F1 broadcasters raised “serious concerns” about superimposed Rolex clock to FOM

A superimposed Rolex clock during coverage of the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix resulted in multiple Formula 1 broadcasters raising concerns to Formula One Management (FOM), the UK communications body Ofcom has revealed.

Ofcom, the body that regulates UK television and radio communication in the UK, received a complaint in relation to Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the Singapore qualifying session from 2016. The complaint related to a Rolex clock, which FOM superimposed over the Singapore Flyer during coverage that weekend, the complainant arguing that the clock was unduly prominent. As part of their investigation, Channel 4’s highlights programme was also brought into scope.

Readers will be aware that Rolex plays a major part in Formula 1’s timing system and graphics set, with their logo displayed at regular intervals, something that is frequently referenced during Ofcom’s write-up (an area they are unconcerned about). However, the Rolex clock went far beyond what had taken place before.

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The superimposed Rolex clock during Formula 1’s coverage of the 2016 Singapore Grand Prix qualifying session.

Sky argued that, under the terms of their contract with Formula 1 to broadcast the action live, they had to broadcast an unaltered World Feed of qualifying, and as a result an “increased tolerance around undue prominence and product promotion was needed,” something that applies for all live sporting events.

Channel 4 argued that, for practicality reasons, the turn-around time between the live broadcast ending and their highlights show starting was “extremely limited”, and that the placement of the graphic made it difficult to remove from the broadcast without disturbing the flow of the action significantly.

Whisper Films, who produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, raised what Ofcom describe as “serious concerns” about the undue prominence “at a senior level with Formula One”, with another broadcaster according to Ofcom’s write-up doing the same. In addition, Sky informed Formula 1 that the superimposed Rolex clock was “beyond levels it felt would generally be accepted.”

Both Sky and Channel 4 in their submissions to Ofcom stated that this level of undue prominence has not occurred since. In both rulings, Ofcom said “These images [of the superimposed clock face] dominated the screen, appeared during location shots, and were not integral to the sporting event that was the subject of the programme.”

Ofcom declared Sky’s incident as resolved, because of the steps Sky took following the broadcast, and the fact that Sky’s broadcast was live. However the body, in this instance, did not believe the inclusion of the images was justified for Channel 4’s highlights broadcast, declaring the broadcaster in breach of Rule 9.5 of Ofcom’s Broadcast Code (No undue prominence may be given in programming to a product, service or trade mark).

The body said “We took into account Channel 4’s submission about the time constraints on producing the programme. However, this was not a live programme but an edited one featuring highlights of the race. There was therefore an opportunity for these images to be edited out of the programme as broadcast. [..] We therefore concluded that the commercial references were unduly prominent, in breach of Rule 9.5.”

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Formula E’s fourth season struggles to pick up traction

The fourth season of the electric Formula E championship struggled to gain viewers in the United Kingdom, overnight audience figures suggest.

For the first time, Eurosport aired live coverage of the series in the UK, with every race covered besides the Paris E-Prix, which aired on tape delay.

Channel 5 provided free-to-air coverage for the second season running. However, the championship received less than optimal coverage from the broadcaster, with some races demoted to 5Spike, and others not aired live.

Race Date Live Highlights
Hong Kong (R1) 02/12/2017 n/a Channel 5 (tape-delay)
Hong Kong (R2) 03/12/2017 n/a Channel 5 (tape-delay)
Marrakesh 13/01/2018 Channel 5 n/a
Santiago 03/02/2018 5Spike n/a
Mexico City 03/03/2018 5Spike Channel 5
Punta del Este 17/03/2018 Channel 5 n/a
Rome 14/04/2018 5Spike Channel 5
Paris 28/04/2018 5Spike Channel 5
Berlin 19/05/2018 Channel 5 n/a
Zurich 10/06/2018 Channel 5 n/a
New York (R1) 14/07/2018 5Spike n/a
New York (R2) 15/07/2018 5Spike Channel 5

Of the twelve races in total, four aired live on Channel 5, six aired live on 5Spike, whilst the season opening Hong Kong E-Prix double header aired in tape-delay form on Channel 5. When races aired live on 5Spike, Channel 5 committed to airing a 60-minute programme the following day. The exceptions were Santiago and the first race of the New York weekend, the latter failed to make the air following a technical error.

The Rome and Paris rounds of the championship clashed with live coverage of the Aviva Premiership Rugby, where Channel 5 have a contract to air five live games per season. Considering Formula E announced their calendar months in advance, and the final set of rugby games was announced in March, Channel 5 could, and should have, avoided Formula E weekends.

Having four Saturday’s of sporting action is better than two Saturday’s where they are competing against themselves for the same demographic. If anything, it demonstrates a serious level of incompetence from Channel 5. With inconsistent scheduling, channel switches, and large gaps between some rounds, it is little wonder that Formula E has struggled to gain traction this season.

Where Channel 5’s main channel did not air coverage live, this site has accounted for 5Spike’s live coverage, combined with the Channel 5 highlights programme that aired on most occasions. Eurosport used Formula E’s World Feed output as the basis for their coverage. Instead of taking the World Feed commentary led by Jack Nicholls, Eurosport opted to use their own in-house team off-tube, usually led by Tom Gaymor and Mike Conway.

Fans cannot watch the race itself live via Formula E’s social media channels, including YouTube, as the existing broadcasting rights restrict this.

The 2017-18 story
The season started with an average audience of 217,000 viewers watching both Hong Kong races across Eurosport and Channel 5, a marginal increase on last year’s figure of 206,000 viewers on Channel 5.

Whilst the tape-delay situation was frustrating at the time, you can see Channel 5’s logic in it: a new presentation setup combined with the time zone difference meaning that a 09:00 time slot is significantly better than a 06:45 time slot.

Viewing figures took a downward turn with Marrakech, which averaged 198,000 viewers on January 13th, a poor figure for an afternoon round. With no highlights programme on Channel 5, Santiago bottomed out at 118,000 viewers across 5Spike and Eurosport.

Highlights of the Mexico City E-Prix on Channel 5’s main channel helped push its combined audience of 290,000 viewers above last year’s figure of 238,000 viewers, with Punta del Este two weeks later (live on Channel 5) also in a similar ballpark.

But channel hunting for Paris and Berlin meant that Formula E never hit 300,000 viewers until the Zurich E-Prix, which averaged 301,000 viewers. The combined peak audience of 412,000 viewers was also the highest of season five.

The season ended badly in New York, with a combined audience of just 69,000 viewers watching Jean-Eric Vergne winning the championship in race one, due to Channel 5’s highlights programme failing to make the air. The second race of the weekend picked up only 146,000 viewers.

Combined average and final thoughts
An average audience of 18k (0.20%) watched Eurosport’s coverage across the whole season, covering 15-minutes of build-up and some post-race reaction. The highlight for Eurosport was the Santiago E-Prix in February, which averaged 32k (0.17%), peaking with 65k (0.35%).

Formula E for Eurosport, in the United Kingdom at least, is filler and nothing more, part of a wider pan-European deal. If anything, Eurosport’s audience figures show that Formula E needs a free-to-air deal in this country otherwise the series will sink without trace.

Collectively, Channel 5’s coverage attracted a weighted average of 177k (1.8%) across the 12 rounds, a significant decrease on season three’s audience of 280k (2.6%), following the same trajectory that ITV’s coverage faced between their first two seasons, although it should be noted that ITV did not mess with the scheduling in the same way that Channel 5.

When Formula E airs live on 5Spike, the championship loses three-quarters of its audience. The races that Channel 5 aired live, including Hong Kong’s tape-delayed coverage, averaged 220k (2.2%), whilst 5Spike’s live races attracted 61k (0.46%). It is also worth pointing out that Formula E consistently rated below both Channel 5’s and 5Spike’s respective slot averages.

A combined audience of 196,000 viewers watched Channel 5’s and Eurosport’s season four coverage of Formula E, a hefty decrease of 30 percent on the 2016-17 average audience of 280,000 viewers. The audience is an increase on season two’s average audience of 138,000 viewers when the championship aired live on ITV4, but down on season one’s average of 216,000 viewers.

When factoring in ITV’s highlights programming, season four is likely to be the lowest on record for Formula E in the UK. Where could live free-to-air coverage of Formula E be heading next in the UK? Head over here to find out…

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News round-up: Perry goes full season for BT; BBC commissions Monger/Zanardi special

As the first half of 2018 concludes following a frantic period on and off the track, here are some of the broadcasting stories you may have missed over the past few weeks…

Perry expands BT Sport’s MotoGP commitments for 2019
Suzi Perry will present every round of BT Sport’s MotoGP in 2019, she has confirmed. In response to a fan question on Twitter, Perry confirmed that she will be in the hot-seat for all of the expected 19 rounds next season.

Perry has shared presenting duties with Craig Doyle since 2016, although Doyle has been part of BT’s MotoGP coverage since its inception in 2014. However, as first reported by Motorcycle News, Doyle is ending his commitments at the end of this season to focus on his ever-expanding rugby commitments with BT.

At the half way stage of 2018, BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage has averaged 117k (1.45%) for its race day programme from 09:30 to 14:15, or equivalent according to overnight viewing figures, identical to last year’s audience figure of 117k (1.29%).

In comparison, an average audience of 403k (2.2%) have watched Channel 5’s highlights programme, a decrease on last year’s equivalent figure of 446k (2.5%). The World Cup has hit Channel 5’s MotoGP overnight viewing figures. Their audience for the Catalan round dropped by 38 percent year-on-year, thanks to a clash with England’s opening World Cup fixture against Tunisia.

Meanwhile over in Italy, MotoGP will be remaining on Sky for the next three seasons.

Formula E’s destination hinges on Channel 4’s Formula 1 future
As of writing, there is no official confirmation or additional information as to whether Channel 4 will continue to air Formula 1 in 2019, beyond what was reported during the British Grand Prix weekend last month.

If you are Formula E, the sooner Channel 4’s Formula 1 deal is finalised the better. I understand that, whilst Channel 4 has shown interest in Formula E, the series may well remain on Channel 5 should Channel 4 retain F1.

A separate obstacle between Channel 4 and Formula E concerns the finances of the contract. During season four, Channel 5 and Formula E agreed to split the production cost, something that is proving trickier to negotiate with Channel 4.

Formula E’s fifth season starts in Saudi Arabia in December, so there is no immediate rush to confirm the UK contract. In 2016, when Formula E moved to Channel 5, the announcement was made just one month before the season began.

BBC commissions motor sport special
The BBC’s World Service has commissioned a motor sport documentary to air across their networks later this year. The one-off special sees Billy Monger meet Alex Zanardi, both of whom had their lives changed following high-speed motor racing accidents.

Following his crash in 2001, Zanardi has gone on to win gold medals at the Paralympics, whilst Monger returned to racing this year after his own accident last year. Jennie Gow went with Monger to visit Zanardi in Italy, and will present the special programme.

The special will air across BBC Radio 5 Live, online and television later this year. Normally BBC World television documentaries also air on the BBC News Channel, so expect the documentary to turn up there, as opposed to one of their general entertainment outlets.

Elsewhere in the BBC spectrum, the broadcaster aired a special technology feature filmed during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend. Their weekly Click programme went behind the scenes, with presenter Spencer Kelly interviewing people from Mercedes and Formula One Management, focusing on the latest developments in F1. If you have 15 minutes spare time, this is worth a watch.

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Written in the stars

Since taking over Formula 1 at the start of 2017, Liberty Media have made gradual changes to the presentation of the sport on and off camera. Some of these changes have been noticeable, others have blended into the background.

Following the first three races of the year, I reviewed the main changes that Liberty Media made to the output, noting that whilst their new graphics were not as bad as feared, Formula One Management (FOM) still had some way to go to improve the graphics. It is worth another stock take, as there have been new developments since my April review worth factoring in.

F1 integrates the Halo
One of my main criticisms earlier in the season was that FOM had failed to integrate the Halo into its television package. Whilst I have become used to the cockpit protection system quicker than I expected, it has still rendered the main on-board camera worse than yesteryear.

Since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, FOM have dressed up the main on-board camera with a virtual game-like heads up display. The display contains the same information as the previous speedometer graphic, but FOM have cleverly used the Halo to their advantage, displaying information moulded to the shape of the Halo.

Formula 1 is part of an ongoing trend in motor sport to attract the younger gaming fan, and this is one way they are trying to do it. Formula E started the trend with their own vision, whilst MotoGP has recently introduced a fresh take on a popular angle, although F1 currently uses it more frequently than their two-wheel counterparts.

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Riding on-board with Lewis Hamilton during the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix, with the new Halo graphic present. On the left indicates the amount of braking input he currently has, the right indicates throttle input. The speed in kilometers per hour along with the gear is represented in the centre of the frame, whilst a yellow line below depicts the amount of RPM.

Depending on who you ask on social media, the display is either cool, or tacky. I can see why some might consider it messy, but again you must remember that Formula 1 is catering the virtual display towards a newer generation of fan. I like it, it is different, but for very good reason. There are a lot of things FOM can do moving forward to improve the display: what we are seeing now is only the bare bones of what is possible.

On the other end of the virtual spectrum has been another trend of what is known as ‘sponsor activation’, notably from Heineken and Amazon.

Heineken’s stars make an impact
In my view, Heineken’s advertising activation is having an impact on Formula 1’s World Feed. Fans watching both the Canadian and Austrian rounds this year will have noticed Heineken’s ‘stars’ appearing across the World Feed at various vantage points.

I do not have a problem with Heineken activating their advertising efforts, but I do have a problem with the tackiness of the virtual stars. For a world-class sport, it looks and feels like an amateur hour effort. It detracts from the overall spectacle, and arguably is one of the worst examples of virtual advertising in Formula 1 to date.

As an experiment, I mocked up what the Heineken star would look like in MotoGP, were Heineken ever to turn their attention to MotoGP. The replies on Twitter from those involved in MotoGP speak for themselves.

The virtual track side graphics have not stopped with Heineken. During the British Grand Prix, Formula 1 overlaid their virtual logo track side with the word ‘Hammer Time’ following a pit stop from Lewis Hamilton. The virtual ‘messages’ to drivers continued in full force during the Hungarian Grand Prix, although the execution was better so not to detract from the on-track action.

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The Canadian Grand Prix saw the first appearance of Heineken’s ‘stars’ into the World Feed. Here, a Ferrari car passes through the turn two hairpin, the shot framed to include the three virtual stars at the top of the grandstand.

A further negative trend comes in the form of five ‘beeps’ at the start of each race. The beeps have blighted not only the F1 broadcasts, but also Formula Two, GP3 and Porsche Supercup races. FOM are experimenting in this area, with some races featuring excruciatingly loud beeps, and others featuring no beeps at all (possibly because the sound of the cars masks the beeps).

When you add all of these up, and account for them as a collective, the overall direction of the Grand Prix suffers because of it. Imagine you are a director, who wants to pick the best angles and battles for the World Feed. However, as a director, I need to feature specific shots to get a specific trackside graphic into the frame, for example the Heineken star.

You can see how the two will not always match up, and could lead to FOM missing something critical (thankfully, yet to happen). “Put up or shut up” might be the only way forward to accepting virtual graphics and advertising activation, as both are likely to continue at a faster pace of knots in the future.

Whilst Formula 1’s direction may be compromised slightly by virtual advertising, one thing that has improved vastly compared with previous seasons are the camera angles FOM have used.

The return of Formula 1 to Paul Ricard saw a variety of camera angles which helped portray the speed of the cars, whilst FOM used drones to give a different perspective on the infield section during the Austrian Grand Prix. To FOM’s credit, they are experimenting with angles, seeing what works, and what does not.

Formula 1 expands new media footprint
Wherever you look on social media, Formula 1 is constantly expanding its footprint, with weekly additions.

With Tom Clarkson at the helm, the sport has moved into the podcast space. As host of Beyond the Grid, Clarkson has interviewed a range of stars, such as four-time champion Lewis Hamilton and current Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle. If you have an hour of your spare time, or even on your train journey home, I encourage you to listen to these. The tone is different to the paddock interviews you hear during the weekend, giving you an insight into the people behind the helmets.

As anticipated pre-season, Formula 1’s live post-race show on Twitter has also got off the ground, with Will Buxton fronting it. I have not yet watched their output, simply because Sky Sports and Channel 4 gives me what I need post-race. After watching F1 for three or four hours, watching a further show on Twitter does not appeal to me. Controversial perhaps, but a live interactive show outside of race weekends to fully digest the weekend’s events might be better. Others who live elsewhere in the world without expansive post-race coverage might disagree.

Formula 1 has used social media to their advantage this season to help explain stewarding decisions. Some fans thought that Lewis Hamilton should have been penalised harsher than a reprimand after a pit lane incident during the changeable German Grand Prix. But F1 used their outlets, and FIA race director Charlie Whiting to help fans understand why Hamilton was not penalised.

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Charlie Whiting explains why Lewis Hamilton did not receive a penalty during the 2018 German Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the social media space, Formula 1’s teams have brought fans even closer to the action with a special camera embedded inside glasses, showing a day in the life of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly at the Monaco Grand Prix and a lap with Romain Grosjean at Montreal. There are a lot of very cool things going on in the social media space, but you need to have a keen eye to find them, as not everything is in one place. Blink, and you miss it.

F1 TV’s archive starts to take shape
After an early season delay, Formula One Management finally launched F1 TV to the world in the run up to the Spanish Grand Prix. Although fans in the United Kingdom do not have access to live coverage of this year’s action through F1 TV Pro, fans can access Formula One Management’s rich archive through the entry-level F1 TV Access.

In its first three months, over 100 full races have been added to F1’s over-the-top service. As of writing, there are 13 full races from the 1980s, 21 from the 1990s, with the remainder from 2000 onwards. New additions have stalled in recent weeks, but expect things to pick back up soon. FOM will be constantly analysing user trends, seeing which years are more popular than others, which will drive their internal decisions moving forward.

Although track side adverts promoting F1 TV have been present, the promotion on social media has felt passive rather than aggressive, with little promotion of F1 TV from Formula 1 across its social media channels aside from the generic messages, FOM going for a soft launch approach rather than a big bang.

Even where FOM have posted classic clips on social media, they have failed to link back to their over-the-top service, which feels like a major oversight to me. If the service is to grow, Formula 1 needs to promote it at every opportunity, otherwise they could make a substantial loss in the early years.

And finally, the one thing I have yet to mention throughout this piece is Formula 1’s new theme song. Because, frankly, it is superb. I do think that, in a year or so, it will be a theme that people outside of F1 looking in, will instantly associate with the sport. It is that good, and that is a huge credit to Brian Tyler and all that were involved in the making of the tune.

Now to go away and hum the theme again…

F1 soars to highest lunch time peak audience on Sky Sports in six years

The Hungarian Grand Prix was quite the weekend for Sky Sports in the UK, as it recorded some of its highest Formula 1 audience figures in years, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race aired on Sky Sports F1 and Main Event from 13:00 to 16:30 to an audience of 1.02m (10.5%), an excellent figure. The audience is Sky’s highest for Formula 1 since the 2017 Mexican Grand Prix, which averaged 1.09m (4.8%).

A fairer comparison would be with Sky’s viewing figures for their other European races, which is where last weekend’s race stands out. Hungary was Sky’s highest for a European round since the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, when an audience of 1.10m (11.9%) watched Sky’s coverage.

An audience of 669k (6.8%) watched via the F1 channel, with the remaining 353k (3.6%) choosing to watch via Sky Sports Main Event.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 1.55m (14.5%) at 15:45, their third highest peak figure for a European race, only behind the 2012 German and Bahrain rounds! The Germany race from six years ago is top of the tree is because Sky made the race available to Freeview customers as a one-off experiment.

Races in America, Mexico and Canada have peaked at a similar level since, but again is an unfair comparison with Hungary due to the time zone differences, with more viewers available to watch in the evening.

At the time of the peak, 1.06m (9.9%) were watching on Sky Sports F1, whilst 492k (4.6%) tuned into the Main Event simulcast. Both Sky’s average and peak audience figures rose by around 45 percent year-on-year.

> Analysis: Formula 1 shines as UK TV viewing figures increase at half way stage of 2018

Later in the day, Channel 4’s highlights programme from 18:45 to 21:00 averaged 2.08m (11.6%), an increase on last year’s audience figure of 1.96m (13.8%). Considering the German Grand Prix highlights show averaged 2.26m (13.8%) one week earlier, Channel 4’s figure looks low in the context of both that, and Sky’s strong numbers.

A peak of 2.76m (14.2%) watched Channel 4’s broadcast, the peak occurring at 20:25. The poor weather, combined with very little sporting opposition, may well have worked in Sky Sports F1’s favour on Sunday, denting Channel 4’s highlights slightly.

Thanks to Sky’s viewing figures, the combined audience of 3.10 million viewers is the highest for a European round since the 2016 German Grand Prix, and the highest for Hungary since 2015 when the race averaged 4.61 million viewers.

The combined peak audience of 4.31 million viewers is 10,000 viewers higher than one week ago, but still 31,000 viewers below that of the 2016 German Grand Prix! Last week’s highlights show on Channel 4 had stronger growth throughout the broadcast, which explains why there is a closer differential between the average and peak for Hungary compared with Germany.

Qualifying and Analysis
Coverage of a wet qualifying session performed excellently, with the highest audience for qualifying since 2015, and Channel 4’s highest on record.

Live coverage of qualifying aired across Sky Sports F1 and Main Event to an audience of 429k (5.7%) from 13:00 to 15:30, their highest ever audience for a Hungarian qualifying session. Sky’s audience was split 361k (4.8%) to 68k (0.9%) in the F1 channel’s favour. A peak audience of 779k (9.7%) watched the battle for pole position unfold at 14:55.

Later in the day, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.62m (12.9%) from 17:30 to 19:00, the broadcasters’ highest ever audience for a qualifying programme. Their show peaked with 2.12m (15.8%) at 18:40 as Lewis Hamilton splashed his way to pole position.

The combined audience of 2.05 million viewers is the highest for qualifying since the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It really was a weekend of highs, in just about every element where F1 and UK viewing figures are concerned.

Twitter trends are not the most reliable indicator, but I did find it interesting how F1 dominated the UK trends on Sunday afternoon, something that I have not said for an exclusive pay-TV race in years.

Overall, F1 is in an excellent position ready for the second half of the championship. Anecdotally, it feels like F1 is clawing back ground it has lost in recent years on both free-to-air and pay-TV. After the Summer break, F1 moves to Belgium where the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel continues…

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

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