The alternative reality

The 2016 Formula One season comes to an end this weekend in Abu Dhabi, marking the end of Channel 4’s first season of covering Formula 1. But, the outlook could have been so much different. Here, this site looks at the alternatives that might have materialised.

BBC TV stay covering Formula 1
An unlikely alternative. BBC’s television coverage of Formula 1 had always been well received and applauded, but the problem was that it cost the corporation too much money. The licence fee settlement resulted in another round of budget cuts at BBC Sport, and Formula 1 was in the firing line. On December 21st, 2015, the BBC announced their television exit from Formula 1.

Had the BBC continued to cover Formula 1, I suspect production costs would have been slashed and the quality of the show would have decreased. Yes, viewing figures would be higher on the BBC than what they are currently on Channel 4, but viewing figures matter less to the BBC. Their obligation to Formula One Management (FOM) was to cover half the races live and half in highlights form, but they were not obliged to have high-quality build-up coverage, so could have cut the extras if they so desired.

It wouldn’t have been a popular move with the viewers, but if it kept F1 on the BBC, there might have been supported. As it turned out, the BBC did the right thing. In March, it was announced that Sky would be taking the exclusive live rights from 2019 onwards.

ITV take over Formula 1 from BBC
The major surprise was that ITV did not grab Formula 1 from the BBC and instead took horse racing from Channel 4. Horse racing provides ITV and ITV4 with a lot more hours than Formula 1 and is cheaper to produce. ITV were unwilling to broadcast Formula 1 without adverts, which is what swung the deal in Channel 4’s favour.

A return to ITV would have meant a return to Formula 1 being interrupted by commercial breaks. Beyond that, it is likely ITV’s coverage would have again been produced by North One Television as it was in 2008. Remember that Whisper Films and North One were the leading two contenders for Channel 4’s production contract. As we know, Whisper won that battle but had the two been battling over at ITV, chances are that North One would have grabbed the deal.

On the personnel side, ITV would have still faced the same hurdles as Channel 4: they would still need to fill their line-up within a very short two-month period. The talent pool wouldn’t change meaning that the ITV line-up would have been quite close to what we saw at Channel 4 with ex BBC faces moving over, alongside some new faces.

Channel 5, Eurosport or BT Sport
The three broadcasters listed above are unrealistic in an alternative reality. Channel 5 could have stepped in, except taking on Formula 1 for around £20 million a year would have hurt their overall budget significantly. Demographically, it would be a fantastic fit for the channel but the price range makes this an unlikely venture.

Eurosport and BT Sport were unlikely as a shared deal between them and Sky would take Formula 1 off free-to-air television, although BT could have committed to showing Formula 1 on their BT Sport Showcase channel on Freeview. Had Liberty Media’s acquisition of Formula 1 happened a year earlier, it would have made the landscape even more interesting: would Eurosport (owned by Discovery, who are in turn owned by Liberty) have splashed the cash to take Formula 1 exclusively from 2019 onwards? We’ll never know.

Sky’s exclusivity blocked by teams
Of course, Sky wanted to step in for the BBC as early as this year. Once Sky got wind that the BBC were planning to exit their TV contract at the end of 2015, the broadcaster made moves to try to secure Formula 1 exclusively from 2016 onwards. The contract featured a clause stating that, should the BBC exit, then Sky pick up the rights exclusively. As referenced in March:

When it became apparent in the run up to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last November that the BBC were set to terminate their contract, Formula 1’s teams are understood to have requested that Formula 1 remains on free to air terrestrial television in the UK in some capacity until at least the end of 2018. The concern for teams was that they would have difficulty persuading sponsors to stay on board with F1 behind a pay wall in the UK. This led to the sequence of events that saw Channel 4 step in and take over BBC TV’s rights from 2016 to 2018 inclusive.

Sky’s new deal from 2019 onwards was signed early after an onslaught from BT Sport, who attempted to take the rights away from Sky.

The only way the destination would change is if Channel 4 or ITV committed to a longer time frame when the signed the contract with FOM last December. However, that would have required Sky’s involvement, and given the amount of money they were prepared to lay on the table, I think the same conclusion would have been reached.

No matter what, the destination post 2018 remains the same: a deal with Sky showing every race exclusively live.

Formula E best of the rest as MotoGP season comes to an end

The 2016 MotoGP season ended on Sunday live on BT Sport, but was beaten by Formula E’s second round of its new season in Morocco, overnight viewing figures show.

Formula E continues solid start on Channel 5
Live coverage of the Marrakesh ePrix aired on Channel 5 from 15:30 on Saturday (12th November). The two-hour programme averaged 281k (2.1%), peaking with 443k (3.3%) at 16:40. Bearing in mind that Formula E was resoundingly beaten on ITV4 whenever it clashed with Formula 1, this is a solid number.

The Marrakesh event also holds the feat of being one of the most watched races so far in Formula E’s history, only behind the London ePrix and the inaugural Beijing ePrix. This shows that their deal with Channel 5 is already paying off, and helping the championship reach a larger audience than it could on ITV4. Formula E at the moment needs to take baby steps on Channel 5, to try to increase the audience.

However, Formula E’s numbers were lower than Channel 5’s slot average which might be concerning for the network. Formula E’s deal with Channel 5 is two years long, so there is time to improve numbers. The large calendar gaps won’t help, but hopefully Formula E can maintain a positive trajectory when it returns in February.

MotoGP bows out lower than 2015, but up on 2014
The 2016 MotoGP season has done as well as you would probably expect, given the way Marc Marquez wrapped up the championship several races early. Live coverage of the Valencian MotoGP averaged 107k (1.2%) from 09:30 to 14:15 on BT Sport 2. The MotoGP segment itself from 12:30 to 14:00 averaged 176k (1.8%), peaking with 234k. Unsurprisingly, overnight viewing figures are down around 45 percent on last year’s record high audiences for Valencia.

Across the season as a whole, the pattern is repeated year-on-year. BT Sport’s MotoGP race day programmes in 2016 averaged 114k (1.9%), compared with 132k (2.3%) in 2015 and 90k (1.4%) in 2014. The MotoGP portion of BT’s programming from 12:30 to 14:00 or equivalent averaged 181k (3.1%), compared with 212k (3.6%) in 2015 and 139k (2.0%) in 2014. Cal Crutchlow’s maiden victory in the Czech Republic peaked with a strong 282k, up 13.5 percent on 2015. The highest peak audience of 2016 went to Austin, which peaked with 325k.

It should not be a surprise to see 2015 with higher viewing figures: the season went down to the wire and would have hooked the attention of a broader range of viewers. On the other hand, 2016 was much more exciting than 2014 for MotoGP with nine different winners. I think the viewing figures are about where I would expect for BT. Not amazing, but not poor by any stretch of the imagination. As always, viewing figures do not include BT Sport’s app, nor MotoGP’s Video Pass which will make up a small portion of the difference year-on-year.

ITV4’s highlights programme continued to drop compared with 2014 and 2015. Their highlights programme, which aired on Monday nights, averaged 285k (1.4%) according to overnight viewing figures, compared with 306k (1.5%) in 2015 and 344k (1.7%) in 2014. A drop of 7 percent is smaller than the 11 percent drop experienced between 2014 and 2015. I don’t have the numbers to hand, but I believe ITV4’s viewing share is down as a whole, which may explain why MotoGP has followed that trend.

The combined UK audience for MotoGP is made up of BT’s MotoGP portion (90 minutes or equivalent) plus ITV4’s highlights. The total of 466k is a record low, down on both 2014 and 2015, which is slightly disappointing. I do think audiences would improve if ITV4’s highlights programme was better placed, or aired on the Sunday evening for European races, but I doubt BT would allow that. The same goes for BT with MotoGP as it does for Sky with Formula 1: both need to find ways to make their channels more accessible to the wider public, as pay TV audiences have stagnated. TV does make up a smaller piece of the pie than in previous years, but it is still an incredibly important piece of the jigsaw.

overnights.tv-bannersF1 

Scheduling: The 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix / Valencian MotoGP

One season just starting, one season coming to an end, and the other could see its world champion crowned this weekend. The Formula One season moves onto Interlagos for the Brazilian Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to continue his good form and take his championship battle with Nico Rosberg down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Sky Sports are live as usual, with no simulcasting this weekend on either Sky Sports 1 or Sky Sports Mix the race being simulcast on Sky Sports 1. So, the only way you can watch this one live (and legally) in the UK is with a Sky subscription or via Now TV. Channel 4’s highlights are at a more sociable time than USA, but they will be hoping for the championship to go to the season finale otherwise it will be the second season in a row where the championship decider has not aired live on free-to-air television.

Elsewhere, if you haven’t noticed there has been a lot of publicity related to Ross Brawn lately (he has a new book out, but I’m sure that’s not the reason…). Nevertheless, there is a half an hour F1 Report special with him discussing all things F1 with Natalie Pinkham in the lead up to Brazil (this follows a 5 Live F1 special that aired last week). BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage for 2016 comes to a conclusion in Valencia with Suzi Perry back in the presenting hot seat.

Lastly, Formula E’s season heads to Marrakesh with qualifying being broadcast live on Spike. Rather ridiculously, the race clashes with the Formula 1 qualifying session. However, there is good reason for the Marrakesh date: the United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Marrakesh next week. So, even though the date on the surface looks illogical, underneath there is very good reason for Formula E’s choice of date. Saying that, there was nothing preventing them from bringing the time of the race forward to avoid the direct clash.

Below are the full scheduling details for the weekend.

Channel 4 F1
12/11 – 20:00 to 21:30 – Qualifying Highlights
13/11 – 22:00 to 00:05 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
11/11 – 11:45 to 13:50 – Practice 1
11/11 – 15:45 to 18:00 – Practice 2
12/11 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Practice 3
12/11 – 15:00 to 17:45 – Qualifying
13/11 – 14:30 to 19:15 – Race
=> 14:30 – Track Parade (also on Sky Sports 1)
=> 15:00 – Pit Lane Live (also on Sky Sports 1)
=> 15:30 – Race (also on Sky Sports 1)
=> 18:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
09/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
09/11 – 21:00 to 21:30 – F1 Report: Ross Brawn Special
10/11 – 13:00 to 13:30 – Driver Press Conference
10/11 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
11/11 – 18:00 to 18:30 – Team Press Conference
11/11 – 18:30 to 19:00 – The F1 Show
16/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
10/11 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
11/11 – 12:00 to 13:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/11 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12/11 – 16:30 to 17:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13/11 – 16:00 to 18:06 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Valencia (BT Sport 2)
11/11 – 08:00 to 15:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 1
=> 10:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 12:00 – Practice 2
12/11 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
13/11 – 08:00 to 09:15 – Warm Up
13/11 – 09:30 to 15:00
=> 09:30 – Moto3 race
=> 11:15 – Moto2 race
=> 12:45 – MotoGP race
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Valencia (ITV4)
14/11 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Formula E – Marrakesh (online via Channel 5’s social media channels and YouTube)
12/11 – 07:55 to 08:55 – Practice 1
12/11 – 10:25 to 11:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Marrakesh
12/11 – 11:45 to 13:10 – Qualifying (Spike)
12/11 – 15:30 to 17:30 – Race (Channel 5)
13/11 – 09:10 to 10:15 – Highlights (Spike)

If anything is added, I will update the schedule.

Update on November 11th – Minor changes to 5 Live’s schedule and Sky’s coverage is being simulcast after all, thanks both in the comments for that.

Scheduling: The 2016 Mexican Grand Prix

This weekend sees Formula 1 return to Mexico in its second year back on the calendar after a successful debut weekend in 2015. The weekend could also see Nico Rosberg claim his first Formula 1 championship.

Channel 4 are running extended programming on Saturday, with their practice three show 95 minutes long and their qualifying programme a whopping three hours long. This partially makes up for the fact that their race programme is shorter than usual, due to the new series of Humans following straight after the race has finished. We could see Channel 4 “running off the air” as soon as a new world champion is crowned, which I hope doesn’t happen. Hopefully More4 is used in the event of that happening. The channel have Eddie Jordan and Mark Webber back with them this weekend.

Elsewhere, live coverage of the World Rally Championship returns to free-to-air television for the first time in over a decade with the Power Stage from the Wales Rally GB being aired live on Channel 5, as part of the agreement announced back in January. Channel 5’s live programme will be presented by Nicky Grist and Matthew Lorenzo; the latter name long-time readers will recognise well from Sky’s F1 Digital+ coverage back in 2002.

NOTE: Clocks go back one hour on Sunday 30th October, with the change from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. The times listed are for BST on Saturday and before; GMT for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4 F1
28/10 – 15:55 to 17:40 – Practice 1 (More4)
28/10 – 19:55 to 21:35 – Practice 2 (More4)
29/10 – 15:55 to 17:30 – Practice 3 (Channel 4)
29/10 – 18:00 to 21:00 – Qualifying (Channel 4)
30/10 – 18:00 to 21:00 – Race (Channel 4)

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
28/10 – 15:45 to 17:50 – Practice 1
28/10 – 19:45 to 22:00 – Practice 2
29/10 – 15:45 to 17:15 – Practice 3
29/10 – 18:00 to 20:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Mix)
30/10 – 17:30 to 22:15 – Race
=> 17:30 – Track Parade
=> 18:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 18:30 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
27/10 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Driver Press Conference
27/10 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
28/10 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Team Press Conference
28/10 – 22:30 to 23:00 – The F1 Show
02/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
27/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
28/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/10 – 18:55 to 20:35 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/10 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Malaysia (BT Sport 2)
28/10 – 02:00 to 09:00
=> 02:00 – Practice 1
=> 04:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 06:00 – Practice 2
29/10 – 02:00 to 09:15
=> 02:00 – Practice 3
=> 05:00 – Qualifying
30/10 – 01:30 to 03:15 – Warm Up
30/10 – 03:30 to 08:15
=> 03:30 – Moto3 race
=> 05:15 – Moto2 race
=> 06:45 – MotoGP race

MotoGP – Malaysia (ITV4)
31/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Euroformula – Jerez
29/10 – Race 1
=> 14:00 to 15:00 (BT Sport X3)
=> 14:05 to 15:15 (Motors TV)
30/10 – Race 2
=> 11:15 to 12:15 (BT Sport X1)
=> 12:05 to 13:10 (Motors TV)

Formula V8 3.5 – Jerez
29/10 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Race 1 (BT Sport 2)
30/10 – 12:15 to 13:45 – Race 2 (BT Sport X1)

World Rally Championship – Wales Rally GB
28/10 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 22:00 to 22:30 (BT Sport 2)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motors TV)
29/10 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 21:45 to 22:15 (BT Sport 2)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motors TV)
30/10 – Live: Stage 1 (BT Sport 1 / 4K)
30/10 – Live: Power Stage
=> 11:50 to 13:10 (Channel 5)
=> 12:00 to 13:00 (BT Sport 1 / 4K)
30/10 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 22:15 to 22:45 (BT Sport 1)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motors TV)
31/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

World Superbikes – Qatar (British Eurosport 2)
29/10 – 15:15 to 19:00 – Qualifying and Race 1
30/10 – 16:00 to 19:00 – Support and Race 2

Scheduling: The 2016 United States Grand Prix

17 down, four to go. For Nico Rosberg, there’s a very good chance that he could become Formula One Drivers’ Champion before Abu Dhabi if he secures a win in Austin this weekend. Elsewhere, the MotoGP championship was clinched by Marc Marquez in Motegi last weekend, meaning that the paddock will be slightly more relaxed than last year in Australia!

Sky Sports are airing F1 every session exclusively live, with the race being simulcast on Sky Sports 1. There is a special documentary on the F1 channel following the race entitled ‘Two Weeks to Win’ looking at Mercedes F1’s turnaround from the Spanish Grand Prix to the Monaco Grand Prix this season. The documentary was released by UBS in August and produced by Whisper Films, who of course also produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage (although a good handful of Whisper’s staff used to work for Sky F1). Either way, it is not a Sky produced exclusive.

For those of you without Sky, the bad news is that Channel 4’s highlights programme is not on until 23:00 which is frankly ridiculous. It is the latest a highlights programme has started since the shared deal started in 2012.In 2014, when the race started at 20:00, BBC One’s highlights programme aired from 22:30 to 00:00. So it isn’t that Channel 4 can’t do it, they’ve just chosen not to, instead scheduling a film premiere before the F1 from 21:00 to 23:00.

On the MotoGP front, Suzi Perry is presenting BT’s MotoGP coverage from Australia which is a nice bit of commitment from themselves, even if the timing is somewhat unlucky with the main title already wrapped up. I don’t believe this extends to their speedway coverage which is also in Australia, albeit a two hour drive away.

Channel 4 F1
22/10 – 22:00 to 23:30 – Qualifying Highlights
23/10 – 23:00 to 01:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
21/10 – 15:45 to 17:50 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Mix)
21/10 – 19:45 to 22:00 – Practice 2
22/10 – 15:45 to 17:15 – Practice 3
22/10 – 18:00 to 20:45 – Qualifying
23/10 – 18:30 to 23:15 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 18:30 – Track Parade
=> 19:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 19:30 – Race
=> 22:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
19/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
20/10 – 17:00 to 17:30 – Driver Press Conference
20/10 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
21/10 – 22:00 to 22:30 – Team Press Conference
21/10 – 22:30 to 23:00 – The F1 Show
23/10 – 23:15 to 23:45 – Two Weeks to Win: Mercedes F1
26/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
20/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
21/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
23/10 – 19:30 to 22:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Australia (BT Sport 2)
21/10 – 00:00 to 07:00
=> 00:00 – Practice 1
=> 02:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 04:00 – Practice 2
22/10 – 23:00 (Friday) to 07:15
=> 23:00 – Practice 3
==> extended following heavy rain on Friday
=> 03:00 – Qualifying
23/10 – 00:30 to 02:15 – Warm Up
23/10 – 02:30 to 07:15
=> 02:30 – Moto3 race
=> 04:15 – Moto2 race
=> 05:45 – MotoGP race

MotoGP – Australia (ITV4)
24/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 – Estoril (BT Sport 2)
22/10 – 13:15 to 14:00 – Race 1
23/10 – 10:00 to 10:45 – Race 2

European Le Mans Series – 4 Hours of Estoril (Motors TV)
23/10 – 13:10 to 18:05 – Race

Speedway Grand Prix – Australia (BT Sport 2)
22/10 – 09:45 to 13:15 – Races

V8 Supercars – Gold Coast 600
22/10 – 04:30 to 07:30 – Race 22 (BT Sport 1)
23/10 – 05:00 to 08:00 – Race 23 (BT Sport//ESPN)

As always, if anything changes I will update the schedule.