Alonso effect helps IndyCar’s UK audience soar to six-year high

The Indianapolis 500 started in fine fashion last weekend, with the IndyCar Series recording its highest UK audiences in nearly six years, overnight viewing figures show.

Indy qualifying impresses
Live coverage of the first day of qualifying, broadcast on Saturday evening from 21:00 to 00:00 on BT Sport/ESPN, averaged 44k (0.31%). The scheduled slot from 21:00 to 23:00 averaged 45k (0.27%), meaning that the audience stayed very stable during the overrun.

Coverage started relatively low, with an audience of 14k (0.06%) watching at 21:10. This quickly built up though, hitting 30k at 21:25, 40k at 21:50 and then peaking with an excellent 68k (0.41%) at 22:05. Audiences stayed above 50k until 22:55, partly attributed to Sebastian Bourdais’ horrific crash, which stopped the session for around 40 minutes.

The audience for day one is the highest ever for the IndyCar series on BT Sport, and the highest since Sky Sports’ broadcast of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Viewing figures dropped for day two of qualifying. An average audience of 29k (0.17%) watched qualifying on BT Sport/ESPN from 21:00 to 23:00 on Sunday evening, peaking with 43k (0.26%), again during the segment when Fernando Alonso was on circuit.

Although there is a larger audience around on Sunday evenings, coverage of on-track action was sporadic: Saturday had action without commercials from 21:00 until Bourdais’ crash at around 22:30, giving a chance for the audience to build. On the other hand, Sunday’s qualifying programme had twenty minutes with no on-track action from 21:40 to 22:00, which would have depleted viewing figures.

Next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 is likely to be the biggest figure for an American domestic motor race in a generation in the UK, with more than 100,000 viewers expected. It is difficult to be more specific than that at this stage as warm weather is likely to knock audiences.

Formula E jumps to second highest figure of season
It was a good weekend as well for the electric Formula E championship. Round six of the season took place last Saturday in Paris. The race, which aired live on Channel 5 from 14:30 to 16:20, averaged 381k (4.4%), peaking with 468k. Last year’s action from Paris, which aired on ITV4, peaked with 187k (2.1%) in a similar time slot.

It is the highest share of the season for Formula E and the second highest audience of the season, behind Buenos Aires. It is also comfortably the highest non-London race ever for the championship (also beating part one of last year’s London ePrix which aired on ITV).

Whilst it is too early to say whether the championship is drawing in new viewers as this is just one race in isolation, the audience figure for Paris is an encouraging sign for the series. Formula E should be able to maintain some momentum going forward, with no elongated gaps between now and the end of the season.

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Scheduling: The 2017 Indianapolis 500

And now… we go green, green, green!

The spectacle that is the Indianapolis 500 is here. This year, there is more attention and intrigue on the event as two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso attempts to add the blue riband event to his resume. Even if Alonso does not win, the 500 as always, promises to be a fantastic event.

As with the other IndyCar events, BT Sport will be screening the race exclusively live, which marks round six of the 2017 IndyCar season. There was some hope that another television or radio station would broadcast the Indianapolis 500, but that has not yet materialised. One source commented that the upcoming general election had reduced the chance of covering the race, with resources now dedicated to other areas. If plans change, including methods to watch the race legally, live via ‘other means’, I will update this post.

Whisper Films, who currently produce Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage, have been brought in to oversee BT’s Indianapolis 500 coverage. As of last week, I understand that Suzi Perry will present coverage from their studios on Olympic Park, helped by the fact that there is no MotoGP action that weekend.

Preparation commenced earlier this month, with key personnel interviewed. BT’s MotoGP reporter Gavin Emmett interviewed Fernando Alonso prior to the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, whilst Whisper conducted filming at McLaren HQ on May 5th. It is likely that BT will bring in special guests to give the race itself a bigger feel compared to your typical IndyCar coverage.

For qualifying, Keith Collantine and Ben Evans will continue to provide commentary whilst American colleagues are on commercial.

Thursday 18th May (YouTube)
17:00 to 23:00 – Practice 4

Friday 19th May (YouTube)
17:00 to 23:00 – Practice 5

Saturday 20th May
13:00 to 14:30 – Practice 6 (YouTube)
20:00 to 23:00 – Qualifying – Day 1
=> 20:00 (YouTube)
=> 21:00 (BT Sport/ESPN)

Sunday 21st May
17:00 to 19:00 – Practice 7 (YouTube)
19:45 to 23:00 – Qualifying – Day 2
=> 19:45 (YouTube)
=> 21:00 (BT Sport/ESPN)

Monday 22nd May (YouTube)
17:30 to 21:00 – Practice 8

Saturday 27th May (YouTube)
15:30 to 16:30 – Public Drivers’ Meeting

Sunday 28th May (BT Sport/ESPN)
16:30 to 21:00 – Race

If anything changes regarding the UK television coverage, I will update this post.

Update on May 20th at 11:50 – Keith Collantine and Oliver Webb will be commentating on qualifying for UK viewers. Furthermore, as noted above, Suzi Perry has confirmed she will be presenting BT’s coverage next Sunday.

Update on May 20th at 13:10 – Perry will be joined by Mike Conway and the Guardian writer Richard Williams next Sunday, with Collantine and Ben Evans on commentary during the US adverts.

Update on May 22nd – Further confirmation from Perry that Gavin Emmett and Jonathan Green will also be joining Perry in the studio. Also confirmed is that Collantine and Evans will not be part of BT’s Indianapolis 500, which is a real shame considering both have been part of BT’s coverage of IndyCars for a while now. Loyalty clearly does not count for much.

Scheduling: The 2017 Spanish Grand Prix / Monaco ePrix

The Formula 1 paddock moves into Europe for round five of the 2017 Formula One season, the Spanish Grand Prix. The weekend’s action will be broadcast exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, with highlights airing each evening on Channel 4.

Anthony Davidson will be back with Sky Sports for the Spanish round of the season. As announced pre-season, Davidson will be with the team for five races this year. Elsewhere, the Formula E championship returns with round five from Monaco. Martin Haven will be back in the commentary box as Jack Nicholls will be covering the Formula 1 action for BBC Radio 5 Live. Haven will be alongside Bob Varsha and Mike Conway as Dario Franchitti is stateside for the Indianapolis 500 build-up. The electric championship speeds up now with eight races taking place in the next two and a half months!

Also in action, next weekend is IndyCar action from the Indianapolis road course, whilst the World Superbike riders will be at Imola.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
13/05 – 17:30 to 19:00 – Qualifying Highlights
14/05 – 18:45 to 21:00 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
12/05 – 08:45 to 11:00 – Practice 1
12/05 – 12:45 to 14:50 – Practice 2
13/05 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
13/05 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying
14/05 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
10/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
11/05 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Driver Press Conference
12/05 – 01:30 to 01:45 – Paddock Uncut
12/05 – 17:35 to 18:15 – Team Press Conference – to be confirmed
12/05 – 18:15 to 18:45 – The F1 Show – to be confirmed
17/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
11/05 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
12/05 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13/05 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13/05 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
14/05 – 12:30 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

Formula Two – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
12/05 – 11:00 to 11:45 – Practice
12/05 – 14:55 to 15:25 – Qualifying
13/05 – 14:35 to 15:45 – Race 1
14/05 – 09:30 to 10:25 – Race 2

Formula E – Monaco (online via Channel 5’s social media channels and YouTube)
13/05 – 06:55 to 07:55 – Practice 1
13/05 – 09:25 to 10:10 – Practice 2

Formula E – Monaco
13/05 – 10:45 to 12:10 – Qualifying (Spike)
13/05 – 14:30 to 16:15 – Race (Channel 5)

Formula V8 3.5 – Monza (BT Sport 3)
13/05 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1
14/05 – 10:30 to 12:00 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Spain (Sky Sports F1)
13/05 – 08:45 to 09:20 – Qualifying
13/05 – 16:10 to 17:00 – Race 1
14/05 – 08:20 to 09:00 – Race 2

IndyCar Series  Grand Prix of Indianapolis (BT Sport 2)
14/05 – 20:30 to 23:00 – Race

Porsche Supercup  Spain
13/05 – 17:15 to 18:15 – Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
14/05 – 10:30 to 11:30 – Race 2 (Eurosport 1)

Speedway Grand Prix – Poland (BT Sport 3)
13/05 – 17:45 to 21:15 – Races

World Rallycross Championship – Belgium (Motorsport.tv)
14/05 – 13:00 to 14:55 – Race

World Superbikes – Imola
13/05 – 09:15 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
14/05 – 10:00 to 15:00 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
16/05 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

As mentioned, once Sky’s schedules are in shape, I will update the above information.

Update on May 9th – I have had confirmation from Sky that their original schedules were incorrect. Sky will not be broadcasting the Porsche Supercup series and GP3 practice live, so exactly the same as previous years. I have also amended the Formula E commentary line-up – Dario Franchitti is in fact stateside and not covering the event.

A catalyst for change?

Fernando Alonso’s testing and rookie orientation day in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 later this month has drawn attention from far and wide. His orientation day has also reignited the debate about whether there is value in covering testing live.

From the outset, the circumstances around Alonso’s IndyCar appearance are unique, in a situation unlikely to be repeated. A peak of around 72,000 devices watched Alonso’s orientation via YouTube, with the stream provided by the IndyCar Series consistently above 40,000 devices.

Furthermore, IndyCar streamed the event via Facebook to a reach of 800,000 users. Other forms of motor racing, such as Formula E, have struggled to break through live streaming barriers on YouTube. The numbers recorded for Alonso’s orientation are staggering, especially considering that this was a weekday event.

There is a great deal motor racing can learn from this, not just Formula 1 but also other forms of the sport. Watching cars drive around a track, essentially collecting data, for hours at a time may seem like a useless activity for much of the population to watch.

The actual process of testing doesn’t have the intensity. It is much more difficult to understand because different people are doing different things. Testing highlights are really interesting, live coverage of testing is really, really boring. – MotoGP journalist David Emmett speaking to me last year.

Dorna broadcasts MotoGP testing live from Valencia post-season and Sepang pre-season via their app, combining ‘as live’ footage with studio discussion. Sky Sports F1 aired Formula 1 testing live in 2013, although this was shoe-horned around the 3D gimmick that never went any further.

The argument against live testing is that the cost is too high and the expected audience is too low. Setting up a full camera crew at say Barcelona requires a lot more people than the Indianapolis oval. For Dorna, cameras are already in Valencia following their season finale a few days earlier, so it makes logistical sense to cover the post-season test in an in-depth format.

Alonso’s Indy 500 test is the first time that testing, in any form, has aired live via outlets such as YouTube and Facebook in this live and raw form. Firstly, I absolutely applaud IndyCar and those involved from McLaren through to NBC for making this happen. The stream today allowed new fans to appreciate the demands of oval racing.

Discussions between Alonso and his mechanics were broadcast, with an openness displayed throughout. In comparison, during Formula 1 testing, the prying media have no access to drivers’ conversations with mechanics. To broadcast F1 testing in the same way as Alonso’s IndyCar test would require a significant culture change for teams up and down the pit lane.

Imagine Lewis Hamilton testing new parts on his Mercedes, and then openly giving feedback on camera in front of his mechanics instead of behind closed doors, with microphones picking up his every word. Whilst fascinating to those watching, the information provided would also be golden to his rivals.

Broadcasting testing live via social media would help viewers and fans of the sport appreciate the intrinsic nature of testing. It may bring new fans to the sport, if they stumble across live testing and become captivated by the nature of it, in the same way fans were captivated by the stream today.

Whilst I do not want to see every minute of testing live (a few hours at most each afternoon would suffice), the extremely positive reaction to IndyCar’s live stream ahead of the Indianapolis 500 may serve as a catalyst for change. How Liberty Media can implement that into Formula 1 might need a little bit of persuading from a variety of parties…

Scheduling: The 2017 Russian Grand Prix

The 2017 Formula One season moves back onto the European season for round four of the championship, as the paddock moves to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix!

For the second race in a row, Channel 4 are broadcasting live coverage, and for the first time in 2017, Eddie Jordan is back with the team. Jordan joins Channel 4’s usual line-up headed by Steve Jones and David Coulthard.

As in Bahrain, the channel will be airing another new episode of F1 Meets prior to qualifying. On this occasion, Coulthard chats to Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. Elsewhere in their line-up, their race day programme is a whopping four and a half hours long, with Channel 4 staying on air until 16:30.

Unusually, Channel 4 are airing new programmes following F1 on Saturday and Sunday afternoon: The Auctioneers on Saturday at 14:30 and the World’s Most Expensive Cars with Ant Anstead on Sunday at 16:30. This is good to see as there were occasions last year where repeats followed live Formula 1 programming.

The full scheduling details, including the IndyCar Series and the World Rally Championship, can be found below.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
28/04 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
28/04 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2
29/04 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
29/04 – 11:55 to 14:30 – Qualifying
30/04 – 12:00 to 16:30 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build-Up
=> 12:35 – Race
=> 15:10 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
29/04 – 11:25 to 11:55 – F1 Meets… Daniel Ricciardo

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
28/04 – 08:45 to 10:45 – Practice 1
28/04 – 12:45 to 15:00 – Practice 2
29/04 – 09:45 to 11:10 – Practice 3
29/04 – 12:00 to 14:40 – Qualifying
30/04 – 11:30 to 16:10 – Race
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
26/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
27/04 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Driver Press Conference
27/04 – 21:00 to 21:15 – Paddock Uncut
28/04 – 15:00 to 15:30 – Team Press Conference
28/04 – 15:30 to 16:00 – The F1 Show
03/05 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
27/04 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
28/04 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/04 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/04 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
30/04 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

British GT – Oulton Park (Frontrunner)
30/04 – Races
=> 10:45 to 14:00
=> 15:00 to 17:15

British Superbikes – Oulton Park
30/04 – 16:00 to 18:00 – Qualifying (Eurosport 2)
01/05 – 12:30 to 18:00 – Races (Eurosport 2)
02/05 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

Euroformula – Estoril
29/04 – 14:00 to 15:00 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
30/04 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2 (BT Sport 2)

FIM CEV Repsol – Albacete (BT Sport/ESPN)
30/04 – 10:45 to 15:45 – Races

IndyCar Series – Phoenix (BT Sport/ESPN)
29/04 – 02:00 to 05:00 (Saturday night) – Race

International GT Open – Estoril
29/04 – 15:00 to 16:45 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
30/04 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race 2 (BT Sport 2)

Speedway Grand Prix – Slovenia (BT Sport 2)
29/04 – 17:30 to 21:15 – Races

World Rally Championship – Argentina
29/04 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 09:40 to 10:10 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 13:30 to 14:00 (BT Sport 3)
30/04 – 02:30 to 03:30 – Stage 1 (BT Sport 3)
30/04 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 09:40 to 10:10 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 11:30 to 12:00 (BT Sport 2)
30/04 – 16:00 to 17:30 – Power Stage (BT Sport/ESPN)
01/05 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 09:40 to 10:10 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 16:00 to 16:30 (BT Sport 1)
01/05 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

World Superbikes – Assen
29/04 – 09:15 to 14:00 – Qualifying and Race 1 (Eurosport 2)
30/04 – 10:00 to 13:00 – Support and Race 2 (Eurosport 2)
02/05 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights (ITV4)

World Touring Car Championship – Italy
29/04 – 14:00 to 14:30 – MAC3 time trial (Eurosport 2)
30/04 – 11:00 to 12:00 – Race 1 (Eurosport)

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

Update on April 26th – I have added Euroformula, the International GT Open and the Speedway Grand Prix to the above post, all three starting their 2017 seasons this weekend. Unlike previous years, Euroformula and the GT Open will not be on Motors TV (now rebranded Motorsport.tv of course).