News round-up: Channel 4 commissions new F1 documentary; F1 launches official eSports Series

In the round-up, a new Formula 1 documentary is heading to Channel 4, whilst the over-the-top strategy for the championship is slowly coming into place…

Channel 4 to air Guy Martin F1 special
Channel 4 is to air a documentary looking behind the scenes of the Williams Formula 1 team. The 60-minute documentary, produced by North One Television, will feature Guy Martin working as part of the Williams pit crew during this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix. The documentary, billed as Guy Martin’s Pit Stop, will cover the entirety of Martin’s weekend with Williams from preparation at the UK factory beforehand, all the way through to the post-race debrief and the transportation to the next race.

It is the second Formula 1 related documentary that North One Television have produced for Channel 4. The first documentary featured Martin as he raced against David Coulthard in a series of challenges. The programme, which aired prior to Channel 4’s first ever Formula 1 race, averaged a strong 2.80m (14.2%) in a primetime slot, according to overnight viewing figures.

Based on the quality of last year’s programme, this programme should live up to expectations. It is rare to get this level of insight into a Formula 1 team in the modern era. Okay, we have had plenty of behind the scenes features throughout the BBC, Channel 4, and Sky’s coverage, but we have not had a full, dedicated programme outside of the usual output in this area. Full credit to all parties for helping bring this programme together.

Elsewhere on the UK TV front, Sky Sports have added the weekly F1 show The Inside Line to their line-up on the F1 channel. For the first few weeks, it looks like the show is airing on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 19:30. The show airs on Sky’s and Fox’s stations overseas, so probably not a surprise to see it turn up on their UK station as well.

Hints of F1’s OTT strategy come to fruition
Discussion around Formula 1’s future over-the-top service was a key point of discussion at an industry event earlier this week, with some of the strategy also mooted. Speaking at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Formula 1’s Global Head of Digital Frank Arthofer said that the over-the-top service is “likely to include original content from historic races, live feeds and additional race data for fans.”

The sentence alone does not tell us much, you would expect points two and three are a given for any new over-the-top service that Formula 1 launches. But, it is good to see that archive footage is likely to play a significant part in their offering. The indication from Arthofer’s comment is that we should expect some new documentaries and/or new footage centered around classic races, which should be the ambition in my opinion.

It is interesting to note that the WWE Network, which I have mentioned previously as something F1 should admire to be when it comes to over-the-top content, has struggled to build further past its initial peak. A range of documentaries or strands centred around superstars have struggled to get past their first series, because the cost outweighed the number of viewers the shows attracted. I should note that some of the axed WWE Network content did not feature archive footage, but was all stand-alone new material.

The question Liberty Media will need to ask, and this comes through a massive amount of user research, is whether original content from historical races is likely to bring more ‘hits’ than the raw classic race itself. If done correctly, I suspect the answer would be yes, if the documentaries genuinely offered something new and not rehashed.

Official F1 eSports Series launched
Following in the footsteps of Formula E and MotoGP, it is now Formula 1’s turn to launch its eSports Series. The series is a collaboration between Formula 1, Codemasters and Gfinity, allowing gamers from across the world to battle it out to become Formula 1 eSports Series Champion. The competition, which uses the F1 2017 video game, takes on three phases: qualification in September, live semi-final events in London on October 10th and 11th, before the top 20 head to the final on November 24th and 25th to coincide with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Although not mentioned in the press release, I would expect live streams of both the live semi-final events and the top 20 finals across Formula 1’s social media channels and television stations, in the same way that F1 Live London was. The launch of the series shows the “continued ambition to build a greater connection with wider audiences, especially younger fans.” The winner will attend a Formula 1 race in 2018, and become a character in the F1 2018 video game.

“This launch presents an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way, we engage fans,” said Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s Managing Director of Commercial Operations. “First, it’s a growing category with tremendous fan engagement that we’re entering in a big way; and we are proud to have Codemasters and Gfinity joining us on this ride. Of course, as we do in Formula 1, we’ll continue to evolve and innovate in the way we run this virtual counterpart to the F1 Championship to ensure we provide the most exciting and enjoyable experience we can for our fans.”

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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.

F1’s live London prototype sets vision for the future

Formula One Management (FOM) headed into a brave new world last week with their first foray into live event hosting through its new F1 Live brand. The experiment, which intends to take the sport to the fans, started in London’s Trafalgar Square and was a resounding success overall for what was essentially a live prototype aired worldwide.

FOM streamed the event live across social media last week, with television stations such as Sky Sports F1 also picking up coverage. Given the intended audience, it appears that non F1 broadcasters will have the ability to show the F1 Live events in the future, based on a comment made by David Coulthard during Channel 4’s British Grand Prix coverage.

Live streaming was moderately successful on YouTube, with a peak number of around 35,000 devices. The figure is half the number that watched Fernando Alonso’s first laps preparing for the Indianapolis 500, but you must remember that Alonso’s practice run was only available online, so it is not a completely fair comparison.

F1 Live London averaged 81,000 viewers (0.5%) in the United Kingdom on television from 18:00 to 21:00 on Wednesday across Sky Sports and the local London Live channel according to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, a healthy audience considering the lack of promotion for the event.

Fans were critical about the promotional aspect heading into the event, although the justification was sound given recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. The event might have been jeopardised had the mainstream media revealed details weeks in advance. The 2004 demonstration attracted half a million people to the capital and it was inevitable that security would be much tighter this time around.

Velocity Experience, a new start-up company with David Coulthard and Guy Horner at the helm, led the promotion, branding, and organisation elements of the event. Coulthard’s presence remained throughout the presentation line up, which was reminiscent of the BBC’s 2011 Formula One team.

Jake Humphrey, Martin Brundle, Eddie Jordan, Natalie Pinkham and Coulthard all played their part, with Rochelle Humes also involved. It is important to note though that whilst Coulthard and Humphrey were involved, to my knowledge, Whisper Films (the production company owned by Humphrey, Coulthard and Sunil Patel) were not involved in the event.

The three-hour live broadcast went as well as you could expect, the only noticeable technical problems were brief in the opening minutes. The picture quality on the live stream was ‘blocky’ during the demonstration itself, an issue that FOM fixed later in the broadcast. Luckily, the British weather held out, which is always a bonus! The event was well planned with the live demonstration supplemented by live music, a driver’s parade and various features highlighting the sport.

In my opinion, the balance between music and F1 did not feel right, with too little emphasis on the motor racing side of things. The last 40 minutes turned into a glorified Kaiser Chiefs concert – as a Kaiser Chiefs fan I cannot complain, but others might disagree!

I would have preferred a chat with some of the leading F1 drivers as a substitute for a Kaiser Chiefs song, such as Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who were clearly popular with the audience. It did not make a major difference, but something for Liberty to learn from I feel.

Furthermore, the demonstration did feel slightly on the short side, I guess in a three-hour show I was expecting it to take up more than 45 minutes of airtime. The direction and camera angles were generally good, and following the event FOM uploaded a range of on-board angles online, which showed off some of the more unique angles that you typically do not see during a race weekend.

Coulthard and Brundle were on commentary, a joy to hear the duo back together again. The driver introductions onto stage did make up for the short demonstration, as referenced above. And how good was it to see the F1 Drivers Championship trophy in a public setting like that?

The VTs were one of the highlights of the evening, and a reminder of just why we love Formula 1. It was your typical trip down memory lane, but with an added extra bonus thanks to Tom Grennan’s backing track All Goes Wrong (if you have not yet seen it, I would go out of your way to watch). We need VTs like that to help promote this wonderful sport.

FOM receives some dissension from fans on social media, but this is one occasion where the team thoroughly deserves to be praised. I am hopeful that some of the VTs will be released on F1’s official YouTube channel during the Summer break, so keep an eye out. I imagine Liberty Media and all other involved parties have learnt a significant amount from the first F1 Live.

So, are you ready for the second event?

Formula 1 to live stream London demonstration run online

Formula One Management (FOM) are to live stream London’s F1 street demonstration online, the Commercial Rights Holder has confirmed.

The demonstration will be streamed on the Formula 1 website and their YouTube channel. The event, which takes place on Wednesday evening (12th July) from 18:00 to 21:00 UK time, will also be broadcast live across Sky Sports’ portfolio of channels.

It is the first broadcast of this magnitude that FOM, now under the control of Liberty Media, have streamed online. The event is taking place at London’s Trafalgar Square. Jennie Gow, Jake Humphrey, Martin Brundle, David Coulthard, Eddie Jordan, Natalie Pinkham, Rochelle Humes and Sam Power forms the extensive presentation line up. The event will feature “appearances from Formula 1 stars and legends as well as a number of celebrity guests.”

Sean Bratches, Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula 1 said: “F1 Live London is the most striking example yet of Formula 1’s evolution this year. We feel there is no better way to celebrate the exciting season we have had so far than to have this landmark event in London on the eve of the British Grand Prix. This is all about giving our fans the opportunity to get closer to the teams, cars and drivers they love.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “F1 Live London is a brilliant opportunity to show young people in our city that learning about science and engineering can provide them with fantastic careers, and can be great fun. It will also bring fans of all ages and backgrounds together to celebrate a sport they are passionate about and in which Britain is a world leader.”

The “missed” handshake

In sport, the media amplifies rivalries by reporting on the action in front of them. Whether this reporting concerns on the football pitch, the boxing arena or the tennis court, media outlets, both print and visual, are looking for that moment. Sometimes though, the journalism goes beyond the sporting arena to further a rivalry, leaning towards reporting of a deceitful nature.

The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel came to a head in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Vettel side-swiping Hamilton. The media reported the story from every angle, Fleet Street had their say as did broadcasters everywhere. Whilst the two championship protagonists have moved on, the media around them are still looking for opportunities to further elongate their rivalry.

With that, we come to the “missed” handshake. Did Lewis Hamilton refuse to shake Vettel’s hand? Or did Hamilton shake Vettel’s hand earlier in proceedings, in a more natural manner? And either way, does it matter whether he did or did not?

From the World Feed, moments after qualifying and just before the post-qualifying interviews, an overhead camera captured Vettel and Hamilton shaking hands. The two did not make a big deal of it, the handshake was part of the informal pleasantries before the post-qualifying grid interviews. The overhead shot was probably not the close-up angle Formula One Management (FOM) wanted.

🤝 . #AustrianGP #Austria #F1 #Formula1 #LewisHamilton #SebastianVettel

A post shared by FORMULA 1® (@f1) on

The problem comes later when, after the interviews, Davide Valsecchi asked the two drivers to shake hands. Hamilton refused, stating that the two had already shaken hands prior to the interviews. Media outlets used this refusal to further their rivalry. Except, the refusal was a non-story for reasons described above.

Whilst it is easy to criticise Valsecchi, who is also a reporter for Sky Italia and Formula Two commentator, it is possible that the directive to throw the handshake line in there actually came from FOM, aka. Liberty Media to get a handshake on television in front of the large viewing audience. It felt like an incentive was thrown to stir up trouble.

Either way, certain aspects of the media spun the story by directly referencing Hamilton’s “refusal” to shake Vettel’s hand, choosing to leave out the latter half of the story. Sky Sports F1 tweeted, with video, that Hamilton rejected “a public show of reconciliation”, despite the fact he and Vettel shook hands minutes earlier, in front of the public! Sky were not alone, The Mirror chose the same approach with their headline, almost as if alternative facts existed. Other broadcasters no doubt went down the same route.

Again, I re-iterate the above point: does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. This time tomorrow, the handshake will be history as we analyse the Grand Prix. But, this ‘episode’ is a symptom of sensationalism that is ever more creeping into Formula 1 journalism, as journalists are eager to find stories and build on their hits.

The concern for me too is that Sky will be UK’s only F1 television broadcaster from 2019. Personally, I want to see them tone down their tabloid reporting such as the above – not every single incident requires verbiage. Today’s build-up from Sky was excellent in my view, but unfortunately their tabloid style post-race with this has let the broadcaster down, and not for the first time.