Channel 4 and Sky confirm 2018 scheduling details

Channel 4 and Sky Sports have today confirmed their 2018 Formula One calendar picks, the final time this process takes place under the terms of original BBC and Sky deal from 2012 to 2018.

The picks are as follows:

2018 Schedule Details
March 25th – Australia (Melbourne) – Sky
April 8th – Bahrain (Sakhir) – Channel 4 and Sky
April 15th – China (Shanghai) – Sky
April 29th – Azerbaijan (Baku) – Channel 4 and Sky
May 13th – Spain (Barcelona) – Sky
May 27th – Monaco (Monaco) – Channel 4 and Sky
June 10th – Canada (Montreal) – Sky
June 24th – France (Paul Ricard) – Sky
July 1st – Austria (Red Bull Ring) – Channel 4 and Sky
July 8th – Britain (Silverstone) – Channel 4 and Sky
July 22nd – Germany (Hockenheim) – Sky
July 29th – Hungary (Budapest) – Sky
August 26th – Belgium (Spa) – Channel 4 and Sky
September 2nd – Italy (Monza) – Sky
September 16th – Singapore (Marina Bay) – Channel 4 and Sky
September 30th – Russia (Sochi) – Sky
October 7th – Japan (Suzuka) – Channel 4 and Sky
October 21st – USA (Circuit of the Americas) – Channel 4 and Sky
October 28th – Mexico (Mexico City) – Sky
November 11th – Brazil (Interlagos) – Sky
November 25th – Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) – Channel 4 and Sky

The return of the French Grand Prix will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, whether it will go up against England versus Panama is something that should be confirmed one way or the other in forthcoming weeks.

Channel 4’s Head of F1, Stephen Lyle said: “We’re set for another compelling, action packed season and viewers can follow the whole story on C4, All4 and @C4F1. Once again the most iconic races are available Live and free to air as well as the season finale, with all fans hoping this one goes right to the wire.”

Sky’s new Head of F1, Scott Young said: “There is huge anticipation this year; can Hamilton create even more history, how will Ferrari and Red Bull close the gap, where will the young drivers emerge in the reckoning? Each season we look to find new ways to improve the coverage and entertain our viewers and this year will be no different.”

There are no significant pieces of news other than the schedule to come out of either side, other than Sky referencing Formula Two, GP3 and The F1 Report as usual. Channel 4’s press release confirms that they will continue to offer their live races advert free from lights out to chequered flag.

Sky’s line-up appears to be broadly the same as previous years. Although not mentioned, expect Simon Lazenby to return as presenter alongside the likes of Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz and Anthony Davidson. Earlier suggestions of Johnny Herbert leaving Sky appear to have not come to fruition.

Over on Channel 4, Steve Jones continues to anchor the team, with David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Suzi Wolff and Eddie Jordan providing analysis. Ben Edwards will again lead the commentary team, whilst Lee McKenzie will rove the pit lane at most races.

Compared with my predictions post, 13 out of the 21 races were correctly predicted. The stretch from Azerbaijan through to Germany was spot on, eight races in a row, as was the final hurdle from USA onwards, four races in a row! Even I admitted writing the post that the idea of Channel 4 picking Australia was “highly unlikely”, but went for it anyway.

What it does mean that the Australian Grand Prix last aired live on free-to-air television in the UK in 2011, a shame in my view and one reason Formula 1’s viewing figures have struggled off the line in recent years. In any event, we can safely say that unless anything changes, 2018 will be the final year every race, excluding Britain, airs live, free-to-air in the UK.

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Reviewing WRC’s new ‘All Live’ offering

Every round. Every stage. Live.

That was the promise made to World Rally Championship fans at the start of 2018, and this past weekend saw the launch of their new service with the Monte Carlo Rally, the first round of the 2018 season.

The term ‘new era’ is bandied around for many different reasons, but for rallying, WRC’s ‘All Live’ offering is a revolution not just for fans, but for the sport as a whole, especially considering the state it was in just ten years ago. As commentator Becs Williams pointed out during coverage, teams have previously “just seen a tracking map and split times.”

Priced at around £8.00 a month, the premium tier is available to fans worldwide, with no geo-blocking in place. £8.00 for the first month would get you access to the opening two rounds of the season, an excellent deal. Outside usual circles, it does feel like the offering has yet to make a buzz in the wider motor sport community, something I hope changes as the year progresses.

Producing a rally across four days is a major logistical and technical challenge that is difficult to put into words, on a much larger geographical scale than many other motor racing events. Bearing that in mind, the idea of a ‘All Live’ offering is beyond anything that has happened before.

Presentation team strong, but lacks depth
Kiri Bloore presented the four days of coverage from Thursday through to Sunday, with Williams leading the commentary line-up. Jon Desborough, Julian Porter and Paul King rotated in and out of the makeshift studio at the Gap service park, and commentary booth during the weekend. Molly Pettit provided reports from the start of each stage as well as interviewing the key drivers.

The team was on-air for around 30 hours across the four days, from dawn to dusk including mid-day intervals, helping fans get closer to the action. If the number of hours remains similar at each rally, WRC should consider adding two or three on-air personnel to keep the coverage fresh, and to avoid the existing crew becoming exhausted (some of the personnel also are part of WRC’s radio output, hence Williams’ absence from the visual output on Sunday).

2018 Monte Carlo Rally - Gap.png
Kiri Bloore and Julian Porter escape the makeshift studio on Friday evening to interview Jarmo Lehtinen, former manager of Toyota’s WRC operation.

A second presenter and reporter, who could double up as a commentator would do the trick nicely. Additional bodies would allow the schedule to be split into ‘blocks’, with someone new presenting in the afternoon as an example. The sharing of resources between visual (TV) and radio was noticeable on Sunday morning, as fans heard no commentary or could see any footage for half of stage 14 whilst personnel moved between bases.

Pettit was the highlight of the weekend, with her interviews and reporting style, the segments at Gap following Friday’s running helped bring fans closer to the action, and into an area not previously seen. Bloore was fine as presenter, whilst Williams up in commentary was engaging throughout. What I really like is that all three are genuinely passionate about rallying, and that comes through on-screen.

The location of the studio left a lot to be desired. Instead of showing off the mountainous Alps, Bloore and her analyst were against a generic WRC backdrop for most of the studio segments, not the most atmospheric position they could be in.

Stunning imagery, but haphazard timing
One of the beauties of rallying is the images it provides, and the Monte Carlo Rally is no different. Of course, every stage live means that we were treated to all angles, from the night stages on Thursday night, through to the treacherous, snowy conditions on Saturday morning. The on-board camera angles throughout the weekend showed various drivers fighting their machinery, trying to survive and live for another day. Importantly, the imagery makes you appreciate just how difficult rallying is, and how much effort goes into putting the show on the road.

2018 Monte Carlo Rally - Jari-Matti Latvala
WRC’s crew were on hand to chat to drivers as soon as each stage had concluded. Here, Jari-Matti Latvala is about to be interviewed.

The on-screen graphics were slick, passing the keep it simple test with ease. The graphics, showing key details such as elevation change and speed, are easy to understand, and thankfully do not overload the screen. However, as one might expect with a new service of this nature, Thursday’s coverage suffered teething problems, some of which continued throughout the weekend, making the rally confusing to follow at times.

In normal circuit racing, you know when someone is heading towards the Bus Stop at Spa, or around the final bend at Melbourne. However, you do not have a visual of when Sebastien Ogier is close to finishing his stage, which is why a constant timer on-screen is vital. Unfortunately, timing graphics during each stage were at a premium for the first half of the weekend, making stages difficult to follow without anything to reference, and the commentators appeared to be in the same position.

I liked the GPS virtual map that was on display throughout the weekend, although it may serve better within a picture-in-picture type format, to help show how far away drivers are to finishing their stage. At times, the map felt like a holding screen whilst the director looked for the next car to focus upon.

Telling the story
An important aspect of motor sport is to decipher the various on-track stories throughout the weekend, and even with every stage covered, it felt like something was missing from the package. I did wonder if the production team had access to every on-board in the gallery, the impression I had watching the rally was that they only had access to a limited number of cars to play out live, restricting what fans could see. Williams mentioned several incidents in commentary, but clips never aired until later in the day.

2018 Monte Carlo Rally - Sebastien Ogier interview
Sebastien Ogier is grilled by the media on Friday evening.

From an early stage, it became clear that Ogier was battling against Ott Tanak for victory, yet the direction did not reflect this fact. Split-screen was one technique WRC could have utilised to show the two cars, and to show how far Tanak was behind Ogier at each split (or vice versa), therefore showing why Ogier has the upper hand. If not possible during the stage, it is something that could take place during one of the service breaks to help viewers understand why the rally is following the way it is. To try new things like this though, you need the right number of people in front of the camera…

Frustratingly, Ogier called the first stage on Saturday morning the worst of his career in the snow, yet viewers saw very little of it. Split-screen could have helped demonstrate this, as well as showing conditions improve with every passing driver. The direction felt repetitive during some phases of the rally: instead of focussing on emerging battles, the director focussed on cars one-by-one during their final two minutes.

The best round-up of events that I watched was during the Power Stage on Sunday afternoon, possibly because the segment was packaged as a standalone TV show for those broadcasters airing that stage. There was no sign of the studio during the 90-minute Power Stage, nor were any references made to All Live. Desborough presented this part, disappointingly no sign of either Bloore or Williams.

2018 Monte Carlo Rally - Craig Breen.png
Craig Breen was the first driver to experience the snow on Saturday morning. The graphic on the right shows RPM (top); speed, gear and whether the hand brake is active (middle); and how much pressure Breen applied to the brakes and throttle (bottom).

An aspect of rallying I like returned on Saturday, with fans hearing pace notes from Dan Barratt towards Elfyn Evans. Evans was one of the many drivers’ door stepped at the end of stage by Pettit and Porter, showing the immediate raw emotion, whether it was satisfaction or disappointment. As the action played out, the pecking order from 4th to 7th turned on its head significantly in the Power Stage with Esapekka Lappi falling down the order due to an off-track excursion, all of this caught by the live cameras (Lappi’s reaction as you can imagine over the line was a little more than disappointment).

The online service and app
The video player provided by WRC is basic, but does the job on both laptop and through their Android app. Impressively, every stage is immediately available after its initial broadcast, with no delay whatsoever.

Like MotoGP’s Video Pass, I do think WRC should consider adding ‘markers’ in their live programme for people arriving late, or for those who want to relieve a key moment. Ogier’s spin during stage seven was a key moment on Friday, but to find this in the live offering you had to manually trawl back through the various clips to find it.

Following the conclusion of each stage, fans have access to every on-board camera, allowing you to compare two drivers with one another, very similar to what I think would be useful to see in the live stream. Until I clicked on the ‘Onboard Action’ section did I realise that you could access every on-board through here. Again, the user interface feels slightly rough round the edges, but is usable.

Many things above I am acutely aware are a result of this being WRC’s first ‘All Live’ weekend, and will improve over time. Live broadcasting is difficult at the best of times, and considering this is the first time WRC have transmitted every stage live to fans, they have started fantastically.

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, rallying is one of the most difficult forms of motor sport to cover from a broadcasting perspective, yet the team covered the full weekend without any major breakdowns. Yes, there are areas to improve, but that will happen as the season progresses. If Monte Carlo was a minimum viable product, then for rallying fans, the broadcasting revolution has only just started…

2018 Monte Carlo Rally - Thierry Neuville.png

Scheduling: The 2018 Santiago E-Prix / Race of Champions

The Formula E season moves to South America and its first visit to Chile for the Santiago E-Prix!

For UK viewers, the championship gets the short straw. The race is not live on Channel 5, largely because it would rate significantly lower than their usual line-up, meaning live coverage airs on 5Spike.

Surprisingly, Channel 5 are not airing delayed highlights either, so the only opportunity for viewers to watch the Chile round in a timely fashion is through 5Spike or Eurosport 2. Formula E moves from Eurosport’s main channel due to live snooker from Germany. So next weekend will be a low rating one for Formula E, more so than usual.

Elsewhere, Sky Sports F1 have secured the Race of Champions event for the third time running (following 2015 and 2017). Although unconfirmed, I suspect Channel 4 will again broadcast highlights in mid-March. Andrew Coley and Neil Cole are providing commentary, with David Croft and Jennie Gow reporting from the paddock.

Formula E – Santiago (online via YouTube)
03/02 – 10:55 to 11:55 – Practice 1
03/02 – 13:25 to 14:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Santiago
03/02 – 14:45 to 16:10 – Qualifying (5Spike)
03/02 – 18:00 to 20:15 (Eurosport 2)
=> 18:00 – Preview
=> 18:15 – Qualifying [tape delay]
=> 19:00 – Race
03/02 – 18:30 to 20:20 – Race (5Spike)

Race of Champions – Riyadh (Sky Sports F1)
02/02 – 17:00 to 20:00 – Race of Champions (also Sky Sports Main Event until 19:30)
03/02 – 13:00 to 16:00 – Nations Cup (also Sky Sports Mix)

The above schedule will be amended if anything changes.

News round-up: New F1 TV agreements finalised; OTT moves closer

The twist and turns of Formula 1’s television rights have continued since the start of the year, with the trend heading towards pay television.

In the first few moves after Liberty Media gained control of Formula 1 in 2017, free-to-air agreements were signed in France and Germany, suggesting that Liberty were re-evaluating the direction taken previously by Formula One Management (FOM). Since Christmas however, Formula 1 has signed two pay-TV deals, and a third is on the horizon.

Two new TV agreements, and a third looming
In Spain, Movistar+ have extended their contract to cover Formula 1 until 2020. The pay-TV operator will continue to cover every session. As part of the rights extension, FOM will “help Movistar+ to produce exclusive content for its distribution across their digital and social media platforms.” It is unclear whether fans in Spain will be able to watch any F1 action for free this season.

Over in Latin America, Fox Sports will broadcast the sport, after Canal F1, operated by Mediapro, closed at the end of 2017. The deal, which does not apply to Brazil, runs through until 2022. As part of the deal, the Mexican Grand Prix will remain live and free in Mexico and highlights of every race will be free-to-air. In both territories, FOM have retained “certain digital rights”, a pre-cursor to F1’s over-the-top service launching.

Worryingly, Formula 1 appears to be heading away from free-to-air in Italy. According to reports from Italy, free-to-air channel Rai made a financial offer to FOM that was “significantly weaker” than pay-TV counterpart Sky, which may see F1 leaving Rai with immediate effect. In Italy, Sky own a free-to-air station called TV8, so some races may air there, but this is unconfirmed.

Formula 1’s Managing Director for Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches has talked in the past about a 70/30 model for the sport moving forward, with around 30 percent of races on free-to-air television. Italy’s new deal may fit into that mould, Spain’s however does not.

As I have mentioned previously, shared contracts allow Formula 1 to continue to reach the masses. In countries such as Spain, over-the-top viewing should not become a replacement for free-to-air. A casual fan, who flicks over the channel to watch Formula 1 on free-to-air television, is unlikely to purchase F1’s over-the-top offering, even if it is cheaper than the pay-TV alternative.

There needs to be mechanisms in place to turn the casual fan into a dedicated fan. A free-to-air viewer can turn into an over-the-top subscriber, but the former must exist for the latter transaction to occur.

Meanwhile in over-the-top developments
Despite no official announcement, yet, Formula 1’s over-the-top service continues to move forward in the background. Former GP2 commentator and NBC pit lane reporter Will Buxton is all but confirmed, alongside a line-up that may feature James Allen, Johnny Herbert, and Rosanna Tennant.

One early left-field rumour was that Allen and Herbert would form the commentary team, but recent suggestions indicate that FOM will take the Sky Sports F1 commentary, made up of David Croft and Martin Brundle.

A survey distributed by Hall & Partners on behalf of Formula 1 last weekend suggested that only five countries will have access to the live over-the-top service at launch. They are USA, Mexico, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. You can add Spain and the rest of Latin America to that list based on more recent rights announcements.

The survey touted a wide range of features, such as on-board footage from every car, something first mooted towards the back-end of 2016, live coverage of feeder series’ Formula Two and GP3, and full access to the Formula 1 video archive.

With a limited user base at launch, I foresee a situation where the service starts off with a minimum viable product (in terms of present day and archive footage), but increases in size and depth as time goes on. Of course, you need to produce good content to draw subscribers in, but keeping costs under control is vital as well in the early years.

UK F1 schedule delays
There are a few reasons likely as to why Channel 4 and Sky Sports have yet to announce their 2018 coverage plans.

The first concerns the scheduling of the French Grand Prix, which clashes with one of England’s World Cup game. Whether there are discussions in the background to move the race to earlier or later that day I do not know, but F1 will have a low audience worldwide for the French round as it stands.

Another potential reason for the delay surrounds testing coverage. If Sky are indeed showing testing live, as mooted during their Abu Dhabi Grand Prix coverage last year, I would expect FOM to announce this first, followed on by Sky. And Sky will want to make such as announcement centrepiece in their 2018 press release. Movement should be imminent on this front.

Channel 4 “open” to showing F1 highlights from 2019 – Chandhok

Channel 4 would be “open” to broadcasting Formula 1 highlights in the UK from 2019 onwards, if such a package became available to them. That is the view of their analyst Karun Chandhok, who has worked with Channel 4 since their coverage began in 2016.

The free-to-air broadcaster currently airs half of the championship live, with the remaining portion of the season aired in highlights form, a deal that will end following the 2018 season. From 2019, Sky Sports will air Formula 1 exclusively live, however live coverage of the British Grand Prix and highlights of all qualifying and race sessions will be available on a “free-to-air” basis, in a deal believed to be worth just shy of £1 billion across the six seasons.

As noted at the time of the announcement, it is unclear what free-to-air means in this context, whether Sky intend to air content on Pick TV (available to all Freeview viewers) or sub-let that element to another broadcaster, such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5.

Speaking to The F1 Broadcasting Blog, Chandhok said “If Channel 4 can do a highlights package, with a bit of pre and post-race analysis, then I think they would be open to at least a conversation. They’ve been very happy with the eyeballs they’ve had for F1. They really enjoy having F1 on their channel, from what the executives have been saying.”

Sky’s lead commentator David Croft believes that the new television deal is not “doom and gloom” for UK F1 fans. “You’re not going to get as many live races free-to-air, there will be one race live and free-to-air. But you’ll still be able to watch Formula 1 free-to-air without subscription in a highlights package.”

“It’s not doom and gloom. I find that if you pay for something, you tend to watch it more closely. For sponsors and teams, you may get fewer people watching, but more intently,” Croft continued.

Participation issue worrying for motor sport
One concern around the new UK TV contract that starts in 2019 is that it may result in less viewers watching Formula 1, and Chandhok is concerned that the true effects of the deal for motor racing may not appear until a generation into the future.

“The motor sport industry in the UK employs thousands of people, many of whom are fans of the sport, whether you’re a mechanic, engineer, designer, PR person, journalist, whatever you are, you started off watching F1 on TV as a fan,” Chandhok said. “And unless you’ve got the people being inspired to get involved in the sport, you could end up with a dangerous participation issue, ten to fifteen years down the line.”

Chandhok made the comparisons to test cricket, which has suffered since live coverage moved to pay-TV. The most recent Ashes series between Australia and England, which aired on BT Sport, did not bring in as many viewers as expected.

“Test cricket moved to satellite a few years ago, but now they’re starting to have a problem with participation of school kids, because the kids are not watching cricket on free-to-air, and nobody is inspired to be the next Joe Root or Nasser Hussain,” Chandhok added.

“The kid isn’t going to be the decision maker [to pay to watch live sport], their parents will be. If the parents decide they are not interested enough, or can’t afford to pay for it, then those kids are automatically excluded.”