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. 

Formula E terminates contract with Ben Constanduros after one round

Without a permanent commentator, and now without another of their personnel, after just one race of the new season. Formula E has terminated their agreement with Ben Constanduros, this site can confirm.

Constanduros has worked on Eurosport’s World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) coverage for eight years alongside the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Race of Champions. In Hong Kong last month, he was working with Formula E as magazine and social media presenter alongside Sian Welby. Formula E’s magazine show is produced by Aurora Media and Little Dot Studios.

The details behind his departure can be best described as bizarre, and can be traced back to Constanduros’ WTCC activity. This site understands that Constanduros was removed from Eurosport’s WTCC programming by François Ribeiro (the Head of Eurosport Events). Following his move to TCR International and Formula E, Constanduros was again in the firing line from Ribeiro after he found out that Constanduros was involved in their coverage.

Remember that Discovery (who owns Eurosport) is a minor stakeholder in Formula E, although Constanduros did present Le Mans coverage for Eurosport back in June. A source inside Formula E has confirmed that Ribeiro recommended Constanduros’ removal to them, but on what grounds is not known.

Speaking to this site, Constanduros said “I am devastated not to be able to continue covering the championship,” adding that he has not had any response regarding why he is not in Marrakech. Despite Constanduros parting company with Formula E, his work is still being promoted and uploaded to Formula E’s social media channels, such as Twitter and YouTube. Constanduros has since shut down his Twitter account.

Regular readers will be aware that the current Formula E line-up is in a state of flux. Martin Haven was the lead commentator in Hong Kong and will be in Marrakech, but beyond that is currently unknown. The expectation is that Jack Nicholls will return as lead commentator when he is not covering Formula 1 for the BBC, as will Bob Varsha when Formula E returns to the United States, but this has yet to be confirmed.

In a statement to this blog, Formula E said “Unfortunately we are not able to provide a comment on the employment decisions of our suppliers.” Little Dot Studios did not respond to a request for comment at time of publication.

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
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.

Formula E sparks back to life with new graphics suite

The third season of the electric Formula E series made a splash with a new graphics set debuting at the Hong Kong ePrix.

The series has now decided to follow Formula 1 and MotoGP’s lead, amongst others, with its more simplistic and less stylish graphics set. Whilst their previous graphics set was a good starting point, it had two major problems: an overly complex speedometer which made that particular graphic difficult to decipher for a casual viewer, and the graphics set looked ‘blocky’ when watching in standard definition.

Their new graphics set solves both problem areas, but also retains many of the characteristics from their first iteration, such as battery power levels.

Formula E’s new graphics set, launched at the 2016 Hong Kong ePrix.

I really like the new suite. Of course, there are things that could be improved going forward. As I’ve mentioned before, a ‘race off pit lane’ graphic is needed. It still feels like two separate races before and after the car swaps, which shouldn’t be the case. There’s work to be done on that front I feel, the new graphics need to convey the information better. The commentators rely on the TV graphics as well as the timing screens, so any changes to the TV graphics set to help the changeover will be beneficial going forward.

Also receiving a face lift for the season three opener was the championship’s signature titles, which now uses real footage from seasons one and two instead of pure CGI car footage. I’m a big fan of the titles, the closing shot into CGI and then the Formula E logo is cleverly done. “Let’s Stand Together” continues to be a winner for the closer (even if Channel 5 did cut this off, see below). Furthermore, the Segway starting sequence remained, with floating virtual graphics, a nice addition.

A new commentary duo is born
Out goes Jack Nicholls and in comes Martin Haven. ‘Axing’ is the wrong word, because Nicholls is committed to BBC’s 5 Live Formula 1 coverage, so could not be part of Formula E’s team in Hong Kong or Marrakech next month. Going forward, expect to see the Haven and Dario Franchitti duo to continue, at least on a part-time basis.

Based on today’s evidence, Haven and Franchitti will live up to the Nicholls and Franchitti partnership from before it. Haven’s style is a natural fit for Formula E, and I’m glad that the combination of him and Franchitti appears to be working from the get-go, it is not always guaranteed that will be the case and requires commitment from both sides.

> In conversation with MotoGP commentator Steve Day

I’m pleased that Haven has got his big break as well. For years, as long as I can remember (at least 10 to 15 years, probably more), Haven has been commentating on a variety of events for Eurosport from single-seater to endurance racing. Most of these have been from off-tube in London instead of actually on-location, so it is great to see Haven lead the World Feed commentary for an international motor sport event. If Nicholls is unable to commit going forward, I hope Formula E stick with Haven and Franchitti instead of swapping and changing (where schedules allow).

Channel 5’s coverage gets off to a shaky start
The Hong Kong ePrix was Channel 5’s first live motor racing event since 2002, when the channel aired the MotoGP series. The main positive is that the race aired without interruption and that it was live free-to-air. In a parallel universe, Channel 5 could have passed on Formula E, leaving it on either BT Sport or Eurosport in front of an even lower audience. So I think we need to applaud Channel 5 for showing Formula E in the first place when the series failed to build any meaningful audience on ITV or ITV4.

As expected with no studio coverage, it was clear that Channel 5’s budget for Formula E was very low, if not approaching zero. The pre-race segments were nicely done given that it was the first race of the new contract, with a tailored cut-away to Nicki Shields to take into account the necessity of commercial breaks. The timing of the post-race ad-breaks however was the overwhelming negative, with the first break taken immediately as Sebastien Buemi won the race, no breathing space was given. The remaining breaks were clunky, with viewers missing a significant amount of post-race content along with the “Let’s Stand Together” closure.

Clever or tacky? Formula E’s grid graphics for the segway grid walk, on display at the 2016 Hong Kong ePrix.

I don’t know whether this was deliberate or whether the producer had no motor sport experience (and therefore was simply doing as directed). But either way, it wasn’t great and is a lesson to learn for Marrakesh in my opinion. Channel 4 run their live F1 coverage without adverts for around 105 minutes whilst BT Sport regularly run MotoGP races without adverts so it can be done properly. An alternative solution would be for Channel 5 to run a longer post-race segment, staying on air longer, meaning that they can cover everything from the World Feed (i.e. from 08:30 to ~11:00 in Hong Kong).

Viewing figures better than season two
Live coverage of the Hong Kong ePrix was in-line with Channel 5’s Sunday slot average and some of Formula E’s best non-London numbers in the UK since season one. From 08:30 to 10:30, Formula E averaged 206k (3.3%). In the same slot for the past two weeks, children’s programming has averaged 228k (3.4%) and 215k (2.8%) respectively. When you consider that Formula E haemorrhaged viewers wherever it was placed on ITV or ITV4, these numbers should be considered good.

The Beijing race in 2015 averaged 88k (1.4%), peaking with 168k, so Channel 5’s coverage comfortably beats that number. It is down however on Formula E’s inaugural race in September 2014 which averaged a strong 266k (4.0%) live on ITV4. Spike’s replay yesterday averaged just 27k (0.4%) from 11:00 to 13:00, a poor number overall.

Channel 5’s audience started with 244k (4.8%) at 08:30, but quickly dropped to a low of 150k (2.6%) at 08:50 as the kids’ audience dispersed. Viewing figures picked back up to 258k (4.1%) at 09:05, reaching a peak of 294k (4.4%) at 09:25. Around 240k were watching when the race finished, with 122k (1.9%) sticking around until the end of the programme.

Scheduling: The 2016 Japanese Grand Prix / Hong Kong ePrix

Advantage Rosberg? After a Malaysian Grand Prix full of twists and turns, the 2016 Formula One season heads to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix where Nico Rosberg could step one foot closer to becoming world champion.

As usual, every session is being shown live on Sky Sports F1. Qualifying is also being simulcast across Sky Sports Mix and Sky Sports 1, whilst the race itself will be simulcast on Sky Sports 1. Due to the early hour, I don’t expect it to make a positive impact on the viewing figures, but it may make a small difference nevertheless.

Elsewhere, Formula E is back! The inaugural Hong Kong ePrix starts approximately 90 minutes after the chequered flag has fallen at Suzuka. That, combined with the Bathurst 1000 makes an exciting morning for race fans. Formula E hops over from ITV to Channel 5, the former bailing out of the series at the end of season two.

With it, there are a few changes: Channel 5 are taking Formula E’s World Feed coverage without any wrap-around extras. And, as covered in other fora on this site, Jack Nicholls will not be commentating on the first two rounds due to his BBC Radio 5 Live commitments. Martin Haven takes his place, commentating alongside Dario Franchitti.

As per the details posted on Channel 5’s website a few weeks ago, Formula E qualifying should be shown live on Spike TV, but schedules do not indicate that happening. If that changes, I’ll update the below as and when. There is also a special documentary airing on BBC Two this Sunday at 21:00 focussing on Sir Chris Hoy’s 24 Hours of Le Mans debut.

Channel 4 F1
08/10 – 12:30 to 14:00 – Qualifying Highlights
09/10 – 13:30 to 15:30 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
07/10 – 01:45 to 03:50 – Practice 1
07/10 – 05:45 to 08:00 – Practice 2
08/10 – 03:45 to 05:15 – Practice 3
08/10 – 06:00 to 08:45 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Mix and 1)
09/10 – 04:30 to 09:15 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – Race
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
06/10 – 07:00 to 07:30 – Driver Press Conference
06/10 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
07/10 – 08:00 to 08:30 – Team Press Conference
07/10 – 08:30 to 09:00 – The F1 Show
12/10 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
07/10 – 01:55 to 03:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 05:55 to 07:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/10 – 21:30 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
08/10 – 03:55 to 05:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08/10 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
09/10 – 05:30 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula E – Hong Kong (online via Channel 5’s social media channels and YouTube)
09/10 – 00:55 to 01:55 – Practice 1
09/10 – 03:25 to 04:10 – Practice 2
09/10 – 04:45 to 06:10 – Qualifying

Formula E – Hong Kong
08/10 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Preview (Channel 5)
09/10 – 08:30 to 10:30 – Race (Channel 5)
09/10 – 11:00 to 13:00 – Replay (Spike)

Virgin Australia Supercars – Bathurst 1000 (BT Sport 1)
09/10 – 00:00 to 08:00 – Race

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