Vernon Kay announced as Channel 5’s new Formula E presenter

Vernon Kay will present live coverage of the upcoming Formula E season for Channel 5, the broadcaster has confirmed.

Press details for the upcoming Hong Kong E-Prix also note that the broadcaster will be on-site for season four, as suggested last month. Kay has previous for hosting sport, having hosted American football for Channel 4 previously. He is probably most famous for presenting the likes of All Star Family Fortunes and Splash! for ITV in recent years.

Channel 5 says that Kay will present “all the action live from the paddock as round one and two of the 2017/18 Formula E Championship spark into life at the HKT Hong Kong E-Prix on December 2-3 around the Victoria Harbour front.” It marks a significant shift for the broadcaster from the low-budget studio that was used during their first season covering the sport.

In the official press release, Kay says “Formula E remains an incredible spectacle within the world of motorsport. I can’t wait to get track-side and present all the electric action, right from the heart of these amazing cities.” The announcement means that Andy Jaye no longer appears to be involved in Channel 5’s output, having hosted coverage last year.

The remainder of the punditry line-up is unknown as of writing. Also unconfirmed is the schedule for Hong Kong. Provisional schedules for Hong Kong suggest that Channel 5 will be airing both races on tape-delay from 09:00 to 10:45 on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd December respectively. The press release from Formula E also states that Channel 5 will broadcast live coverage from selected races, which cannot be seen as good news and a downgrade on previous years.

Initial reaction to Kay’s involvement is mixed, and very much reminiscent of the reaction when Melanie Sykes became BT Sport’s MotoGP presenter and when Steve Jones became Channel 4’s F1 presenter. The outcome was different for both: Sykes’ gig lasted three months, whilst Jones is coming to the end of his second season as Formula 1 presenter, a role he has settled into very well.

Whilst Kay does come from a similar background to Sykes, he has the advantage of having presented sport before. I suspect that, even though the Formula E race is live, the build-up segments might be pre-recorded in advance, allowing a certain degree of preparation beforehand for Kay and his co-presenters to prepare their lines. The post-race part is always the trickier element to master and requires a significant amount of research in advance. Kay is enough of a veteran for me to feel that he will be just fine in the role.

The important thing which we should not forget is that, for the first time, a UK broadcaster will be on-site at every round, which is a massive step in the right direction if the series is to grow and flourish in this country. I suspect North One Television, who are producing Formula E content from this season onwards alongside Aurora, have helped put Channel 5’s package together.

Updated on November 15th.

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Eurosport to broadcast Formula E live in the UK

Eurosport are to broadcast Formula E live in the UK alongside Channel 5, the broadcaster confirmed this morning.

The press release left room for interpretation, but speaking to this site, Eurosport say that they “will be broadcasting Formula E in the UK live on a non-exclusive basis.” The contract is part of a wider Eurosport deal with Formula E across Europe, where the channel will broadcast the series in 54 markets. The deals vary from exclusively live coverage to sub-licencing to a free-to-air broadcaster.

The 2017-18 Formula E season will be the second and currently final year of Channel 5’s contract, and the first of three seasons with Eurosport. I have heard suggestions that Channel 5 may have a greater on-air presence for some rounds this season, implying that they see Formula E as a medium to long-term investment. Channel 5’s coverage of season three averaged 280,000 viewers according to overnight viewing figures.

For readers unaware, Liberty Global and Discovery Communications are minority investors in Formula E. And Eurosport is part of the Discovery family, meaning that it is no major surprise to see Formula E’s presence on Eurosport expanded across their various outlets. The UK situation beyond season four with regards free-to-air television remains to be seen…

Based on their track record with other motor racing series’, I would expect Eurosport to use their own commentary line-up. Eurosport’s resident lead commentator Martin Haven did stand-in for Jack Nicholls as lead commentator for Formula E’s World Feed last season, and would be prime contender to lead Eurosport’s coverage of the electric series.

Liberty Media helps bring F1 social media strategy on-track

The direction from Liberty Media, through Formula One Management, to pour resources into Formula 1’s official social media platforms appears to be paying off, figures for the first half of 2017 show, with Formula 1 the fastest growing motor racing series.

Liberty Media helps F1 to significant growth…
This site has tracked the cumulative number of followers for the likes of F1, MotoGP and the IndyCar Series across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram since March. The results for Formula 1 are impressive, with a 20 percent boost in the cumulative number, going from 7.9 million followers in March to 9.6 million followers at the end of July, racing past NASCAR. Assuming the rate of trajectory continues, I would expect F1 to reach 12 million followers across the three platforms by the end of the season.

At the foot of the table, Formula Two and GP3 continue to struggle, below the likes of the British Touring Car Championship. As I mentioned briefly last December, Liberty needs to work hard to help promote Formula Two, after all it should feature the next generation of Formula 1 stars, such as Charles Leclerc. A few video highlights on Facebook and Twitter would significantly help the series’ reach, as would cross-promotion with the F1 channels. Instead, Formula Two and GP3 hides their video highlights away exclusively on their website. I suspect Liberty needs more resources dedicated both of their social media channels. It is absurd for example that Formula Two still does not have an active YouTube channel.

Social media - August 2017 - motor sport series comparison
Comparing the leading motor sport series on social media, showing their cumulative follower growth between March and July 2017.

Fernando Alonso’s drive in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 has helped IndyCar’s standing on social media, jumping from 860,000 followers to 1.06 million followers, a percentage rise higher than F1’s outlined above. The social media strategy around #AlonsoRunsIndy worked, although I suspect any long-term impact for IndyCar will be minimal, unless he returns next year! Further back, the electric Formula E series gained around 60,000 followers from March to July, a jump of 13.9 percent (note: figure recorded prior to the season finale). Formula E is rising at a similar rate to the World Endurance Championship, which is not a great statistic considering the interest from manufactures in the former. Certainly, Formula E’s social media standing is reflective of their viewing figures worldwide in my opinion.

The small rise for Roborace is because of the removal of ‘bot’ followers from their various platforms, meaning that they only see a jump of around 2,000 followers. As mentioned before, I am highly suspect of Roborace’s numbers, I would be unsurprised if the real number was a quarter, or even a tenth, of what the statistics suggest.

…but Mercedes’ F1 growth stagnates…
The loss of Nico Rosberg has hurt Mercedes’ social media portfolio, with Red Bull Racing the major winners. The drinks company has seen growth for the past two years, which has continued in the first half of 2017, their platforms (excluding drivers) rising from 8.95 million followers last December to 11.36 million cumulative followers, a substantial rise of 26.9 percent. In comparison, Mercedes following increased from 13.99 million followers to 14.57 million, a smaller jump of just 4.2 percent. Their Facebook following has stalled at around 11 million followers for the past year and a half, suggesting that it may have peaked in that department.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 team increase
Comparing Formula 1’s ten teams on social media, looking at their cumulative followers and growth between December 2016 and August 2017.

Whilst Liberty Media’s aggressive social media helped the official F1 channels, the loss of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg hurt the series as Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll replaced them once the dominos fell into place. Rosberg and Button were Formula 1’s third and fourth biggest stars on social media, behind Lewis Hamilton and Alonso. The pair leave behind a significant gap, with Daniel Ricciardo now F1’s third star on social media, currently half of Alonso’s following and less than a quarter of Hamilton’s combined number.

Moreover, Hamilton and Alonso are still recording the biggest growths on social media with no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2017, Hamilton acquired 1.73 million new followers, with Ricciardo acquiring 683,000 new followers. The loss of Rosberg, who was Formula 1’s first new champion since 2010, is extremely apparent when you look at the numbers. It continues to be the case that neither Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen have a social media presence, both would likely fill that gap in another world.

…as Ricciardo becomes the third top dog
The loss of Rosberg and Button may explain why audience figures have struggled to rise, for example in the UK, where Button would have had a strong and loyal fan base. Hopefully, this is a short-term pain, long-term gain situation, whereby Ricciardo and Verstappen fill the gap left behind in the years to come, assuming both drivers have the equipment underneath them to deliver the results on the circuit. F1 on the list below does skew older age wise than MotoGP, which is a major issue moving forward.

Social media - August 2017 - F1 vs MotoGP
Comparing how Formula 1’s and MotoGP’s top drivers line-up against each other on social media.

The problem illustrated above will be one that MotoGP faces when Valentino Rossi retires, although you could easily see Rossi going another three to five years. Whilst Rossi is firmly top dog on social media, the championship is in a situation where there are other stars on the track building their reputation. MotoGP’s rider numbers are generally lower than Formula 1, as one might expect. From an age perspective, Marc Marquez, Max Verstappen and Maverick Vinales are the stars with potential in the next ten years in the new media platforms.

It will be fascinating to track the trajectories in both MotoGP and F1 as the baton moves from Rossi and Hamilton respectively. Of course, this assumes that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are still around. Instagram is the platform continuing to surge, with it set to overtake Twitter in terms of F1 team and driver influence within the next six months to a year, despite only having a quarter of the F1 following two years ago.

A detailed analysis of Formula E’s UK viewing figures so far

From birth, Formula E has had sceptics from across the motor sport landscape, with fans and journalists alike wondering whether the series would take off and whether the championship is here to stay. The events of the past few weeks are showing that motor racing as we know it is seeing a seismic shift underneath the surface. Manufacturers, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are beginning to invest money into the championship, ready to begin within the forthcoming years.

But whilst the shift is occurring in the industry, how are fans reacting to the change? Is interest growing in the electric series? After three seasons, I feel it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the UK viewing figures so far, from inception through to present day, whilst also considering scheduling across the three seasons. In adult years, Formula E as a brand has not yet started school, it is still in its early infant years. Every year is a learning year. Nevertheless, this has been the story so far:

– In 2014/15, there were ten Formula E weekends, of which five weekends clashed with F1.
– In 2015/16, there were nine Formula E weekends, of which three weekends clashed with F1.
– In 2016/17, there were nine Formula E weekends, of which six weekends clashed with F1.

The championship started life in 2014, with exclusive live coverage on ITV4. Live coverage of the first race from Beijing on September 13th, 2014 averaged 266,000 viewers, peaking with nearly half a million viewers. It was a good number for the inaugural race, helped by the race-deciding incident that made headlines around the world. It was something for Formula E to build upon. In a story that would repeat itself numerous times though, momentum evaporated thanks to haphazard scheduling from the outset. Instead of a traditional two or three-week gap until the next race, round two did not occur until November and fell on the same weekend as the 2014 Formula One season decider.

ITV4’s programming averaged around 160,000 viewers during season one, Buenos Aires drawing a mid-season high of 260,000 viewers in January 2015. As alluded to above, the lowest viewing figures for season one was in Putrajaya (same weekend as the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) and Moscow (same weekend as the 2015 Canadian Grand Prix). The season ending London ePrix recorded by far the championship’s highest ever audience figures. The Sunday finale aired live on ITV in June 2015 to an audience of 700,000 viewers, peaking with 1.2 million viewers. The whole weekend from Battersea Park, with ITV’s crew led by Jennie Gow presenting on-site, was a great way to end Formula E’s debut season and gave hope that Formula E could grow in season two, despite some mediocre audience figures. This required commitment from both parties, of course…

To ITV’s credit, a highlights programme aired on Sunday mornings on their main channel during season two, and their commitment remained for ITV4’s live programming (bar Mexico, which was substituted for live darts). Unfortunately, season two performed badly than the worst expectations had predicted. The first two rounds in Beijing and Putrajaya dropped by two-thirds year-on-year, the former not helped by airing on the same weekend as the 2015 United States Grand Prix. Without wider media attention, Formula E’s numbers were looking low by ITV4’s standards. Clashing with Formula 1 matters. Most of the motor racing world’s attention during an F1 weekend is on the Grand Prix circus, and not on an event on the other side of the globe.

The hefty percentage drops year-on-year continued throughout season two, whilst the highlights programme comparatively struggled against ITV’s own slot average. Irrespective of slot, Formula E was always below the expected average. The season ending London ePrix clashed with the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, drawing a peak audience of 600,000 viewers on ITV’s main channel. Whilst good in comparison with the rest of the season, it was the final straw for the championship on ITV.

At this stage more than ever, Formula E needed ITV more than ITV needed Formula E. With horse racing on the horizon for ITV, the two parties parted company at the end of season two. I argued that ITV should have aired several races, including the season two opener from Beijing, live on their main channel to increase interest, but that did not happen. The series was simply not bringing viewers to either ITV or ITV4.

“I think logical progression from both sides would be to retain the current deal, but air the opening race of the 2015-16 season on ITV, along with two or three other races (the calendar hasn’t yet been released, so it is impossible to say which ones), with ITV committing to an on-site presence for those races.” – writing at the end of season one, this is what I said about ITV’s Formula E coverage

Inevitably, the move to Channel 5 received positive press, with the intention to boost Formula E’s audience. Despite the PR talk before the season from those involved, coverage has also not been as expansive on Channel 5: it was fundamentally clear the moment their first show started from Hong Kong that they were unprepared and received the rights ‘on the cheap’ because ITV did not wish to continue.

The studio format was absent from Hong Kong, and only came back after criticism from fans, on a much lower scale than ITV4. Behind the scenes, non-motor racing people led the show. According to BARB, ITV4 reaches around nine million viewers per week, with Channel 5 reaching 25 million viewers per week. Comparatively speaking, Formula E’s audiences have increased upon the move to Channel 5:

– In 2014/15, live coverage on ITV and ITV4 averaged 216k (2.6%) [156k (2.0%) excluding London]
– In 2015/16, live coverage on ITV and ITV4 averaged 138k (1.5%) [82k (1.0%) excluding London]
– In 2016/17, live coverage on Channel 5 averaged 280k (2.6%)

Admittedly, some of the rise will be due to the Channel 5’s shorter programme lengths compared with ITV4, benefiting their audience figures as a result. The average of 288,000 viewers would more than likely be closer to 200,000 had Channel 5 ran the same length time slots as their predecessor.

Live coverage on Channel 5 has been more stable in season three than the previous two seasons on ITV4, with consistent averages around 300,000 viewers. The high point came with the Buenos Aires, where a peak audience of 604,000 viewers watched Sebastian Buemi win the race. Despite audiences increasing compared with ITV4, the fact remained that, even on Channel 5, audiences are below Channel 5’s own slot average, and Formula E has consistently lost viewers compared with the programmes on-air beforehand or directly following afterwards.

Are Channel 5 going to happy with those audiences when an old film (i.e. Dirty Dancing) could get double or triple the number that Formula E was getting in some slots? On ITV4, this may not have mattered as much in season one: ITV4 is a free-to-air multichannel station where audience expectations are generally lower in the daytime

Whilst there has been no public comment about this, the fact that the season finale in Montreal aired on Spike TV, and the Saturday race from New York aired on tape-delay, suggests the broadcaster has not been happy with the figures that the championship has produced this season despite the increased audience year-on-year. As in the ITV seasons, Channel 5’s coverage has been damaged by other motor racing events. A perhaps pertinent example of where Formula 1 has damaged Formula E was the Monaco ePrix. Airing on the same weekend as the Spanish Grand Prix, the race averaged 248,000 viewers on Channel 5. A week later, with no Formula 1 clash and more attention, the Paris ePrix averaged 381,000 viewers in the same time slot.

The prime-time races have struggled on Channel 5, far below their usual slot averages. As noted above, the Montreal ePrix averaged 319k (1.9%) on Channel 5 on Saturday 29th July, with an audience of 104k (0.5%) watching coverage on Spike the following day. Andy Jaye confirmed in Channel 5’s broadcast that the broadcaster would, as expected, be continuing their live Formula E coverage for the 2017-18 season. I would be very surprised if live coverage of qualifying continues Spike. At one point on Sunday evening, their Montreal ePrix qualifying programme recorded an audience of “zero”, which is rare for any live motor racing broadcast on free-to-air television (the whole programme averaged 12,000 viewers).

Formula E’s top five UK audiences (programme average, overnight viewing figures)
01 – 700,000 viewers (6.8% share) – 2014-15 London ePrix, Race 2 (28/06/15, ITV)
02 – 426,000 viewers (2.2% share) – 2016-17 Buenos Aires ePrix (18/02/17, Channel 5)
03 – 411,000 viewers (3.8% share) – 2015-16 London ePrix, Race 2 (03/07/16, ITV)
04 – 381,000 viewers (4.4% share) – 2016-17 Paris ePrix (20/05/17, Channel 5)
05 – 317,000 viewers (1.9% share) – 2016-17 Montreal ePrix (29/07/17, Channel 5)

When I see people talk about Formula E, one of the complaints is that fans do not know when the series is on. The gaps between races are far too long. Running races in the Summer will not help viewing figures, you have more chance of hooking the casual floating viewer in January than July. Pushing races towards the Summer period and traditional motor racing period is not the answer, because Formula E will become lost in the shuffle, and I think the viewing figures do support that argument.

Formula E will always feel like a ‘small’ series if the championship is head-to-head on the same weekend as Formula 1, it needs space to breathe preferably away from the leading motor racing series. I know that is difficult when F1 has twenty races, but I am unconvinced with the current direction that Formula E are taking their calendar. On the brighter side, the gaps for the 2017-18 season look better than previous years, but races have a tenancy to disappear from the calendar, leaving gaping holes, which hopefully will not happen this time around.

Also, some of their social media content has stagnated, which stands out more now that F1 is finally trying with social media. Formula E’s social media content just feels… there, which might explain why their growth on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is slowing. Bringing North One Television on-board should improve their television coverage, which might have a knock-on effect to other areas of the championship. There are other problems, such as un-memorable tracks and the New York driver farce to name two.

If Formula E is the future, then the viewing figures need to start reflecting that soon. Yes, it is still an infant. But, by this stage infants show sign of growth. In the UK, there is little sign that Formula E is growing. I want Formula E to do well, the racing on track is generally good to watch. The viewing figures though suggest I am part of the minority that enjoy the action (compared to the large numbers that watch Formula 1).

The people in industry might care about Formula E, but outside of the Twitter bubble and into the real world with casual Joe, you get the impression that no one is paying Formula E any attention. And if that continues to happen, then Formula E might well be heading behind a pay wall in the UK sooner, rather than later…

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Scheduling: The 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix / Montreal ePrix

The 2017 Formula One season heads towards the last stop before the Summer break, the Hungarian Grand Prix. For one motor sport series though, the end of its current season is here…

This weekend marks the season three finale for the Formula E championship! Channel 5 and Spike will air the final two races, which take place in Montreal. For the second race in a row, scheduling is not great, with the series seemingly ‘demoted’ from Channel 5 to its sister channel Spike.

If it was not for a Spike Fight Night on the Saturday, the complete weekend would be airing on Spike, which suggests that Channel 5 is losing faith in the series, this coming off the back to the inaugural New York ePrix being shunted onto Channel 5’s Facebook page. The highlights of the season finale air on Channel 5 beyond midnight, the main channel taking a Dirty Dancing re-run.

Jack Nicholls is back to talk about the on track electric dancing, alongside Dario Franchitti in the Formula E commentary box. Back to the Formula 1 world, Lee McKenzie is back with Channel 4’s F1 team following her stints covering Wimbledon and the World Para Athletics Championship.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
29/07 – 18:00 to 19:30 – Qualifying Highlights
30/07 – 17:00 to 19:15 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
28/07 – 08:45 to 10:55 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
28/07 – 12:45 to 14:55 – Practice 2
29/07 – 09:45 to 11:10 – Practice 3 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
29/07 – 12:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event)
30/07 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
26/07 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
27/07 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Driver Press Conference
27/07 – 20:00 to 20:15 – Paddock Uncut
28/07 – 15:30 to 16:30 – Team Press Conference
28/07 – 16:30 to 17:00 – The F1 Show
02/08 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
29/07 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
30/07 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula E – Montreal (online via Channel 5’s social media channels and YouTube)
29/07 – 12:55 to 14:10 – Race 1, Practice 1
29/07 – 15:25 to 16:10 – Race 1, Practice 2
30/07 – 12:55 to 14:10 – Race 2, Practice 1
30/07 – 15:25 to 16:10 – Race 2, Practice 2

Formula E – Montreal
29/07 – 16:45 to 18:10 – Race 1, Qualifying (Spike)
29/07 – 20:30 to 22:10 – Race 2 (Channel 5)
30/07 – 16:45 to 18:15 – Race 2, Qualifying (Spike)
30/07 – 20:30 to 22:15 – Race 2 (Spike)
30/07 – 00:35 to 01:15 – Race 2, Highlights (Channel 5)

British Touring Car Championship – Snetterton (ITV4)
30/07 – 10:45 to 18:00 – Races

Formula Two – Hungary (Sky Sports F1)
28/07 – 10:55 to 11:40 – Practice
28/07 – 14:55 to 15:25 – Qualifying
29/07 – 14:55 to 16:25 – Race 1
30/07 – 09:15 to 10:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Hungary (Sky Sports F1)
29/07 – 08:25 to 08:55 – Qualifying
29/07 – 16:30 to 17:30 – Race 1
30/07 – 08:05 to 09:00 – Race 2

IndyCar Series – Mid-Ohio (BT Sport/ESPN)
30/07 – 20:00 to 23:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup – Hungary (Sky Sports F1)
30/07 – 10:30 to 11:25 – Race

World Rally Championship – Finland
27/07 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Harju (BT Sport 1)
28/07 – 18:30 to 19:30 – Harju II (BT Sport 2)
28/07 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 22:30 to 23:00 (BT Sport 1)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
29/07 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Ouninopoha (BT Sport/ESPN)
29/07 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 21:30 to 22:00 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 22:30 to 23:00 (BT Sport 3)
30/07 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Oittila (BT Sport 1)
30/07 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Power Stage (BT Sport 1)
30/07 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 22:00 to 22:30 (BT Sport 3)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
01/08 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

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

Update on July 26th – One major update this afternoon. Martin Brundle will not be in the commentary box this weekend, as he is recovering from his Silverstone stomach bug. Expect Paul di Resta or Anthony Davidson to be back in the co-commentator chair alongside David Croft. If it is Davidson, it will be their first live race commentary together since they were with the BBC from 2009 to 2011. Also, Jack Nicholls’ Formula E commentary means that John Hindhaugh fills his void for Sky Sports F1’s Porche Supercup coverage on Sunday.

Update on July 28th – Sky confirmed during their practice coverage that di Resta would be alongside Croft in the commentary box. Furthermore, Channel 4’s coverage on Sunday has been brought forward by 15 minutes to 17:00 to allow for further build-up towards the England vs France football match.

Update on July 29th at 11:50 – Sky do not appear to be having any luck this weekend, as Paul di Resta is replacing Felipe Massa in the Williams from qualifying onwards. So, it looks like Davidson or Damon Hill will be alongside Croft, unless he goes solo for qualifying and the race, which would be unusual.

Update on July 29th at 12:10 – Confirmation from Sky that Davidson will be alongside Croft for the rest of the weekend in the commentary box. Great news!