Haryanto and Verstappen shine on social media

Whilst this site tends to focus on the efforts of Channel 4 and Sky Sports where Formula 1 is concerned, it is important to comment on what Formula One Management (FOM) has done so far during 2016. With that, we also turn to social media where there have been several shining lights.

Formula 1 is constantly trying to break into new territories, so when a racer from a new territory comes along, it is little surprise to see their follower counts skyrocket. Enter Rio Haryanto. At the half way stage of the 2016 season, Haryanto has amassed a combined reach of 1.66 million accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A video posted by FOM on YouTube of his car rolling out the garage in pre-season testing has been watched over half a million times. These are massive numbers by F1’s standards, even with Haryanto’s Formula 1 exploits ending for the moment. Whether Formula 1’s popularity (beyond Haryanto) has increased in Indonesia though is unknown.

Max Verstappen has had a similar effect in the Netherlands, and his shock switch from Toro Rosso to Red Bull has helped the latter in the social media stakes. From a combined reach of 6.36 million accounts in December 2015 to a reach of 8.08 million accounts currently, this represents an increase of 1.72 million (or 27.0 percent), the largest for any team across the first half of 2016. Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari and Renault all recorded gains of around 950,000 followers. Behind the leading five, Haas did not disgrace themselves, moving from a combined reach of 146,000 in December to 480,000 currently.

Social media - August 2016 - Figure 1
The Formula 1 social media statistics, covering Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as of August 2016.

Mercedes again had the lowest percentage increase, but with their reach increasing by one million from 12.6 million to 13.6 million followers across the big three social media websites, they cannot complain. Force India and Sauber had a relatively poor first half of 2016, both teams only increasing their reach by less than 200,000 followers.

Verstappen on the march
The surge that started in 2015 has continued into 2016. In July 2015, Verstappen’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reached 247,000 followers. Now, that number has quintupled to a reach of 1.28 million followers. That’s an amazing turn of form. What we don’t know, is where those followers are distributed. I suspect, unlike Haryanto, Verstappen’s followers are distributed more widely to the rest of Europe given the impact that he is likely to have on Formula 1 in the years ahead. Viewers watching this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix weekend will have noticed a large Dutch contingent out in force.

Behind Verstappen and Haryanto in the impressive stakes is Nico Rosberg, who jumped from reaching 2.71 million accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at the end of 2015 to reaching 4.36 million accounts half way through 2016. It is likely that Rosberg will become the second biggest social media star in F1 by the end of 2016, surpassing Fernando Alonso. That is surprising in one sense given their respective personalities, but Rosberg’s strong form in the early races will have played its part in the growth numbers. Germany’s television viewing figures have bounced back slightly this year, so Rosberg is getting more support from home than previously.

Social media - August 2016 - Figure 2
The Formula 1 social media statistics, covering Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as of August 2016.

Whilst ten drivers possess a reach of over one million followers, only half show significant growth (if we discard Haryanto): Hamilton and Rosberg lead by some margin, followed by Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez. Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and to a smaller degree Alonso have a stagnated follower base as Button and Massa start to ebb towards the end of their respective careers.

Instagram continues to grow at a faster rate than both Facebook and Twitter, jumping from a cumulative total of 8.57 million at the end of 2015 to 15.90 million currently. Their market share has increased from 12.8 percent to 18.1 percent as a result. Twitter’s slow down continues, but nevertheless increased from a cumulative total of 22.3 million to a healthy 27.5 million. Overall, the metrics are all up from the same time last year, and increasing at a faster rate which is good news for the sport moving forward.

Formula One Management… getting better?
Normally, I use the rule that if I’m complaining about things less, then chances are that it is actually getting better. I think that is the case with FOM’s television coverage! With tweaks to on-board camera angles and overall a greater sense of speed through different trackside cameras, things do appear to be moving in the right direction. Of course, the coverage has been let down by the outlandish team radio rules…

Team radio was first introduced to Formula 1’s television feed as part of the F1 Digital+ service. The service was introduced in 1996, coming to the United Kingdom in 2002 before closing at the end of that season. Broadcast to a niche audience, it quickly became clear how team radio would revolutionise Formula 1 viewing if rolled out to the globalised free-to-air feed.

2016 Canadian GP - Grosjean
A welcome return: camera angles such as the above of Romain Grosjean’s Haas have not been seen since the 1990s, but have returned to Formula 1’s World Feed in the past few races, giving a greater sense of speed.

“Let Michael past for the championship, Rubens” was one such snippet that aired on the F1 Digital+ feed at the 2001 Austrian Grand Prix. Victory celebrations were also commonly broadcast on the F1 Digital+ feed, notably at the 2000 German and Japanese rounds of the championship, again both featuring Ferrari drivers.

Team radio became more widespread through the 2000s, with it being common place until the radio rules of late last year. I’m happy to see the ruling reversed, simply because the team radio offered a different opinion on the track action, a ‘third wheel’ shall we say. However, even after the reversal, it still feels like there is less team radio than in previous seasons. Have drivers been trained to talk less in the car, or are the fans hearing an extremely filtered version?

Staying with TV, FOM’s GP2 commentary line up of Alex Jacques and Davide Valsecchi has been a revelation this season. Jacques has come on leaps and bounds since we heard him at the start of 2015. Plucked out of nowhere, his style alongside Valsecchi’s strong enthusiasm means that fans are in for a treat whenever GP2 is live on-air.

Elsewhere in the FOM spectrum, their social media efforts have improved compared with 2015. Helped by an influx of new faces such as ex BBC F1 video editor Tom Bowker, their social media platforms, including Facebook which launched in March, have played host to a lot more unseen archive footage than previously. Finally, it looks like the public is able to scratch at the surface of FOM’s video archive.

With 2.6 million ‘likes’ on Facebook, 2.2 million on Twitter and 220,000 on YouTube, F1 is building its digital fan base. Their Facebook page, which was launched in March, has been successful so far thanks in part to the migration of the 1.8 million people who already liked F1 related pages! FOM have not done anything though to go viral yet, in the same way that Formula E and the Ricciardo/Massa go-karting fun did. In fact, I do not think FOM have done anything in recent memory to go viral, whether they choose to do so to try and boost their profile, we shall see.

In the meantine, MotoGP remains four times as popular as Formula 1 on both Facebook and YouTube. The series recently hit 1 million subscribers on YouTube, rewarding fans with a full race copy of the 2015 Australian Grand Prix… for free! Of course, the nature of television deals mean that FOM may not be able to do that, but it shows what can be achieved. As always with F1, there is a long way to go to getting fans the level of access that MotoGP does with their fans.

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UK F1 TV viewing figures drop significantly with switch to Channel 4

The change of free-to-air broadcasting rights from the BBC to Channel 4 have had a detrimental effect on Formula 1’s television viewing figures in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures suggest. Audiences have shown signs of increasing though as we head into the Summer break.

> Channel 4’s audience down 1.5 million compared with BBC in first half of 2015
> Sky slides to record low for second year running
> Demographic analysis shows younger audience has held up strongly

As always, it should be noted up front what this site uses to compare the viewing figures with past data. All the numbers in this article are ‘overnight’ viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, which brings together the live viewing figure with recordings made before 02:00 the following morning, typically this is called Live + VOSDAL (viewing on same day as live).

For Sky Sports, the three-and-a-half-hour broadcast slot is used, for example, from 12:00 to 15:30. Currently, this encompasses ‘Pit Lane Live’ and ‘Race’ programmes. The three-and-a-half-hour slot has been used consistently for comparisons since Sky started broadcasting Formula 1 in 2012. This ensures that the number reported can be used to analyse cross-year data accurately. It also broadly uses the same slot length as the BBC and ITV have used in the past. There are exceptions: if a race overruns, the three-and-a-half-hour slot is extended, as necessary.

The data for Sky’s Formula 1 coverage includes Sky Sports 1 where applicable, ensuring that a complete picture is reported. In this piece, I will not break down the Sky figure into Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports 1, simply because the number of races that were simulcast on Sky Sports 1 in the first half of 2015 compared with the first half of 2016 is largely unchanged.

Over on Channel 4, their full programme slots have been used, irrespective of length. This provides a fair comparison with the BBC data. However, caution should be exercised: Channel 4’s programmes contain advertising, the BBC’s did not which inevitably puts the commercial broadcaster at a disadvantage. But, this piece will analyse the data further, looking at how much impact that element has had on numbers.

Lastly, this piece only looks at the viewing figures for the first half of each individual season, given that this is a half way review. So for 2016, the period from the Australian Grand Prix to the Hungarian Grand Prix is in scope.

The 2016 story
Starting with Sky’s Formula 1 programming. Their show, from 12:00 to 15:30 or equivalent, averaged 617k, their lowest mid-season number in the five years that they have been covering Formula 1. As mentioned, the viewing figures include any simulcasting on Sky Sports 1. For the first half of 2015, the average was 657k, which at the time was a record low in itself. So, year-on-year, average audiences for Sky have dropped 6 percent. Compared with 2012, which was the high point at 772k, average audiences have dropped 20 percent.

The peak audience metric for Sky though has increased by 0.9 percent, from 980k in 2015 to 989k in 2016. I appreciate those two numbers are within the margin for error (in terms of my own calculations), but the average programme audience decreasing, yet the peak audience holding up would imply that Sky’s pre and post-race programming has dropped disproportionately to the race itself. Year-on-year, three races have seen their average audience increase: Canada (up 15.8 percent as a result of no live free-to-air coverage), Austria (up 15.1 percent) and Britain (up 13.9 percent). In Sky’s defence, the substantial drops occurred in the early phase of the season. Australia (down 30.4 percent) and China (down 26.4 percent) are two examples of this.

If Sky were hoping to capitalise on the BBC’s exit by hooking ex-BBC F1 viewers onto their product then unfortunately for Sky, that has not happened so far. The way the championship battle shaped up in the early races hurt both them and Channel 4. Only recently have both broadcasters started to improve their audiences. Had Lewis Hamilton’s championship defence not got off to a poor start (relatively speaking) then the first quarter of 2016 may well have performed better for Sky.

Normally at this stage in the article I would analyse the free-to-air broadcaster and look at year-on-year trends. This year, the situation is different. Channel 4 have taken over from the BBC. Channel 4 reaches less viewers than BBC One, so of course Formula 1’s viewing figures have dropped. To some degree, it is comparing apples and oranges, but this site aims to report Formula 1 viewing figures accurately and to do that, the comparison needs to be made. The key is, how much have audiences declined. The answer? At the half way stage of 2016, Formula 1’s terrestrial television viewing figures have dropped 40 percent.

On race day, Channel 4’s programming has averaged 2.01 million viewers, down 1.5 million on the 3.51 million viewers for the same period last year on the BBC.  In my opinion, seeing a 1.5 million drop year-on-year is on the more extreme side of what I expected. Channel 4’s viewing figures are around half a million lower than I anticipated. Unsurprisingly, every race has dropped year-on-year, from the very extreme of Canada (down 71.9 percent due to no live free-to-air presence) to Britain (down 26.7 percent).

The peak audiences that Channel 4 have recorded do not clock up much better, with an ‘average peak’ audience of 2.78 million, down 36.4 percent or 1.59 million on the ‘average peak’ audience of 4.37 million that the BBC hit in the first half of 2015. The commercial impact does hit the average audience metric slightly, but not big enough that it would wildly affect the overall year-on-year trend. Looking at the breakdown across the season, viewing figures have improved in recent races, hitting a peak audience of three million viewers for both Britain and Hungary.

The demographic gap
Channel 4 aims the content that it produces at a younger audience. That is the DNA of the corporation, hence channels such as E4. Whilst the overall audience drop is disappointing, this is largely concentrated amongst the older viewers, who simply have not transitioned across from the BBC. The younger audience has dropped, but at a far less rate than older viewers. Whilst the overall drop is major, there is a headline within the headline, and the numbers are not all bad news.

Speaking exclusively to this site, Channel 4’s Head of F1 Stephen Lyle is keen to emphasise this: “Viewing to both live races and highlights on Channel 4 has been strong with our live race coverage regularly making Channel 4 the most watched terrestrial channel over the time slot with the largest share of young viewers, which is important to the legacy of the sport.”

It should be noted that this piece does not include on demand viewing, such as Sky Go or All 4. With Sky Go slowly on the rise along with Now TV, this may account for the drop in Sky’s Formula 1 television viewing figures. However, All 4’s Formula 1 programming is unlikely to receive as many requests as BBC’s programming did on iPlayer, due to the respective size of both platforms. So, it is swings and roundabouts really.

Elsewhere, BBC 5 Live’s Formula 1 coverage is not included. The radio station benefited from Formula 1’s switch to Sky in 2012, so they may have benefited again as a result of the move from BBC to Channel 4. The methodology for measuring radio listening figures is different to television viewing figures, so numbers are difficult to compare. However, in the latest RAJAR figures released for Q2 in 2016, 5 Live was up year-on-year whilst 5 Live Sports Extra was down.

Combined audience and final thoughts
The combined television average audience in the UK at the half way stage of 2016 is 2.63 million, a decrease of 36.8 percent on 2015’s average audience of 4.16 million. Currently, it stands as the lowest number on record, dating back to 2006. I expect the second half of the season to do better than the first; the last race which rated lower than 2.63 million was Canada. In fact, both Canada and China drag the average audience down.

In a perfect world, the numbers would be higher. Audiences are slightly lower than what I expected on Channel 4. Can that be reversed? Absolutely. If the championship race goes down to the wire, there is no reason why audiences cannot increase. Channel 4 and Sky have been unlucky this season. The on-track battle between Mercedes and Ferrari which I thought and hoped would occur simply has not materialised. You can only talk about what you see on-track, and the Mercedes duel for the third season running, irrespective of channel, pay walls or anything else, is not the most appealing to the casual viewer even if there is British interest.

We saw at the back of last season that Hamilton wrapping the championship up early will not be good for viewing figures. Seeing as Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel has, for the moment, turned to star-dust, we look towards Max Verstappen. Verstappen vs Hamilton is something that has yet to happen but should happen on-track either in the latter half of this season or next. That battle should spice up interest up front and potentially bring new fans.

As of writing, I have received no comment from either the BBC or Sky, but if I do, I will amend this article.

Update on August 13th: The BBC have supplied this site with the following statistics. Over one million audio requests have been made for BBC’s Formula 1 coverage online, with their Formula 1 website receiving five million unique browser hits during its highest week. Furthermore, 1.37 million hits were received for their British Grand Prix live page, their largest number so far this season.

overnights.tv-bannersF1

Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage gets off to a bright start

Earlier this year, I attended Channel 4’s pre-season media morning, where their team for the 2016 Formula One season was announced. There were promising sound bites on the day, but how much of it has come to reality? And is this the “dream team” that Channel 4’s Chief Creative Officer Jay Hunt suggested it would be?

On-air team, led by Jones, excels
The biggest question mark heading into the season was Steve Jones, who is Channel 4’s new Formula 1 presenter. An unknown in presenting live sport prior to this year, Jones has grown in stature race-by-race. I’m enjoying his presenting style, with the energy and warmth that comes with it.

It is clear that Jones is not attempting to be like Suzi Perry or Jake Humphrey before him. Jones is being himself. As a viewer, I appreciate that, it comes across as natural which helps the broadcast immensely. Half way through the season, Jones gets a thumbs up from me. If you’re not keen on Jones, the good news is that David Coulthard leads some of the discussion segments, meaning that there is no dominant figure leading the agenda.

The decision by Whisper Films to have “rotating pundits” is paying off thus far. Mark Webber, Alain Prost, Susie Wolff and Eddie Jordan have been used sporadically throughout Channel 4’s live races meaning that opinions are not repeated by the same faces, nor is the team bloated on-screen. Channel 4 struck gold in Spain, as Prost give his opinion on the Mercedes collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg whilst reminiscing about his own experiences with McLaren.

The chemistry is clear to see: Coulthard and Webber work extremely well together as do Wolff and Jordan when paired together on-screen. A natural team results in a successful team. We should applaud Whisper Films for putting together the team that they have, others before them have either tried and failed, or chose not to bother approaching the likes of Prost, Webber and Karun Chandhok.

Channel 4’s line-up contains a former World Champion (Prost), a former team boss (Jordan), two former Red Bull drivers, one of which challenged for the title (Webber and Coulthard) amongst others. It is the perfect recipe, bringing together a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds within motor sport.

The missing link before the start of 2016 was the role of “technical expert”, which disappointed readers including myself. Chandhok was hired to take up the role of pit lane reporter alongside Lee McKenzie. Nevertheless, Chandhok’s wealth of knowledge both past and present, amongst his paddock connections means that we are not missing as much information as I anticipated we would. Chandhok is a fantastic asset for Channel 4, and I’m glad that he is on board for their coverage. With McKenzie away for Wimbledon and the Olympics, it has been good to hear Holly Samos again, Samos used to be a member of BBC’s radio team until her departure at the end of 2010.

Overall, I do think Channel 4’s team is stronger than Sky Sports. Yes, Sky have the likes of Anthony Davidson, Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz, but I feel that Channel 4 have given a wider range of opinions so far instead of the same two or three voices.

Reinventing the wheel
Sometimes, the little tweaks beyond the naked eye go a long way. Whilst Channel 4 have not ripped apart the BBC’s previous format, they have made some subtle, positive changes to their coverage.

Graphically, Channel 4’s output is top-notch. Modern, forward thinking is the term that I would use. Their Formula 1 branding, which was designed by Mammoth Graphics, feel like something I expect to see in 2016 as opposed to a relic from the past. If you compare the typical constructor and grid graphics of years gone by with Channel 4’s current graphics set, you will notice a stark difference: Channel 4’s graphics feel ‘simplistic’, yet attention to detail has been paid.

Added to this is the integration of social media in the graphics. As I mentioned in my review of their Australian Grand Prix coverage back in March, I love the fact that #C4F1 is integrated in the graphics package alongside relevant tweets, Instagram posts or Facebook statuses. The package has clearly been designed with social media elements in mind (hence ‘forward thinking’). In my opinion, the social media layer does not detract from the programme, but instead adds an additional level that previously was not there.

One introduction in Channel 4’s British Grand Prix coverage was the return of the three-person commentary team. Led as usual Ben Edwards, in the box alongside him was both Coulthard and Webber. This is not new: ITV briefly had a three-person commentary team in 2005 with Jenson Button in the box when Honda were banned, whilst the BBC have had three-person teams in both the mid-1990s and as recently as this season on BBC Radio 5 Live.

But for Formula 1 television coverage in the UK, it is a different step. Again ‘hearing different voices’ is good. Hearing Webber in the commentary box was great as he was able to give his first hand opinion on events having raced some of the drivers that were racing on track. In my opinion, it gives Channel 4 a further advantage over Sky Sports F1. The commentary line-up of Edwards and Coulthard was already good, but Webber raises the bar further. I am hopeful we see this set-up again in the latter half of 2016, three-person commentary teams do work if each person is given adequate input.

Whisper Films have excelled in the editing department with some fantastic VTs, notably Murray Walker’s interviews with Jenson Button and Freddie Hunt so far this season. This should not be a surprise considering most of the Whisper team used to work on BBC’s Formula 1 programme, but nevertheless it is good to see that the quality of the VT editing and shooting has remained high.

Room for improvement in some areas
As always with both Channel 4 and Sky, there is some room for improvement, in both cases only some of these are within the production teams control. The main improvement for me is on the cross-promotion front. Besides a pre-season programme special with Guy Martin, the cross-promotion has been lacklustre. There has been a Sunday Brunch special, but aside from that there has not been crossover with Channel 4’s biggest brands such as Gogglebox or Come Dine with Me.

The Sunday Brunch special was not promoted until the last-minute, and I feel it was a lost opportunity not broadcasting the magazine show live from Silverstone. I suspect the lack of crossover is simply down to the filming schedule: it should be remembered that Channel 4’s team was put together incredibly quickly just six to eight weeks before the 2016 season began, meaning there was little time to organise and produce cross over specials. I think these will probably come for 2017 if there is appetite for it.

Channel 4's British Grand Prix team in the paddock: Steve Jones, Susie Wolff, Eddie Jordan, Mark Webber and David Coulthard (L to R).
Channel 4’s British Grand Prix team in the paddock: Steve Jones, Susie Wolff, Eddie Jordan, Mark Webber and David Coulthard (L to R).

Out of the personnel announced before the start of 2016, three faces have yet to appear during Channel 4’s main coverage: Nicolas Hamilton, Bruno Senna and Alessandro Zanardi. I imagine Hamilton and Zanardi will appear in Paralympics related features in September, I would be surprised if either are on-screen after that. As for Senna, I thought we would have seen him on-screen now, so his absence is surprising. No on-air references have been made to Senna appearing, my gut instinct is that we will see him in Mexico given that Mexico takes place two weeks before the Brazilian Grand Prix.

As Channel 4’s live programming has developed it has become clear, unintentionally or not, that their Saturday build-up shows are geared towards the dedicated viewer whereas the Sunday show is geared towards hooking more casual viewers up. This was evident in their British Grand Prix build-up where a significant portion of Sunday’s pre show centred around Lewis Hamilton. It did feel slightly overload towards him, as what could have been one interview segment was split into several segments interspersed through the build-up. As a one-off, this was okay but just something to note going forward. There have been a few celebrity segments, but these have been used to lead into a commercial break as opposed to a central feature.

The commercial television aspect of Channel 4 meant that their post-race coverage has suffered. But, if you look back over time, both BBC and Sky struggled at first to perfect their post-race element so this is something Channel 4 will only improve on in the live programming as time progresses. The lack of an extended post-race programme in the shape of a forum style show is disappointing, but I don’t feel like it is being missed, either. The social media boom may mean that fans use Facebook and Twitter more for post-race analysis as opposed to sticking around for the television post show. Viewing figures would probably not justify staying live on Channel 4 until 16:00 or 16:15 regularly. I think Channel 4 should do what the BBC did in their early post-2012 days and upload a 20 to 30-minute online forum / wrap up show online, similar to NBC’s Paddock Pass show.

Elsewhere, All 4 is a gripe where slow uploads are concerned after each race but I appreciate that this is something that is out of the control of the F1 production team. Overall, Channel 4 gets a deserved thumbs up. In my opinion, their coverage has been better than what I expected. Their strong start makes it all the more disappointing that, as it stands, we will only have Channel 4’s live coverage for the next two and a half seasons.

Davidson and Brundle highlight strengths and weaknesses in Sky’s Formula 1 team

The 2016 Formula One season is Sky Sports F1’s fifth year on the air. The channel, launched in 2012, features the likes of Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz and Anthony Davidson at the head of its line-up. Along the way, there have been relatively few changes and additions: the only major story was in early 2013 when Georgie Thompson left her presenting duties for pastures new.

Sky fill in the hole left by Davidson and Brundle
The Canadian and European rounds of the 2016 season signalled, temporarily at least, a changing of the guard for Sky. Both Davidson and Brundle were absent due to their 24 Hours of Le Mans commitments, whilst Brundle also had a medical procedure following the Monaco Grand Prix. It was the first time Brundle had not commentated on a Grand Prix since 2008, on that occasion Damon Hill deputised for him in the commentary box for ITV.

The absence of Davidson and Brundle resulted in a significantly weaker line-up for Sky. Simon Lazenby and Rachel Brookes headed up the various presenting duties, with David Croft in the commentary box. Paul di Resta substituted for Brundle as co-commentator and lead analyst, with Johnny Herbert, Damon Hill and Ted Kravitz on-board as usual.

More interestingly, we got to see what Sky Sports F1 would look like without Martin Brundle. A great team is one that still looks and feels the part, even when one of its main casting members have disappeared. Unfortunately for Sky, you had the impression that without Brundle, the team looked distinctively “second class”, as if it was a two tiered system previously, whereby the likes of Herbert and Hill were one or two levels below Brundle. And the same applies for a Sky without Davidson.

The commentary duo of Croft and di Resta was not that bad. But, it wasn’t great either. Di Resta in isolation was good filling in for Brundle, but he is not someone I would want to listen to on a regular basis. That is not a criticism of him, instead it is a reflection of how much we have come to appreciate Brundle’s commentary over the years. Furthermore, Brundle’s absence meant that most discussion segments contained Lazenby, Herbert and Hill. The problem here is a trio that is growing increasingly stale as time progresses.

Poll – Who do you think is Sky Sports F1’s biggest asset?

Back in 2012, I said that Herbert was a fantastic addition to Sky’s team. The problem is Herbert has since turned into a shadow of his former self on-screen. There are more comedic segments or bizarre opinions as opposed to actual analysis from him – stating on multiple occasions that Lewis Hamilton’s head is not “in the game” or that Fernando Alonso should retire. Both of these appear like attempts to generate headlines for Sky as opposed to a genuine thought. Opinions like these have started to, as of late, leak towards other members of Sky’s team, with Kravitz and Croft talking about Mercedes “conspiracies”. If that direction is coming from the production team, then it needs to be reined in, in my opinion.

Elsewhere, Davidson has been brilliant analysing the events so far this season, irrespective of the role he is placed in. The events of Spain and Austria placed greater emphasis on Davidson’s analysis, which was fantastic to listen to as he dissected the collisions between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Sky Sports F1’s coverage without Brundle and Davidson would be a significantly weaker television programme, and the programming that Sky produced in Canada and Baku only serves to demonstrate that point (the highlight of their Canada coverage came thanks to a seagull, which to be fair to Sky did go viral).

Should Sky head towards a “rotating team”?
A twenty-one race season is a major undertaking for everyone within Formula 1: teams, drivers, media, mechanics, you name it. From a fan perspective, seeing the same faces on-screen fronting each of the 21 races means that the opinions you get are repetitive. That is not Sky’s fault, in fact they’re probably happy that there are more races in 2016, as it means that they will reach more viewers. But, at the same time, have Sky failed to adapt to the changing dynamic?

When you look at the proposed 2017 calendar of 18 races, maybe not. Sky air every session live, as they themselves are keen to emphasise. With that, there should also be an emphasis on exploring, experiment, trying something different and changing personnel. Fresh faces are needed, in the same way that Channel 4 have brought in voices that the UK audience had previously never heard as pundits, such as Karun Chandhok and Alain Prost. Both men were not ‘obvious’ choices for Channel 4, but have been well received.

Anthony Davidson in mid-flow during Sky Sports F1's coverage of the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, dissecting the crash between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Anthony Davidson in mid-flow during Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, dissecting the crash between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Sky should be looking at a similar strategy going forward if the long-term intention is for the F1 calendar to remain around twenty races. Marc Priestley has joined their team which is all well and good, but why are they using him in an off-air capacity during race weekends and not a regular on-air capacity? I’m hopeful the changes Channel 4 have made compared to the BBC will mean that Sky will try to push the boundaries where their own team is concerned. However, I’m not sure how likely a “rotating team” is for Sky though, a wider variety of faces during the season team means a bigger pay bill overall…

The F1 channel feels the effect of Sky’s “efficiency savings”
When the Formula 1 channel started in 2012, there were a lot of positive vibes about what could be done to make the channel look and feel like an ‘F1 channel’. 2012 was a learning year, but it was 2013 and early 2014 when the schedule started to mould into one with classic races, F1 Legends, journalist specials, studio editions of The F1 Show. On top of this, Sky produced special material: ‘Senna Week’ remains the best ever week for the channel from a content perspective.

The hope was that Sky Sports would continue to improve and refine the output. But, focus turned elsewhere. With big money being splashed on Premier League rights, efficiency savings had to be made across the board. So far in 2016, Sky Sports have not produced one documentary about Formula 1. Not one has made the air (yet). The classic races that are airing are not new, and are simply now being repeated on a loop as and when each evening. The last new episode of F1 Legends (or Architects of F1) to make the air was November 2015. No new episodes of Tales from the Vault have been produced. The F1 Show in its 2015 form was essentially axed in favour of the weekly, recorded F1 Report shows. The F1 Report tends to be good but the quality of the guests varies massively with a shoe string budget.

Sky have aired several features this season that could have also been edited into stand-alone documentaries. The channel produced two short films focussing on the Spanish and Monaco rounds of the 1996 Formula One season, the latter in particular was excellent in my opinion as a variety of characters were interviewed. But, the problem was that both features were too short at less than 5 minutes in length when both could easily have been thirty minute documentaries to flesh out the two stories, adding to the content on the channel. Sky are not maximising what they have in the F1 channel, in my view.

So, as a consumer, let me ask the question. Why should I (or you) pay the same amount of cash that you do to Sky if the content being produced at the end of the production line has been reduced? Because that is what has happened. It is clear to me that the Sky Sports F1 channel currently exists as a contractual obligation, and nothing more. Sky (and BT Sport) are spending a ridiculous amount of money on rights acquisition, meaning that they have less money to produce supplementary material.

How will Sky’s attitude towards this change as we head towards 2019, I don’t know.