How All Live is changing the face of rallying: foundations

Whilst many motor racing publications tend to focus on Formula 1 or MotoGP’s broadcasting exploits, elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, a quiet revolution has been taking place that deserves far more attention than what it has received.

To discover more, this writer took a trip up to Deeside to see what the fuss was about for a three-part series…

Unless you know your geography very well, Deeside probably does not register on the Richter scale. But, for one week each year, the world of rallying descends onto Deeside’s Industrial Estate, as it plays host to the service park for the Wales Rally GB. This year, the event signals round 11 of the 2018 World Rally Championship.

So why rallying, and why now? In January, organisers of the championship announced that they would be launching a new over-the-top platform, airing every stage of every rally live via said platform. It is easy to see why such a move could be a revolution for a sport that usually aired as highlights in a late evening time slot.

2018 is not the first time WRC’s promoter has attempted to broadcast every stage live to fans. Back in 2011, then promoter North One Sport experimented with an ‘all live’ approach, but the experiment lasted just one season.

Now with the commercial rights in the hands of WRC Promoter GmbH (a collaboration between Red Bull Media House and sportradar), 2018 marks take two at trying to transform rallying.

“We did have a little go at it in 2011, but the resources and technology were not ready for ‘it’,” Kevin Piper tells me. Piper is currently Editor in Chief for WRC’s television output, and has worked on the championship for the past decade. “Everything has come together now; the promoter has taken a calculated gamble and hopefully it is paying off.”

Marko Viitanen, who is WRC’s television director, was involved in the 2011 test and could see the potential from the outset. “At that point I kind of knew as a director ‘this is the way’ to do rallying live, but it took some time. I must say that the promoter today had a really good vision.”

Up until 2018, rally fans had access to selected stages live, along with the traditional 26- and 52- minute highlight programmes. Arguably, in a 21st century media age where fans are viewing live sport on a variety of devices, rallying was some way behind the curve.

2018 Wales Rally GB - Service Park.jpg
M-Sport Ford mechanics repair Sebastien Ogier’s car following the first stages on Friday morning during the Wales Rally GB.

In his previous role, Piper worked on the 52-minute highlights package, a task that became trickier as time progressed. “Sport is best delivered live, whatever the sport, especially in this day and age when the technology is there to enable you to do that,” Piper says.

“Everyone knew what had happened already, so we always had that battle of ‘what should the editorial slant be’ on the highlights, when it’s going out a few days after the event had finished.”

“We were forever reinventing that programme, to not lose too much of the credibility and respect for the sport and the fact that there was an event at a world championship level that had happened, but this holy grail of trying to appeal to a wider audience, that proves to be really difficult.”

Monte Miracle
After a successful internal test in Portugal last year, series organisers ploughed ahead with the new product, dubbed ‘All Live‘ ready for launch in 2018, starting with the traditional curtain raiser, the Monte Carlo rally. At just £7.97 per month, the pricing is a steal for hardcore and casual rallying fans alike.

The first stages from Monte Carlo take place on a Thursday night, up in the mountains at the service park in Gap in less than ideal conditions. Series bosses wanted to launch All Live on the Thursday night, which they followed through successfully on, but Piper expressed some early reservations.

“I would think very carefully about Thursday nights in Monte Carlo, which will probably go down as one of the most testing, challenging productions I’ve been involved with ever. We knew that Thursday night, up there among the mountains, would be challenging to say the least, hell, it’s a big enough challenge as it is when the landscape is on your side!”

“But that night, to launch this All Live product, I said ‘don’t do it.’ Play safe, launch on Friday morning, okay you’ve still got the terrain to contend with, but the conditions will be a lot more user friendly,” Piper says. “The decision was taken and, to be fair from a logical point of view, we’ve called it All Live therefore it has to do what it says on the tin and cover all the stages.”

“People were understandably frustrated and criticised us on the night as there were technical problems, but they could have also quite rightly criticised us for not living up to the billing and not being on the start-line on Thursday night.”

“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.” – reviewing All Live post Monte Carlo

Viitanen was under no illusions about the challenges that lay ahead. “People in our crew come from circuit racing, and they’re stunned about the fact how difficult rallying is. Rallying, All Live, is probably the most difficult production from a technical perspective. The tech setup spreads wide.”

“You can imagine Monte Carlo, the distance between Gap and the last stage is 170km in birds eye view, and then you have obstacles like mountains to contend with.”

Nevertheless, Viitanen was extremely happy with the work that his team put in that weekend under testing circumstances. “To be that good in Monte, we were not even close to perfect there, we did pull out a miracle,” he tells me.

Beyond the stage
Whilst the main attraction of All Live is having every stage live, the cherry on top of the cake comes in the form of action between the stages, as All Live gives fans access to the rally from dusk to dawn.

Helped by a dynamic on-air team, All Live features studio interviews from stars past and present, including the rich and famous. Nicky Grist (formerly Colin McRae’s co-driver), Sami Hyypia (football manager and player) and Gary Mitchell (led the team involved in the Thailand cave rescue) were some of the names to pop by the studio for a chat during the Wales weekend.

Grist also joined All Live’s lead commentator Becs Williams in the commentary box on Friday morning in Wales to chat through the action.

2018 Wales Rally GB - production truck
Inside the World Rally Championship production truck at their Deeside base during the Wales Rally GB, with Kevin Piper and Marko Viitanen (centre left and centre right respectively) in full flow.

Elsewhere, the platform focuses on the service park part of the rally, with roving reporters on stand-by, which has for many been one of the revelations this season. “For me, and I knew this right from the word go, what really brings a lot of added value to All Live is the insight you get from when the cars are not running, when they are in service, when there is a roadside repair,” says Piper.

Speaking to me on the Friday in Wales, Piper continued “Today was a great example in the service park, a battle against the clock to get a full gearbox change done on [Sebastien] Ogier’s car. You could have logged in, wherever you are in the world, just as that started, I defy anybody to turn that off.”

Piper hopes that, by exposing previously unseen parts of rallying via All Live, rallying can attract a new demographic of fans moving forward. “There are so many facets to this sport, different terrain, different drivers, different characters, different elements on any one given day.”

“I love my football and I love my Formula 1, but you kind of know what you’re going to get with that. Here, from one hour to the next, the storylines and characters can change, different drivers enjoying different fortunes, car rebuilds,” Piper added.

“I’ve always thought of All Live as not only for the core fans but it’s actually for the younger generation, bringing the sport to the people and WRC to their mobile devices,” Viitanen adds. “€89.99 for the whole year, it is a treat for that price. I’m really happy with the way that people have taken to the product. I was talking to some of the drivers the other day, and I think this is the best thing media wise that has happened since TV came to WRC. This has great potential.”

WRC officials tell me that they are “very happy” with the take-up of All Live worldwide, outperforming expectations in a variety of territories, which bodes well for the future of the product, as they look to evolve All Live heading into 2019.

For Viitanen, 2018 is a mix of the old and the new. “This first year is a hybrid one for us, every event is a learning curve. We’ve brought in a lot of new developments during the year, both technically and on the content front,” comments Viitanen, who is also the managing director of production company NEP Finland.

“We’ve come a hell of a long way since Monte,” Piper adds. “What the technology guys here have done is quite extraordinary, and no one at home ever sees that. We never stop learning and reinventing the wheel.”

Saturday in Turkey
Roaming around the service park in Deeside, three words cropped up repeatedly: Saturday in Turkey. Labelled as one of the most dramatic rallying days in years, title contenders Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier retired from the Turkish rally, with difficulties also for Andreas Mikkelsen and Craig Breen, decimating the running order.

Toyota Yaris driver Ott Tanak took full advantage of the problems that befell the others, heading to the top of the leader board. All of that in the space of a few hours. And, for the first time, broadcast live for rally fans to watch as it unfolded in front of their very eyes, showing the capability that All Live brings to the table. No longer did rally fans have to wait until the evening highlights package to witness the action.

“If you enjoy motor sport, I defy anybody to tune into All Live for five or ten minutes and not think ‘wow, this is great, I’m part of the journey, I’m in there now!'” Piper tells me. “And that’s just the actual stages.”

Although All Live is a live product, the benefits of it stretches far beyond All Live and into the highlights output. “When I worked on the ITV’s F1 coverage, the highlights basically cut themselves, there were no surprises,” says Piper.

“Whereas here, before All Live, because of the incredible footprint of WRC, if a car had gone off 100km from here, it’s not until we get it back and see the on-board, you realise ‘jeez, what happened there!’ That then becomes an important part of that day’s highlights. Now we see pretty much all of it and more.”

For the team working on the 26- and 52- minute highlights programming, the difference between 2017 and 2018 is night and day. James Parnis is the producer for the 52-minute highlights programme.

“Right now, as we sit here, we’re watching it all unfold!” says Parnis, talking to me during the Wales Rally GB weekend. “We know the shots already that we want to use, and we’re able to keep across the story much better than before.”

“In Turkey, when Neuville had his incident and limped into service, we had live shots of him standing there watching Ogier’s roadside problems! In terms of how All Live and the highlights work, they work very much in tandem.”

Inevitably there is a resourcing challenge with All Live – a similar budget and level of expertise compared to previous years, but a much bigger operation, meaning that everyone both on and off-air has had to rise to the challenge presented.

“It is more challenging with the long hours,” Viitanen says. “It feels like work when you’ve sat there 25 hours in front of the screen, but on the other hand, it’s fascinating. You’re telling the story for the whole weekend, and in the end, TV is about telling stories to millions of fans worldwide.”

Coming up in part two, we take a deep-dive into the World Rally Championship production area, looking at the effort that goes into the planning phase, including the pre-event recce.


Scheduling: The 2018 United States Grand Prix / Japanese MotoGP

“And Lewis Hamilton is a five-time Formula 1 champion!”

Well, nearly. Just 56 laps on Sunday stand in the way between him and potentially his fifth Formula 1 championship. The United States Grand Prix airs live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1, with Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event also getting involved in the fun.

If Hamilton wraps up the championship in America, it will almost certainly be the final time the F1 championship is finalised live on free-to-air television, until at least 2025 because of the new deal that comes into effect from 2019 onwards.

There are several points of note for Channel 4’s coverage this weekend. As in previous years where they have aired an American round live, Friday practice airs on More 4. In a decision from the sensible scheduling department, motor racing film Rush, which focuses on the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda airs following practice two on More 4.

Channel 4 is also transitioning from practice three on Saturday straight into their live qualifying show, with a 90-minute build-up currently scheduled. I should note that provisional schedules suggested that a Lewis Hamilton special would air from 20:30 to 21:00, but that has not materialised in the final schedule cut.

On the personnel front, Tom Clarkson is Lee McKenzie’s super-sub for this round, whilst Martin Brundle returns to the Sky Sports F1 commentary box after a two-race absence.

Over in Japan, Marc Marquez has the chance to become MotoGP champion for the third year in succession, with all the action airing exclusively live on BT Sport 2.

Channel 4 F1
19/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (More4)
19/10 – 19:55 to 21:35 – Practice 2 (More4)
20/10 – 18:55 to 23:35
=> 18:55 – Practice 3
=> 20:30 – Qualifying
21/10 – 18:00 to 22:15 – Race
=> 18:00 – Build-Up
=> 18:40 – Race
=> 21:15 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
19/10 – 21:35 to 00:00 – FILM: Rush (More4)

Sky Sports F1
19/10 – 15:45 to 17:50 – Practice 1
19/10 – 19:45 to 21:50 – Practice 2
20/10 – 18:45 to 20:15 – Practice 3
20/10 – 21:00 to 23:30 – Qualifying (also Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 21:00 – Pre-Show
=> 21:55 – Qualifying
21/10 – 17:30 to 22:10 – Race
=> 17:30 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky One)
=> 18:30 – On the Grid (also Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 19:05 – Race (also Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
18/10 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Driver Press Conference
18/10 – 23:00 to 23:30 – Welcome to the Weekend (also Sky Sports Main Event)
20/10 – 23:30 to 00:00 – The F1 Show (also Sky One and Sky Sports Main Event)

BBC Radio F1
18/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
19/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
20/10 – 21:55 to 23:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
21/10 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Japan (BT Sport 2)
19/10 – 00:45 to 08:15 – Practice 1 and 2
20/10 – 01:00 to 08:15
=> 01:00 – Practice 3
=> 04:00 – Qualifying
21/10 – 00:30 to 07:15
=> 00:30 – Warm Ups
=> 02:15 – Moto3
=> 04:00 – Moto2
=> 05:30 – MotoGP

MotoGP – Japan (Channel 5)
22/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Asia Talent Cup – Motegi (BT Sport 2)
19/10 – 08:15 to 09:15 – Race 1
20/10 – 08:15 to 09:15 – Race 2

Euroformula – Barcelona
20/10 – 13:30 to 14:30 – Race 1 (BT Sport X2)
21/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)

Formula Renault Eurocup – Barcelona
20/10 – 11:30 to 12:45 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
21/10 – 15:45 to 17:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport X2)

International GT Open – Barcelona (BT Sport X2)
20/10 – 14:30 to 16:00 – Race 1
21/10 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race 2

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Hamilton’s Suzuka dominance peaks with three million viewers

A peak audience of three million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton continue his Formula 1 winning streak during last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, overnight viewing figures show.

As referenced in previous articles, overnight audience figures are known as ‘live and VOSDAL (video on same day as live)’, meaning that the figures account for anyone who watched the race before 02:00 the next morning. Figures exclude those who watched via on demand platforms such as All 4 and Sky Go.

Channel 4’s live airing of the race from 05:00 to 08:35, covering the build-up and the race itself, averaged 617k (21.8%), peaking with 1.13m (26.2%). This is the first time Channel 4 have aired Japan live, meaning that the comparison is with BBC One’s coverage in 2015. Their average audience decreased by 33.3 percent, with the peak audience by 26.8 percent.

Of note, Channel 4’s build-up to the race struggled badly relatively speaking, averaging 163k (13.1%) from 05:00 to 06:00, compared with 432k (41.7%) for the equivalent BBC One slot in 2015, a consequence of Channel 4 opting to split their race day programme into three sections, which is larger than usual here.

Live coverage also aired across three of Sky’s outlets to a combined weighted audience of 412k (14.4%), an increase of nearly 150,000 viewers compared with their 2015 average across two channels of 276k (10.9%). Sky’s coverage peaked with 725k (15.9%) at 07:40 across Sky Sports F1, Main Event and Sky 1.

The dedicated F1 channel brought in 337k (12.0%) from 05:00 to 08:30, with Main Event adding a further 81k (2.5%), joining Sky Sports F1 on-air from 06:05. An audience of 21k (0.8%) watched Sky 1’s simulcast from 05:30 to 08:30.

A combined peak audience of 1.84m (40.4%) watched Channel 4 and Sky’s live airings as Hamilton won the Grand Prix, this figure including those that watched the live broadcast later in the day. At the time of the split, the audience was split 61:39 in Channel 4’s favour. In comparison, the live airing in 2015 across BBC and Sky peaked with 2.00m (48.8%), a decrease of 9.1 percent.

In an early afternoon time slot, 874k (10.7%) watched Channel 4’s highlights programme from 12:30 to 15:15, a decrease of 39.5 percent on the BBC’s highlights programme from 2015. Channel 4’s show peaked with 1.17m (13.4%) at 14:40.

Whilst Channel 4’s figures are not great compared to previous Japanese races, compared to their own slot averages, the live F1 broadcasts will have brought in four or five times their usual breakfast audience, so one may consider the figures a success based on those metrics.

The combined average audience of 1.90 million viewers is the lowest for Japan on record, and considerably down on last year’s average audience of 2.42 million viewers, and back in-line with 2016’s average of 1.97 million viewers. It is the lowest average audience since France, which averaged 1.60 million viewers.

Across both live and highlights, the Suzuka round peaked with 3.01 million viewers, a decrease on last year’s figure of 3.28 million viewers, but a comfortable increase on the 2016 peak audience of 2.79 million viewers, when the race aired exclusively live on Sky Sports.

Like the race, coverage of qualifying aired live across Channel 4 and three of Sky’s television outlets.

Channel 4’s live broadcast of qualifying averaged 439k (16.9%) from 06:00 to 08:35, with Sky’s coverage averaging 237k (8.6%) across a slightly shorter time slot. 199k (7.2%) watched their programme on Sky Sports F1, whilst both the Main Event and Sky One simulcasts averaged an identical 19k (0.7%).

Across both channels, a peak audience of 1.25m (25.8%) watched the live qualifying broadcast, the audience split 844k (17.5%) versus 403k (8.3%) in Channel 4’s favour as Hamilton grabbed pole.

Later in the morning, highlights on Channel 4 brought in 442k (7.0%) from 10:30 to 12:35, peaking with 655k (10.0%) at 11:55.

Compared to previous years, qualifying struggled, with a combined average audience of 1.12 million viewers, the lowest average for Japan in 2007. The combined peak audience of 1.90 million is down on last year’s peak figure, but an increase on the 2016 peak audience of 1.84 million viewers.

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

Formula Two and Sky Sports F1: embedding one into the other

Next year marks twenty years since Formula Two joined its bigger brother on the European tour. Back in 1999, the leading Formula 1 feeder series was known as International Formula 3000 and featured future Formula 1 names such as Nick Heidfeld and Enrique Bernoldi.

Formula 3000 evolved into the GP2 Series in 2005, before GP2 itself became Formula Two in 2017. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg achieved glory in both GP2 and Formula 1, whilst a further seven GP2 champions progressed to the elite of motor sport.

Despite playing host to the future of motor racing, the feeder system has never quite received the level of attention one would expect, from both Formula One Management (FOM) and broadcasters alike, especially when compared to how the MotoGP system works. However, the tide is shifting…

The current UK broadcasting picture
As part of the package created to entice fans in the run up to the 2012 season, Sky Sports created a dedicated Formula 1 channel, also encompassing the GP2 and GP3 feeder series. GP2 had previously aired on ITV4, Setanta and Eurosport.

But Sky’s contribution to both championships has been historically lacklustre, with little promotion. There have been one-off features with drivers, in addition to segments during the studio based F1 Show in the early years, but nothing consistent across the course of a season since.

Sky’s attitude has changed very little towards the feeder championships, and has arguably got worse as 2018 has progressed. Under Scott Young’s leadership, Sky added colour to their Formula Two coverage, with a pre-recorded introduction to each session from Simon Lazenby.

The broadcaster has also given the series more prominence via their social media channels and website, as well as recording features with the British stars currently racing in Formula Two.

However, the inexcusable decision to prioritise The F1 Show over Formula Two at both Hungary and Russia was a major blot in their copybook, and shows where priorities lie for certain elements of Sky’s production team. Fans pay to watch racing cars, not talking heads. Yes, Sky may have improved the social media aspect, but I cannot defend the scheduling decisions in any way. I worry that this could continue into 2019…

ITV4’s coverage of GP2 in 2008 remains the pinnacle from a feeder series perspective. Back then, ITV4 aired around 15 minutes of build-up and post-race reaction for Saturday’s feature races, featuring pre-recorded interviews and analysis, with Charlie Webster presenting and David Croft on commentary.

Unfortunately, with the wider Formula 1 rights changes at the time, ITV4’s coverage lasted one season. Although their coverage had some flaws from the outset presentation wise, ITV showed what broadcasters could attempt, rather than something that comes across as being token at times.

The current Formula One Management picture
Whilst we talk about the lack of promotion Sky Sports have given the feeder championships over the years, Sky do not take all the blame, as the same statements apply for Formula One Management.

Formula Two has historically had a very small social media footprint, with Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM giving both championships little attention. If you think F1’s social media span was poor, multiply that by a hundred or thousand for the feeder championships.

The problem was getting worse with each passing year, but the tide is shifting. The takeover of Formula 1 by Liberty Media resulted in a social media overhaul. F1 benefited last year, with Formula Two starting to see rewards this season.

Formula Two and GP3 scheduling in 2018
A problem for any broadcaster wishing to cover the feeder championships: inconsistent scheduling throughout the race weekend, with start times fluctuating rapidly week-by-week.

Formula 1 now regularly cross-references their sister series across social media, and since the Summer break, videos have been uploaded to F1’s YouTube channel from each Formula Two race weekend.

The duel between future British stars Lando Norris and George Russell in Monza came at a perfect time for FOM, with Norris announced as one of McLaren’s 2019 drivers just days later. Their battle has since had nearly a quarter of million views on Formula 1’s YouTube channel, an excellent number for the series.

Rosanna Tennant and Will Buxton now contribute to the World Feed, with Tennant in pit-lane, and Buxton providing the top three interviews from parc ferme, resulting in a neat, all-rounded feed for broadcasters to pick up. Alex Jacques continues to lead the commentary team, with his and Davide Valsecchi’s enthusiastic commentary perfectly appropriate for Formula Two.

One un-referenced championship is the GP3 Series, which serves as the feeder series to Formula Two. GP3 has yet to receive the same level of attention as its bigger brother, as GP3 is being merged with the Formula Three European Championship to form International Formula 3 in 2019.

As always, there is work to do to continue to boost the profile of Formula Two, but that will come in time when all parties are on the same page…

Scheduling a major problem, but there are workarounds
However, there is a fundamental problem which is, in my view, stifling potential growth opportunities for the feeder championships. The best comparison is with MotoGP. Formula 1 has Formula Two and the GP3 Series as its feeder categories; MotoGP has Moto2 and Moto3 as its support acts.

On Sunday’s, the gap between the end of Moto2 and the start of the MotoGP race is just under an hour, compared to a three-hour gap between Formula Two ending and Formula 1 starting. Think about how that not only impacts bums in seats at home, but also the amount of people watching in the grandstand, and the perception it gives those on the outside.

From the inside, MotoGP feels like a product that encompasses Moto2 and Moto3 as its little brothers, which cannot be said for Formula 1. This is a problem that Liberty Media have inherited, although whether Formula 1 considers this a problem internally is a different question entirely. Some may argue that it is better the Formula 1 way.

Sky Sports F1 – Mock-Up Schedule
10:30 to 12:15 – LIVE F1: Practice 3
12:15 to 13:00 – REPLAY F2: Qualifying
13:00 to 15:25 – LIVE F1: Qualifying
15:25 to 17:00 – LIVE F2: Race 1
17:00 to 18:00 – LIVE: From the Paddock
18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook

Formula One Management’s scheduling of the feeder championships is inconsistent throughout the season (see table above), which could cause broadcasters problems if they wanted to create a regular schedule moulded around the support categories. The Porsche Supercup disturbs the schedule on a Sunday morning, a situation that is unlikely to change until Porsche’s legacy contract with FOM expires at the end of 2019.

If Porsche is here to stay, something needs to give to allow for a tighter schedule on Sunday, whether that involves shorter races, fewer races, or a complete rejig of the support schedule package. The single-seater support championships cannot remain detached in the long-term from Formula 1.

And, if Liberty Media do not care about Formula Two’s scheduling during a race weekend, why should TV broadcasters dedicate time, resource, and money into providing their own wrap-around coverage to the feeder championships like MotoGP’s broadcasters do?

Sky may have no control over the weekend scheduling, but they absolutely do have control over their own schedule. Sunday is a tougher cookie to crack, but with some work, Sky can integrate Formula Two into their Saturday schedule.

Anyone who visited this site in the early days will know I discussed revamping their schedule in-depth back then, but it is worth a revisit now that Sky now has a new person at the helm.

There are numerous ideas that should be on the table, such as:

  • Airing a replay of Formula Two qualifying between F1’s third practice and qualifying, instead of ‘filler’ material
  • Seamlessly going from F1 qualifying to the Formula Two feature race, instead of treating it as a separate show
  • Airing around 15-minutes of pre-race build-up, with post-race analysis over-spilling into their new 17:00 show
  • Cross-promotion during the F1 qualifying build-up
  • Re-branding The F1 Show fully to integrate the feeder series, allowing for a greater variety of segments

The same principles apply for Friday’s, where Sky should be looking to stay on-air from the start of Formula 1’s first practice session through to the end of GP3 qualifying, using the gaps between sessions to analyse the action and to chat to the drivers at the heart of the action.

If anything, Sky should drop Welcome to the Weekend on Thursday afternoons, whilst the paddock show on a Saturday evening should focus on the personality of the drivers, rather that the personality of the talent presenting the show.

Look to the outside
You only need to look elsewhere in the UK motor racing television spectrum to find two networks who embed their feeder series to the benefit of the overall product. The British Touring Car Championship support programme typically features races such as the Renault UK Clip Cup and Ginetta Juniors, in both single-seater and tin-top action.

ITV4 takes advantage of the BTCC’s rich offering, airing seven hours of coverage on Sundays from 11:00 through to 18:00, as it has done for the past decade. Steve Rider presents from start to finish, ITV providing a package that benefits all within the paddock.

In the pay-TV world, BT Sport airs live coverage of Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP from Friday morning through to Sunday evening, with wrap-around coverage provided by the likes of Suzi Perry and Gavin Emmett.

BT gives ample coverage to the feeder series, providing a clear linkage and harmony between the three championships. Their coverage feels natural, although sensible scheduling from Dorna helps MotoGP’s broadcasters. The broadcaster uses the Friday lunch break to their advantage, with extensive analysis and interviews from voices you rarely hear from.

Sky could use the gap on Friday’s in the same way, using it to speak to Formula Two and GP3 drivers we would never normally hear from. Sky may argue that this goes against the grain of efficiency savings, I would argue that Formula 1’s leading feeder series featuring the stars of tomorrow deserves better treatment off them than what it is currently getting.

The point of embedding the two better means that the feeder series, and its stars, reach a wider audience, which has a positive knock on effect when that star reaches Formula 1. Detaching the two in the long-term results in ‘unknown’ stars making Formula 1, of course, they are known, except the fact that they are in another series elsewhere on Sky’s F1 channel goes unnoticed.

Several years from now, when Lewis Hamilton retires, Norris, Russell and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will be at the forefront of Sky Sports F1’s coverage. But the journey to build them up, and by proxy the other stars that progress through Formula Two is an everlasting journey, showing why Sky need to intertwine the series through their regular programming rather than treat it as an isolated slate on the side.

Formula Two’s viewing figures on Sky are nothing stellar, and they never have been. “What you put into life is what you get out of it,” is a famous quote and it applies perfectly for this situation. Sky have, proportionally speaking, not given the feeder championships much attention, so have received very little in return.

If Sky start to give Formula Two a chance to show its worth, and try to embed the series into its weekend schedule, they might just get something good out the other end, with higher viewing figures their reward. But, for that to happen, they need to make the first step and try it in anger…

Russian Grand Prix struggles to bring in the viewers

Lewis Hamilton’s victory at the Russian Grand Prix struggled compared to the first two-thirds of the 2018 season so far, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Comparisons with previous years should be taken at face value and in the context of the slot the race was in. In 2014 and 2015, the race occurred in October, before moving to an April slot for the 2016 running. Now, the Grand Prix moves back to late-September.

In addition, last year’s race aired live on Channel 4, whereas this year the broadcaster aired highlights, as they did in 2016.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 490k (6.0%) from 11:00 to 14:30, their highest average for Russia since 2015. An average of 490,000 viewers in isolation looks low compared to other races this season, but is a reasonable number for Russia.

Nevertheless, it is Sky’s third lowest average of 2018, only ahead of Australia and Austria. In 2016, Sky’s coverage from Sochi averaged 470k (4.9%), with last year’s shared coverage bringing in 447k (4.5%).

For whatever reason, the Sochi race has never traditionally brought the punters in, whether it is because viewers know the race track is poor, or whether it has been simply unlucky with other competition.

One reason Russia may be unusually low is because of its start time, which caught viewers out again this year, as Sky’s audience increased throughout the race. The race started at 12:15 with 778k (10.3%), climbing past 800k at 12:35 and peaking with 918k (10.2%) at 13:35.

The peak audience of 918k is Sky’s second highest ever for Russia, only behind 2014 which peaked with 985k (8.2%) when BBC One also aired live coverage. This year, the competition was the bi-annual Ryder Cup golf tournament, which will have taken some viewers away from the Grand Prix.

Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor left Channel 4’s highlights programme picking up the scraps on Sunday evening. An audience of just 1.82m (9.1%) tuned into their show from 18:45 to 21:00, the broadcaster’s lowest F1 race day number since Austria in July.

Channel 4’s broadcast peaked with 2.32m (12.1%) at 19:15, just before the dancing started on BBC One. There might be an argument here that Channel 4 should have scheduled the F1 from 16:45 to 19:30, which the current contract allows them the privilege of doing so. Saying that, the qualifying number throws this train of thought into the river…

The combined average audience of 2.31 million viewers is the lowest for Russia on record, down 4.1 percent and 2.4 percent on 2016 and 2017’s average audiences. Whilst not a good number, the audience figure is not abnormal for Russia, either. The combined peak audience of 3.24 million viewers is also a low for Russia, a decrease of 0.2 percent and 5.8 percent on 2016 and 2017 respectively.

In a year where viewing figures have continued to decline on the whole for qualifying, the pattern continued in Russia.

Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 232k (3.6%) from 12:00 to 14:35, an increase on last year’s figure of 197k (2.6%) when Channel 4 also aired the action live, but down on their 2016 audience of 275k (3.6%).

Channel 4’s highlights programme from 16:30 to 18:30 averaged a low 867k (7.5%), one of their lowest ever audiences for qualifying. Sporting competition was tough for them last Saturday, facing both the Ryder Cup on Sky Sports F1 and coverage of Chelsea versus Liverpool on BT Sport.

Sky’s programme peaked with 472k (6.8%) as Valtteri Bottas clinched pole, with Channel 4’s show peaking with 1.35m (10.7%) later in the afternoon.

The combined audience of 1.10 million viewers is the lowest ever for Russia, and the lowest for qualifying since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.

Formula 1 was lucky to have a close championship race, throughout the Summer months, keeping audiences engaged during the latter stages of the World Cup and through into Belgium and Italy.

Now, as Hamilton drives off into the distance, the wheels appear to be falling off the wagon, and not for the first time either. Time will tell as to whether viewing figures can recover for the final hurdle towards Abu Dhabi.

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