BBC to broadcast 2018-19 Formula E season across digital platforms

The BBC are to broadcast live coverage of the 2018-19 Formula E season across its digital platforms, both parties have today confirmed.

The electric series started life on ITV4, with coverage moving to Channel 5 from season three onwards. Now, at the start of Formula E’s second generation, the championship is again on the move, this time to the BBC. It is the first time that the BBC have aired live motor racing in visual form since their television coverage of Formula 1 ended in 2015.

However, the BBC’s Formula E coverage will be primarily absent from BBC’s television outlets. Instead, live coverage will air via the Red Button and via the BBC Sport website, with on-demand coverage via BBC iPlayer. Formula E says that one race this season will air on either BBC One or BBC Two.

“It’s great news that live motorsport is returning to our screens at the BBC,” said Barbara Slater, Director of BBC Sport. “I’ve no doubt the upcoming season will bring with it some exciting wheel-to-wheel moments and we can’t wait for it to begin.”

“The ABB FIA Formula E Championship will continue to be broadcast to the masses and across a variety of platforms in the UK,” said Ali Russell, Media & Business Development Director at Formula E. “It’s imperative that Formula E remained on a free-to-air network in such an important territory and key market for motorsport.”

“What better place to showcase some of the best and most competitive racing than on the BBC. We’re fully-charged and ready for the new season on the streets of the most recognisable cities – and this year promises to be more intense and unpredictable than ever.”

Formula E’s contract with the BBC is in addition to their agreement with YouTube, meaning that the championship will be available live, and free, via two of the biggest platforms in the United Kingdom.

Reflecting on their two-year deal with Formula E which expired at the end of season four, a Channel 5 spokesperson told this site “We have enjoyed working with Formula E over the last few years. We wish them every success with their new broadcast deal with the BBC.”

Potential for significant exposure with BBC deal
As I alluded to in my analysis around Formula E’s YouTube deal, there are many reasons why Formula E has struggled to gain traction in the United Kingdom. Little marketing from organisers, a lack of promotion, poor scheduling, and apathy towards the series from the wider public are just a few of the reasons.

During the past two seasons, Channel 5’s scheduling of Formula E has been haphazard, with the championship airing live across Channel 5 and their sister channel 5Spike to little fanfare. Half the races in season four aired live on 5Spike, with audience figures suffering as a result.

Collectively, a weighted average of 177k (1.8%) watched Channel 5’s coverage according to overnight audience figures supplied by Overnights.tv, the series regularly rating below slot averages and failing to pick up traction. The broadcaster treated the series as a slot filler, but when you look at the broader picture, the audience figures did not justify giving the series a bigger profile.

In addition, Eurosport, which has a separate pan-European deal with Formula E encompassing the UK, made little difference to the overall total figures. Unfortunately for Formula E, it was a catch 22 situation, and it is easy to see both their perspective and the Channel 5’s perspective.

So, what were the alternatives?

The clear alternative from the outset was Channel 4, but their new Formula 1 deal dashed Formula E’s hopes, for 2019 at least. With Channel 4 out of the equation, going back to ITV was another possibility, but Formula E’s vicious circle would continue.

A trip down the EPG to a lower-ranked channel in the small hope that it may boost their profile was highly unlikely. Pay-TV was a possibility, but such a deal would kill Formula E’s profile in the UK. As someone within the Formula E circles told me, “what if the alternative is BT Sport?” Such an announcement would have gone down like a lead balloon…

Outside of Formula 1, MotoGP and the TT races, the BBC has had little interest in motor racing since at least the early 2000s. As a one-off experiment, Formula E highlights appeared on the BBC website in March, which would have only helped Formula E’s cause if metrics were good.

The backdrop to the deal came in the form of a meeting between Formula E’s supremo Alejandro Agag and the Head of BBC Sport Barbara Slater.

Clearly discussions between the two parties were fruitful, with a positive outcome for all involved, and better than some of the potential alternatives. With live Formula 1 behind a pay wall for all but one race from 2019, now is the time for Formula E to strike while the iron is hot.

Some clarity still to emerge
The cost to the BBC is likely minimal, if not close to zero.

Channel 5’s coverage in season four was produced by North One Television, with production costs halved between Channel 5 and Formula E. What we do not know at this stage is whether the BBC will produce any bespoke wrap-around coverage for their UK audience.

It is unclear whether the BBC’s deal covers practice and qualifying, I have requested comment from the corporation on this front.

The BBC deal allows Formula E to reach different segments of the UK audience. YouTube gives them access to the non-sport audience, whilst the BBC Sport website opens the door to watchers of many different sports.

However, anyone expecting Formula E to receive “the BBC treatment” needs to reduce their expectations significantly. Yes, being on the BBC’s platform is great, but there is a reason the series is not on BBC One or BBC Two, and that’s because audience figures so far do not suggest that the championship could draw a wider audience, even on BBC One.

Whether Formula E were happy to take the Red Button option, or whether the BBC presented them with a ‘take it or leave it’ option is again unclear. Formula E’s deal likely fits in with the BBC’s ambition to “stream 1,000 extra hours of live sport a year,” although I hope the Formula E deal is not a ‘quota filling’ exercise.

Most of the sports broadcast on the Red Button are domestic competitions, such as the football Women’s Super League, grass-roots athletics events and the British Basketball League. For these events, the corporation takes the feed that the host broadcaster provides with no wrap-around, at minimal cost, and is therefore considered inappropriate for BBC One or BBC Two.

Earlier this year, the BBC streamed the Goodwood Festival of Speed live on their website, a move that went unnoticed within the motor sport community. If the BBC promotes Formula E well, with supplementary website articles and content from their existing talent (such as current Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls), this could be a very good deal for the championship.

Is the BBC deal better than the previous Channel 5 contract? You win massively with the BBC, you lose the traditional television facing slot. However, the latter was increasingly becoming irrelevant, due to a low audience base in the first place.

For me, the deal is fantastic news, as it gives the championship a consistent, high-profile outlet, instead of in previous seasons, where broadcasters threw the series from pillar to post.

The BBC website is one of the biggest in the UK, and this deal gets Formula E in the door. If the metrics are strong, I am hopeful that the championship could transition onto one of the BBC’s main television channels, which must be the main aim for everyone involved in this deal.

In 2019, Formula E will be live, free-to-air on the BBC, whilst Formula 1 will be live, behind a pay-wall on Sky Sports. For the times, they are a-changin’…

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10 thoughts on “BBC to broadcast 2018-19 Formula E season across digital platforms

  1. Sadly it needs Murray Walker and BBC1 to make it worth watching.
    I have tried to watch several FE races live but given up each time due to the lack of excitement, the poor use of venue, background, surroundings bad camera placement lack of vision in microphone placement.
    It could all be in a warehouse in the east end, they make all venues look identical.
    It will be lost on Red button. How much of Channel III do you watch? That is the fate of FE unless they fire all the TV production and direction staff and hire Whisper Films or someone with some nous!
    They also need to spend a bundle on promoting it.

  2. I was about to say watch Formula E viewing figures overtake F1 viewing figures next year until I saw it was on red button only.

  3. I can only conclude from this that broadcasters aren’t really interested in FE and have now virtually had to give it away to the BBC, there is no other logical reason why it’s being relegated to the red button and website. Formula E has far too many negative points to make it attractive, and that’s without raising the thorny issue that it’s a grid made up mostly of dead end drivers.

    In fact, the most entertaining part is the Press Releases above, they’re always worth a chuckle.

  4. The one thing I would say is if it’s on the red button then it will be available through Freeview and Free-sat and Virgin abd almost all other tv networks as there is a red button channel on them. The other thing that I would expect would be that the Beeb will reshow it on the red button at more uk friendly times – and also it should be available on the iPlayer.
    If I was formula e I
    Would increase the production Output for western audiences and contract whisper to do this. Their NFL coverage on the beeb is astoundingly good considering how little airing time and budget they must have. Surely Agag can see how this would make the series look better and more professional

  5. This could work ok for FE as the BBC has high standards and seem to make a real effort to make even the most obscure events seem interesting.
    Its not F1 its another race series of many out there so to berate the drivers as losers from F1 is dumb.
    The mistake the BBC will probably make IS comparing it to F1.

  6. I can’t believe how negative most of the comments have been here. After years of neglect the BBC have finally been convinced to start giving FE a go on their online/red button platforms. Surely this is a good thing, not just for them but for Motorsport as a whole? When F1 does well, like the US GP which got amazing figures on C4, we all celebrate, because that’s good for the visibility of the sport as a whole. But FE is not given the same support, instead people are resentful and scornful. It seems childish to me.

  7. My opinion is this
    They also show skiing and Triathlon on BBC RB and my suggestion is to have all sports on BBC One and BBC Two. if there is a clash of sports, show it on BBC RB then on BBC TV (Full replay or live at half way), very disappointed as BBC RB doesn’t have HD. So I would make a better job if I was in charge.
    Look on your TV guides and online and check it weekly.

    • Would unfortunately never happen even when there’s sport that is always broadcast there’s still the Flog It brigade who complain that their regularly scheduled repeat isn’t on as if sports fans don’t deserve broadcasting but their millions of hours of antique tat shows show take precedence.

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