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.”


Looking ahead to 2018

Heading into 2018, there are several stories which promise to keep bubbling away during the next twelve months, some of which have significant relevance to UK readers.

new look Formula 1 will greet fans at the start of the 2018 season, both on and off the track. On track, we say hello to the Halo. Will the introduction of the cockpit protection system cause a ratings drop worldwide for F1, or will audiences continue to be enticed by the machinery on offer?

Off the track, F1 unveiled its new branding at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will be rolled out across all forms of media at the start of 2018. How will fans react to the new visual on-screen look? Friendly, more playful is the intention, we wait to see if fans like what they see come Melbourne, if not earlier.

Also, Formula 1’s new over-the-top services are highly anticipated, which should launch in a number of countries. Sean Bratches publicly confirmed the service during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but early 2018 will see firm details unveiled, such as pricing and content. Will an entry level tariff allow F1 to reach new fans and markets? Will the platform make a noise to start with if the initial user base with access is low?

With an over-the-top network comes personnel. Will Formula One Management poach personnel from their existing broadcasters’, or bring new pundits into the sport? Will we see the likes of Will Buxton and Jason Swales (both part of NBC’s former F1 line-up) play a part?

In the UK, as readers are aware, Sky Sports hold exclusive television rights from 2019 to 2024, marking a significant shift in the market. However, is there appetite from them to sublet a highlights-only package to a free-to-air station, allowing Formula 1 to continue to reach the masses? As it stands, 2018 will be Channel 4’s third and last season covering Formula 1.

We should also in the first half of 2018 find out which UK broadcaster will air MotoGP from 2019 onwards. BT Sport’s contract expires at the end of 2018. They are expected to retain the rights, but it is not a nailed on certainty, and Eurosport could still steal back the premier motorcycling sport.

So many questions unanswered as we head into 2018. If you love your broadcasting news, do not change the channel…

Channel 4 F1 vs Sky Sports F1: Your 2017 Verdict Revealed

The 2017 Formula One season was Channel 4’s second year covering the sport, and Sky Sports F1’s sixth season, in a static season on the UK broadcasting front. Of course, that all changes again soon ready for 2019.

This site offered readers the opportunity to comment on all aspects of their broadcasting, along with how Formula One Management have performed this year, following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 24 comments have since appeared, so thanks to all who have contributed.

Inevitably, it is difficult for broadcasters to keep things fresh in their second season with higher expectation, but readers such as Oskar and Jamie believe that Channel 4 continued to impress. I agreed especially with Peter‘s comment about their coverage:

I’ve found the Channel 4 team to be a real delight. Steve Jones is a really affable and light hearted presence to a sport that can sometimes take itself too seriously. I really didn’t know what to think of Jones when he was announced as C4’s lead presenter two years ago but to me he’s been a real gift. Coulthard, Webber and Chandhok are quite simply superb – intelligent, informed, eloquent and all with a great charisma and humour to them. Susie Wolff talks sense all the time and acts as the perfect foil to Jordan’s somewhat interesting perspectives.

The verdict was negative towards Jordan from a number of readers, more so than in previous years, with michaelpassingham saying that Jordan is “doing damage to Channel 4’s reputation”, and their Formula 1 coverage as a result.

Andy and Jonathan Teague felt the same way about Jordan, the former going further by saying that F1 is not one of Channel 4’s good programmes. Others believe that Channel 4’s coverage continues to remain on-top:

Sport to them is scarce, yet sacred. Of course they neglected it at times, like in Brazil, but when live, it’s clear to see the enthusiasm they have for Formula 1, because they’re new to it. – Max Turner

I’ve subscribed to Sky F1 since its launch, but watch Channel 4 EVERY time they have a race live as their presentation and team have, for me, a much fresher and entertaining feel. – SDA

One thing that Sky has which Channel 4 does not is Martin Brundle, and that remains the number one reason for many readers continuing to watch Sky’s coverage. Alessio Dimaria says that Brundle “still has the same enthusiasm and passion as he did when he first started.”

Dimaria also noticed Nico Rosberg’s punditry during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, noting that it was “a breath of fresh air” to have him part of Sky’s output

Overall, I prefer Lazenby’s gang to the Jones gang. David Croft is an able commentator, and is well supported by Anthony Davidson and Paul Di Resta in the practice sessions. Ted Kravitz is unsurpassed in the pit lane and paddock, and his Notebook is one of the highlights of the weekend for me. For the race I usually switch on in time for Martin’s gridwalk, and he is still the best in the business when it comes to co-commentary. – PhilR

1: Brundle, knows what’s happening and has the right broadcasting demeanour for every occasion. The grid walks are getting more tricky but that’s probably more to do with FOM directives on drivers than anything else. And 2: Ted Kravitz. How anyone can spend 30 minutes walking through a busy paddock looking at a notebook, being distracted and making an entertaining piece of TV every time always leaves me in awe. – ToneXIR

2017 was Liberty Media’s first covering the sport, and Max Turner believes that Sky failed to sufficiently refresh their coverage to reflect the new ownership and direction. As Turner eloquently says, “Solid becomes boring and the viewer looks elsewhere — and there is somewhere else for half of the season.”

I’m not sure if that’s their style personally, or whether it’s the Sky tendency to turn everything into a ‘saga’. I’m sorry to say I genuinely don’t think Simon Lazenby and Paul Di Resta entertain. I’m sure they’re decent guys trying to do a decent job, and their stuff is informative. But I just don’t think it quite works. And despite their considerable resources, it’s the Sky team that looks a bit threadbare compared to 2012. – Lesmo

Not everything agrees with Lesmo on Lazenby, PhilR believes he has “much improved over the last two seasons.” Elsewhere, the Formula Two commentary pairing of Davide Valsecchi and Alex Jacques received much deserved praise from Max Turner. Stateside, Jeff Bartenslager believes that the move of Formula 1 from NBC to ESPN will turn out to be a “big mistake” for the sport.

As always, the above is just a taster of what readers are discussing, and to be honest, there are a plethora of good opinions worth reading.


F1 Verdict - 2017 WordCloud full

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F1’s UK television audience stabilises in 2017

Formula 1’s viewing figures dropped slightly year-on-year, following on from last year’s significant decline, overnight audience numbers show.

> Both Channel 4 and Sky record marginal drops
> Anti-climatic championship fight hurt audiences
> Combined audience lowest since 2006

2017 was Formula 1’s second season on Channel 4, coverage was shared with Sky Sports. The viewing figures in this article are overnight average audiences supplied by for Channel 4’s and Sky Sports’ broadcasts, including Sky Sports Main Event and Mix where applicable. Sky’s numbers are for their three-and-a-half-hour broadcast covering ‘Pit Lane Live’ and the race itself from 12:00 to 15:30, or applicable. Channel 4’s numbers broadly follow the same pattern, excluding their post-race reaction show.

Viewing figures presented in this piece exclude viewers who watched via the likes of Sky Go, Now TV and All 4. The numbers also do not include audiences who did not watch Formula 1 on the same day. Overnight audience figures are known in the industry as ‘Live + VOSDAL’ (video on same day as live). So, if you chose to record Channel 4’s highlights programme to watch on a Monday morning, you are excluded from the overnight audience numbers. Overnight figures are still important, especially for sports programming which fans view live, or as close to live as possible.

Radio audience figures are reportedly separately by RAJAR, and use a different methodology compared to television, meaning that you cannot compare BBC’s 5 Live audience figures with the television figures presented in this piece.

Channel 4’s overnight figures
In 2017, Channel 4 aired ten races live, with the remaining ten races airing in extended highlights form. Their race day coverage in 2017 averaged 1.87 million viewers, a decrease of 4.5 percent on last year’s average audience of 1.96 million viewers. Their live programming averaged 2.13 million viewers, with their highlights shows bringing 1.62 million viewers to the channel. Year-on-year, Channel 4’s live shows dropped by just 2.5 percent, whilst their highlights output decreased by 8.1 percent.

The season highlight for Channel 4 came towards the end of the season, with live coverage of the United States Grand Prix averaging 2.78m (12.8%) in peak time. One week later, Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth world championship, resulting in an audience of just 968k (13.0%) watching Channel 4’s Brazilian Grand Prix highlights programme in mid-November.

Channel 4’s problem in 2017 was with the way they started the season, with double-digit drops for four of the first ten races. Once you start off from a low base, it is very difficult to recover that position. For the first half of the year, only Spain and Europe were the stand-out races compared with 2016, both increasing their audience figures by around 10 percent. The post-Summer break period offered more promise as Channel 4’s race day programming increased for five races on the bounce from Italy through to USA.

An average peak audience of 2.63 million viewers watched Channel 4’s programming, a decrease of 4.5 percent year-on-year. For the first time since Channel 4 started their coverage, however, the broadcaster recorded a peak audience of over 4 million viewers, with the US Grand Prix. USA was the stand out, with all of Channel 4’s other peak audiences below 3.5 million viewers, a disappointment considering three races were above the same last year. Behind USA, were Bahrain and Malaysia, both peaking with 3.42 million viewers.

Sky’s overnight figures
Now in its sixth year as Formula 1’s main broadcaster in the United Kingdom, Sky Sports’ viewing figures continued to ebb and flow, with little upsurge. Live coverage of Sky Sports’ race day programming in 2017, excluding Paddock Live, averaged 652,000 viewers, a slight decrease of 2.5 percent on last year’s average audience of 669,000 viewers.

An average of 699,000 viewers watched Sky’s exclusive coverage, whilst 605,000 viewers watched Sky’s programming when shared with Channel 4. In the pecking order for Sky, 2014 stays on top with an average audience of 790,000 viewers watching Lewis Hamilton’s third world championship; 2012 a distant second on 709,000 viewers. Sky’s other four seasons remain closely clustered together between 635,000 viewers and 670,000 viewers.

The highlight for Sky in 2017 was the Mexican Grand Prix, which averaged 1.09m (4.8%) in prime time, helped by Hamilton winning the championship on that day. Like Channel 4, Sky had a strong mid-season run, with eight consecutive races from Canada to Singapore peaking with over one million viewers, a strong run for the pay-TV platform. As a result, an average peak audience of 1.03 million viewers watched Sky’s programming across the season.

For Sky, it is likely that their Now TV and Sky Go platforms have seen increased demand compared with 2016 and before, although figures for these platforms are not available in the public domain. With only one year left though before the major switch over to pay-TV, there are no substantial signs that viewers are migrating over from Formula 1’s free-to-air product to Sky’s pay-television product despite having the access to do so.

Overall audiences
During 2017, a combined average audience of 2.52 million viewers watched Formula 1’s race day action across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, a decrease of 4.0 percent on last year’s average audience of 2.63 million viewers. F1 has lost exactly a third of its UK television audience since it left the BBC in 2015. The BBC’s television audience in 2015 was 3.74 million viewers, meaning that 2017 results in a 33 percent drop. Like last year, this year’s audience will be the lowest for Formula 1 since at least 2005.

A year that promised so much failed to deliver a spectacular championship decider. The headlines do not tell the full story, and I feel that is the case here. The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel enticed viewers, with Spain (up 6%) and Europe (up 10%) proving that point. However, their on-track battles were too infrequent to have an overarching impact. To go from a sizzling race in Baku to a cold race in Austria was to the detriment of the championship.

2016 started off on a low-note, with Formula 1 victim to a warmer Spring than usual in the UK: the season opening Australian Grand Prix lost 17 percent of its audience year-on-year. Sometimes audiences take time to arrive, and you need several good races for fortunes to turn. After Baku, the following four races failed to bring in the viewers. It was not until the Italian Grand Prix where viewing figures increased compared with 2016. And then, came the Singapore Grand Prix which ultimately decided the outcome of the championship.

What followed Singapore was a brief resurgence as Hamilton strolled his fourth championship, but audiences plunged for the final three races in Mexico (down 43%), Brazil (down 23%) and Abu Dhabi (down 20%). If you were to, hypothetically speaking, add 30 percent to the audience for the final three races, viewing figures across the entire season would be equal with 2016. One move decided the fate of the season, and with it probably sent millions of viewers around the world switching off their television sets for the final hurdle in the Formula 1 season.

However, where Formula 1’s viewing figures drop, it remains firmly head and shoulders above the rest of the motor racing pack thanks to its exposure which no other series has in this country. On four wheels, only Formula E comes close with live coverage on Channel 5, and as documented elsewhere on this site, it is struggling to pick up a significant following. To put it into context, F1’s 2017 season average of 2.62 million viewers is ten times higher than Formula E’s 2016/17 season average of 280,000 viewers.

Is Formula 1 set for a shock in 2018?
We talk about a ‘new era’ every season, it feels like. 2019 on the broadcasting front in the UK heralds a new era with Sky Sports taking full control of Formula 1’s television rights. Before then, there is the small matter of 2018 to plough through. And with that, the Halo. Safety first, aesthetics second in this instance, with the much-derided cockpit protection system coming into force from the 2018 season.

F1 has survived, and flourished, upon major rule changes. But, arguably, the Halo is the biggest aesthetic change that F1 has seen in generations, changing the ways that cars fundamentally look to fans at home. I can write words about Hamilton versus Vettel: Part II all I want, but if the reaction is negative by media and fans, I fear that viewing figures could be set for another shock in 2018.

Halo is not meant to look attractive, that is not its purpose (you can read about the positives of the Halo elsewhere, this is not the place for that). From a broadcasting perspective however, are casual fans less likely to watch Formula 1 because of this system? The answer, in my view, is likely to be yes.

How many viewers will turn off Formula 1 because of the Halo in 2018, we do not know. But, the viewing figures for the Australian Grand Prix next March may give Liberty Media an unpleasant surprise…

F1 2017 swan song peaks with 3.5 million viewers

A peak audience of 3.47 million viewers watched the 2017 Formula One season finish on a whimper in the UK, overnight viewing figures show.

With both championships decided prior to Abu Dhabi, audiences were down across all metrics on Channel 4 and Sky Sports over the weekend.

Live coverage of Channel 4’s full programme, on air from 12:00 to 16:30, averaged 1.53m (15.1%), down on last year’s equivalent full-slot average of 2.25m (19.1%). The race itself from 12:00 to 15:10 averaged 1.86m (18.7%).

Sky’s average audience was down by 28 percent year-on-year. Their programming in 2017 averaged 454k (4.6%) on Sky Sports F1, with a further 97k (1.0%) watching on Sky Sports Mix. However, Sky should take solace in the fact that their audience is up on the 2015 average audience of 399k (3.0%), which occurred in similar circumstances.

The combined average audience of 2.41 million viewers is the lowest for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on record. Compared with 2015, the average audience is down by around 200,000 viewers. In the context of the season, 2.41 million is slightly below the average, but up on Mexico and Brazil, neither of which were live on free-to-air television.

The race started with started with 2.90m (29.5%) at 13:00, hovering around 3.1 million viewers for the duration, climbing slightly after 14:00 to reach a combined peak audience of 3.47 million viewers (30.8%) at 14:35 as Valtteri Bottas won the final race of the season.

At the time of the peak, 2.66m (23.6%) were watching on Channel 4, with 811k (7.2%) watching via Sky Sports F1 and Mix, a split of 77:23. Last year’s coverage peaked with 4.99m (38.3%), a drop of 30 percent year-on-year, arguably less than expected given that there was little to fight for in the final race of the season.

Channel 4’s live coverage of qualifying aired from 11:55 to 14:45, and averaged 945k (11.7%). Sky Sports F1’s programme added a further 319k (3.9%) from 12:00 to 14:35, resulting in a combined audience of 1.26 million viewers. The peak audience of 2.01 million viewers (22.2%) came at the end of qualifying, down around 14 percent on last year’s peak audience of 2.34 million viewers.

As in previous years, this site will in forthcoming weeks analyse the 2017 Formula One viewing figures picture from a UK audience perspective: increases, decreases, the peaks and the troughs, and what lies ahead for 2018.

The 2016 Abu Dhabi ratings report can be found here.