Channel 4 “open” to showing F1 highlights from 2019 – Chandhok

Channel 4 would be “open” to broadcasting Formula 1 highlights in the UK from 2019 onwards, if such a package became available to them. That is the view of their analyst Karun Chandhok, who has worked with Channel 4 since their coverage began in 2016.

The free-to-air broadcaster currently airs half of the championship live, with the remaining portion of the season aired in highlights form, a deal that will end following the 2018 season. From 2019, Sky Sports will air Formula 1 exclusively live, however live coverage of the British Grand Prix and highlights of all qualifying and race sessions will be available on a “free-to-air” basis, in a deal believed to be worth just shy of £1 billion across the six seasons.

As noted at the time of the announcement, it is unclear what free-to-air means in this context, whether Sky intend to air content on Pick TV (available to all Freeview viewers) or sub-let that element to another broadcaster, such as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5.

Speaking to The F1 Broadcasting Blog, Chandhok said “If Channel 4 can do a highlights package, with a bit of pre and post-race analysis, then I think they would be open to at least a conversation. They’ve been very happy with the eyeballs they’ve had for F1. They really enjoy having F1 on their channel, from what the executives have been saying.”

Sky’s lead commentator David Croft believes that the new television deal is not “doom and gloom” for UK F1 fans. “You’re not going to get as many live races free-to-air, there will be one race live and free-to-air. But you’ll still be able to watch Formula 1 free-to-air without subscription in a highlights package.”

“It’s not doom and gloom. I find that if you pay for something, you tend to watch it more closely. For sponsors and teams, you may get fewer people watching, but more intently,” Croft continued.

Participation issue worrying for motor sport
One concern around the new UK TV contract that starts in 2019 is that it may result in less viewers watching Formula 1, and Chandhok is concerned that the true effects of the deal for motor racing may not appear until a generation into the future.

“The motor sport industry in the UK employs thousands of people, many of whom are fans of the sport, whether you’re a mechanic, engineer, designer, PR person, journalist, whatever you are, you started off watching F1 on TV as a fan,” Chandhok said. “And unless you’ve got the people being inspired to get involved in the sport, you could end up with a dangerous participation issue, ten to fifteen years down the line.”

Chandhok made the comparisons to test cricket, which has suffered since live coverage moved to pay-TV. The most recent Ashes series between Australia and England, which aired on BT Sport, did not bring in as many viewers as expected.

“Test cricket moved to satellite a few years ago, but now they’re starting to have a problem with participation of school kids, because the kids are not watching cricket on free-to-air, and nobody is inspired to be the next Joe Root or Nasser Hussain,” Chandhok added.

“The kid isn’t going to be the decision maker [to pay to watch live sport], their parents will be. If the parents decide they are not interested enough, or can’t afford to pay for it, then those kids are automatically excluded.”

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Scott Young appointed Sky’s new Head of F1

Sky have appointed Scott Young as their new Head of Formula 1, succeeding Martin Turner in the role. Market intelligence site Sportcal revealed the news before Christmas, and I have independently confirmed the story with various sources during the past week.

The name will be unfamiliar to most readers as Young’s career, until this point, has largely been associated with Australian motor sports. Young’s broadcasting career spans well over three decades, concentrating on motor sport television production from the late 1990’s onwards with Network Ten.

In 2011, he became Head of Television with V8 Supercars, bringing in what is known as the “hamburger cam” and high-definition coverage to the sport. He left the role at the end of 2015, with V8 Supercars undergoing a behind the scenes overhaul affecting more than just Young.

A little over two years later, and Young is now heading to the UK, to work on Sky’s Formula 1 coverage. Speaking about Young to this site, Sky’s F1 lead commentator David Croft said “I’m really excited by Scott coming in. He’s got a wealth of experience in motor sport coverage, working over in Australia with the V8s and Formula 1 quite a long time ago. He’s very well connected, knows people in the paddock, and has some great ideas for 2018.”

“Martin [Turner] was a brilliant boss, and I think Scott will be a brilliant boss as well. Sky have taken their time to choose the right man to come into what is a very important job, as the Head of F1. He’ll get everyone’s support and backing and I think he’ll do a bloody good job,” Croft continued.

Young arrives at Sky during an interesting period, as Sky look to produce their F1 output from their Osterley base instead of on-site at the race track, a technique known in the industry as ‘remote production‘.

Croft praises outgoing Head of F1
Sky’s outgoing Formula 1 chief Martin Turner held the reins from inception at the end of 2011, through to the middle of last season. And speaking to me during the Autosport Show, Croft believes that Turner’s initial moves to bring the squad together helped immensely in the long-term.

“Martin put together the team in a genius way, of very different people, all of whom I think are very good at what they’re doing, none of whom actually want to do what anyone else is doing. All of whom get along with each other like friends, almost like a family. I hope that comes out on-air, if we’re mucking about on-air, or cracking gags at each other, that’s what we do off-air as well.”

“There’s no pretence, we’re just a happy bunch of people travelling the world doing something we really love. Martin and the producers brought together creative people, hard-working people, talented people,” Croft added.

“It’s the best team I’ve ever worked with. Things have changed a bit since the first race, some staff have left, some have come in. There’s no conflict or friction behind the scenes, and I think that’s really important for the show.”

Croft: Mini sectors risked “ruining the jeopardy” of F1 qualifying

At the start of the 2017 Formula One season, Formula One Management (FOM) added mini timing ‘loops’ to their graphics for the Australian Grand Prix qualifying session. However, mini sectors disappeared from television screens without trace for the remainder of the season. Speaking exclusively to this site at the Autosport Show, Sky Sports F1 lead commentator David Croft said that the graphic risked “ruining the jeopardy” of qualifying.

Each Formula 1 race track consists of three sectors, which are in turn split into mini sectors, FOM choosing to present mini loop information on-screen for the first time at the start of 2017. The new graphic enabled viewers watching around the world to see detailed splits for the driver in focus, such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s battle for pole in the Melbourne qualifying session. However, Croft amongst others did not see the appeal.

FOM graphic comparison - mini split with and without.png
With and without the mini sectors: on the left, FOM’s qualifying graphics, from the Australian Grand Prix, and later in the season from the United States Grand Prix.

“In the commentary box, you have Martin [Brundle] and I interpreting the timing screens for you, picking up where the stories are, building up the tension, using our vocabulary, helping you to become more involved and engaged in what is happening on the track,” Croft said. “Why do you need to see on a screen half way between the end of the second sector and the finish line whether someone’s going to get on pole or not? There is no tension involved in that.”

“It’s like going to see The Mouse Trap and half way through Act II someone telling you who did it, or someone spoiling Star Wars. Sometimes you’ve just got to keep the excitement, and have to keep the anticipation. You don’t open your Christmas presents on December 19th.”

Croft noted that he was not alone in his opposition to the new graphic. “I said to the guys at FOM when they brought this in, and Martin [Brundle] was of the same view, that you risked ruining the jeopardy of this. People can sit there and go ‘I need to know all of this information.’ It might be nice for a handful of people, but actually you’re spoiling the crescendo.”

“FOM took everyone’s feedback on-board, and made their own decision, which was to get rid of it. Have we missed them? I haven’t. If someone has missed them, tell me why.”

 

World Rally Championship to broadcast every stage live this season

The World Rally Championship will broadcast every stage live this season online, organisers of the series have confirmed, in the biggest revolution of coverage the series has seen in years.

Speaking at the Autosport Show, WRC’s commercial rights holder, led by Oliver Ciesla, said “From 2018 onwards, starting with the Rallye Monte Carlo, we will offer to the fans all the stages, of all the rallies live. This means approximately 25 hours of live content from every rally starting with the opening ceremony, covering the stages, in between the stages, going into the studio for analysis and interviews. As a fan, you can go in and out whenever your time allows.”

“The service will be available on WRC+. It is a revolution in how this sport is broadcast, you can imagine that covering rally on television is a tremendous effort, as we have to cover more than 300 stage kilometers, so we have helicopters, drones, a lot of exciting onboard footage,” Ciesla continued.

“The positive thing is the flexibility that the fan has. You can still watch the transmissions with the broadcast partners, and whenever time allows on this digital service. You take your mobile phone, you use the app, you take your computer, you come in, maybe you’re on the train or bus and want to watch. You can follow the rally whenever you want, wherever you are, live.”

“This is an absolute game changer in how rallying is covered.” Pricing for the new WRC All Live package is €8.99 a month, or €89.99 across the whole year. For UK fans, based on the current exchange rate, this works out at £7.97 a month, or £79.81 across the year, a very reasonable price considering the amount of content on offer.

Channel 5 and BT Sport retain UK TV rights
Speaking exclusively to The F1 Broadcasting Blog, Ciesla also confirmed that Channel 5 and BT Sport would remain holders of WRC’s UK rights.

“For 2018, the TV situation will be unchanged, and Channel 5 and BT are the broadcast partners in the UK,” Ciesla said. Ciesla noted BT Sport have the “option” to show every stage live as part of their contract, as do all pay-TV providers worldwide.

Channel 5’s highlights programming in 2017 averaged 283k (1.54%) according to overnight figures supplied by Overnights.tv, down on their 2016 audience of 343k (1.78%).

McLaren continues social media gains despite Honda relationship

The 2017 Formula One season saw the split of two brands after three painful years together. Re-entering Formula 1 at the start of 2015, Honda aimed to take McLaren back to championship winning ways. Just two and a half years later, and very little to celebrate, their marriage ended, with McLaren pairing up with Renault from 2018 onwards.

McLaren’s relationship with Honda has caused damage to their on-track reputation: their last podium visit was at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. But has the damage for both McLaren, and their lead driver Fernando Alonso, extended to off the track and onto social media?

The F1 Broadcasting Blog has analysed the number of social media followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that Formula 1’s teams and drivers have obtained going back to the middle of 2015, reporting on progress at checkpoints half way through the season and at the end of the season. Generally, you expect to see all metrics increase, as drivers become more popular throughout their career, growing their fan base. Similarly, fans may switch allegiances depending on which team their favourite driver heads to.

At this point, I hear you say “why are you not tracking engagement”, and maybe saying “the number of followers is useless if no one interacts with the brand.” Both points are equally valid. However, engagement data is not readily available in the public domain, and it would be extremely difficult to track and record the engagement data across three platforms, covering potentially thousands of different data points (platform, multiplied by 33 accounts, multiplied by individual statuses).

No two tweets generate the same amount of engagement. There is no “one size fits all” approach to presenting this data. For the moment, it is what we have, although I am open for other ways of analysing the data. I would argue that, as a measure of popularity, the number of followers one driver has compared to another is still an interesting statistic.

McLaren continues to rise, but at a slower rate of knots
In July 2015, McLaren reached 4.37 million followers across the three main social media platforms. Fast forward two and a half years, and that number has increased by 64 percent (or 2.79 million followers) to 7.16 million followers. In isolation, it feels like a good increase, and not one that suggests apathy from new fans engaging with the brand. Given the brand history of McLaren, it should be looking to grow at the same rate as its nearest rivals, such as Ferrari and Red Bull.

Interestingly, Ferrari’s number of followers over the same time has also increased by 64 percent, from 4.82 million followers to 7.90 million followers. So, despite having a much poorer period than their Italian neighbours, McLaren kept the pressure on, rising by an identical percentage from a similar baseline.

Social media - 2018-01 - F1 Teams

The problem for both Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes is the onslaught from Red Bull. The drinks company has increased their following by 113 percent, rising from 5.77 million followers in July 2015 to a whopping 12.27 million followers. Whilst still shy of Mercedes, their positive and fun social media strategy, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at the helm, has caused a surge in their following, bringing new fans to their outlets. As noted during the Summer break, Mercedes’ social media growth has slowed in the past year.

For allegedly such an important brand to Formula 1, Red Bull is now streets ahead of Ferrari in the social media game. And, to their credit, McLaren’s following has continued to rise despite their poor on-track performance. One of the drawbacks with this data is that we do not know the overlap of followers between teams. How many of Red Bull’s new followers are new Formula 1 social media followers? If the answer happened to be ‘the majority’, from a Liberty Media perspective, this is a group of people that they should be interested in tailoring their output to.

Hamilton wipes social media history as Raikkonen joins the fray
Fernando Alonso’s social media profile has also risen, but to a slower degree. Comparing Alonso’s performance across social media with other leading drivers on social media is difficult as there are only four other drivers who were in a similar situation in July 2015. They are Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.

Unsurprisingly, Ricciardo’s and Verstappen’s following has surged and both have increased in larger share and volume than Alonso. Alonso’s performance flat lined in the second half of 2017, but the gulf between him and the remainder of the field means that his social media position is not under threat. Of course, Hamilton is still comfortably out in front. For the moment…

Social media - 2018-01 - F1 Drivers

Following the gathering of the statistics behind this post, things went south for Hamilton, and his social media profile has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. As a result, the four-time Drivers’ Champion has wiped his complete Instagram account, and his Twitter account dating back to October 2013. If any of them disappear completely, his large profile of over 15 million profiles will be gone in a flash, and places a major dent in Formula 1’s social media presence.

We live in a bizarre world now where Kimi Raikkonen has more Instagram posts than Hamilton. No, that is not a misprint. Yes, the Finnish driver has joined Instagram, already amassing over 300,000 followers in a week, ahead of the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Ocon and Kevin Magnussen.

Outside of Hamilton, the Red Bull drivers and Perez, no one else stood out in the second half of 2017, in what was a quiet end to the social media year. The one team further down the field that impressed was Toro Rosso, who are on course to overtake Force India, a surprising development considering Toro Rosso was the lowest ranked team on social media just two years ago. Toro Rosso’s large increase is likely due to their driver rotations this year, bringing in a wider variety of fans as a result to their social media pages.

A long way to go for F1, and motor racing as a whole
Formula 1’s official social media pages have shown strong growth across 2017. Between March and November, their profiles grew by 39 percent, reaching 11.04 million followers, overtaking NASCAR during 2017. However, Formula 1 remains some way behind MotoGP overall, thanks to a significant gulf in following on Facebook, and is unlikely to overtake MotoGP for many years.

Social media - 2018-01 - Series

Liberty Media themselves have touted Formula 1’s growth on the official F1 website. Whilst F1 has indeed grown proportionally compared to other brands, their reach remains far, far lower. La Liga, which according to F1 has grown just under 30 percent year-on-year, has 34 million followers on Facebook, dwarfing anything motor sport has to offer.

The F1 website also points out Formula E’s growth on social media, which is amusing considering how it is not in the same category as any of the other major brands listed. IndyCar’s PR team may be mystified at how they have not made the list considering it has a far greater social media presence than Formula E and grew their number of followers by 33 percent between March and November.

Proportionally speaking, F1’s following is spread equally between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, something Liberty needs to work on changing as Facebook is a far bigger platform than Twitter and Instagram. Different content works for different audiences across the three platforms, and that is something F1 needs to explore further in 2018 if it is to unlock the potential that Facebook presents.