On the subject of #BBCpay

The BBC yesterday revealed pay details for the 2016/17 financial year for all of their stars that they pay over £150,000. Unsurprisingly, this has generated a lot of discussion in the media about the gender pay gap amongst other issues. The corporation receives unnecessary criticism from time to time and yesterday felt like one of those occasions.

It is an issue across society, and the criticism should reflect that fact. The BBC are not alone in the pay gap. I agree in principle that we need to close the pay gap, not just on a gender level, but also with minority groups in society. However, the BBC needs to pay a competitive rate so they can secure the best talent, otherwise other broadcasters, such as ITV, Sky, and Channel 4, will poach them.

The equivalent pay packets are higher at commercial television stations, and were the BBC to be ‘capped’ in some way, it would significantly affect the quality of the programming that they produce. Household names, such as Graham Norton, bring viewers with them that other presenters further down the pay scale may not.

Of note on the sporting front were Gary Lineker (£1.75m), Sue Barker (£300,000) and Jason Mohammad (£250,000) who are the BBC’s highest paid sports presenters. Lineker’s pay packet was criticised for being too high, although it does include fronting the BBC’s Euro 2016 coverage. Of course, we do not know whether Lineker’s figure is significantly above the market average.

I suspect several of Sky’s and Channel 4’s Formula 1 talent are above the £150,000 threshold that the BBC has revealed in line with their Charter, but that information is not currently available in the public domain and commercial broadcasters are not obliged to reveal it. It is fair to assume that the respective talent salaries have increased over time, partially due to the various switches between broadcasters. Several personnel have switched from ITV to the BBC and onto Sky (or Channel 4) and it is unlikely that their individual salaries will have remained identical during that period.

Across all genres, TV and radio, sport, entertainment and news, the on-air crew do not appear for air and then head off home, although there are some who may be naive enough to believe that this is indeed the case. There is a huge amount of research involved for any journalist or presenter. In the case of a Formula 1 presenter or MotoGP commentator for example, the research goes beyond a race weekend and into keeping up to date on the sport throughout the off-season, re-watching historical races and attending production meetings ready for the next weekend.

Just because you do not see it, or hear it through Twitter, it does not mean that it has not happened. Whilst I am not defending the pay amount of some in the industry, the idea that stars only work their on-air hours is absurd. There was a tweet from the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan which illustrated this point nicely. Viewers probably saw around two hours of Rajan’s day on-air yesterday covering the #BBCpay story, but the reality is that he was working from 06:00 until at least 22:30, from BBC Breakfast through to BBC News at Ten.

However, as Rajan noted, the unsung heroes of broadcasting are not those that work in front of the camera, but instead those working tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the show on the road, sometimes weeks at a time. Many working for Formula One Management (FOM) will have worked from the set-up for the Austrian Grand Prix through to the de-rigging process following the British Grand Prix in one stretch, also accounting for F1 Live London. This is common place in the television and media industry.

As I have said previously, every programme irrespective of genre will require editors, producers, vision mixers, camera operators and so on and so forth. The people behind the camera are often paid less than on-air personnel, because the on-air team is what viewers tune in for on most occasions. And that applies in principle to sport as well: for Sky to acquire the services of Martin Brundle from 2012 meant a lot more to them than acquiring the best vision mixer. Some shows will make sacrifices behind the scenes to capture the best on air team, it is the nature of the beast.

Back to the pay itself: in my opinion, a proper debate requires full transparency, and in this instance, I do not think that is possible without the whole industry working towards the same goals and looking at the whole picture. Currently, the pay debate is, yet another, point to bash the BBC with.


F1’s live London prototype sets vision for the future

Formula One Management (FOM) headed into a brave new world last week with their first foray into live event hosting through its new F1 Live brand. The experiment, which intends to take the sport to the fans, started in London’s Trafalgar Square and was a resounding success overall for what was essentially a live prototype aired worldwide.

FOM streamed the event live across social media last week, with television stations such as Sky Sports F1 also picking up coverage. Given the intended audience, it appears that non F1 broadcasters will have the ability to show the F1 Live events in the future, based on a comment made by David Coulthard during Channel 4’s British Grand Prix coverage.

Live streaming was moderately successful on YouTube, with a peak number of around 35,000 devices. The figure is half the number that watched Fernando Alonso’s first laps preparing for the Indianapolis 500, but you must remember that Alonso’s practice run was only available online, so it is not a completely fair comparison.

F1 Live London averaged 81,000 viewers (0.5%) in the United Kingdom on television from 18:00 to 21:00 on Wednesday across Sky Sports and the local London Live channel according to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, a healthy audience considering the lack of promotion for the event.

Fans were critical about the promotional aspect heading into the event, although the justification was sound given recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. The event might have been jeopardised had the mainstream media revealed details weeks in advance. The 2004 demonstration attracted half a million people to the capital and it was inevitable that security would be much tighter this time around.

Velocity Experience, a new start-up company with David Coulthard and Guy Horner at the helm, led the promotion, branding, and organisation elements of the event. Coulthard’s presence remained throughout the presentation line up, which was reminiscent of the BBC’s 2011 Formula One team.

Jake Humphrey, Martin Brundle, Eddie Jordan, Natalie Pinkham and Coulthard all played their part, with Rochelle Humes also involved. It is important to note though that whilst Coulthard and Humphrey were involved, to my knowledge, Whisper Films (the production company owned by Humphrey, Coulthard and Sunil Patel) were not involved in the event.

The three-hour live broadcast went as well as you could expect, the only noticeable technical problems were brief in the opening minutes. The picture quality on the live stream was ‘blocky’ during the demonstration itself, an issue that FOM fixed later in the broadcast. Luckily, the British weather held out, which is always a bonus! The event was well planned with the live demonstration supplemented by live music, a driver’s parade and various features highlighting the sport.

In my opinion, the balance between music and F1 did not feel right, with too little emphasis on the motor racing side of things. The last 40 minutes turned into a glorified Kaiser Chiefs concert – as a Kaiser Chiefs fan I cannot complain, but others might disagree!

I would have preferred a chat with some of the leading F1 drivers as a substitute for a Kaiser Chiefs song, such as Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who were clearly popular with the audience. It did not make a major difference, but something for Liberty to learn from I feel.

Furthermore, the demonstration did feel slightly on the short side, I guess in a three-hour show I was expecting it to take up more than 45 minutes of airtime. The direction and camera angles were generally good, and following the event FOM uploaded a range of on-board angles online, which showed off some of the more unique angles that you typically do not see during a race weekend.

Coulthard and Brundle were on commentary, a joy to hear the duo back together again. The driver introductions onto stage did make up for the short demonstration, as referenced above. And how good was it to see the F1 Drivers Championship trophy in a public setting like that?

The VTs were one of the highlights of the evening, and a reminder of just why we love Formula 1. It was your typical trip down memory lane, but with an added extra bonus thanks to Tom Grennan’s backing track All Goes Wrong (if you have not yet seen it, I would go out of your way to watch). We need VTs like that to help promote this wonderful sport.

FOM receives some dissension from fans on social media, but this is one occasion where the team thoroughly deserves to be praised. I am hopeful that some of the VTs will be released on F1’s official YouTube channel during the Summer break, so keep an eye out. I imagine Liberty Media and all other involved parties have learnt a significant amount from the first F1 Live.

So, are you ready for the second event?

Hamilton’s Silverstone dominance peaks with 4.45 million viewers

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in British Grand Prix recorded solid audiences over the weekend, but was down slightly on 2016, overnight viewing figures for the United Kingdom show.

As usual for the home round, the race was available live on terrestrial television, which makes it one of the races where we can make a proper comparison. However, the usual historical factors skew comparisons: Wimbledon, the weather or British fortunes in F1. All viewing figures exclude audiences who watched via other platforms, such as Now TV, All 4 or Sky Go.

Channel 4’s live race broadcast averaged 2.20m (20.4%) from 12:00 to 15:20, which compares with an average of 2.36m (17.9%) from 12:00 to 15:55 from 2016. I should note that Channel 4 did not split their shows last year, whereas the broadcaster split their programming into three chunks this year (quite clearly, the show this year recorded a decrease via both metrics). Fewer people chose to record Channel 4’s reaction to the race, which averaged just 543k (4.4%) from 15:20.

Live coverage on Sky Sports averaged 652k (6.0%) for the three and a half hours from 12:00, compared with an average last year of 736k (5.8%). Sky simulcast their coverage across Sky Sports F1 and, for the last time, Sky Sports 1. An audience of 373k (3.4%) watched on the dedicated F1 channel, with a further 279k (2.6%) watching via Sky Sports 1, a split of 57:43.

Both broadcasters recorded higher shares, but lower audiences compared with 2016. I suspect Andy Murray’s failure to get to the Wimbledon final caused this effect. Murray would have brought more viewers indoors to their television sets last year, inflating the F1 which preceded Wimbledon. This year, no Murray, resulting in no positive effect on audiences.

The combined average audience of 2.86 million viewers is down 8 percent on last year’s average of 3.10 million viewers. It means that, at the half way stage of the season and for the first time on record, not one race has reached a combined average of three million viewers. For the British Grand Prix, yesterday’s audience is the lowest since 2006. So, whilst attendances at the circuit are at their highest, the action on the circuit is not connecting to viewers at home. It does suggest though that the F1 is becoming more of a ‘may watch’ than a ‘must watch’ to the viewing public.

The Grand Prix started with 4.29m (41.0%) at 13:05, compared with 4.44m (38.6%) at the same point last year. However, the 2017 race only just hit that point at the very end, peaking with 4.45m (34.6%) at 14:25. At the time of the peak, 1.04m (8.1%) were watching on Sky, with 3.41m (26.5%) watching on Channel 4, a split of 77:23. The combined peak audience of 4.45 million viewers was the highest of 2017, but down 11 percent on last year’s peak of 4.99 million viewers.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying, broadcast on Channel 4 from 11:55 to 14:30, averaged 1.37m (15.2%), a marginal drop on the equivalent number from 2016 of 1.43m (16.2%). Sky Sports F1’s programming added an additional 413k (4.0%) on top of Channel 4’s audience, again a very slight drop on the combined Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1 audience from 2016 of 421k (4.7%).

There is an amusing anecdote within the figures here: Sky Sports F1’s qualifying coverage beat their race day programme, 413,000 viewers for qualifying compared with 373,000 viewers for the race! Of course, there is a valid reason for this statistic. Sky simulcast their race day programme on Sky Sports 1 spreading the audience more thinly, whereas Sky kept their qualifying show exclusive to the dedicated F1 channel. It does not matter in the grand scheme of things, after all both channels show the same content on race day.

The combined average audience of 1.78 million viewers is, as you probably guessed by now, also down on the 2016 average audience of 1.85 million viewers. The combined peak audience followed an identical trend, with qualifying peaking with 2.64 million viewers (27.6 percent share) at 13:20, around 100,000 viewers lower than 2016.

I noticed a few comments over the weekend across social media platforms saying that the British Grand Prix, from a broadcasting perspective, felt like it was another race on the calendar. The race no longer feels like a special race that broadcasters give special treatment to, like the BBC and ITV did in yesteryear, and to be honest I agree with those sentiments. There are plenty of ways both broadcasters could make the Grand Prix feel more special.

In Sky’s case, simply treating Formula Two and GP3 as part of their Silverstone schedule instead of relying on World Feed only coverage and staying on air ‘round the clock’ like BT Sport currently do with MotoGP would suffice. Charles Leclerc is currently dominating Formula Two and will more than likely be in Formula 1 next year, yet viewers currently know little about him.

Over on Channel 4, their magazine programme called Sunday Brunch was the usual affair and not broadcast from Silverstone, under a ‘Grand Prix Sunday’ banner for example. If broadcasters are unprepared to give the Grand Prix a special feeling and spice up their programming, why should viewers treat the race any differently?

Coming up in the next few weeks on the site will be the annual mid-season viewing figures analysis as we dissect the audience patterns year-on-year and try to establish what has, and has not, been a rating draw this year.

The 2016 British Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


Brundle taken ill, will not take part in remainder of Sky’s British Grand Prix broadcast

Sky Sports F1’s lead analyst Martin Brundle has been taken ill and will not be part of the remainder of the channel’s British Grand Prix broadcast.

The news was announced by Simon Lazenby following a VT celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his grid walk, stating that Brundle has been taken to the medical centre. David Croft and Paul di Resta will now be commentating on the race.

Brundle revealed earlier this year that he suffered “a small heart attack” following the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix.

I hope Brundle is okay, sending best wishes his way. I will update this post when we hear further news.

Update on July 16th at 14:40 – From the Sky Sports F1 Twitter feed: “We’re pleased to report that Martin has left the circuit and gave the fans a thumbs-up as he walked out.” According to Lazenby, Brundle was suffering from a stomach virus and was feeling dizzy.

Sky Sports unveils new look, but how much money could consumers save?

Sky Sports have formally unveiled a new look to their channels, which takes effect from Tuesday 18th July. The new look comprises of the following ten channels (channel numbers apply for the Sky platform):

  • 401 – Sky Sports Main Event
  • 402 – Sky Sports Premier League
  • 403 – Sky Sports Football
  • 404 – Sky Sports Cricket
  • 405 – Sky Sports Golf
  • 406 – Sky Sports F1
  • 407 – Sky Sports Action
  • 408 – Sky Sports Arena
  • 409 – Sky Sports News
  • 121 – Sky Sports Mix

After 23 years, the Sky Sports numbered branding of 1 and 2, expanding in more recent years to cover 3, 4 and 5, will disappear in the early hours of next Tuesday morning, with ‘themed’ channels replacing them.

The main change for Sky’s customers is the pricing structure, which allows consumers to pick the channels they want to view. One Sky Sports channel is available for £18.00, two channels for £22.00 and three channels for £26.00 a month. The complete Sky Sports pack continues to cost £27.50 per month with the HD Pack adding a further £6.00 per month.

Sky Sports Main Event, which highlights the best live action the pay-TV company has on offer, is only available as part of the full sports pack, whilst Action and Arena are part of one channel ‘set’.

Sky claims in their press release that Premier League football is available for “as little as 60p a day”, which is disingenuous at best. This figure conveniently fails to account for the compulsory Original Bundle which customers require to access the Sky Sports portfolio of channels, increasing the cost per day to at least £1.30 a day. Unfortunately, respected broadsheets have picked up and ran with the quoted lower figure.

Overall, if you are a sporty guy or girl who likes to watch a range of sport, chances are you are going to stick with your current offering. For example, if you like football, cricket and F1, you would ‘pick and choose’ channels, eventually ending back where you started. So, the reality is that the table I posted in my calculations piece in March is likely to stay the same:

Option SD
Sky Q 1TB Box
Sky Q 1TB Box
UHD + SD all
Sky Q 2TB Box
UHD + HD all
Sky Q 2TB Box
Bundle – Original £22.00 £22.00
Bundle – Box Sets £38.00 £38.00
Bundle – Sky Sports £27.50 £27.50 £27.50 £27.50
Sky Sports HD Pack £6.00 £6.00
Sky Q Multiscreen £12.00 £12.00
Monthly Cost £49.50 £71.50 £61.50 £83.50
Yearly Cost £594.00 £858.00 £738.00 £1,002.00
One-Off Installation Cost £15.00 £15.00 £60.00 £60.00
Yearly Cost £609.00 £873.00 £798.00 £1,062.00

The only real gain here is for readers that like Formula 1 and no other sport. For existing customers, this is simply an artificial change and nothing more. For new customers interested in a specific sport, there are some genuine choices here. A customer interested in just Formula 1 and no other sports will save £114.00 across the year.

Option SD
Sky Q 1TB Box
Sky Q 1TB Box
UHD + SD all
Sky Q 2TB Box
UHD + HD all
Sky Q 2TB Box
Bundle – Original £22.00 £22.00
Bundle – Box Sets £38.00 £38.00
Sky Sports F1 only £18.00 £18.00 £18.00 £18.00
Sky Sports HD Pack £6.00 £6.00
Sky Q Multiscreen £12.00 £12.00
Monthly Cost £40.00 £62.00 £52.00 £74.00
Yearly Cost £480.00 £744.00 £624.00 £888.00
One-Off Installation Cost £15.00 £15.00 £60.00 £60.00
Yearly Cost £495.00 £759.00 £684.00 £948.00

Across the year, it is a lot of money that you could save by going with just Sky Sports F1, although I suspect a lot of consumers will end up with either two channels or the whole pack. The risk for Sky is if subscribers who only have a casual interest in Formula 1 and love football choose to lower their subscription so it only the Premier League and Football channels.

From a viewing figures perspective, the move might turn out badly for F1 in that the number of hardcore Premier League football fans heavily outweighs the number of hardcore Formula 1 fans. I do not expect any major fluctuation in audiences, but it is something to monitor. Personally, £40.00 a month is still a high entry price and can consumers justify paying £18.00 for just the F1 channel?

In terms of competition between Sky, Virgin Media and BT, it looks like Virgin Media are offering (or being forced into) a ‘all or nothing’ approach with its customers, which means that the entry price on Sky is now significantly lower than Virgin Media – again this assumes that you are only interested in a limited range of sports. I calculated an entry price of £635.99 for Virgin Media in March, so Sky undercuts that by £140.99.

Overall, the move by Sky whilst good, will probably only influence the decision-making for a small proportion of their customer base. Had the entry price for Sky Sports been lower, I suspect the changes in customer habits might have been more drastic. I do not see people thinking that “£18 for one Sky Sports channel per month” is a bargain.

Also, if you are currently a cord cutter and choose to get your viewing via ‘other means’, then I do not think Sky’s latest pricing strategy will change your mindset. It is, however, a step in the right direction for the satellite pay-TV broadcaster.

Note from Dave – It is possible that there may be some minor adjustments to this once we see the small print, if so, I will update this post.