Looking ahead to 2018

Heading into 2018, there are several stories which promise to keep bubbling away during the next twelve months, some of which have significant relevance to UK readers.

new look Formula 1 will greet fans at the start of the 2018 season, both on and off the track. On track, we say hello to the Halo. Will the introduction of the cockpit protection system cause a ratings drop worldwide for F1, or will audiences continue to be enticed by the machinery on offer?

Off the track, F1 unveiled its new branding at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will be rolled out across all forms of media at the start of 2018. How will fans react to the new visual on-screen look? Friendly, more playful is the intention, we wait to see if fans like what they see come Melbourne, if not earlier.

Also, Formula 1’s new over-the-top services are highly anticipated, which should launch in a number of countries. Sean Bratches publicly confirmed the service during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but early 2018 will see firm details unveiled, such as pricing and content. Will an entry level tariff allow F1 to reach new fans and markets? Will the platform make a noise to start with if the initial user base with access is low?

With an over-the-top network comes personnel. Will Formula One Management poach personnel from their existing broadcasters’, or bring new pundits into the sport? Will we see the likes of Will Buxton and Jason Swales (both part of NBC’s former F1 line-up) play a part?

In the UK, as readers are aware, Sky Sports hold exclusive television rights from 2019 to 2024, marking a significant shift in the market. However, is there appetite from them to sublet a highlights-only package to a free-to-air station, allowing Formula 1 to continue to reach the masses? As it stands, 2018 will be Channel 4’s third and last season covering Formula 1.

We should also in the first half of 2018 find out which UK broadcaster will air MotoGP from 2019 onwards. BT Sport’s contract expires at the end of 2018. They are expected to retain the rights, but it is not a nailed on certainty, and Eurosport could still steal back the premier motorcycling sport.

So many questions unanswered as we head into 2018. If you love your broadcasting news, do not change the channel…

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MotoGP’s UK audience rises thanks to Channel 5 switch

MotoGP’s viewing figures in the UK rose during 2017, because of the move of its highlights programming to Channel 5, overnight numbers show.

Background
As regular readers will know, MotoGP aired on the BBC until the end of 2013, regularly averaging around one million viewers. With pay-TV money arguably more important to MotoGP than it is to other forms of motor sport, Dorna left the BBC at the end of 2013, instead choosing BT Sport as their new home, the rights fee rising considerably as a result.

BT Sport has been the sole live broadcaster of MotoGP since 2014, with free-to-air highlights airing on ITV4 from 2014 until 2016. This season, Channel 5 took over the baton on that front, exposing MotoGP to a larger audience in the same Monday evening time slot. The one down side is that Channel 5 also have the rights to some England cricket highlights, which caused MotoGP to air in a midnight time slot for the British round in August, a less than ideal situation.

In 2017, the MotoGP championship battle between Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso went down to the wire in Valencia, with Marquez coming out on top. This was the second season finale championship decider that BT have aired live, the first being the controversial tussle between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo in 2015.

The BT Sport picture
Throughout 2017, BT Sport’s live coverage of race day, around five hours of coverage in total, has averaged 100k (1.7%), a decrease of around 12 percent on last year’s audience average of 114k (1.9%). BT’s average audience is their lowest since their opening year in 2014, which averaged 90k (1.4%).

All figures in this article are overnight audience figures (live, plus VOSDAL supplied by Overnights.tv, and exclude viewers who watched via BT Sport’s online platform, nor does it include fanatics who may have ventured towards the official MotoGP app to consume their coverage.

The patterns presented above repeated themselves for the other two key metrics: the MotoGP segment and the peak audience. The 18 races, using the 90-minute slot covering 30 minutes of build-up and a small wrap-up at the end, averaged 165k (2.6%), a slightly smaller drop of 9 percent compared with 2016’s equivalent audience of 181k (3.1%). In 2015, BT Sport’s coverage of each MotoGP race averaged 212k (3.6%), meaning that 2017’s numbers represent a 22 percent drop.

BT Sport’s coverage throughout 2017 peaked with 223,000 viewers for each race, a drop on last year’s peak audience of 245,000 viewers. The picture is the same throughout the trends, with BT Sport’s coverage of 2017 slotting in below 2015 and 2016, but ahead of 2014, despite this year’s action going down to the wire. In comparison, live coverage of British Superbikes peaks with around 130,000 viewers on Eurosport, inflated to 190,000 viewers if you include viewers watching on Quest. Contrary to popular belief, British Superbikes does not bring in higher audiences than MotoGP.

Marquez versus Dovizioso not a draw for UK audiences
In 2015, the season finale in Valencia recorded BT Sport’s highest ever audience for a MotoGP race, peaking with 433k (3.9%), a figure that has yet to be beaten. Whilst low compared with the BBC days, the figure showed that there was clearly a portion of the audience who do not normally tune into MotoGP, yet chose to watch the race on that day.

Fast-forward two years, and the 2017 season finale in Valencia peaked with 254k, not far above the season average, and not the highest peak audience of the season either. Live coverage of the season finale across the five hours of coverage from 09:30 to 14:15 averaged 125k (1.5%), with the MotoGP segment averaging 173k (1.9%). The programme average was 25 percent above the season average (and their highest programme average since Austin in April), but the MotoGP element was lower than the likes of Austria and San Marino just a few months earlier.

You normally expect a noticeable boost for any championship decider, yet such a boost did not materialise this year, suggesting that the battle between Marquez and Dovizioso did not appeal to BT’s audience. To put it another way, you may argue that BT not market the battle very well to their audience in other popular junctions (such as football). In 2016, Cal Crutchlow’s two victories helped BT Sport, Britain’s first premier class wins in over 30 years.

Channel 5’s highlights boosted compared to ITV4’s numbers
Highlights of MotoGP averaged 406k (2.4%) on Channel 5 this season, an increase of 42 percent on ITV4’s average audience from 2016 of 285k (1.4%), a pleasing rise. ITV4’s audience dropped across their three years, meaning that compared with 2014’s ITV4 number, Channel 5’s average audience is up 18 percent.

Channel 5’s highest audience in 2017 came with the Australian round of the season in October. The thrilling race, which arguably was the one which helped decide the destination of the championship, with Marquez winning and Dovizioso down in 13th, averaged 487k (2.6%) for the free-to-air broadcaster, peaking with 636,000 viewers. Audience figures like that show why MotoGP needs a free-to-air presence of some form after 2018.

Despite the promising numbers in some areas, Channel 5’s broadcasts lost steam after the Summer break, averaging 365k (2.3%) for the second half of the year, compared with 446k (2.5%) for the opening phase of the season. This impacted on the overall combined figures for the season…

Final thoughts and combined audiences
The switch to Channel 5 helped MotoGP bring in its highest combined audience since leaving the BBC, with an audience of 571,000 viewers watching. As noted above, the second half of the season struggled, with the phase from Austria through to San Marino struggling on Channel 5. An average of 632,000 viewers watched during the first half of the year, dropping to 509,000 viewers for the second half.

The Grand Prix of the Americas from Austin in April brought in a combined average audience of 701,000 viewers (split 475,000 to 226,000), peaking with 951,000 viewers (split 668,000 to 282,000). Including the BT Sport and MotoGP app, it is highly likely the peak audience will have exceeded one million viewers, a major achievement.

Aside from Britain, the Austrian Grand Prix was the low-light, averaging 456,000 viewers, whereas every other race before it had averaged 544,000 viewers or higher.

If the ITV4 trajectory is to go by from 2014 to 2016, then Channel 5’s audience figures might see a second-year dip in 2018. Next year will be fascinating on the MotoGP broadcasting front, as the destination of the series for 2019 onwards should be known, with BT Sport’s contract expiring.

Speaking to this site earlier this year, Dorna did not give anything away, but did say that they were happy with BT’s coverage and in negotiations with them post-2018. But do not rule out Sky or Eurosport snapping up the rights, with the latter becoming a more prominent player in the market. Where MotoGP ends up in 2019, is anyone’s guess.

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Julian Ryder to bow out of MotoGP commentary role following 2017 season

Julian Ryder is to retire from his MotoGP broadcasting duties at the end of the 2017 season, this site can confirm. It means that his commentary alongside Keith Huewen for BT Sport in Valencia, will be his last in MotoGP, for now at least.

Ryder follows MotoGP World Feed lead commentator Nick Harris in retiring, Harris also bowing out this weekend. BT nor Ryder have yet to comment, but I have been able to independently verify the news with multiple sources, whilst stars from the paddock fraternity have noted it on social media.

Involved in motor cycle racing for over 30 years, Ryder started off as a journalist before moving into the television space with Eurosport in the late 1980s. Ryder’s first major stint was with Sky Sports, working alongside the likes of Huewen and Martin Turner (more recently Sky’s Head of Formula 1) on their World Superbikes coverage.

Into the new millennium, Ryder moved to Eurosport, covering MotoGP with Toby Moody and Randy Mamola, forming a partnership that became universally liked by viewers from the beginning until Eurosport’s coverage ended in 2013. Ryder made the switch with MotoGP to BT Sport, reforming his partnership with Huewen, lasting for four seasons.

BT Sport’s presentation line-up has changed various times since their coverage started in 2014, with Melanie Sykes, Abi Griffiths, and Iwan Thomas coming and going at various stages. Ryder’s departure appears to be his decision as opposed to a BT influenced move. It is fair to say that BT will lose his vast array of knowledge and expertise spanning the three classes on the MotoGP programme, which will be incredibly difficult to replace.

> Interested in how motorcycle television broadcasting works? Head over here and here for a behind the scenes look…

The problem for all motor sport series, especially MotoGP and Formula 1, is that as the number of races increases, so does the demand and strain on all involved with the championship, including broadcasters’ and journalists. The more races you add to the calendar in fly-away locations, the less desire there is to continue said travel.

If broadcasters want to retain their best talent, both in front and behind the camera, they need to strongly consider rotating their talent better, including commentary or, as an alternative, to call some of the fly-away races from London. For next season, I would expect Neil Hodgson and Colin Edwards to be the prime candidates to fill Ryder’s void, in what could be BT Sport’s fourth and last season covering the sport.

Either way, the 2017 Valencia MotoGP round marks the end of an era, with two legendary commentators heading to pastures new outside of the MotoGP paddock.

Update on November 10th – Speaking at the start of BT Sport’s coverage of the first MotoGP practice session on Friday morning, Ryder said, “My name is Julian Ryder, I’m here for the last weekend of my MotoGP career.” Ryder also explained his reasoning at the start of the broadcast. “I decided that I can’t deal with the travel anymore, I’ve got other jobs I want to do, so I’m quietly out the door on Sunday.”

Speaking to Keith Huewen, Ryder said that “it has been the pleasure of my professional life to commentate with you. It has always been fun, as it should be!”

Scheduling: The 2017 Valencian MotoGP / Brazilian Grand Prix

Two riders. One championship. Marc Marquez. Andrea Dovizioso. One of them will become 2017 MotoGP World Champion in Valencia.

As always, the MotoGP weekend will air exclusively live on BT Sport, with highlights in a Monday evening time slot on Channel 5. Suzi Perry is back fronting BT Sport’s coverage alongside the likes of Gavin Emmett and Neil Hodgson; Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder will be on commentary.

The race is significant from a broadcasting perspective as it will mark Nick Harris’ last race commentating on Dorna’s MotoGP World Feed, having been involved in the motoring world for 36 years! His successor from 2018 onwards has yet to be announced.

Elsewhere, the Formula 1 season is not quite over, with the penultimate round of the championship in Brazil airing exclusively live on Sky Sports F1. Following Channel 4’s highlights programme is 1: Life on the Limit, which follows Formula 1’s pursuit for safety over the years. It is the first time that the film has aired on Channel 4, with various airings on ITV4 in the past year and a half.

Due to international football, the BBC’s coverage from Brazil is on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra for the complete weekend.

MotoGP – Valencia (BT Sport 2)
10/11 – 08:00 to 15:00
=> 08:00 – Practice 1
=> 10:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 12:00 – Practice 2
11/11 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
12/11 – 07:30 to 09:15 – Warm Up
12/11 – 09:30 to 15:00
=> 09:30 – Moto3 race
=> 11:15 – Moto2 race
=> 12:45 – MotoGP race
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Valencia (Channel 5)
13/11 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

Channel 4 F1
11/11 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Qualifying Highlights
12/11 – 22:30 to 00:45 – Race Highlights
12/11 – 00:45 to 02:45 – FILM: 1: Life on the Limit

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
10/11 – 11:45 to 14:00 – Practice 1
10/11 – 15:45 to 18:00 – Practice 2 (also on Sky Sports Main Event)
11/11 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Practice 3
11/11 – 15:00 to 17:40 – Qualifying
12/11 – 14:30 to 19:15 – Race
=> 14:30 – Track Parade
=> 15:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 15:30 – Race
=> 18:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
08/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
09/11 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Driver Press Conference
09/11 – 20:00 to 20:15 – Paddock Uncut
10/11 – 18:00 to 19:00 – Team Press Conference
10/11 – 19:00 to 19:30 – The F1 Show
16/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
10/11 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
10/11 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
11/11 – 15:55 to 17:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
12/11 – 15:30 to 18:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)

If anything changes, the schedule will be updated.

Scheduling: The 2017 Mexican Grand Prix

The 2017 Formula One season rolls into Mexico where it looks like, barring any reliability trouble, Lewis Hamilton will become a four-time Formula 1 champion.

The race is exclusively live on Sky Sports, the second time that Sky are likely to screen the championship winning race. The first occasion the 2015 US Grand Prix, where Hamilton secured his third championship with three races to spare.

It may be a weekend of championship deciders, with the Australian Grand Prix moving Marc Marquez closer to the MotoGP Riders’ Championship, which he is more than likely to secure in Malaysia.

NOTE: Clocks go back one hour on Sunday 29th October, with the change from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time. The times listed are for BST on Saturday and before; GMT for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4 F1
28/10 – 22:00 to 23:40 – Qualifying Highlights
29/10 – 22:30 to 00:45 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
27/10 – 15:45 to 18:00 – Practice 1 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
27/10 – 19:45 to 22:00 – Practice 2
28/10 – 15:45 to 17:15 – Practice 3
28/10 – 18:00 to 20:40 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports Main Event from 19:00)
29/10 – 17:30 to 22:15 – Race
=> 17:30 – Track Parade
=> 18:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 18:30 – Race (also Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 21:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
26/10 – 17:00 to 18:00 – Driver Press Conference
26/10 – 20:15 to 20:30 – Paddock Uncut
27/10 – 22:00 to 22:50 – Team Press Conference
27/10 – 22:50 to 23:20 – The F1 Show
01/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
26/10 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
27/10 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
27/10 – 19:55 to 21:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
28/10 – 15:55 to 17:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
28/10 – 18:55 to 20:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
29/10 – 18:30 to 21:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

MotoGP – Malaysia (BT Sport 2)
27/10 – 02:00 to 09:00
=> 02:00 – Practice 1
=> 04:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 06:00 – Practice 2
28/10 – 02:00 to 09:15
=> 02:00 – Practice 3
=> 05:00 – Qualifying
29/10 – 02:30 (BST) to 02:45 (GMT) – Warm Up
29/10 – 03:30 to 08:15
=> 03:30 – Moto3 race
=> 05:15 – Moto2 race
=> 06:45 – MotoGP race

MotoGP – Malaysia (Channel 5)
30/10 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Highlights

Euroformula – Barcelona (BT Sport/ESPN)
28/10 – 13:45 to 14:45 – Race 1
29/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Race 2

Formula Renault Eurocup – Barcelona
28/10 – 11:15 to 12:15 – Race 1 (BT Sport 3)
29/10 – 09:15 to 10:30 – Race 2 (BT Sport 2)
29/10 – 14:30 to 16:00 – Race 3 (BT Sport/ESPN)

International GT Open – Barcelona (BT Sport/ESPN)
28/10 – 14:45 to 16:30 – Race 1
29/10 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Race 2

Porsche Supercup – Mexico
28/10 – Race 1
=> 21:05 to 22:00 (Sky Sports F1)
=> 22:45 to 23:15 (Eurosport)
29/10 – Race 2
=> 16:25 to 17:20 (Sky Sports F1)
=> 16:30 to 17:15 (Eurosport 2)

Speedway Grand Prix – Australia (BT Sport 1)
28/10 – 08:45 to 12:15 – Races

World Rally Championship – Wales Rally GB
27/10 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 00:00 to 00:30 (BT Sport 1)
28/10 – 12:00 to 13:00 – Live: Gartheiniog II (BT Sport 2)
28/10 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 23:00 to 23:30 (BT Sport 1)
29/10 – 09:00 to 10:00 – Live: Brenig I (BT Sport 3)
29/10 – Live: Power Stage
=> 12:00 to 13:30 (Channel 5)
=> 12:00 to 13:30 (BT Sport 3)
29/10 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 22:15 to 22:45 (BT Sport 3)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
31/10 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

World Touring Car Championship – Japan (Eurosport 2)
29/10 – 03:45 to 07:15
=> 03:45 – Qualifying
=> 04:30 – MAC3 race
=> 05:00 – Race 1
=> 06:15 – Race 2

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

Update on October 27th – Due to a tropical storm heading its way, the WTCC action will now all take place on Sunday, with Eurosport 2 on air for three and a half hours.