Analysis: Let’s talk about TMC

Typically, sporting events take place in confined spaces, such as football, tennis, and cricket. Motor racing in unique in its nature, it is unlike any other sport. Vehicles, on both two and four wheels, race around a large perimeter under timed conditions in the name of sport.

The latter is a greater logistical challenge than the former, on all fronts, including broadcasting the event.

In stadium-based sports, it is near impossible for the television director to miss the key action. The trajectory of the football determines what the director does next, a rule that applies for every single football match irrespective of whether it is the biggest game in the world, or the local Sunday league game down the road.

When you break it down like that, directing the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid is no different to directing the League 2 play-off final between Exeter and Coventry (notwithstanding the commercial requirements for both events). Both contain largely the same parameters.

A freelancer could direct a football match one week and a three-hour tennis game the next, without having specialist knowledge of either event.

In contrast, motor racing requires cameras at every corner to track the cars or bikes around the circuit. A director needs specialist knowledge of the track, the series, and the battles likely to emerge, which is an attribute you are unlikely to learn overnight.

“With motor sport, once you’ve gone around one corner, the cameras have got to be ready to pick up on the next corner, and so on,” explains Richard Coventry, who is British Superbikes’ television director.

“If someone makes a mistake, or goes to the wrong bike, then we’ve got to correct it and pick up further down the line. Motor sport is more difficult I would say to cover than field sport, although on a football match you can have upwards of twenty cameras, but you wouldn’t use them all in the same way.”

“In football, you could stay on the same shot for three or four minutes, it’s impossible to do that at a motor racing circuit unless you place a camera high-up at Knockhill!”

From local hosts to centralisation
Formula 1 races were produced by the local television broadcaster of the time up until the mid-2000’s.

The BBC directed the British Grand Prix until 1996, with ITV taking over from 1997. The direction varied dramatically from race to race. ITV were ahead of its time, others focused on the home town stars further down the field, and some simply struggled to cope with the ever-changing F1 world.

2018 Monaco GP - new tunnel camera.png
Looking towards Mercedes driver Valterri Bottas from the new camera position towards the end of Monaco’s tunnel.

Standards improved as Formula One Management wrestled control away from local broadcasters, giving fans a consistent view of the product throughout the year. The Japanese Grand Prix was the penultimate race to fall out of local control, Fuji Television last produced the race in 2011. One race though has remained with the local broadcaster: the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix.

Tele Monte Carlo continues to produce the Monaco round of the championship, meaning that the level of expertise on-hand is lower than at the other twenty races in the calendar. This has always been an issue but has become exasperated in recent years as FOM have centralised production.

Is it no coincidence that some consider Monaco to be one of the worst races in the calendar for action? Without turning this into a piece about the racing: yes, Monaco does not feature as much overtaking as other races on the calendar, due to the nature of the street circuit, which has been the case for years.

But, when fans have called as race ‘boring’, you need to ask what draws them to that conclusion. Formula 1 attracts in excess 50 million viewers worldwide per race, all of them watching the same World Feed. Fans can only judge the race based upon the angles the producer chooses to air.

We assume that the production team have chosen the best angles, based on the expertise of those around them. Most of the time, FOM does the job well, because they have the experts there. TMC however do not cover the sport throughout the year in the same way FOM does, and therefore do not have as many experts on-hand.

For all the criticism I do give FOM, their direction generally feels well-defined, whereas TMC’s product throughout the years during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend is rough around the edges.

On their Fan Voice site (login required), FOM have outlined how the split between them and TMC works. TMC are responsible for “directing the world feed, choosing where the cameras and microphones are, selecting which subject to follow, doing all the replays.”

In turn, FOM are responsible for “onboard cameras and all [of the] trackside infrastructure are our bag, as is all the official timing, the graphics.” The site also talks about the barriers this presents, such as the inevitable language barrier.

The Monaco problem
The problems for TMC encompass the entire weekend. Starting with practice and qualifying, TMC missed crucial laps, with Daniel Ricciardo’s initial lap record omitted from the World Feed, commentators having to refer to the timing screens to try to build the excitement level.

Following qualifying, it was clear where the two main storylines sat heading into the race. The first: would Ricciardo hold on to claim the victory that slipped away from him in 2016; and secondly, how far would Ricciardo’s team-mate Max Verstappen climb through the field?

From the very first lap, the trajectory of the direction went south. The timing graphics displayed a yellow flag symbol, indicating danger, following a collision between a Force India car and Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley.

2018 Monaco GP - hairpin exit.png
Daniel Ricciardo tackles Monaco’s Loews hairpin. This shot is fine, but the camera angles before and after are the same long distance shots as yester-year, with a focus on the surrounding advertising.

The symbol remained on-screen for the duration of the first lap, but TMC did not switch away from the leading contingent (although team radio from Hartley was played into coverage). At any other event, FOM would have jumped on-board with Hartley to show the viewers the extent of the damage, but not here. TMC’s World Feed output also did not capture the damage initially, FOM choosing to show this footage on its pit lane channel following its absence from the main feed.

It felt like the director was reluctant to switch attention away from the front-runners and towards Verstappen, failing to capture his moves on Ericsson and Hartley live. The on-screen timing graphics falling over at several points during the Grand Prix did not help, although it is unclear whether the blame here lies with FOM or TMC. But either way, it added to the poor presentation of the race, as a fan, I found it frankly frustrating to watch.

The timing pages should guide the production team towards the next on-track action, but TMC were seemingly not using this as a basis, something that became increasingly apparent in the latter stages as they failed to show how the likes of Esteban Ocon closed on the front-runners with relative ease. TMC failed to portray the sense of jeopardy that Monaco is meant to present.

On a brighter note, TMC were on-board Charles Leclerc’s Sauber as his brakes failed, smashing into Hartley’s Toro Rosso; whilst the introduction of a camera angle towards the end of the tunnel provided fantastic shots throughout the race weekend.

However, the ‘now available for live’ camera on the inside of Loews hairpin, was poor. The actual camera angle is good, but in the context of the camera angles before and after, switching from a camera angle with a car predominately in shot, to another predominately on advertising was jarring.

A good motor racing director can turn an average race into something watchable and engaging. A bad director on the other hand can persuade viewers to turn off an average race, and there is no doubt in my mind that TMC leans into the latter category.

Compared with motor racing, there are less variables with directing a football or tennis game, which makes the job of directing a motor race more critical than other sporting events.

If Liberty Media wants Monaco to receive a better rapport from fans watching the show, one step it desperately needs to take is to wrestle control off TMC, and to bring control of the Monaco World Feed in-house.

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A quick-fire guide to your motor racing streaming services for 2018

Over the years, this site has tended to cover television coverage more than other forms of media, with weekly television schedules whenever there is a Formula 1 race on. The site also has a dedicated page covering all the key UK television and radio contracts.

But, alongside your traditional methods, many championships allow you to watch their action online. Here, we look at what each championship offers directly to the consumer, bypassing the broadcasters, or not as the case may be. This article is aimed at UK readers, but the information may be useful for overseas readers as well.

Note – This is an experimentation post and may not cover every single series out there. Please leave a comment if you find this useful and would like to see this repeated in future with updated information.

Dorna Sports (review)
The commercial rights holder for MotoGP and World Superbikes, Dorna Sports have over-the-top platforms for both. Every session, including support races, airs live on the over-the-top platform with a dedicated on-site team. Full-length replays are available if you missed the action first time round, with the fan able to view the action from a variety of on-board camera angles. Access to the respective platforms also unlock MotoGP’s and World Superbikes’ rich archive.

Available via desktop, Android and Apple devices, the MotoGP package is priced at £174.36 for the complete season, or £44.45 in four instalments. The World Superbikes offering is considerably cheaper than MotoGP at £60.98 for the season, or £13.00 per month. Even considering the smaller calendar, on a per-race weekend basis, the MotoGP price works out at £9.18, whilst the Superbikes offering is just £4.69, a sign of their respective popularity.

Formula E
Despite being one of the newer series in this list, surprisingly the electric Formula E championship does not have an over-the-top platform. Fans wanting to watch the action can find some live coverage on Formula E’s YouTube channel, but the availability depends on territory. UK fans can watch live practice on their YouTube channel, but no further than that.

The geo-blocking restrictions are lifted after the session for practice and qualifying, whilst full races are made available several weeks after the race, although one might argue that they have lost their value by that point in time. The lack of an over-the-top platform currently may come and bite them back in a few years’ time, especially considering the recent developments from Formula 1.

Formula One Management
Announced in February, Formula 1 has confirmed that their streaming service will launch ready for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. At launch, F1 TV Pro will be available via desktop and will only contain Formula 1 coverage; with other devices, and the appearance of the feeder series’ coming later in the year.

However, UK fans will not have access to the premium version due to the television agreements already in place. Barring some form of new arrangement between Formula One Management and Sky, do not expect UK fans to be able to access F1 TV Pro until 2025. F1 TV Access though, is another question…

GT Sport Organisation
GT Sport created and is responsible for the Euroformula Open and the International GT Open, both of which air live in the UK on BT Sport.

As with other championships on a similar footing, GT Sport live streams the action on their two YouTube channels, covering qualifying and the race: EuroFormulaOpen and GTOPENseries. English commentary comes from Ben Evans, who fans in the UK may recognise from BT Sport’s IndyCar coverage.

IndyCar
Unlike Supercars below, IndyCar does not currently offer an over-the-top product for overseas fans of the championship. Race Control only extends as far as live timing, but no visual imagery is involved. However, its social media offering is comprehensive, with live streaming of its feeder Indy Lights series, as well as live action from practice via their various outlets.

For fans without access to BT Sport, the full US race programme from either ABC, ESPN or NBC is uploaded to IndyCar’s YouTube channel around four days after the event. With IndyCar’s domestic rights in the US changing for 2019 in NBC’s favour, the streaming picture could change as well.

SRO Motorsports Group
Not to be confused with GT Sport’s portfolio of championships, SRO Motorsports Group is the commercial rights holder for several of the leading GT championships worldwide. If you are into GT racing, the GTWorld YouTube channel, operated by SRO, is the place to be.

It is on YouTube where SRO live stream the likes of the Blancpain GT Series and the British GT, for free. In addition, the Blancpain website plays host to live streaming of the GT Series.

Supercars
Not in Australia? No problem. The Virgin Australia Supercars streaming service SuperView gives fans outside of Australia the ability to live stream, rewind and replay every Supercars qualifying and race session in 2018. The restriction that previously applied to the Australian Grand Prix weekend was lifted for 2018, meaning that all events are now available on the service.

Priced at £32.80 based on the current conversion rate for the complete season, SuperView is a steal if you are looking to watch some motor racing action at your leisure throughout 2018. With 16 races across the year, the series costs UK fans just £2.05 per race weekend.

World Rally Championship (review)
From 2018, rally fans can view every World Rally Championship stage live. For £7.79 a month, or £77.98 for a complete year, fans can watch every stage either live or on-demand across a variety of devices.

However, you can only do that up and until the next rally comes along: there is no way to view the ‘All Live’ content once it disappears from the schedule a few days after the event finishes. Whilst the live element is great, WRC’s over-the-top product is still rough around the edges which is worth bearing in mind if you are unlikely to watch the action in a timely fashion. Nevertheless, WRC’s pricing structure remain extremely good value for money.

Are there any other major championships that have streaming capability that I have not mentioned? Have your say in the comments below.

News round-up: F1 series coming to Netflix; IndyCar domestic rights changing

In addition to all the discussion around Formula 1’s new graphics suite, the past week saw a variety of broadcasting related announcements, covering both F1 and the IndyCar Series.

F1 documentary series to air on Netflix
Netflix are to air a ten-part documentary series in 2019 focusing on the inner surroundings of Formula 1. The deal between the two parties has been mooted for several months, with an official announcement coming on the Saturday of the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

Filming has already started, and will continue throughout the 2018 season, with the production team revealing “the intense fight for the heart, soul, and direction for the future of this multibillion-dollar business.” James Gay Rees, who was previously part of the making of Senna, and Paul Martin for Box to Box Films, are the executive producers.

The Netflix series builds on the foundations laid by Amazon’s Grand Prix Driver. The four-part Amazon series focused on McLaren’s pre-season exploits prior to Australia 2017, whereas the Netflix programming has a wider remit across the whole year. I enjoyed Amazon’s documentary, and if this is half as good as that, Formula 1 fans will be in for a treat.

Sean Bratches, F1’s Managing Director of Commercial Operations, said “Formula 1 is a global sport that we are actively repositioning from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand. This series will unleash a compelling vantage point to the sport that will delight fans and serve as a catalyst to entice new fans.”

Bela Bajaria, Vice President of Content for Netflix, said “This partnership with Formula 1 furthers our mission of working with world-class brands and production partners to produce best-in-class unscripted series. We can’t wait for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix and to embark on an incredible season across the world.”

In a second announcement from Formula 1 last week, the organisation confirmed that coverage was returning to free-to-air broadcaster CCTV in China, with all qualifying and race sessions airing live on the network throughout 2018.

ESPN’s US coverage receives complaints
Bratches’ former home ESPN was subject to numerous complaints over the Australian Grand Prix weekend. The US broadcaster, which took over from NBC as rights holder for Formula 1, was expected to take Sky UK’s pre-race build-up show ‘On the Grid’. However, the show failed to make the air at the expected time, with a variety of technical issues.

ESPN released a press statement late on Sunday evening apologising for the difficulties. “We deeply apologise to Formula 1 fans for the technical issues that caused them to miss the first 20 minutes of the pre-race show for the Australian Grand Prix. We are sorry that our first F1 telecast did not go as smoothly as we would have liked but we are taking steps to prevent those same issues from occurring in the future.”

The secondary problem is commercial breaks. Formula 1 commentary in the UK is free-flowing, as Sky Sports air F1 uninterrupted, whereas ESPN in the US take commercials. This is a major issue if something happens whilst ESPN is on a commercial break.

Historically, US viewers had a dedicated commentary team for their audience meaning that the lead commentator could re-cap the action on return. Forcing Sky’s UK commentary team to do the same thing would disturb the flow for anyone taking the UK coverage uninterrupted and would provoke a backlash from UK viewers.

One approach would be to have Sky’s F1 presentation team (i.e. Simon Lazenby) do a voice over for US viewers leading back into the UK commentary at a given point, that way the commentary flow is untouched.

In further news, ESPN’s coverage of the Grand Prix rated lower than NBC’s coverage in recent years. According to Showbuzz Daily, ESPN2’s show failed to make the top 150 for original programmes on Saturday, recording under a 0.05 share in the adults 18 to 49 metric. Last year’s NBC coverage averaged 238,000 viewers, whereas 2016’s show averaged 222,000 viewers.

International television rights for IndyCar up for grabs
The IndyCar Series is heading to NBC from 2019, with their existing US agreement with ESPN and ABC Network coming to an end after this season, the two sides confirmed last week.

The three-year deal will see eight races, including the Indianapolis 500, broadcast on NBC’s main channel with the remaining races airing on NBC Sports Network.

In addition, NBC’s over-the-top platform, dubbed NBC Sports Gold, will offer an IndyCar package consisting of every race from the feeder series Indy Lights, plus all practice and qualifying sessions from the main series not broadcast on one of NBC’s linear television channels.

As part of the press release, NBC touted the fact that IndyCar’s viewing figures have grown in recent years with the broadcaster as part of the shared contract with ESPN/ABC. “We’re honoured to bring the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in all of sports, to NBC, further enhancing NBC Sports’ Championship Season,” said Jon Miller, NBC’s President of Programming.

“We’ve seen consistent growth for INDYCAR on NBCSN in the past decade, and we hope to continue that growth throughout the series by leveraging the television, digital, production and marketing assets that make NBC Sports a powerful media partner.”

IndyCar officials have also confirmed that the international broadcasting rights for the series are up for grabs at the end of 2018. For UK fans, it helps clear up a few things. BT Sport have a deal to with ESPN’s international arm to air a range of content up to and including the end of 2022. Separately, IndyCar’s non-domestic rights sit with ESPN’s international arm.

ESPN International are the ‘middle man’ here, if that man changes then BT Sport will need to negotiate with the new ‘middle man’ if they want to continue to air IndyCar, unless IndyCar go direct to a broadcaster, for example Eurosport (see below).

Mark Miles, the CEO of IndyCar’s parent company Hulman and Company, said “We will now move to working on the international rights licensing right away. We’ve had a lot of those very early conversations to understand both from an agency perspective and individual broadcaster perspective who wants to talk to us.”

“[The NBC deal] does not preclude an ongoing involvement by ESPN International. Although with any result, I think it will change. There may be countries where we go direct to broadcasters in any major country with IndyCar interests. I see us being at the table, even if we go with a distributor or packager like ESPN International.”

“There are a number of agencies that would love to compete with ESPN International for whatever we’re willing to license as part of a package, and there are a number of countries where we’re already having direct conversations with broadcasters. It will be some kind of a mixed approach undoubtedly.”

Nico Rosberg joins Sky’s F1 team for 2018

2016 Formula One Drivers’ Champion Nico Rosberg will join the Sky Sports F1 team at selected races during the 2018 season.

Rosberg, who was part of Sky’s line-up during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, will be part of both Sky’s UK and Italian line-ups over the course of the season. As announced before Christmas, Rosberg also joins Timo Glock over on RTL, so UK, Italian and German viewers will hear Rosberg’s analysis at various points this year.

Rosberg starts his Sky commitments during this weekend’s season opener in Australia, a race he won in 2014 and 2016. Speaking to the Sky Sports website, Rosberg said “I’m really excited to be joining the Sky Sports F1 team for the 2018 season.”

“Although getting behind the microphone doesn’t quite match the thrill of getting behind the wheel, I got a taste of it with Sky Sports last year and loved it. 2018 should be a fascinating battle, and hopefully I can offer fans a bit of an insight into the teams, the personalities and everything it takes to be an F1 driver. I can’t wait to get started.”

Scott Young, Sky’s new Head of F1, added “Bringing Nico on-board is fantastic news for Sky Sports viewers. Adding another former world champion to our line-up brings a new depth to our coverage. Nico raced for the current world championship team and this will deliver unique insights at key points throughout the season. We all look forward to his engaging perspective, alongside Martin, Damon and Johnny.”

Those of you who read my 2017 end of year review will have noted my praise for Rosberg, I thought he brought a different angle to Sky’s coverage, and helped reinvigorate their programming during the Japan weekend.

I was worried that UK viewers would not hear Rosberg’s analysis during 2018, but thankfully that appears to not be the case. In this instance, having him appear on-screen at selected races is for the best, and will keep the line-up fresh throughout the new season.

No live F1 testing coverage ahead of 2018 season

Formula 1 fans hoping to see more than a sneak peek of the 2018 machinery may be disappointed, as there will be no live coverage of testing ahead of the new season, I can confirm.

At the back-end of 2017, there were rumblings that Formula One Management (FOM) would provide enhanced testing coverage this year. The suggestions were amplified by comments made during Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where pit lane reporter Ted Kravitz noted that commentator David Croft would be “standing in a commentary box” for long periods of time during testing, alluding to the potential of live coverage.

The idea was that FOM would use Sky’s personnel on commentary for their coverage of testing, with coverage airing on Sky’s F1 channel, and via FOM’s new over-the-top platform or YouTube. However, I can now reveal that plans have not come to fruition. The news means that the first-time fans will see cars in live action will be during the Australian Grand Prix weekend in late-March. The one time testing aired live was in 2013, the move primarily designed to promote Sky’s 3D offering.

I understand that FOM will provide a similar level of coverage to last year’s testing season, with clips, such as on-board footage, shared via social media, and live segments from the paddock on Facebook during the on-track lunch break.

Many make the comparison between MotoGP and Formula 1. MotoGP does produce a live feed of their post-season test from Valencia; however, all their production equipment and facilities are already on-site following the final race of the season two days earlier. Dorna’s pre-season coverage of testing from Sepang largely consisted of updates at various points of the day (around three hours in total), with footage of riders on-track, live reports from pit lane and extended interviews.

In comparison, IndyCar produced a live stream of testing from ISM Raceway earlier this month, but this consisted of one static camera situated on the start-finish straight. So, there are ways and means, but unless you already have the facilities on-site, there is reluctance to produce a World Feed, as the cost outweighs any benefits it would bring. Famously, IndyCar did stream Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation day live last year, but they were extremely unique and unprecedented circumstances.

For me, the best scenario would be to go on-air with an hour of testing left each day, with some analysis after the chequered flag. Of course, the ‘hour’ of testing could consist of footage compiled from earlier in the day, along with key developments. A show of this nature would do the job nicely, giving each team ample air-time, as well as showing off as much of the cars as possible, whilst removing the need for a full circuit production.

ESPN’s US coverage to take Sky’s UK commentary
Overseas, ESPN have confirmed that their US coverage will take Sky’s UK commentary line-up of David Croft and Martin Brundle. The agreement between ESPN and Sky Sports was “arranged by Formula 1”, likely a result of the fact that Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s Managing Director for Commercial Operations, used to work for ESPN.

ESPN follows in the footsteps of many broadcasters around the world who take Sky’s UK commentary, such as TSN (Canada) and FOX Sports (Australia). Sky Sports will also produce special segments to supplement ESPN’s television coverage, something they do not currently do for other broadcasters.

A variety of outlets have reported this deal as ESPN taking Sky’s coverage, which may be stretching the truth. ESPN say that a further announcement on their content plans is coming in forthcoming weeks. If Sky’s pre and post-race segments turn up, I suspect it will form part of ESPN’s online offering given that race start times have already adjusted to suit their needs.

Whilst Sky’s UK coverage is excellent compared to many broadcasters, and stateside fans will love hearing Martin Brundle’s commentary, American fans deserve to have a broadcaster covering Formula 1 who are prepared to invest time, money, and home-grown talent into the sport.

To NBC’s credit, they produced content tailored to their audience, with Will Buxton, Jason Swales, Leigh Diffey and more at the helm. Viewing figures may go up, but audience appreciation of the raw Formula 1 television product in America could decrease because of the ESPN deal.