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…

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Scheduling: The 2017 Chinese Grand Prix / Argentine MotoGP

The 2017 Formula One season moves onto Shanghai for round two of the championship in China, as fans hope for the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel to continue.

The Chinese round of the season switches with Bahrain, which follows the next weekend. Coverage from China will be broadcast exclusively live on Sky Sports, with highlights on Channel 4 later in the day. Readers may have noticed that, compared to last year, Channel 4’s highlights are slightly longer in length but are also being broadcast in a later time slot than 2016.

Over on BT Sport, their MotoGP coverage from Argentina is headed up by Craig Doyle for his first round of the 2017 season. In terms of returning championships, the World Touring Car Championship is back this weekend, live on Eurosport 2 from Morocco. Eurosport are also broadcasting the MAC3 time trial this season, which I do not believe was broadcast last year. Eurosport have split qualifying and the MAC3 time trial into two separate slots on the EPG (thanks Alex in the comments for the correction).

A noticeable omission in the schedule below is the Virgin Australia Supercars series. The series was broadcast live on BT Sport last season, but the arrangement appears to have stopped with Motorsport.tv taking over from the start of 2017. Unfortunately, it looks like that Motorsport.tv will not be airing the series live for the next few rounds at least, hence why it does not feature below.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
08/04 – 13:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying Highlights
09/04 – 14:30 to 16:45 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
07/04 – 02:45 to 05:05 – Practice 1 (also on Sky Sports 1)
07/04 – 06:45 to 08:55 – Practice 2 (also on Sky Sports 1)
08/04 – 04:45 to 06:10 – Practice 3 (also on Sky Sports 1)
08/04 – 07:00 to 09:40 – Qualifying
09/04 – 05:30 to 10:10 – Race
=> 05:30 – Track Parade
=> 06:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 06:30 – Race
=> 09:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
05/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
06/04 – 08:00 to 09:00 – Driver Press Conference
06/04 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
07/04 – 09:00 to 09:30 – Team Press Conference (also on Sky Sports 1)
07/04 – 09:30 to 10:00 – The F1 Show (also on Sky Sports 1)

BBC Radio F1
06/04 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
07/04 – 02:55 to 04:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
07/04 – 06:55 to 08:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08/04 – 04:55 to 06:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
08/04 – 06:55 to 08:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
09/04 – 06:30 to 09:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

IndyCar Series – Long Beach (BT Sport//ESPN)
09/04 – 21:30 to 00:00 – Race

MotoGP – Argentina (BT Sport 2)
07/04 – 13:00 to 20:00
=> 13:00 – Practice 1
=> 15:45 – Reaction and Build-Up
=> 17:00 – Practice 2
08/04 – 13:00 to 20:15
=> 13:00 – Practice 3
=> 16:00 – Qualifying
09/04 – 13:30 to 15:15 – Warm Up
09/04 – 16:30 to 22:00
=> 16:30 – Moto3 race
=> 18:15 – Moto2 race
=> 19:45 – MotoGP race
=> 21:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Argentina (Channel 5)
10/04 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

World Rally Championship – France
07/04 – Day 1 Highlights
=> 22:30 to 23:00 (BT Sport 1)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
08/04 – 15:00 to 16:00 – Stage 1 (BT Sport//ESPN)
08/04 – Day 2 Highlights
=> 22:00 to 22:30 (BT Sport 3)
=> 23:05 to 23:35 (Motorsport.tv)
09/04 – 11:00 to 12:30 – Power Stage (BT Sport 1)
09/04 – Day 3 Highlights
=> 22:00 to 22:30 (BT Sport 2)
=> 22:35 to 23:05 (Motorsport.tv)
11/04 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

World Touring Car Championship – Morocco (British Eurosport 2)
08/04 – 15:15 to 17:30
=> 15:15 – Qualifying
=> 16:30 – MAC3 time trial
09/04 – 16:30 to 18:30
=> 16:30 – Race 1
=> 17:30 – Race 2

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

MotoGP jumps to highest audience since 2015

The 2017 MotoGP season started in fine fashion this past weekend according to unofficial overnight viewing figures, thanks to a strong number for Channel 5’s highlights programme.

BT Sport decreases…
As usual, BT Sport 2 aired live coverage of the MotoGP weekend. Their coverage overran by 45 minutes due to the delayed MotoGP race, running from 15:30 to 20:45. The whole programme averaged 120k (0.8%), down marginally in audience and share on 2016’s average of 132k (0.9%). It is BT Sport’s lowest audience for a season opener. Like Formula 1 earlier in the day, warm weather and Mother’s Day hit MotoGP’s viewing figures. In addition, a factor for MotoGP will have been the England football game, which aired on ITV from 16:25 to 19:30.

The MotoGP race itself, which aired from 18:30 to 20:45, averaged 175k (0.9%), down around 13 percent on the equivalent 2016 figure of 201k (1.2%). The red flag periods will not have helped the race segment; also, BT’s lowest for the first round of the year. There is some solace in the peak figure. BT’s coverage on Sunday peaked with 247k (1.3%) at 19:50, a marginal drop on 270k (1.5%) on 2016, down also on 2015 but up on the 2014 peak audience.

The slightly lower than expected numbers follow on from the trend that we saw with BT Sport’s coverage in the latter stages of 2016, but should not be seen as a major concern at this stage in proceedings.

…but Channel 5 benefits
In 2016, ITV4’s highlights programme on Monday evenings from 20:00 to 21:00 averaged 285k (1.4%) across the whole season. Channel 5’s Qatar programme averaged 486k (2.7%) in an earlier time slot from 19:00 to 20:00. Although slightly below Channel 5’s slot average, this is a good number for MotoGP on their return to the channel. Demographically, the championship lost viewers amongst the younger audience against Channel 5’s slot average, but this is a problem that all of motor racing has right now.

It is the highest highlights number since the 2014 Qatar MotoGP, ironic almost in some ways given that was when the pay TV deal started. The strong numbers at the beginning of the 2014 season came off the back of publicity surrounding the BT Sport deal. I think, even taking into account the relative profile of Channel 5 versus ITV4, Dorna will be pleased to see a good Channel 5 average. Channel 5’s audience built consistently throughout the hour, peaking with 645k (3.5%) at 19:50.

The combined audience of 662,000 viewers is the highest for MotoGP since the 2015 season finale and the highest for a season opener since 2014.

Top 5 – MotoGP audiences since the move to BT Sport (source: Overnights.tv)
01 – 679,000 – 2014 Qatar (BT Sport + ITV4)
02 – 676,000 – 2015 Valencia (BT Sport + ITV4)
03 – 662,000 – 2017 Qatar (BT Sport + Channel 5)
04 – 603,000 – 2015 Italy (BT Sport + ITV4)
05 – 601,000 – 2014 Italy (BT Sport + ITV4)

I am hopeful that Channel 5’s audience may improve from here, especially considering that the channel is starting to build up its motor racing portfolio. Some cross promotion with Formula E and the World Rally Championship will boost all three series and help increase the viewing figures further.

The 2016 Qatar MotoGP ratings report can be found here.

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Scheduling: The 2017 Australian Grand Prix / Qatar MotoGP

A changing of the guard has occurred in Formula 1 over the winter. A champion retired on top of the world. A mass-media corporation ousted an elder statesman, who grappled with the sport for a lifetime. The machinery has become faster, louder and maybe even sexier.

The Formula 1 roadshow that greets us next weekend for the Australian Grand Prix is a significantly different one to the one that left us last November in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, for everything that changes, some aspects remain the same.

Channel 4 and Sky Sports have retained broadly the same line-up as last season. Steve Jones will continue to lead Channel 4’s line-up, with the likes of David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Karun Chandhok providing analysis. Over on Sky, Simon Lazenby begins their sixth season of covering Formula 1 as presenter, Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill are nearby as always in the wings.

The major change for Sky this season is that former Williams technical director Pat Symonds will provide commentary on a number of races alongside Brundle and David Croft. It will be interesting to see how Sky uses Symonds during the race itself, whether they will use him throughout the race or in the quieter phases only.

Over on the BBC, Jack Nicholls returns as 5 Live lead commentator with Allan McNish, Tom Clarkson, Jennie Gow and Mark Gallagher again completing their line-up. Nicholls will miss the Hungarian round this season due to his Formula E commitments. On the scheduling front, note that Friday’s timings are half an hour earlier than previous years, so practice one starts at 01:00 UK time, whilst Sky’s weekend coverage is simulcast on Sky Sports 1. For those with ultra HD, F1 will be available in 4K for the first time through Sky Q.

MotoGP also makes its return next weekend, with Channel 5 providing highlights on Monday evenings, replacing ITV4 in this respect. BT Sport will continue to cover the championship live, with Suzi Perry presenting live for 11 of the 18 races including the opening race of the season in Qatar. Keith Huewen and Julian Ryder will again be covering commentary this season, whilst the likes of Gavin Emmett and Neil Hodgson will be down in pit lane.

NOTE: Clocks go forward one hour on Sunday 26th March, with the change from Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time. The times listed are for GMT on Saturday and before; BST for Sunday and afterwards…

Channel 4
Sessions
25/03 – 13:00 to 14:50 – Qualifying Highlights
26/03 – 14:00 to 16:40 – Race Highlights

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
24/03 – 00:30 to 02:45 – Practice 1
24/03 – 04:45 to 06:55 – Practice 2
25/03 – 02:45 to 04:10 – Practice 3
25/03 – 05:00 to 07:40 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
26/03 – 04:30 to 09:10 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 04:30 – Track Parade
=> 05:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 05:30 – Race
=> 08:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
22/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Report: Australia Preview
23/03 – 04:00 to 04:30 – Driver Press Conference
23/03 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Australia
24/03 – 07:00 to 07:30 – Team Press Conference
24/03 – 07:30 to 08:00 – The F1 Show
29/03 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Report: Australia Review

BBC F1
Sessions
21/03 – 20:30 to 21:30 – Preview, Part 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview, Part 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live)
24/03 – 00:55 to 02:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/03 – 04:55 to 06:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/03 – 02:55 to 04:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/03 – 05:55 to 07:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
26/03 – 05:00 to 08:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Supplementary Programming
20/03 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Crash and Burn: The Story of Tommy Byrne (BBC One Northern Ireland)
=> also 27/03 at 21:00 on BBC Four

MotoGP – Qatar (BT Sport 2)
23/03 – 14:00 to 19:45
=> 14:00 – Preview
=> 15:00 – Practice
24/03 – 14:45 to 18:45 – Practice
25/03 – 14:30 to 18:30 – Qualifying
26/03 – 13:45 to 21:00 – Races
=> 13:45 – Warm Ups
=> 15:30 – Moto3
=> 17:15 – Moto2
=> 18:45 – MotoGP
=> 20:00 – Chequered Flag

MotoGP – Qatar (Channel 5)
27/03 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights

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

Channel 5 secures MotoGP highlights package

Channel 5 will broadcast highlights of the MotoGP championship this year, Dorna have confirmed. The broadcaster will air the package in a Monday evening slot.

Mark Sharman, Channel 5, said: “We are thrilled to bring viewers the very best of MotoGP and add another headline act to our motor racing portfolio with the world’s fastest motorcycle racing Championship. It will be a mind-blowing season – one for the books. Complementing our live coverage of Formula E and the World Rally Championship highlights, this further demonstrates our commitment to offer top class sport to our viewers”.

Manel Arroyo, Managing Director at Dorna Sports, commented: “With so much emphasis on British talent this year, we are delighted that highlights of every MotoGP round this coming season will be available for British audiences on Channel 5. Our British riders in every category are in top form so it should be an exciting season for our British fans. We are looking forward to getting the 2017 FIM MotoGP World Championship underway in a couple of weeks time in Qatar”.

The move bolsters Channel 5’s existing motor sport portfolio alongside Formula E and the World Rally Championship. It is great to see that MotoGP will have an increased presence, moving from ITV4 to Channel 5, rather than the opposite way down the pecking order. For Channel 5, it marks a return to covering the championship having previously done so in the early 2000s. The overnight audience for the highlights package should increase. ITV4’s coverage in 2016 averaged 285k (1.4%); a barometer Channel 5 should be able to double.

North One Television will continue to produce the highlights package. North One also produces BT Sport’s MotoGP coverage, so do not expect any fundamental change to the style (or timings) used.