In conversation with Manel Arroyo

It is Saturday afternoon at a surprisingly warm Silverstone circuit. I am half expecting rain at any moment, but apart from early morning drizzle, the MotoGP event took place in remarkable conditions throughout.

About half an hour before the official post-qualifying press conference started, which featured the Moto2 and Moto3 pole sitters, plus the top three riders in the premier class, this writer headed for the Dorna offices situated next to the media centre. Inside, there was a flurry of activity, with a range of guests heading in and out at various intervals.

Dorna have been the commercial rights holder for MotoGP for just over a quarter of a century. “This is our 26th year. We started in Japan in March 1992, the team back then was just twelve people”, Manel Arroyo, who is Dorna’s Managing Director, recalls. Since 1992, Arroyo and his Dorna team have seen a range of technological changes, on both large and small-scale. Arroyo comments, “One of the big moments is when we changed from analogue to digital, it was a huge change for everyone in the industry.”

“Since then, we have gone from 4:3 to 16:9 [in 2008], from SD to HD, and now we are here looking at 4K technology. The cameras that we now install on the machines have significantly more performance, which allows fans to follow the likes of [Valentino] Rossi. This is what makes our work very enjoyable.” During this weekend’s San Marino MotoGP, fans can access a live 360-degree view from Andrea Dovizioso’s Ducati via the MotoGP Video Pass service.

A worldwide operation
– 155 cameras per race
=> including 95 on-board cameras
– 360,000 kilograms of equipment
transported
=> 230,000 for the teams
=> 130,000 for Dorna
– 92 tonnes of TV equipment
– 50 trucks
– 4 cargo Boeing 747 planes

From twelve people in 1992, the number of people working for Dorna on their MotoGP coverage has increased to 300, with a split of around 230 people on-site and 70 people in Barcelona depending on the race. “For all of us, Sunday is a special day, because it’s real racing, there’s great racing and competition between our riders,” says Arroyo.

“Each race seems better than the last one, although it will be difficult to have one better than Austria! The paddock works altogether as one, for the common good of the sport, that means riders, manufacturers, teams, FIM, Dorna, broadcasters, media and all our other partners. It’s important that we listen to what the riders like, what the riders don’t like around the rules, what the broadcasters like, what the broadcasters don’t like and so on, whether they want the show in another format or package,” Arroyo continued.

> BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP

Although not always visible, the work that Dorna does goes beyond the MotoGP paddock, with Arroyo keen to point out the links to other motorcycle series to help talent flourish through the system from end-to-end. “We have been running with Red Bull the Red Bull Rookies Cup for many years. We also have the Asian Talent Cup that we’re running in Asia with Idemitsu and Honda, this is its fourth year. And [prior to Silverstone], we’ve started the process for the British Talent Cup, we will be running it next year.”

“We have connections with MotoAmerica, the American championship. We help them to produce the TV feed, and with the sporting and technical regulations, as we understand that in the long-term this will help grow the appeal of our sport.” Following Silverstone, it was announced that MotoAmerica would be expanding with a junior series, plus it is enriching its online offering so its European and Latin America fans can follow the series.

On the social media front, Arroyo is happy with the metrics, as demonstrated on this site. “We are reaching through social networks [to younger audiences], as you know very well, we’re the best motor sport in terms of followers in the social networking space!” The feeling that I received from Arroyo is that MotoGP is in a good position.

Attendances are fluctuating, with an unusually low attendance for the British MotoGP. Overall, whilst the picture is positive, the championship cannot afford to be complacent with roadblocks ahead, which is why Dorna are preparing for the long-term future and the next generation by investing in feeder, localised series around the world.

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Formula Two smashes its way to a record high; Formula 1 jumps to season high

The high-octane action of Formula Two helped the championship to a record high audience on Sunday morning, overnight viewing figures show, in what was an excellent weekend for both the feeder series and its bigger brother.

Formula Two soars to record high
Last week in the Belgian Grand Prix ratings post, I joked that I would report the Formula Two audience figures as a one-off. Evidently that changed the moment this past weekend’s figures landed in my inbox. Formula Two, or its predecessor the GP2 Series, has always been the unloved sibling. Whilst Sky Sports F1 has broadcast the World Feed for the leading feeder series, and GP3 since 2012, both entities have been under promoted for various reasons well documented on these pages.

Nevertheless, the new emphasis on the series from Sky and Liberty Media, combined with the rise of Charles Leclerc and Britain’s Oliver Rowland has caused a spike in Formula Two’s viewing figures. The feature race on Saturday was delayed thanks to the excessively long rain delay for Formula 1 qualifying. An audience of 68k (0.6%) stuck around from 17:15 to 18:30 on Saturday evening, a very good figure considering the delay.

The following day, an audience of 103k (1.6%) watched Formula Two’s sprint race from 09:10 to 10:05, peaking with 128k (2.0%) as the race ended, the highest ever overnight audience for a feeder series race on Sky Sports F1 dating back to the channel launch in 2012. Depending on the overarching circumstances, Formula Two can rate anywhere between 10,000 and 60,000 viewers, a very wide margin, but the audience for the feeder series is not as loyal as Formula 1. For a small number, Formula Two may be ‘must watch’, for others it will be a case of watching if nothing else is on.

Quite simply the audience is fantastic for the series, and should please those at Sky and Liberty Media. The next round in Jerez is a standalone event during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, and based on current standings, it is likely that the championship will be resolved during the weekend. I dare say that Sky should consider giving extra treatment to the Jerez rounds (whether via some extra London studio wrap around or some other mechanism) otherwise the potential championship decider may go unnoticed.

Race
The good news extended through to Formula 1, as both Sky Sports and Channel 4 saw healthy boosts over the weekend, perhaps helped by no top-flight domestic football action.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast across Sky’s dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event from 12:00 to 15:20, averaged a strong 857k (9.5%). Note that I would not normally tape-check Sky’s numbers, however Sky concluded their main show ten minutes early, meaning that Main Event went off the air earlier than anticipated. In any event, tape-checking makes little difference to the overall audience as Sky Sports F1’s post-race segment performed better than usual. An audience of 550k (6.1%) watched on the F1 channel, compared with 307k (3.4%) on Main Event, a split of 64:36.

Sky’s audience is their highest ever for the Italian round and their highest European audience since the 2016 German Grand Prix. The same facts apply for the peak audience of 1.39m (15.0%), which occurred at 13:30. At the time of the peak, 883k (9.5%) were watching via the F1 channel, with 505k (5.4%) watching on Main Event. However, Main Event’s audience grew further to a peak of 586k (6.1%) of 14:15, except during the same period, the F1 channel dropped to 762k (8.0%). Overall though, Sunday was an excellent news day for Sky, and they have several reasons to be happy.

After a rough couple of races, Channel 4’s numbers also flourished across the weekend. Their race highlights programme averaged 2.15m (11.6%) from 17:45 to 20:00, their highest audience for highlights since Germany 2016. Channel 4’s peak audience of 2.72m (16.2%) was their highest since the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The combined audience of 3.10 million viewers is the highest average audience of the entire year, the first time Formula 1 has jumped above three million viewers in this metric since the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix! Last year, Italy aired live on free-to-air television to an audience of 2.57 million viewers, so the average jumped year-on-year by 17 percent.

Italy is a race made for highlights simply because of its short length meaning that viewers are not missing as much action. The combined peak audience of 4.11 million viewers is an increase of two percent compared with 2016’s live coverage. Describing these audience figures as fabulous may be disingenuous, however they are healthy numbers in the context of the season so far.

Qualifying
Due to torrential rain, Sky Sports F1 was live on-air for over five hours on Saturday, from 12:00 to 17:10 for their qualifying broadcast. Their coverage averaged 363k (5.0%) for the duration, a good performance in the circumstances. From 13:00 to 16:45, the channel never dipped below 310,000 viewers, so most viewers stuck with the broadcast during the two-and-a-half-hour delay. Sky’s coverage recorded a five-minute peak of 543k (6.7%) as the second part of qualifying eventually ended at 16:15.

A little over 15 minutes after Sky went off the air, Channel 4’s highlights programme averaged 1.39m (11.2%) from 17:30 to 19:05, a slight overrun which is unusual for a highlights programme, no doubt the edit was still being completed whilst the programme was ‘live’ on air! The highlights show peaked with a strong 1.92m (14.0%) at 18:45 as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position.

The combined average audience of 1.75 million viewers is a marginal increase on last year’s audience of 1.70 million viewers. The peak audience is down around 170,000 viewers year-on-year, with a combined peak this year of 2.46 million viewers, compared with 2.63 million viewers twelve months ago.

The 2016 Italian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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A race to the printers

When the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoons, the hard work may be over for the MotoGP riders, who have just raced around some of the world’s toughest circuits. But behind the scenes on the journalistic front, there is a separate race against time that goes unnoticed. A race for the printers. A race round the paddock to get the quotes that will either be the lead story online, or the lead story on the supermarket shelves. It is a frantic race, that brings with it many layers that must fit seamlessly into place for the process to work.

In the lead-up to the home round of the 2017 MotoGP championship, Motorcycle News (MCN) published a 32-page British Grand Prix special, that was months in the making. “We’ve been planning the paper for three months. I started on it at Sachsenring before the Summer break, planning and then gathering quotes during Austria and Brno,” explained Simon Patterson, MCN’s MotoGP reporter.

Patterson, who has been MCN’s reporter since the start of 2016, described how the input of British riders was vital in helping with delivery of the special. “With British riders, we can do things over the phone as we have a great relationship with them. One of the features we have in the preview is a track map which needed to be annotated. I sent the map to Tarran [Mackenzie], he printed it, scribbled notes on it, photographed it and sent it back! There’s mutual benefit.”

Despite a reduced circulation, the weekly paper is still a key part of MCN’s output, with an audience of around 66,000 readers per week in 2016 according to Press Gazette, a healthy number and comfortably ahead of its competitors in the market. It is important for the future of the newspaper that it has exclusive stories, such as Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Ducati from last year.

“You get to build your circle of sources. There are a few things that someone has told me a month in advance, I think it doesn’t sound correct, and then a month later it comes true! The next time they tell you something, you take them a bit more seriously,” Patterson says.

Attention during the early part of the weekend is on producing content for the website, with a clear emphasis on disseminating driver quotes, session results and evening round-ups, before focus turns to gathering key information ready for the magazine.

The paper, which is published each Wednesday, forms the backbone of Patterson’s post-race output. “The race normally finishes at 3pm local time, we go straight into rider debriefs and the press conferences, trying to catch riders in the paddock. Normally that takes me until around 6pm, and it is just me from MCN at this stage! I won’t start writing until 6pm essentially, which is normally four spreads of the paper, eight pages and around 6,000 words in total,” explains Patterson, who regularly spends Sunday evenings amongst other journalists in the media centre until the early hours!

Only after the chequered flag falls does the lead story start to fall into place, but even then, the narrative may still be undecided. “You have an idea of what the story is, but sometimes you can ask a question in the debrief to get the quotes from them to support what you’re going to write. You know your angle, you ask the question and get the supporting evidence from them, that’s the way to build it,” Patterson notes. Patterson is MCN’s sole MotoGP reporter at 16 of the 18 rounds, meaning that his role is critical throughout the entire process. The news gathering process is similar irrespective of organisation.

Unlike the television crews around the world who broadcast MotoGP, journalists have time to digest the information presented to them before writing their narrative. “[The TV guys] can do a certain amount of prep [before going to air]; they may have talked to people after warm-up, but I get the chance to talk to all of the riders first, talk to crew chiefs, talk to people from Michelin and then form an opinion,” explains fellow MotoGP journalist David Emmett, who has been writing about MotoGP for MotoMatters for a decade. “Because it is more reactive it requires less preparation, because I write 2,000 words in the evening, I have time to sit down and think about it.”

Outside of the circuit, once Patterson has written his material for the newspaper, a quality assurance phase occurs, a procedure common place in the print industry to ensure the material written is accurate and of high-quality. Known as ‘sub-editing’, Patterson’s pieces for print go through four layers involving three MCN editors (Sports, Production and Senior) and the design team before final sign-off. It is an exhaustive, but vital, process. Already in the background, journalists are compiling quotes and research for future races, as MotoGP speeds towards the flyaway races, the process is constantly moving forward.

Following publication of last week’s edition of MCN looking back at the British MotoGP, truncated stories are published online to direct attention to the paper. And then, for Patterson and the rest of the fraternity, attention turns to the next stop of the season, which this weekend is the San Marino MotoGP…

Bank Holiday and warm weather knocks Belgian Grand Prix down

The Belgian Grand Prix dipped last Sunday (27th August) compared with previous years, overnight viewing figures for the UK show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 4 from 12:00 to 15:10 for the build-up and the race itself, averaged 1.65m (19.6%), a drop of over 300,000 viewers on last year’s average of 1.98m (21.1%), which covers a longer time slot. It is Channel 4’s second lowest audience for a live race, only ahead of last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix programme. Typically, live European races on Channel 4 so far have averaged between 1.9 and 2.2 million viewers.

Sky simulcast Sunday’s action across their dedicated F1 channel and Sky Sports Mix, which now has a more prominent slot on the EPG thanks to the latest Sky reshuffle. The F1 channel brought in an average audience of 418k (5.0%) from 12:00 to 15:30, with Mix adding a further 151k (1.8%) over a shorter slot from 12:30 onwards. The weighted combined average for Sky of 547k (6.5%) is down in audience but slightly up in share on last year’s audience of 617k (6.3%). It does represent an increase though on all the figures from 2012 to 2015.

The race, including build-up, was down year-on-year from the very beginning. At midday, a combined audience of 640k (10.2%) were watching Channel 4 and Sky’s coverage, compared with 934k (12.3%) at the top of the pre-show hour last year. The race itself fluctuated between 3.1 million and 3.3 million viewers throughout, eventually reaching a combined peak audience of 3.49m (38.6%) as Lewis Hamilton won the Grand Prix. Whilst Channel 4’s coverage peaked with 2.57m (28.5%) as the race ended, the two Sky channels hit a combined peak of 1.03m (11.6%) at 13:25 prior to the first Super Sunday football game.

The combined average audience of 2.19 million viewers is down 15.5 percent on last year’s average of 2.60 million viewers. Last year’s average was stronger than anticipated, so a larger year-on-year drop is unsurprising, even if it is the lowest average for Spa since records began in 2007. The combined peak audience of 3.49 million is a decrease of 11.4 percent year-on-year on the 2016 peak audience of 3.94 million viewers.

Qualifying and Support Races
Live coverage of qualifying on Channel 4 averaged 937k (12.5%), down on last year’s audience of 1.08m (13.4%). Interestingly, the peak audience that the broadcaster recorded was up year-on-year. The main reason for this is that, in 2016, Lewis Hamilton was out of last year’s running from the beginning, starting from the back of the grid due to engine penalties. Nevertheless, it shows that, as with the race broadcast, less viewers watched Channel 4’s build-up programming.

Sky’s coverage on Sky Sports F1 averaged 262k (3.5%), in-line with last year’s audience of 263k (3.3%), although like with Channel 4, the peak for Sky was higher year-on-year. The result was a combined average audience of 1.20 million viewers, down 10.5 percent on 2016’s average of 1.34 million, yet the peak audience of 2.01 million viewers was up 10.4 percent year-on-year! It is very unusual to see that kind of pattern.

I normally do not publish Formula Two’s viewing figures, but there has been special interest over on Twitter to publish some numbers, so as a one-off, I will include them in this piece. The Formula Two qualifying session, broadcast live on Sky Sports F1 on Friday afternoon from 15:20 to 15:50, averaged 34k (0.6%). The two races averaged 51k (0.7%) and 34k (0.6%) on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning respectively.

Formula Two’s viewing figures look slightly higher than previous GP2 figures in the past few years. The viewing figures above are on the higher end of the pay TV scale for motor sport outside of Formula 1 and motorbikes. It is certainly lower than Moto2 and Moto3 on BT Sport, but higher than recent IndyCar figures (which have dropped back off post-Alonso).

The 2016 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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BT Sport likely to retain UK TV rights for MotoGP

BT Sport look likely to continue broadcasting live coverage of MotoGP beyond their existing contract, this site can exclusively reveal.

There have been rumours in recent months that BT Sport may be embroiled in a battle with Sky Sports to continue showing the championship beyond 2018, with Dorna apparently looking elsewhere. But Dorna, who are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, have told this site that they are “very happy” with BT’s coverage. BT won the UK television rights to MotoGP in 2013, ending the BBC’s free-to-air coverage. Since then, live action has aired on pay television in the UK, with free-to-air highlights switching from ITV4 to Channel 5 more recently.

According to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, BT Sport’s live coverage has averaged 117k (1.3%) on race-day for the first half of 2017, 186k (1.8%) for the MotoGP race itself, regularly peaking with around 250,000 viewers. Channel 5’s highlights have averaged 446k (2.5%) at the half way stage of the season. BT’s television audiences are marginally down year-on-year, whilst Channel 5 is up by 40 percent on ITV4’s numbers from one year ago.

Speaking to me during the British Grand Prix weekend, Manel Arroyo, Dorna’s Managing Director for Media said “We are talking with BT, to extend the relationship. We are comfortable and happy with the work that has been delivered by BT. We’re very happy with the evolution of live coverage on BT compared with the BBC previously. The existing format, where we have full live coverage on BT Sport, with highlights on free-to-air, can continue in the future. We’re talking to BT at the moment.”

Perhaps an indirect worry is that the attendance for the British round of the championship was the lowest for many years, with 56,008 showing up on Sunday compared with 73,000 for the past two years. Arroyo defended the direction taken by the championship in recent years to switch from a free-to-air model to pay in various territories, noting that it is the wider industry trend and it brings opportunities for future expansion. “For me, it is not just about the money. The pay TV platforms have tools that allow fans to have a better, more expansive experience than on linear TV.”

“Pay TV gives you the possibility to have multiscreen, more data. It is a path that we started many years ago, it is the new world and the new way that fans can watch races. We still play some of our content on free-to-air, but clearly there is a switch to digital platforms. What Dorna is doing is trying to be aware of what is going on in the market and preparing for everything,” Arroyo noted.

Beyond the next television deal in the UK, there is the much wider question of whether exclusive MotoGP programming may play out on the likes of Amazon Prime or Netflix in the future. “We are aware of these services,” Arroyo said. “We haven’t been talking to Netflix, as they have said that they are not going to invest in sports, but Amazon and other social networks for sure. The live content must be paid, as it costs a lot of money to produce the quality that we offer to our fans. It is something that we need to work on seriously moving forward.”

There will be further quotes from Arroyo on this site in the next week.