Jenson Button joins Sky’s F1 team for 2019 season

Jenson Button will be part of Sky’s Formula 1 team covering the 2019 season, the broadcaster has confirmed.

Button, who was part of their team during their coverage of this year’s British Grand Prix, will have “an increased role with Sky F1 during coverage of all 21 races next year”, a decade after he won the F1 championship in 2009.

Speaking to Sky, Button said “I’m incredibly excited to join up with the Sky Sports team again. Working with them at Silverstone this year gave me a taste of television broadcasting, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and look forward to again in 2019.”

Scott Young, Sky’s Head of Formula 1, added “Jenson’s arrival is fantastic news for our customers and for motorsport fans. We have a world-class presenting team and we now add the unique insights from another world champion. This will elevate our coverage of Formula 1 in what is our first year of exclusivity in the UK.”

The addition of Button bolsters Sky’s line-up further heading into the 2019 season, I have always enjoyed Button’s thoughts and opinions. If you cast your mind back a long way, Button has previous experience in commentary, commentating on the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix for ITV when the FIA banned BAR from that race.

Next year, Sky airs 20 of the 21 races exclusively live for the first time, with live coverage of the British Grand Prix shared with Channel 4.

Despite previous suggestions that there may be movement prior to 2019, Sky’s article announcing Button references all of their existing on-air line-up, implying that there will be no fundamental shift in the off-season.

One of the problems for Sky is that the talent pool available is not massive outside of their own team, especially with Channel 4 hoping to retain a distinctive team for 2019. Whilst some parts of Sky’s coverage arguably need a shake-up, it is difficult to do so if the candidates they are after are not on the market.

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Scheduling: The 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

It is the end of the 2018 Formula One season this weekend, and with it marks the end of one broadcasting era for fans in the United Kingdom.

Outside of the British Grand Prix, this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi is the last F1 race live on free-to-air television for UK fans until at least 2025. From 2019, Sky Sports will air every race exclusively live, the exception being Britain which, for 2019 at least, will also air live on Channel 4.

Channel 4 will air highlights of the remaining races in 2019, but their future beyond next season is currently unknown. With only one race live next year, this weekend is likely the last covering Formula 1 for several of their team.

Lee McKenzie is one name who definitely will not be part of Channel 4’s F1 team in 2019, having covered Formula 1 for ten seasons, McKenzie having initially joined the BBC at the start of the 2009 season. The rest of Channel 4’s team, and Sky’s for that matter, for 2019 will no doubt become clear over the coming weeks.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
23/11 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1
23/11 – 12:55 to 15:00 – Practice 2
24/11 – 09:55 to 11:25 – Practice 3
24/11 – 11:55 to 14:45 – Qualifying
25/11 – 12:00 to 16:35 – Race
=> 12:00 – Build-Up
=> 12:45 – Race
=> 15:25 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
24/11 – 11:25 to 11:55 – Hamilton vs Vettel: The Fight for Five

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
23/11 – 08:45 to 10:50 – Practice 1
23/11 – 12:45 to 14:55 – Practice 2 (also Sky Sports Main Event)
24/11 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
24/11 – 12:00 to 14:30 – Qualifying (also Sky One)
=> 12:00 – Pre-Show
=> 12:55 – Qualifying
25/11 – 11:30 to 17:10 – Race
=> 11:30 – Pit Lane Live (also Sky One)
=> 12:30 – On the Grid (also Sky One)
=> 13:05 – Race (also Sky One)
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
22/11 – 11:00 to 11:30 – Driver Press Conference
22/11 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Welcome to the Weekend
24/11 – 15:30 to 16:05 – The F1 Show

BBC Radio F1
22/11 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/11 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/11 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/11 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/11 – 13:00 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Formula Two – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
23/11 – 07:25 to 08:15 – Practice
23/11 – 14:55 to 15:35 – Qualifying
24/11 – 14:30 to 15:30 – Race 1
25/11 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race 2

GP3 Series – Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)
23/11 – 11:05 to 11:45 – Qualifying
24/11 – 08:25 to 09:15 – Race 1
25/11 – 08:05 to 08:50 – Race 2

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.

Dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix peaks with just 2.8 million viewers

A peak audience of just 2.8 million viewers watched Lewis Hamilton win a dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix last Sunday, overnight viewing figures show.

There were several factors different about the Grand Prix last weekend compared with yesteryear. Both the qualifying and race started at 17:10 UK time, the latest slot for the Brazilian round of the season since 2009. That year, qualifying started at 18:00 UK time, with the race starting an hour earlier.

Whilst a later time slot should result in higher audience figures, Formula 1 faced strong competition over the weekend, including the Manchester derby. Outside the sporting arena, there were also a variety of events broadcast on television to mark 100 years since the end of World War I.

Race
For the first time for a Sky-exclusive Grand Prix, the pay-TV broadcaster opted to air the race on their general entertainment channel Sky 1 as well as their dedicated F1 channel. An audience of 998k (5.6%) watched from 16:00 to 19:30 across the two channels, their lowest for Brazil since 2015 when BBC One also aired live coverage.

682k (3.8%) watched via the F1 channel, with a further 370k (2.0%) watching via Sky 1, the two numbers combined slightly higher than the total audience reported above, as Sky 1 joined the programme later at 16:30.

After a brief increase to 1.49m (8.9%) by 17:25 as Max Verstappen clawed his way through the pack, audience figures dipped to a low of 1.35m (7.2%) during the second half of the Manchester derby. Figures increased rapidly from 18:25 onwards as the final whistle blew at the Etihad, the race peaking with 1.72m (9.0%) at 18:35 as Hamilton won the Grand Prix.

Sky’s peak figure of 1.72m is an increase on their 2017 peak of 1.60m (9.8%), but down on the equivalent 2016 figure of 1.75m (8.1%). The F1 channel peaked with 1.13m (5.9%) at 18:25, the first five-minute segment after the final whistle. Sky 1’s simulcast peaked with 616k (3.2%) at 18:40, a solid number considering the channel rarely airs Formula 1 action.

Nevertheless, Sky themselves are happy with both their Brazil audience, and Mexico figures from two weeks ago. Barring any very low figures for Abu Dhabi, Sky’s overnight F1 viewing figures on race-day will be higher than what they were on average throughout the 2017 season, which is good news for them heading into 2019.

Later in the evening, Channel 4’s highlights programme attracted just 748k (9.3%) from 22:30 to 00:45, down on last year’s number of 968k (13.0%) across the same time slot, a very poor number considering the circumstances for both years were identical from a championship perspective.

Channel 4’s broadcast this year peaked with 1.04m (10.3%) at 23:05, compared with a peak figure last year of 1.38m (13.1%). A plausible explanation is that the Sky 1 simulcast resulted in Channel 4’s highlights programme losing some of their audience, but does not account for all of the differential in my view.

The combined average audience of 1.75 million viewers is the third lowest of 2018, and the lowest for Brazil on record. The figure is a decrease of 11.4 percent on last year’s audience of 1.97 million viewers.

The peak audience of 2.76 million viewers is down by a slightly lower 7.4 percent year-on-year, but is still comfortably the lowest for the Interlagos round since at least 2005, if not before.

Qualifying
Live coverage of qualifying on Sky Sports F1 averaged 339k (2.2%) from 16:00 to 18:35, a decrease on last year’s audience of 436k (3.7%).

What is telling is how few people are tuning in to Sky’s build-up programming. Last year, 334k (3.3%) watched their pre-session discussion, compared with just 76k (0.6%) last weekend, the heavy drop a direct result of Sky splitting their qualifying show up into two distinct segments in the television schedules.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 645k (3.9%) when Lewis Hamilton clinched pole, also down on the equivalent number last year of 743k (5.5%) in an earlier time slot.

An audience of 1.02m (5.2%) watched Channel 4’s highlights show from 20:45 to 22:15, a drop compared with the 2017 audience of 1.14m (5.4%). Both Channel 4’s average and peak figures were down in raw volume, but broadly level in share.

1.42m (7.1%) were watching Channel 4’s broadcast towards the end, compared with a peak of 1.49m (7.2%) twelve months ago.

Both combined audience metrics were down by a similar margin when compared to their race counterparts. The average audience of 1.36 million was down by 13.7 percent, whilst the peak audience of 2.06 million viewers decreased by 7.5 percent year-on-year.

The 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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BBC to broadcast 2018-19 Formula E season across digital platforms

The BBC are to broadcast live coverage of the 2018-19 Formula E season across its digital platforms, both parties have today confirmed.

The electric series started life on ITV4, with coverage moving to Channel 5 from season three onwards. Now, at the start of Formula E’s second generation, the championship is again on the move, this time to the BBC. It is the first time that the BBC have aired live motor racing in visual form since their television coverage of Formula 1 ended in 2015.

However, the BBC’s Formula E coverage will be primarily absent from BBC’s television outlets. Instead, live coverage will air via the Red Button and via the BBC Sport website, with on-demand coverage via BBC iPlayer. Formula E says that one race this season will air on either BBC One or BBC Two.

“It’s great news that live motorsport is returning to our screens at the BBC,” said Barbara Slater, Director of BBC Sport. “I’ve no doubt the upcoming season will bring with it some exciting wheel-to-wheel moments and we can’t wait for it to begin.”

“The ABB FIA Formula E Championship will continue to be broadcast to the masses and across a variety of platforms in the UK,” said Ali Russell, Media & Business Development Director at Formula E. “It’s imperative that Formula E remained on a free-to-air network in such an important territory and key market for motorsport.”

“What better place to showcase some of the best and most competitive racing than on the BBC. We’re fully-charged and ready for the new season on the streets of the most recognisable cities – and this year promises to be more intense and unpredictable than ever.”

Formula E’s contract with the BBC is in addition to their agreement with YouTube, meaning that the championship will be available live, and free, via two of the biggest platforms in the United Kingdom.

Reflecting on their two-year deal with Formula E which expired at the end of season four, a Channel 5 spokesperson told this site “We have enjoyed working with Formula E over the last few years. We wish them every success with their new broadcast deal with the BBC.”

Potential for significant exposure with BBC deal
As I alluded to in my analysis around Formula E’s YouTube deal, there are many reasons why Formula E has struggled to gain traction in the United Kingdom. Little marketing from organisers, a lack of promotion, poor scheduling, and apathy towards the series from the wider public are just a few of the reasons.

During the past two seasons, Channel 5’s scheduling of Formula E has been haphazard, with the championship airing live across Channel 5 and their sister channel 5Spike to little fanfare. Half the races in season four aired live on 5Spike, with audience figures suffering as a result.

Collectively, a weighted average of 177k (1.8%) watched Channel 5’s coverage according to overnight audience figures supplied by Overnights.tv, the series regularly rating below slot averages and failing to pick up traction. The broadcaster treated the series as a slot filler, but when you look at the broader picture, the audience figures did not justify giving the series a bigger profile.

In addition, Eurosport, which has a separate pan-European deal with Formula E encompassing the UK, made little difference to the overall total figures. Unfortunately for Formula E, it was a catch 22 situation, and it is easy to see both their perspective and the Channel 5’s perspective.

So, what were the alternatives?

The clear alternative from the outset was Channel 4, but their new Formula 1 deal dashed Formula E’s hopes, for 2019 at least. With Channel 4 out of the equation, going back to ITV was another possibility, but Formula E’s vicious circle would continue.

A trip down the EPG to a lower-ranked channel in the small hope that it may boost their profile was highly unlikely. Pay-TV was a possibility, but such a deal would kill Formula E’s profile in the UK. As someone within the Formula E circles told me, “what if the alternative is BT Sport?” Such an announcement would have gone down like a lead balloon…

Outside of Formula 1, MotoGP and the TT races, the BBC has had little interest in motor racing since at least the early 2000s. As a one-off experiment, Formula E highlights appeared on the BBC website in March, which would have only helped Formula E’s cause if metrics were good.

The backdrop to the deal came in the form of a meeting between Formula E’s supremo Alejandro Agag and the Head of BBC Sport Barbara Slater.

Clearly discussions between the two parties were fruitful, with a positive outcome for all involved, and better than some of the potential alternatives. With live Formula 1 behind a pay wall for all but one race from 2019, now is the time for Formula E to strike while the iron is hot.

Some clarity still to emerge
The cost to the BBC is likely minimal, if not close to zero.

Channel 5’s coverage in season four was produced by North One Television, with production costs halved between Channel 5 and Formula E. What we do not know at this stage is whether the BBC will produce any bespoke wrap-around coverage for their UK audience.

It is unclear whether the BBC’s deal covers practice and qualifying, I have requested comment from the corporation on this front.

The BBC deal allows Formula E to reach different segments of the UK audience. YouTube gives them access to the non-sport audience, whilst the BBC Sport website opens the door to watchers of many different sports.

However, anyone expecting Formula E to receive “the BBC treatment” needs to reduce their expectations significantly. Yes, being on the BBC’s platform is great, but there is a reason the series is not on BBC One or BBC Two, and that’s because audience figures so far do not suggest that the championship could draw a wider audience, even on BBC One.

Whether Formula E were happy to take the Red Button option, or whether the BBC presented them with a ‘take it or leave it’ option is again unclear. Formula E’s deal likely fits in with the BBC’s ambition to “stream 1,000 extra hours of live sport a year,” although I hope the Formula E deal is not a ‘quota filling’ exercise.

Most of the sports broadcast on the Red Button are domestic competitions, such as the football Women’s Super League, grass-roots athletics events and the British Basketball League. For these events, the corporation takes the feed that the host broadcaster provides with no wrap-around, at minimal cost, and is therefore considered inappropriate for BBC One or BBC Two.

Earlier this year, the BBC streamed the Goodwood Festival of Speed live on their website, a move that went unnoticed within the motor sport community. If the BBC promotes Formula E well, with supplementary website articles and content from their existing talent (such as current Formula E commentator Jack Nicholls), this could be a very good deal for the championship.

Is the BBC deal better than the previous Channel 5 contract? You win massively with the BBC, you lose the traditional television facing slot. However, the latter was increasingly becoming irrelevant, due to a low audience base in the first place.

For me, the deal is fantastic news, as it gives the championship a consistent, high-profile outlet, instead of in previous seasons, where broadcasters threw the series from pillar to post.

The BBC website is one of the biggest in the UK, and this deal gets Formula E in the door. If the metrics are strong, I am hopeful that the championship could transition onto one of the BBC’s main television channels, which must be the main aim for everyone involved in this deal.

In 2019, Formula E will be live, free-to-air on the BBC, whilst Formula 1 will be live, behind a pay-wall on Sky Sports. For the times, they are a-changin’…

Scheduling: The 2018 Rally Australia / Valencian MotoGP

Ogier. Neuville. Tanak. Three contenders, but only one can be World Rally Champion in 2018. The rallying year comes to a climax down under in Australia, as Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak look to dethrone Sebastien Ogier from the top of the mountain.

All the action unfolds through the night live via WRC’s over-the-top All Live platform, with selected stages and daily highlights airing on BT Sport. If you miss the live action, fear not, you can watch again on All Live via their on-demand playback. Free-to-air highlights follow later in the week as usual on Channel 5.

Also concluding this weekend are MotoGP and the World Touring Car Cup. The latter forms part of the blue riband Macau weekend which, along with the Formula Three and GT races, airs live on Eurosport. The only thing from Macau not live on Eurosport is the Macau motorcycle race, that presumably airing via Motorsport.tv’s over-the-top service.

Into the virtual world, Sky Sports F1 plays host to the final of the 2018 F1 ESports series, which is also airing live on Formula 1’s Facebook page.

Elsewhere, a special Billy Monger documentary, produced by Oxford Scientific Films, airs on BBC Two on Monday evening, the documentary looking at his ongoing road to recovery.

There is plenty of offer to whet the appetite as the motor sport season draws to a close.

World Rally Championship – Australia
Every stage live via WRCPlus.com
15/11 – 20:30 (Thursday) to 07:15 (Friday) – Day 1 (All Live)
16/11 – 12:15 to 12:45 – Day 1 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
16/11 – 20:00 (Friday) to 07:15 (Saturday) – Day 2 (All Live)
16/11 – 20:00 to 21:00 – Stage 9 (BT Sport 2)
17/11 – 01:00 to 02:00 – Stage 13 (BT Sport 1)
17/11 – 12:30 to 13:00 – Day 2 Highlights (BT Sport 2)
17/11 – 19:00 (Friday) to 03:30 (Sunday) – Day 3 (All Live)
17/11 – 21:30 to 22:30 – Stage 21 (BT Sport 2)
18/11 – 02:00 to 03:30 – Stage 24 (BT Sport 1)
18/11 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Day 3 Highlights (BT Sport 1)
21/11 – 19:00 to 20:00 – Highlights (Channel 5)

MotoGP – Valencia (BT Sport 2)
16/11 – 07:45 to 15:15 – Practice 1 and 2
17/11 – 08:00 to 15:15
=> 08:00 – Practice 3
=> 11:00 – Qualifying
18/11 – 07:30 to 15:00
=> 07:30 – Warm Ups
=> 09:15 – Moto3
=> 11:00 – Moto2
=> 12:30 – MotoGP
=> 14:00 – Chequered Flag

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

FIA GT World Cup – Macau (Eurosport)
18/11 – 04:00 to 05:30 – Race

Formula Three World Cup – Macau (Eurosport)
18/11 – 07:30 to 08:30 – Race

World Touring Car Cup – Macau (Eurosport)
17/11 – 06:00 to 07:30 – Race 1
18/11 – 00:00 to 01:15 – Race 2
18/11 – 03:00 to 04:00 – Race 3

World Endurance Championship – 8 Hours of Shanghai
18/11 – 02:30 to 09:30 – Race (BT Sport 3)
18/11 – 05:30 to 07:30 (Eurosport)
18/11 – 08:30 to 09:15 (Eurosport)

F1 ESports Series (Sky Sports F1)
17/11 – 19:00 to 21:00 – Final

Driven: The Billy Monger Story
19/11 – 21:00 to 22:00 (BBC Two)

The schedule above will be updated if anything changes.