs on other Sky channels around the world, so it is probably little surprise to see it turn up on the UK version.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
02/09 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying Highlights
03/09 – 17:45 to 20:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
01/09 – 08:45 to 10:55 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
01/09 – 12:45 to 14:55 – Practice 2
02/09 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
02/09 – 12:00 to 14:40 – Qualifying
03/09 – 11:30 to 16:10 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 12:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
31/08 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Driver Press Conference
31/08 – 18:15 to 18:30 – Paddock Uncut
01/09 – 15:50 to 16:35 – Team Press Conference
01/09 – 16:35 to 17:05 – The F1 Show
06/09 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
01/09 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
02/09 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
03/09 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Euroformula – Silverstone (BT Sport 2)
02/09 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1
03/09 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2

Formula Two – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
01/09 – 10:55 to 11:40 – Practice (also Sky Sports Main Event)
01/09 – 15:20 to 15:50 – Qualifying
02/09 – 14:55 to 16:25 – Race 1
03/09 – 09:10 to 10:25 – Race 2

Formula V8 3.5 – Mexico City
02/09 – 22:30 to 23:45 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
03/09 – 15:30 to 17:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport 2)

GP3 Series – Italy (Sky Sports F1)
02/09 – 08:45 to 09:20 – Qualifying
02/09 – 16:45 to 17:45 – Race 1
03/09 – 07:55 to 08:50 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Watkins Glen (BT Sport/ESPN)
03/09 – 18:00 to 21:00 – Race

International GT Open – Silverstone (BT Sport 2)
02/09 – 15:00 to 16:30 – Race 1
03/09 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race 2

Porsche Supercup – Italy
03/09 – Race
=> 10:25 to 11:20 (Sky Sports F1)
=> 10:30 to 11:30 (Eurosport 2)

World Endurance Championship – Mexico City
03/09 – Race
=> 17:45 to 00:20 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 18:30 to 01:30 (BT Sport 3)

The above schedule will be updated if anything changes.

News round-up: Channel 4 commissions new F1 documentary; F1 launches official eSports Series

In the round-up, a new Formula 1 documentary is heading to Channel 4, whilst the over-the-top strategy for the championship is slowly coming into place…

Channel 4 to air Guy Martin F1 special
Channel 4 is to air a documentary looking behind the scenes of the Williams Formula 1 team. The 60-minute documentary, produced by North One Television, will feature Guy Martin working as part of the Williams pit crew during this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix. The documentary, billed as Guy Martin’s Pit Stop, will cover the entirety of Martin’s weekend with Williams from preparation at the UK factory beforehand, all the way through to the post-race debrief and the transportation to the next race.

It is the second Formula 1 related documentary that North One Television have produced for Channel 4. The first documentary featured Martin as he raced against David Coulthard in a series of challenges. The programme, which aired prior to Channel 4’s first ever Formula 1 race, averaged a strong 2.80m (14.2%) in a primetime slot, according to overnight viewing figures.

Based on the quality of last year’s programme, this programme should live up to expectations. It is rare to get this level of insight into a Formula 1 team in the modern era. Okay, we have had plenty of behind the scenes features throughout the BBC, Channel 4, and Sky’s coverage, but we have not had a full, dedicated programme outside of the usual output in this area. Full credit to all parties for helping bring this programme together.

Elsewhere on the UK TV front, Sky Sports have added the weekly F1 show The Inside Line to their line-up on the F1 channel. For the first few weeks, it looks like the show is airing on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 19:30. The show airs on Sky’s and Fox’s stations overseas, so probably not a surprise to see it turn up on their UK station as well.

Hints of F1’s OTT strategy come to fruition
Discussion around Formula 1’s future over-the-top service was a key point of discussion at an industry event earlier this week, with some of the strategy also mooted. Speaking at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Formula 1’s Global Head of Digital Frank Arthofer said that the over-the-top service is “likely to include original content from historic races, live feeds and additional race data for fans.”

The sentence alone does not tell us much, you would expect points two and three are a given for any new over-the-top service that Formula 1 launches. But, it is good to see that archive footage is likely to play a significant part in their offering. The indication from Arthofer’s comment is that we should expect some new documentaries and/or new footage centered around classic races, which should be the ambition in my opinion.

It is interesting to note that the WWE Network, which I have mentioned previously as something F1 should admire to be when it comes to over-the-top content, has struggled to build further past its initial peak. A range of documentaries or strands centred around superstars have struggled to get past their first series, because the cost outweighed the number of viewers the shows attracted. I should note that some of the axed WWE Network content did not feature archive footage, but was all stand-alone new material.

The question Liberty Media will need to ask, and this comes through a massive amount of user research, is whether original content from historical races is likely to bring more ‘hits’ than the raw classic race itself. If done correctly, I suspect the answer would be yes, if the documentaries genuinely offered something new and not rehashed.

Official F1 eSports Series launched
Following in the footsteps of Formula E and MotoGP, it is now Formula 1’s turn to launch its eSports Series. The series is a collaboration between Formula 1, Codemasters and Gfinity, allowing gamers from across the world to battle it out to become Formula 1 eSports Series Champion. The competition, which uses the F1 2017 video game, takes on three phases: qualification in September, live semi-final events in London on October 10th and 11th, before the top 20 head to the final on November 24th and 25th to coincide with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Although not mentioned in the press release, I would expect live streams of both the live semi-final events and the top 20 finals across Formula 1’s social media channels and television stations, in the same way that F1 Live London was. The launch of the series shows the “continued ambition to build a greater connection with wider audiences, especially younger fans.” The winner will attend a Formula 1 race in 2018, and become a character in the F1 2018 video game.

“This launch presents an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way, we engage fans,” said Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s Managing Director of Commercial Operations. “First, it’s a growing category with tremendous fan engagement that we’re entering in a big way; and we are proud to have Codemasters and Gfinity joining us on this ride. Of course, as we do in Formula 1, we’ll continue to evolve and innovate in the way we run this virtual counterpart to the F1 Championship to ensure we provide the most exciting and enjoyable experience we can for our fans.”

Liberty Media helps bring F1 social media strategy on-track

The direction from Liberty Media, through Formula One Management, to pour resources into Formula 1’s official social media platforms appears to be paying off, figures for the first half of 2017 show, with Formula 1 the fastest growing motor racing series.

Liberty Media helps F1 to significant growth…
This site has tracked the cumulative number of followers for the likes of F1, MotoGP and the IndyCar Series across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram since March. The results for Formula 1 are impressive, with a 20 percent boost in the cumulative number, going from 7.9 million followers in March to 9.6 million followers at the end of July, racing past NASCAR. Assuming the rate of trajectory continues, I would expect F1 to reach 12 million followers across the three platforms by the end of the season.

At the foot of the table, Formula Two and GP3 continue to struggle, below the likes of the British Touring Car Championship. As I mentioned briefly last December, Liberty needs to work hard to help promote Formula Two, after all it should feature the next generation of Formula 1 stars, such as Charles Leclerc. A few video highlights on Facebook and Twitter would significantly help the series’ reach, as would cross-promotion with the F1 channels. Instead, Formula Two and GP3 hides their video highlights away exclusively on their website. I suspect Liberty needs more resources dedicated both of their social media channels. It is absurd for example that Formula Two still does not have an active YouTube channel.

Social media - August 2017 - motor sport series comparison
Comparing the leading motor sport series on social media, showing their cumulative follower growth between March and July 2017.

Fernando Alonso’s drive in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 has helped IndyCar’s standing on social media, jumping from 860,000 followers to 1.06 million followers, a percentage rise higher than F1’s outlined above. The social media strategy around #AlonsoRunsIndy worked, although I suspect any long-term impact for IndyCar will be minimal, unless he returns next year! Further back, the electric Formula E series gained around 60,000 followers from March to July, a jump of 13.9 percent (note: figure recorded prior to the season finale). Formula E is rising at a similar rate to the World Endurance Championship, which is not a great statistic considering the interest from manufactures in the former. Certainly, Formula E’s social media standing is reflective of their viewing figures worldwide in my opinion.

The small rise for Roborace is because of the removal of ‘bot’ followers from their various platforms, meaning that they only see a jump of around 2,000 followers. As mentioned before, I am highly suspect of Roborace’s numbers, I would be unsurprised if the real number was a quarter, or even a tenth, of what the statistics suggest.

…but Mercedes’ F1 growth stagnates…
The loss of Nico Rosberg has hurt Mercedes’ social media portfolio, with Red Bull Racing the major winners. The drinks company has seen growth for the past two years, which has continued in the first half of 2017, their platforms (excluding drivers) rising from 8.95 million followers last December to 11.36 million cumulative followers, a substantial rise of 26.9 percent. In comparison, Mercedes following increased from 13.99 million followers to 14.57 million, a smaller jump of just 4.2 percent. Their Facebook following has stalled at around 11 million followers for the past year and a half, suggesting that it may have peaked in that department.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 team increase
Comparing Formula 1’s ten teams on social media, looking at their cumulative followers and growth between December 2016 and August 2017.

Whilst Liberty Media’s aggressive social media helped the official F1 channels, the loss of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg hurt the series as Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll replaced them once the dominos fell into place. Rosberg and Button were Formula 1’s third and fourth biggest stars on social media, behind Lewis Hamilton and Alonso. The pair leave behind a significant gap, with Daniel Ricciardo now F1’s third star on social media, currently half of Alonso’s following and less than a quarter of Hamilton’s combined number.

Moreover, Hamilton and Alonso are still recording the biggest growths on social media with no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2017, Hamilton acquired 1.73 million new followers, with Ricciardo acquiring 683,000 new followers. The loss of Rosberg, who was Formula 1’s first new champion since 2010, is extremely apparent when you look at the numbers. It continues to be the case that neither Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen have a social media presence, both would likely fill that gap in another world.

…as Ricciardo becomes the third top dog
The loss of Rosberg and Button may explain why audience figures have struggled to rise, for example in the UK, where Button would have had a strong and loyal fan base. Hopefully, this is a short-term pain, long-term gain situation, whereby Ricciardo and Verstappen fill the gap left behind in the years to come, assuming both drivers have the equipment underneath them to deliver the results on the circuit. F1 on the list below does skew older age wise than MotoGP, which is a major issue moving forward.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 vs MotoGP
Comparing how Formula 1’s and MotoGP’s top drivers line-up against each other on social media.

The problem illustrated above will be one that MotoGP faces when Valentino Rossi retires, although you could easily see Rossi going another three to five years. Whilst Rossi is firmly top dog on social media, the championship is in a situation where there are other stars on the track building their reputation. MotoGP’s rider numbers are generally lower than Formula 1, as one might expect. From an age perspective, Marc Marquez, Max Verstappen and Maverick Vinales are the stars with potential in the next ten years in the new media platforms.

It will be fascinating to track the trajectories in both MotoGP and F1 as the baton moves from Rossi and Hamilton respectively. Of course, this assumes that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are still around. Instagram is the platform continuing to surge, with it set to overtake Twitter in terms of F1 team and driver influence within the next six months to a year, despite only having a quarter of the F1 following two years ago.

Scheduling: The 2017 Belgian Grand Prix / British MotoGP

After a four-week Summer break, the Formula One season roars back into life at the classic Spa Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix! The race will air live on Channel 4 and Sky Sports, both channels with their usual offering throughout.

Mark Webber and Susie Wolff will be part of Channel 4’s team for the weekend, whilst Martin Brundle is expected to be back with Sky following his recent illness, although this has yet to be confirmed. The schedule for Spa remains at three days in length (no more four-day experiments, yet), although GP3 qualifying moves to a Friday evening time slot, and the weekend sees an extra dosage of Porsche Supercup action.

For the second year in a row, the British round of the MotoGP championship finds itself clashing with a Formula 1 race. Last year the race clashed with the Italian Grand Prix, this year the clash is with Belgium, partially because the race has moved forward to the Bank Holiday weekend. Again, I will be reporting for this site from Silverstone, so keep an eye over the weekend and afterwards for interviews and news from the MotoGP paddock.

Channel 5’s MotoGP highlights time have been shunted out of primetime and onto a different day, thanks to cricket highlights of the second test between England and the Windies. I understand why cricket takes priority in this instance, but if Channel 5’s agreement with Dorna does not allow highlights to air on Spike, then that is a major flaw in the contract, meaning that the viewing figures for the series suffer as a result.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
25/08 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
25/08 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2
26/08 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
26/08 – 11:55 to 14:30 – Qualifying
27/08 – 12:00 to 16:00 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build–Up
=> 12:35 – Race
=> 15:10 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
26/08 – 11:25 to 11:55 – F1 Meets… David Coulthard

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
25/08 – 08:45 to 10:55 – Practice 1
25/08 – 12:45 to 15:00 – Practice 2
26/08 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
26/08 – 12:00 to 14:40 – Qualifying
27/08 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Mix)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
23/08 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
24/08 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Driver Press Conference
24/08 – 19:45 to 20:00 – Paddock Uncut
25/08 – 16:40 to 17:30 – Team Press Conference
25/08 – 17:30 to 18:00 – The F1 Show
26/08 – 14:40 to 14:55 – Lewis Hamilton Quiz
30/08 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
24/08 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
27/08 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Britain (BT Sport 2)
25/08 – 09:00 to 16:00
=> 09:00 – Practice 1
=> 11:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 13:00 – Practice 2
26/08 – 09:00 to 16:15
=> 09:00 – Practice 3
=> 12:00 – Qualifying
27/08 – 09:45 to 17:30
=> 09:45 – Warm-Up
=> 11:30 – Moto3 race
=> 13:30 – Moto2 race
=> 15:15 – MotoGP race
=> 16:30 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Britain (Channel 5)
29/08 – 00:00 to 01:00 – Highlights

Blancpain Sprint Series – Budapest
26/08 – 14:30 to 16:15 – Qualifying Race (BT Sport 3)
27/08 – 12:30 to 14:45 – Championship Race (BT Sport/ESPN)

British Touring Car Championship – Rockingham (ITV4)
27/08 – 10:45 to 17:45 – Races

European Le Mans Series – Paul Ricard (Motorsport.tv)
27/08  10:45 to 15:20  Race

Formula Renault Eurocup – Paul Ricard
26/08 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Race 1 (BT Sport 1)
27/08 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)

Formula Two – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
25/08 – 10:55 to 11:40 – Practice
25/08 – 15:20 to 15:50 – Qualifying
26/08 – 14:55 to 16:05 – Race 1
27/08 – 09:10 to 10:25 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Belgium (Sky Sports F1)
25/08 – 16:10 to 16:40 – Qualifying
26/08 – 16:30 to 17:30 – Race 1
27/08 – 07:55 to 08:50 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Gateway 500 (BT Sport/ESPN)
27/08 (Saturday night) – 02:00 to 05:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Belgium
26/08 – Race 1
=> 17:30 to 18:30 (Eurosport)
=> 17:30 to 18:25 (Sky Sports F1)
27/08 – Race 2
=> 10:15 to 11:15 (Eurosport)
=> 10:25 to 11:20 (Sky Sports F1)

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 1)
26/08 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Update on August 24th – A new show has appeared in Sky’s F1 schedule, called Lewis Hamilton Quiz. Presumably based off this feature that is airing during their coverage this weekend. With all due respect, I am pretty glad I am missing that.