Further details emerge about Channel 4’s 2019 Formula 1 coverage

Channel 4’s Formula 1 highlights in 2019 will have a slightly different feel to them compared with the past three years, information obtained by this site reveals.

Shorter highlights on the table for Channel 4
The free-to-air UK broadcaster covering Formula 1 has specific restrictions that they must abide by regarding their highlights programming. From 2012 to 2015, this applied for the BBC, and has applied since 2016 for Channel 4.

One of the restrictions imposed on them concerned the scheduling of the highlights. The 2012 to 2018 contract stipulated that the gap between the race ending and the highlights edit starting must be equal to, or greater than, two hours.

For 2019’s new deal, following a request from Sky, that gap is extending to three hours, meaning that Channel 4’s highlights edit for European rounds cannot start until around 18:55 UK time.

As Channel 4 currently airs highlights for most European rounds from 18:45 to 21:00, this is unlikely to present them with any major problems. However, if Channel 4 wanted to use this time slot or similar in 2019, they do not have significant wriggle room in the event of a red flag situation (although force majeure may apply in that scenario).

A bigger problem comes with the Canadian, USA and Mexican rounds. Based on the 2018 start times, Channel 4’s highlights edit for those races will not start until nearly midnight, a less than ideal scenario.

In this situation, one possibility in my view would be to repeat the highlights programme on Monday in a friendlier time slot, but I do not know if Channel 4’s agreement with Sky allows for this. Depending on how timings shake out, Bahrain and Brazil will also not start until after 22:00.

In addition, Channel 4’s highlights edit will be slightly shorter than previous years, with around seven fewer minutes of action per race.

Whilst frustrating, given the other restriction imposed on them by Sky, the change could allow Channel 4 to air highlights for European rounds from 19:00 to 21:00, 15 fewer minutes than the typical length in 2018 to accommodate the shorter edit.

Whisper set to retain C4 production contract, but changes expected at Sky
This site has learnt that Whisper Films are expected to retain production rights for Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage in 2019, although firm confirmation on both them and the talent involved is unlikely until the Winter.

A full tender process is also unlikely, with the terms of the agreement expected to be a formality between Whisper and Channel 4.

Elsewhere, multiple industry sources have indicated in recent weeks that on-air changes are expected to Sky’s Formula 1 team in 2019. What is unclear is the scale of the change, whether we are looking at a wholesale revamp of the line-up (as one source described the outlook), or a few adjustments around the edges.

As anticipated from the outset, Scott Young, Sky’s new Head of F1, is looking to bring fresh talent into the line-up.

Sky appointed Young to the role ahead of the 2018 season, succeeding Martin Turner, meaning that 2018 has been – to a degree – a transition year as Young analyses what in his view is working, and what needs to change.

We should remember that Sky’s team, apart from Paul di Resta and Nico Rosberg, has remained relatively static since their coverage started in 2012.

One name linked to Sky is Young’s fellow Australian compatriot and former Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who currently works with Channel 4 and has done since 2016. The expectation is that Whisper will not need as many on and off-air talent covering Formula 1 in 2019, and it is plausible that Webber will be on the market come the off-season.

There are other rumours on the grapevine, however at this stage they are just that, rumours. The consensus is that most people expect some form of change at Sky, but no one knows the scale.

Nevertheless, if even some of the rumours floating around have any semblance of truth, the next six months will be very interesting indeed…

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Singapore Grand Prix loses over 250,000 viewers year-on-year

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Singapore Grand Prix struggled compared with his victory in 2017, overnight viewing figures in the UK show, in what was a poor weekend for Formula 1 overall.

Race
Like last year, both Sky Sports F1 and Channel 4 aired the Grand Prix live over the weekend. However, Sky opted not to simulcast their coverage on Sky Sports Mix, whereas last year the race also aired on Mix.

Channel 4’s coverage, encompassing both the build-up and the race itself, averaged 2.04m (22.1%) from 12:00 to 15:35, their lowest live audience since the Austrian Grand Prix in July. Last year’s programme averaged 2.29m (22.1%) across a slightly shorter time slot.

Meanwhile, live coverage of the race on Sky Sports F1 averaged 661k (7.0%) from 12:00 to 15:30, down on last year’s average across F1 and Mix of 723k (7.0%) across a longer time slot to account for heavy rain during the race. It is Sky’s lowest number for Singapore since 2012, which averaged 566k (4.2%) when the race also aired live on BBC One.

The viewing shares year-on-year are solid, but the raw total audience dipped, showing that there were fewer viewers yesterday compared with 2017. However, analysis of audience figures conducted by this site suggests that some viewers were unaware that the race started earlier than expected, which might explain the total audience differential.

In previous years, Singapore started at the same time as all European races, at 13:00 UK time. Before the 2018 season started, Liberty Media opted to move all races by 10 minutes (so they start at ten past the hour), and move most European rounds one-hour later. There are several exceptions, and one of them is Singapore.

If you live in the UK and want to watch a European-based race live (which Singapore for all intents and purposes is), you assume the race starts at 14:10 UK time. Bad news: Singapore’s formation lap started at 13:10…

Yesterday’s race started with 3.39m (36.9%) at 14:15, a decrease of 527,000 viewers on last year’s opening act of 3.91m (38.5%) at 13:05. Year-on-year, the first 45 minutes of the Grand Prix averaged 3.46m (36.3%), compared with 3.78m (36.7%) last year.

At 14:15, which is when European races have started this season, the audience climbed to 3.66m (37.2%), reaching 3.73m (38.0%) ten minutes later before dipping back off to 3.5 million viewers.

An audience of 3.75m (35.8%) watched Hamilton claim victory at 15:00, with a split of 75:25 between Channel 4 and Sky. At that time, Channel 4’s coverage attracted 2.81m (26.8%), with 944k (9.0%) watching on Sky, although Sky’s own coverage peaked with 991k (10.4%) at 13:25. For both broadcasters, it is their lowest peak audience since Austria.

The combined average audience of 2.70 million viewers is down 10.2 percent on last year’s average of 3.01 million viewers, going against the grain of the past few races. The average however is up on the 2016 figure of 2.38 million viewers.

Compared with 2017, the trajectory looks even worse when accounting for the Premier League opposition on Sky. This year’s race clashed with Wolves versus Burnley, neither big audience draws, whereas last year’s encounter faced Chelsea versus Arsenal.

The peak audience dropped 5 percent year-on-year: 3.75 million last Sunday compared with 3.97 million viewers last year. Again, all metrics are the lowest since Austria. Time will tell if this is the beginning of viewer fatigue for F1 this season as Hamilton stretches his legs at the head of the field.

It is possible that some viewers were unaware that the race started one-hour earlier than other European rounds, hence the low audience at the start of the race. Arguably, the viewing figures for Singapore are the first concrete evidence all season of the new start times negatively impacting audience figures, somewhat ironic given that Singapore’s start time has changed very little year-on-year.

Qualifying and BTCC
Live coverage of qualifying suffered on Saturday, drawing a combined average audience of 1.29 million viewers, down on last year’s audience of 1.45 million viewers.

Channel 4’s programme averaged 1.00m (13.3%) from 12:55 to 15:45, a decrease of 158,000 viewers on last year’s audience of 1.16m (13.8%). An audience of 292k (3.8%) watched Sky’s show from 13:00 to 15:40, in-line with last year’s figure of 294k (3.5%).

The session peaked with 2.06m (25.8%) at 14:55, compared with 2.20m (24.8%) last year. At its peak, 1.54m (19.3%) were watching Channel 4’s show at 14:50, a drop of 195,000 viewers year-on-year. Sky’s programme fared better, peaking with 542k (6.8%), an increase of 73,000 viewers and 1.5 percentage share points year-on-year.

Elsewhere on Sunday, live coverage of the penultimate British Touring Car Championship race day of 2018 on ITV4 averaged 144k (1.5%) from 11:15 to 18:30. The audience ebbed and flowed throughout the day before and after the F1 race.

The first race from Silverstone, won by Sam Tordoff, peaked with 234k (3.2%) at 12:35. During the F1, BTCC’s audience dropped to a low of 40k (0.4%), but rebounded to 144k (1.5%) as the second BTCC race started.

Aiden Moffat’s victory in the third and final race was comfortably the most watched BTCC race of the day, averaging 313k (2.5%) from 17:25 to 17:55, peaking with 344k (2.8%) as the race started.

The 2017 Singapore Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

overnights.tv-bannersF1

The paddock reacts to the demise of Motorsport.tv’s television network

Last Friday, Motorsport Network announced that Motorsport.tv is moving to an online only platform, effectively closing its television channel from the end of September. The news brings down the curtain on 18 years of television broadcasting, covering Motorsport.tv and its former guise Motors TV.

Personalities that worked on the channel expressed their sadness at the announcement via social media, including Ben Constanduros and Channel 4’s Formula 1 commentator Ben Edwards, both of whom worked with Motors TV during its early years.

As widely expected, technical expert Craig Scarborough confirmed over the weekend on Twitter that Motorsport Network have axed his Rapid Tech programme. The network has also cut Peter Windsor’s weekly Motorsport Show, which featured a plethora of original content.

David Addison, who was a regular commentator on Motors TV’s ‘Race Day’ events for the Hayfisher production company, said that some championships could struggle because of Motorsport Network’s decision.

“What Motors TV and more recently Motorsport.tv did was bring lots of different championships to the enthusiast. It was a platform for different championships to be able to get exposure,” explained Addison, who spoke to this site during last weekend’s BTCC event at Silverstone.

“It was also an opportunity for different championships to use that as a sales tool to try to attract more people in. You might argue that it was a bit niche, because if you’re watching a motor sport channel, you’re already a motor sport fan.”

“But, it does take away a platform for championships in the UK and around the world. There are so many championships that need, and have benefited from, Motorsport.tv’s television coverage, that are now going to struggle.”

Frank Johns, whose company Frank Johns Associates provided national-level content to Motorsport.tv’s various guises, wrote a comment on this very site stating “As a regular programme provider to Motors TV from its earliest days and more latterly to its successor the sudden closure of this channel is sad news indeed.”

Johns noted in his comment that their programming would continue to air on Motorsport.tv’s on-demand service, but suspects that the audience figures “will be a shadow of its former self.”

For many national and international championships which aired exclusively on Motorsport.tv and want to retain a television presence, they will now need to look elsewhere for that exposure.

This site has reached out to both the World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship for comment, as well as Supercars in Australia, all three impacted by last week’s development.

A spokesperson for the Supercars series has since told this site “Motorsport.tv will continue to show all highlights and selected events. Freesports will be showing highlights.”

“We also have a subscription called SuperView for our viewers outside Australia and New Zealand to live stream every Virgin Australia Supercars Championship qualifying and race session in 2018 (excluding the sessions at the 2018 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix), live and uninterrupted on your mobile, tablet or desktop.”

To cut a long story short, Supercars do not plan to change their existing UK rights (which presumably applies across Europe), meaning that events such as the Bathurst 1000 will not air live in the UK on television.

Motorsport.tv could be ahead of the curve
Addison was keen to emphasise that, whilst some championships could struggle, Motorsport.tv could end up being a trend setter in the on-demand space, and that Motorsport Network’s decision might not be doom and gloom.

“My age group used to sit in front of the television once upon a time, on a Sunday afternoon watching motor sport. But now, we consume motor sport on so many different platforms, on the phone, on the train, you name it.”

“If Motorsport.tv is a subscription pay-TV platform only on the internet, actually it’s probably not that far removed from where we are now anyway,” Addison told me.

“It takes away that free service, yes, and it takes away that ‘channel punching’ ability to happen across motor racing. But for the real die-hards that want to watch it, they’ll probably still watch it, even if they have to pay, and have to watch it via the internet.”

“Who is to say that in five or ten years’ time, people are standing in a paddock reminiscing about when motor racing was actually on the TV! It might be that they [Motorsport.tv] are ahead of their time.”

“We’re not saying that they are dead, not showing motor racing, they’ve just changed the way it is going to be presented and how one accesses it.”

Addison, who currently commentates on ITV’s British Touring Car Championship coverage, argues that some championships, such as the club events that featured prominently during Motors TV’s heyday, might be better suited to coverage on the internet.

“To some degree, and this is where one sounds in danger of sounding rather snobbish, there is an argument to say that your big, high profile glamour, well-attended categories, such as F1, touring cars, Blancpain, World Endurance continue to air on television, as they make for good television.”

“However, three and a half people at Anglesey watching half a dozen BMW’s is not great television. And that, with all due respect to the people in it, the people involved in the television production, does not look brilliant on TV.”

“Those races are of specific appeal to the participants and their families. National racing, club racing, cars, bikes or rally cross, oval racing, put it on the internet, it is of a specific appeal and it can exist quite happily there.”

TV channel Motorsport.tv to close

Motorsport Network are to close their television channel at the end of September, this site can exclusively confirm.

Launched internationally under previous ownership as Motors TV in 2000, the UK version of the channel launched in March 2001. As the UK channel grew, Motors TV played host to major events on the international circuit, such as live coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the British Touring Car Championship.

In more recent years, the broadcaster aired coverage of the World Endurance and World Rally Championships, whilst also airing live coverage of domestic track days featuring racing at club level, an important asset with no other specialised motor sport channels at that level in existence in the UK.

Motors TV, however were not without financial difficulties, with the channel disappearing and re-appearing from the Sky platform during the end of their lifespan. Nevertheless, the channel continued to survive and move forward.

Following the acquisition of Haymarket’s motor sport portfolio, Motors TV was next on Motorsport Network’s radar. The network duly purchased Motors TV in November 2016, re-branding the channel to Motorsport.tv three months later, and in high-definition.

The television channel has remained on-air since then, however some championships, such as NASCAR, Virgin Australia Supercars and the Motocross World Championship have disappeared from schedules in recent weeks without any warning.

I understand that the decision to axe Motorsport.tv’s television channels applies worldwide, and not just for the UK outlet. Existing championships will continue to air on Motorsport.tv’s digital platforms. A second source has indicated that discussion-based programming will be discontinued as part of this move.

There is the human aspect to this, with those who were working on the channel worldwide now looking for alternative forms of work, either within Motorsport Network, or elsewhere in the motor racing world. Allegedly, there are currently outstanding debts related to the channel to be resolved.

For UK fans, the Blancpain GT Series and Virgin Australia Supercar are, as of October 1st, in limbo without a television home. In addition, Motorsport.tv has the lion’s share of live coverage of the World Endurance Championship with BT Sport and Eurosport; whilst they also air highlights of the World Rally Championship with BT. All could transfer to BT Sport, but this is unconfirmed as of writing.

Elsewhere in the Motorsport Network spectrum, this site has learnt that Chief Executive Officer Colin Smith is stepping down from his post. Smith, who previously worked in NASCAR’s digital media team as Vice President, steps aside with F1 journalist and former commentator James Allen taking over as President of Motorsport Network with immediate effect.

When Motorsport Network acquired Motors TV, there was always a distinct possibility that Motorsport Network were going to discontinue their television channel. The network referenced the transition “from traditional linear broadcasting to a Video on Demand (VOD) service” in their initial press release in November 2016.

The shock here is the abrupt timing, with no immediate warning that this was going to happen at the end of September, prior to the end of the motor racing season. The demise of the television network both in the UK and abroad brings down the curtain on 18 years of broadcasting.

Motors TV might not have had the best picture quality, or audio for that matter, but it brought to viewers championships from around the world week in, week out. The UK motor sport television landscape will be a worse place without it.

Update on September 14th at 18:45 – Following the publication of this article, Motorsport Network staff were informed of the news late on Friday afternoon in an internal news briefing. The briefing outlined Motorsport.tv’s on-demand future beyond September, and that its television network would be no more.

In addition, at 17:37 this afternoon, the Motorsport.tv UK Twitter feed tweeted “Motorsport.tv is moving to online and on demand exclusively. We’ve got all your favourite shows & races you enjoyed on TV, now on demand, any time. Visit motorsport.tv or go to our Apple TV, iOS & Android Apps today to take advantage of our free 30 day trial.”

I have requested comment from various rights holders on the current situation, and will update the site as and when I have more information. Blancpain is unaffected for 2018 as their season concludes at the end of the month.

Channel 4 to air Formula 1 highlights in 2019

Channel 4 will continue to broadcast Formula 1 in 2019, it has been confirmed today.

The broadcaster will air the free-to-air element of the contract signed between Sky Sports and Formula One Management (FOM) in 2016, covering live coverage of the British Grand Prix, along with highlights of every other race.

As mooted back in July, the move is part of a wider ranging content deal between Sky and Channel 4. Series one of original Sky drama Tin Star will air on Channel 4 this Autumn before it returns on Sky Atlantic, whilst a select of dramas that have aired on Channel 4 will be available via Sky’s platforms as box sets.

In addition, Channel 4 have confirmed to this site that the F1 contract is for 2019 only, meaning that there is a possibility that this contract will not be in place for 2020 onwards; in other words, we will be having the same conversation this time next year. The likely reason behind this is that the future of the British Grand Prix is unknown beyond 2019.

Coverage details, including the structure of Channel 4’s highlights programming, and the presentation line-up, are to be announced. However, Channel 4 have ruled out using Sky’s presentation team. The likelihood is that Whisper Films will continue to produce Channel 4’s programming, but this is yet to be officially confirmed.

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive Officer of Channel 4, said, “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to establish such an exciting and innovative partnership with Sky which will ensure that the British Grand Prix and highlights of the 2019 Formula 1 Championship remain available on free-to-air television for UK viewers.”

Analysis: Good news for Channel 4, in the short-term at least
On the face of it, today’s news is good news for Formula 1 fans in the UK. The agreement between Channel 4 and Sky means that Formula 1 will remain on a major free-to-air platform in the UK next season, allowing the sport to continue to reach millions of viewers.

Inevitably, many will think “good news, how?” when compared to the current contract. We should remember that the 2019 to 2024 contract between Sky and FOM was confirmed in March 2016, when Bernie Ecclestone was still at the helm. Liberty Media walked into this problem, the 2019 agreement was not of their doing.

From Formula 1’s perspective, having races air in some form on Channel 4 is a significantly better proposition that highlights airing on one of Sky’s free-to-air channels, such as Pick TV.

Given the added extras exchanged between the two networks, it is difficult to place a specific price on how much Channel 4 have spent on this contract, but I suspect you are looking at between £5 million and £10 million, possibly the lower end of the spectrum as a compromise between the two.

Technical details about highlights, such as the length of each qualifying and race programme are unknown. There is a major difference between a two-hour highlights show in primetime on Sunday evenings, and a one-hour programme on Monday evenings. I cannot imagine it is the latter, as the value of it would decrease significantly.

The length of the highlights naturally dictates the level of resource involved: a one-hour programme gives you time for a quick introduction, the race edit, and wrap-up. At most, such a show requires four on-air talent (presenter, two commentators and a reporter). The longer the programme is, the more reason to add a further analyst.

Channel 4 have ruled out using Sky’s line-up, meaning that their programming will continue to have a distinctive feel to it, which is great news. There was a major risk that UK F1 fans were going to lose several excellent voices, such as Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. Assuming the line-up remains largely static, I am pleased that is not going to happen… for now at least.

We could spend a lot of time wondering why Channel 4 did not want to take Sky’s presentation team, or why the added extras came into play, but that would be veering into extreme speculation. Only those privy to the discussions at the negotiation table will know what order the events occurred in, and how we arrived at this position.

The loser in all of this could well be Formula E. There was (and still is) a possibility of Channel 4 airing Formula E live from the 2018-19 season, but that was under the assumption that Channel 4’s F1 coverage was no more. Now that we know Channel 4 have locked themselves into F1 for at least another year, the chances of the electric championship airing on Channel 4 reduces significantly. The money now should be with Formula E either staying at Channel 5, or returning to ITV.

As for 2020, time will tell as to whether the 2019 agreement between Channel 4 and Sky continues all the way through until 2024. Is it as simple as to whether the British Grand Prix is on the calendar, or are there many other factors, such as viewing figures, on-demand figures, and so on, at play? Next year, we will find out…