Scheduling: The 2017 Australian Grand Prix / Qatar MotoGP

A changing of the guard has occurred in Formula 1 over the winter. A champion retired on top of the world. A mass-media corporation ousted an elder statesman, who grappled with the sport for a lifetime. The machinery has become faster, louder and maybe even sexier.

The Formula 1 roadshow that greets us next weekend for the Australian Grand Prix is a significantly different one to the one that left us last November in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, for everything that changes, some aspects remain the same.

Channel 4 and Sky Sports have retained broadly the same line-up as last season. Steve Jones will continue to lead Channel 4’s line-up, with the likes of David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Karun Chandhok providing analysis. Over on Sky, Simon Lazenby begins their sixth season of covering Formula 1 as presenter, Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill are nearby as always in the wings.

The major change for Sky this season is that former Williams technical director Pat Symonds will provide commentary on a number of races alongside Brundle and David Croft. It will be interesting to see how Sky uses Symonds during the race itself, whether they will use him throughout the race or in the quieter phases only.

Over on the BBC, Jack Nicholls returns as 5 Live lead commentator with Allan McNish, Tom Clarkson, Jennie Gow and Mark Gallagher again completing their line-up. Nicholls will miss the Hungarian round this season due to his Formula E commitments. On the scheduling front, note that Friday’s timings are half an hour earlier than previous years, so practice one starts at 01:00 UK time, whilst Sky’s weekend coverage is simulcast on Sky Sports 1. For those with ultra HD, F1 will be available in 4K for the first time through Sky Q.

MotoGP also makes its return next weekend, with Channel 5 providing highlights on Monday evenings, replacing ITV4 in this respect. BT Sport will continue to cover the championship live, with Suzi Perry presenting live for 11 of the 18 races including the opening race of the season in Qatar. Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder will again be covering commentary this season, whilst the likes of Gavin Emmett and Neil Hodgson will be down in pit lane.

NOTE: Clocks go forward one hour on Sunday 26th March, with the change from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time. The times listed are for GMT on Saturday and before; BST for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4
Sessions
25/03 – 13:00 to 14:50 – Qualifying Highlights
26/03 – 14:00 to 16:40 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
24/03 – 00:30 to 02:45 – Practice 1
24/03 – 04:45 to 06:55 – Practice 2
25/03 – 02:45 to 04:10 – Practice 3
25/03 – 05:00 to 07:40 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
26/03 – 04:30 to 09:10 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – Race
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
22/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Report: Australia Preview
23/03 – 04:00 to 04:30 – Driver Press Conference
23/03 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Australia
24/03 – 07:00 to 07:30 – Team Press Conference
24/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – The F1 Show
29/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Report: Australia Review

BBC F1
Sessions
21/03 – 20:30 to 21:30 – Preview, Part 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview, Part 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live)
24/03 – 00:55 to 02:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/03 – 04:55 to 06:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/03 – 02:55 to 04:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/03 – 05:55 to 07:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/03 – 05:00 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Supplementary Programming
20/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Crash and Burn: The Story of Tommy Byrne (BBC One Northern Ireland)
=> also 27/03 at 21:00 on BBC Four

MotoGP – Qatar (BT Sport 2)
23/03 – 14:00 to 19:45
=> 14:00 – Preview
=> 15:00 – Practice
24/03 – 14:45 to 18:45 – Practice
25/03 – 14:30 to 18:30 – Qualifying
26/03 – 13:45 to 21:00 – Races
=> 13:45 – Warm Ups
=> 15:30 – Moto3
=> 17:15 – Moto2
=> 18:45 – MotoGP
=> 20:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Qatar (Channel 5)
27/03 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

As always, if anything changes, the above schedule will be updated.

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News round-up: Sky linked with MotoGP; F1 App updates for 2017

In the news round-up, more speculation on where MotoGP could be going next, whilst the official F1 app is given an early Spring clean ready for the 2017 season.

Sky set to take MotoGP off BT Sport?
A report from Bikesport News has linked Sky Sports with MotoGP’s UK rights, which BT Sport currently holds until the end of 2018. In response to their report, Sky’s Euan Fordyce said, “I’m afraid we don’t comment on rights we don’t currently have, so we are unable to help on this occasion.”

I do not know what prompted the report, however given the amount of money BT Sport have splashed out to retain the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, it is not surprising to see Bikesport News’ piece.

Their piece does corroborate with what was reported on this site last month. It looks like the relationship between BT and Dorna is not as rosy as it could be, but I do not want to emphasise that point simply because media outlets reported the same on the BT/UEFA front, and we know what happened there…

Sky Sports were previously involved in MotoGP in the early 1990s under its previous mantra, with Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder providing commentary. The rights soon moved over to British Eurosport as Sky focussed on the Superbike World Championship

As of writing, there is no official news about who will be broadcasting MotoGP highlights in the UK, but expect some news on that front imminently.

Superbike action resumes
The World Superbike Championship was the first major international series to get back underway at the end of February live on Eurosport, and with it, there was a personnel change. Gregory Haines, who was lead World Superbikes commentator for Dorna in 2016, has moved over to Eurosport, succeeding Jack Burnicle as their World Superbikes commentator.

In the overnight viewing figures, the first round of the season from Philip Island peaked with 55k (6.2%) at 04:30 on Sunday morning (including VOSDAL) as the second Superbikes race of the weekend concluded. As a comparison, last year’s MotoGP race from the same track on BT Sport 2 averaged 126k (10.7%), peaking with 176k according to numbers supplied by Overnights.tv.

Elsewhere in the superbike world, ITV have extended their contract to cover the British Superbike series in highlights form until the end of the 2020 season.

F1 App updates for 2017
The official Formula 1 app has received an update ready for the 2017 season. Aside from an update to the user interface, there is no major change for readers. There was some confusion around whether the content will be different depending on location, however this site can confirm that users will receive the same content regardless of location.

On a related note, I mentioned last October that users in the Netherlands were testing a new version of an app featuring in-car footage during live sessions. This site understands that live in-car footage is still on the cards to feature, but at what stage during the season is unclear due to hurdles that need to be cleared. The delivery method also needs to be agreed with each broadcaster.

ITV F1 – twenty years on
ITV’s F1 coverage launched twenty years ago this week, with the 1997 Australian Grand Prix. As readers may have noticed, there has been a running theme so far throughout the year so far looking at various aspects of ITV’s coverage, including flashback pieces looking at past races (thanks to all who said that they would like to see these continue).

There is a lot of reading over here for those of you that fancy a trip down memory lane and want to relieve some more ITV F1 goodness.

Scheduling: The 2017 Barcelona test 2 on Sky Sports F1

Formula 1 is very quickly heading towards Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, but before then there is the small matter of the final test in Barcelona.

Sky Sports F1 will again have a 15-minute round-up on each of the four days, this time with Rachel Brookes presenting for Sky Sports News. David Croft returns with #AskCrofty at 21:15 on each day. There is also a 30-minute F1 Report special looking back at testing.

Elsewhere, although I am not restarting the scheduling pieces properly until the end of the month, I should note that the IndyCar Series returns next Sunday (12th March). Live coverage of the first race from the streets of St. Petersburg airs on BT Sport//ESPN from 16:30 to 19:00.

Tuesday 7th March
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 1 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15

Wednesday 8th March
20:15 to 21:00 – Day 1 Highlights (R)
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 2 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15

Thursday 9th March
20:15 to 21:00 – Day 2 Highlights (R)
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 3 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15

Friday 10th March
20:15 to 21:00 – Day 3 Highlights (R)
21:00 to 21:45 – Day 4 Highlights
– round-up at 21:00
– #AskCrofty at 21:15

Saturday 11th March
20:00 to 20:30 – F1 Report

If anything changes, the above schedule will be updated.

Update on March 11th – I know that test two has already happened, but I’m not in a position to publish the Australia schedule yet. So a note that there will be an F1 Report Development Special on Wednesday 15th March at 20:00 with Natalie Pinkham alongside Mike Gascoyne and Craig Scarborough. Tonight’s special for those wondering will be David Croft alongside Chris Medland and Jon Noble.

ITV and MotoGP part company ahead of 2017 season

ITV have confirmed this evening that they will not be showing MotoGP highlights this season, leaving MotoGP without a free-to-air home. Motorcycle News first reported this news on Monday.

In a statement to this site, the broadcaster said, “Unfortunately, ITV4 do not have the rights to the MotoGP this season.” As with Formula E, which ITV stopped showing at the end of the 2015-16 season, the broadcaster was understood to be paying very little to broadcast MotoGP highlights. The MotoGP highlights deal was struck just weeks before the start of the 2014 season.

One possibility is that Dorna have attempted to increase the asking price, with ITV instead choosing not to renew the contract. There is currently no word on who will show free-to-air highlights in 2017, but Channel 4 and Channel 5 are likely to be the leading contenders, having both increased their motor sport portfolios recently.

According to overnight audience figures supplied by Overnights.tv, MotoGP’s Monday night highlights programme on ITV4 averaged 285k (1.4%) across the 2016 season, compared with 306k (1.5%) in 2015 and 344k (1.7%) in 2014.

In related news, this site has also learnt that BT Sport and Dorna were close to signing a new MotoGP contract last November. At the last minute, Dorna did not sign the contract, and left the negotiating table. The assumption is that talks have since resumed, but I cannot confirm this.

You might be wondering why both parties have gone to the negotiating table early. BT Sport’s current deal expires at the end of 2018; however, there would have been an appetite from the broadcaster to renew before the UEFA Champions League rights tender started, so that an extended deal could be locked in place.

The result of the Champions League tender, which is currently ongoing and should be revealed early next month, could influence MotoGP’s future rights deal. A bigger pot of money going to UEFA from BT means less money for MotoGP. Similarly, should BT lose the Champions League (or pay less), MotoGP could end up with a bigger slice of the money pie.

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.