Higgs happy with current BSB UK TV deal

A leading figure in the British Superbikes series believes that the championship currently has the right balance in terms of television coverage in the United Kingdom. The comments came from Stuart Higgs, who is the series’ director for the MCE British Superbikes championship.

Currently, the series airs exclusively live on Eurosport, with highlights broadcast on ITV4. Higgs believes that Eurosport’s presentation of the championship has improved since they first started exclusive coverage in 2008. “We joined Eurosport at a time when they were not taken very seriously, this was before Discovery took them over.”Their presentation standards have massively improved, at the start, the EPG, and the pictures that you were watching would not always match up! Now, they have some serious rights, the US Open tennis, the Olympics, and we are a big part of their platform.”

The most recently development has been with Eurosport’s over the top Player service, where exclusive BSB content has aired on the service since the Cadwell Park of the championship. “We’re very happy with the mix. The premium sports fan gets their fix on Eurosport with qualifying and the race. More of our races are now free-to-air on Quest, which is important for us, getting us back to the position that we were in 2007 [when ITV stopped covering the series live].”

“To have live free-to-air, live premium sport, and tight highlights on a premium-brand free-to-air channel on ITV4, it’s on balance stronger than just being on BT. BT’s presentation values are excellent, but we would be pigeon-holed below MotoGP.”

Higgs appreciates that there is a major challenge for the championship, and other series, when the next round of television rights begin in 2021, with the media landscape radically changing. “The new and emerging sports fans of 2021 are 13 to 15 years old at the moment. I’ve got a twelve-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t watch television, not interested. She’s busy watching things on YouTube or talking on social media. The critical thing for all sports is how to engage and make your product more engaging, more understanding.”

“Television is the most important visibility platform that we have and it will be for the foreseeable future. Integration between social media and other delivery platforms is the challenge. Some sports are massively advanced in that area, you’re seeing live sport appear in weird places like Twitter or Facebook. There is an expectation now from people that you click on something, and you see it, which conflicts with the pay-TV model where you pay to view it. The whole monetisation of sport, content, and broadcasting, I don’t believe anyone has the right answer. There’s a number of theories, and you’ve just got to see what works for your audience.”

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According to overnight viewing figures supplied by overnights.tv, highlights of the British Superbikes series on ITV4 have averaged 155k (0.8%) in a Wednesday evening slot this season up until and including August, peaking with around 200,000 viewers. Live coverage of race day across Eurosport and Quest has averaged 98k (1.0%), peaking with 182,000 viewers.

Is BTCC’s live ITV4 programming in need of a refresh?
Higgs also commented on the British Touring Car Championship, which follows a similar schedule to the British Superbikes series. Higgs believes that the BTCC programming on ITV4 needs a refresh.

Since relinquishing Formula 1 at the end of 2008, the touring car series has aired live on Sundays on ITV4 for around seven hours from 11:00 to 18:00. The marathon broadcast contains live coverage of all three BTCC races, with live coverage of the support series’, including the Ginetta Juniors and the Porsche Carrera Cup.

But Higgs claims that this style of broadcast outdated. “It’s not a bad show when it comes to the racing, but their programme is like watching paint dry,” Higgs says. “You’ve got to inject some excitement and personality into it. Being live for seven hours on a free-to-air channel I don’t think works any more.” British Eurosport’s BSB programme is typically presented by Matt Roberts, James Whitham and James Haydon, whereas ITV4’s BTCC coverage is fronted by Steve Rider, Louise Goodman and Paul O’Neil.

An alternative approach suggested by Higgs is a short live programme, with both race one and two of the day airing on tape-delay. “They’d be better off by doing a tight edit of race one and race two, then coming live for race three, with a big build-up and big audience. In this day and age, people’s lifestyles have changed. Not many people have the luxury of staying in on a Sunday afternoon for seven hours, your wife will be nagging you, the kids will be bored,” claims Higgs.

Viewing figures for the British Touring Car Championship dipped to a low of 154k (1.7%) in 2016 live on ITV4. However, audiences have rebounded so far this year, bringing in an average of 200k (2.2%), peaking with 370,000 viewers per race.

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6 thoughts on “Higgs happy with current BSB UK TV deal

  1. I think the BTCC package is excellent. Maybe they could change the scheduling slightly to make it more obvious as to when the main races are on (like Channel 4 does with the Formula 1) but at every meeting the schedule barely changes. It wouldn’t work with the highlights of races 1 and 2 along with race 3 live, there’s too much action.

  2. I don’t think that ITV4 can improve on their BTCC coverage. I think it will gain more viewers when F1 disappears off terrestrial. As to the comment that Stuart makes about the seven hours, you don’t have to watch it all – in fact I think you’ll find most people only watch the three live BTCC races. And showing highlights or on a tape delay would not work because, as Alastair says, there is too much action. Thank goodness it isn’t on the BBC anymore!

  3. David – are you going to be covering the announcement over night that all f1 (aside from the Australian grand prix) will now be on pay tv? Shocking outcome for Australia and even more suprising it happened effective immediately ie the Malaysian grand prix which was to be free to air is no longer

  4. I think Higgs has a point RE BTCC. I seem to vaguely remember BTCC on ITV1, I think it was Races 1 & 2 were (extended?) highlights, before Race 3 was live, and I feel this worked well. They could still have the 7-hour ITV4 show for those who want, but also have this, and more promotion. I see so little promotion for BTCC, quite often I don’t realise it’s been on until after it’s happened.

  5. ITV4 got praised for their coverage yesterday by Murray Walker! And he said it’s better than F1! I do agree with you though, BTCC needs more promotion, but putting it back on ITV? I don’t think that would work.

  6. Thanks for this thought-provoking article. I’ve been researching this a little ahead of attending the BTCC at Silverstone recently (it’s not a series I typically have watched much) and it’s amazing how much Alan Gow keeps it simple. He is very clear that the priority is eyeballs on TV and is perfectly happy with ITV’s free-to-air (FTA) coverage. He is also perfectly happy not making forays to the continent or using the long, flagship Silverstone GP circuit. You can see why Stuart Higgs – who does both these things – probably thinks he is quite fusty. And it probably does need reforming. In the interview cited by Tom above, a remarkably lucid Murray Walker (he is almost 94!) remembered disagreeing with the decision, in the late-1990s, to move from highlights to live programming of BTCC. Steve Rider, who wanted to go live, said “I’m starting to think you were right!” And that’s before you consider the need to harness the internet more fully to bring in tomorrow’s motorsports fans.

    But, here’s the thing. The BTCC format actually seems to work pretty well. It remains a very popular series (I can’t say for certain but there seemed to be many more people at the BTCC Silverstone round – of all ages – than were at the BSB Silverstone round a week earlier, even with the proviso that the conditions for the latter were atrocious). And I think Tom’s right that people don’t sit in front of the box for the full 7 hours but rather dip into it when they can, or for the keynote races (which are only half-an-hour anyway). Even when change is needed, there is still a value in having an acute knowledge of who your audiences are (both the petrolheads and the occasional viewers) and having effective tactics for pulling them in, old-school or not. Qualities which, arguably, Alan Gow and MSA have. It’s the old line – “the more things change, the more things stay the same”.

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