Scheduling: The 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix

The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel rolls into Bahrain for round three of the 2017 Formula One season, in a busy weekend at home and abroad.

Bahrain marks Channel 4’s first live Grand Prix of the season. As revealed last week, in a change to their structure from last season, the broadcaster has opted to follow Sky’s approach by segmenting their programme into separate chunks. Mark Webber will be with Channel 4’s usual team fronted by Steve Jones and David Coulthard. Channel 4 will also air their first ‘F1 Meets’ programmes of the new season, with Lee McKenzie chatting to Murray Walker in an extended season.

Alongside Formula 1 in Bahrain is the return of the Formula Two Championship, which replaces the GP2 Series. As with GP2, every race of the Formula Two Championship will be live on Sky Sports F1. For the first time, the action will be covered in ultra high-definition.

Also returning this weekend is the World Endurance Championship, with Silverstone hosting the season opener. Live coverage will air across Motorsport.tv (was Motors TV), BT Sport and Eurosport, with Sky Sports News also airing news reports. Viewers watching across the first two networks will hear some slightly different voices compared to previous years. Toby Moody and Martin Haven will share play-by-play duties throughout the year, with Moody commentating on the season opener from Silverstone. Allan McNish will be present at six rounds, whilst Louise Beckett and Graham Goodwin are also part of the team.

Elsewhere, it is a very busy weekend on the domestic front, with a lot of racing within an hour and a half radius of one another across the weekend: the aforementioned WEC, BTCC from Donington Park, and the British GT cars are racing at Oulton Park on Bank Holiday Monday.

Channel 4 F1
Sessions
14/04 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 1
14/04 – 15:55 to 17:35 – Practice 2
15/04 – 12:55 to 14:25 – Practice 3
15/04 – 14:55 to 17:30 – Qualifying
16/04 – 14:50 to 18:45 – Race
=> 14:50 – Build-Up
=> 15:35 – Race
=> 18:15 – Reaction

Supplementary Programming
15/04 – 14:25 to 14:55 – F1 Meets… Murray Walker

Sky Sports F1
Sessions
14/04 – 11:45 to 13:50 – Practice 1
14/04 – 15:45 to 18:00 – Practice 2
15/04 – 12:45 to 14:15 – Practice 3
15/04 – 15:00 to 17:45 – Qualifying
16/04 – 14:30 to 19:15 – Race
=> 14:30 – Track Parade
=> 15:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 15:30 – Race
=> 18:30 – Paddock Live

Supplementary Programming
12/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Preview
13/04 – 13:00 to 14:00 – Driver Press Conference
13/04 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut
14/04 – 18:30 to 19:00 – Team Press Conference
14/04 – 19:00 to 19:30 – The F1 Show
19/04 – 20:30 to 21:00 – F1 Report: Review

BBC Radio F1
13/04 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
14/04 – 11:55 to 13:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/04 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
15/04 – 15:55 to 17:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
16/04 – 15:30 to 19:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
=> updates also on BBC Radio 5 Live

British GT – Oulton Park (Frontrunner)
17/04 – Races
=> 10:45 to 14:00
=> 15:00 to 17:15

British Superbikes – Brands Hatch (Eurosport 2)
16/04 – 14:15 to 17:00 – Qualifying
17/04 – 12:30 to 18:00 – Race

British Touring Car Championship – Donington Park (ITV4)
16/04 – 10:45 to 18:15 – Races

Formula Two – Bahrain (Sky Sports F1)
14/04 – 09:30 to 10:15 – Practice
14/04 – 18:00 to 18:30 – Qualifying
15/04 – 11:10 to 12:15 – Race 1
16/04 – 12:15 to 13:05 – Race 2

Formula V8 3.5 – Silverstone (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/04 – 11:30 to 13:15 – Race 1
16/04 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race 2

World Endurance Championship – Silverstone
16/04 – Race
=> 11:30 to 18:00 (BT Sport/ESPN)
=> 11:45 to 18:20 (Motorsport.tv)
=> 17:00 to 18:15 (Eurosport 2)

As always, if the schedules change, I will update the above times.H

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Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s UK ratings turmoil

The Chinese Grand Prix continued what is turning into a difficult start to the year for Formula 1 in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures show.

Race
Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 06:00 to 09:30, averaged 484k (13.5%). This is a relatively strong number, an increase of around 50,000 viewers on last year’s average of 433k (11.1%). However, it is still a drop on 2015’s average audience of 589k (15.2%), which aired in the same time slot.

Sky’s coverage peaked with 813k, compared with 687k last year, an increase of 18.5 percent year-on-year. Certainly, Sky’s numbers appear to have been boosted by a competitive start to the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, which they will be looking to maintain going forward.

Channel 4’s coverage was not boosted to the same effect, dropping slightly year-on-year. Their highlights programme, which aired from 14:30 to 16:45, averaged 1.52m (18.5%), a drop on last year’s average audience of 1.68m (17.0%), although the percentage share did rise. Coverage of Lewis Hamilton’s win peaked with 2.06m (22.3%) at 16:05, compared with a peak audience of 2.25m (21.6%) in 2016.

The combined audience of 2.00 million viewers is for the second year running the lowest for the Chinese round of the championship on record, a drop of 5.4 percent year-on-year. The combined peak audience of 2.87 million viewers is down slightly on last year’s peak audience of 2.94 million viewers.

In response to a Twitter user who wondered how this compared with 2011: yesterday’s average audience was down 57.8 percent on the 2011 average audience of 4.74 million viewers. That is a lot of lapsed viewers… a small portion will have moved onto other forms of viewing (such as Now TV and online streaming), but the harsh reality is that Formula 1 has lost a significant chunk of viewers in the past five years. Some of that can be blamed on the change of television deals, but some of it can also be blamed the haphazard direction of the sport in recent years.

Qualifying
Channel 4’s highlights of qualifying, which aired from 13:00 to 14:30, averaged 861k (13.6%). The raw audience is down 27.8 percent, but the percentage share was down only 3.3 percent on last year’s average of 1.19m (14.1%). Whilst Formula 1 was on air (including VOSDAL), the total television audience was 6.3 million viewers, compared with 8.5 million viewers from 2016. Clearly, the number is also a sizeable drop on historical BBC and ITV numbers for the Chinese Grand Prix qualifying sessions.

Sky Sports F1’s live coverage of qualifying averaged 255k (5.3%) from 07:00 to 10:00, the programme being extended due to the red flag caused by Antonio Giovinazzi. In any event, Sky’s average audience is down slightly on 2015 and 2016’s averages of 324k (6.2%) and 308k (5.9%) respectively. The average is, however, up on the 2014 fiugure of 236k (7.1%), although it should be noted that the 2014 qualifying session occurred an hour earlier than later years.

The combined average of 1.12 million viewers is down 27 percent on the 2016 combined average of 1.50 million viewers, and half of that recorded in 2015.

Analysis
As with the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago, the Chinese Grand Prix saw some hefty drops across the board. You could argue that this is the start of a trend, showing that viewers are not interested in the new style Formula 1, and that the lack of overtaking is turning viewers off. It is an easy conclusion to come to, with multiple data points across two rounds supporting that argument.

However, such an argument at this stage is narrow-minded. Let us take a look at the total television audience for the slots that Formula 1 highlights programming has aired in for both Australia and China historically. This takes into account any VOSDAL activity within these slots as well, making up the overnight audience.

2015 2016 2017
Australia – Qualifying 9.3 million 9.0 million (-0.3 million) 6.7 million (-2.3 million)
Australia – Race 10.9 million 11.1 million (+0.2 million) 8.0 million (-3.1 million)
China – Qualifying 8.7 million 8.5 million (-0.2 million) 6.3 million (-2.3 million)
China – Race 12.1 million 9.9 million (-2.3 million) 8.2 million (-1.7 million)

What does this tell us? That, beyond Formula 1, television viewing figures on these particular Saturday and Sunday afternoons are down significantly compared with 2015 and 2016. Clearly with less of an audience around (whether it is sunshine related or not), audiences are bound to drop to some degree year-on-year, although this does not change the long-term problem for the sport.

For those hoping that Formula 1 was going to receive some ratings boost in the off-season, that has not happened – yet. With Hamilton and Vettel tied in the championship standings heading into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports, broadcasters and paddock people alike will be hoping for a reverse in ratings fortunes, starting with Bahrain.

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

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A brief look at FOM’s Chinese Grand Prix direction

The Chinese Grand Prix was a notable step up from Formula One Management (FOM) on the production front following a series of issues during the season opening Australian Grand Prix last month.

Thankfully, aside from the first half of practice three, the graphics played ball for the remainder of the weekend. FOM removed the ‘mini timing loops’ from their qualifying graphics, although it is unknown at this time whether that was a deliberate move or a result of earlier issues. During the race itself, FOM presented more information within the timing tower, choosing to disregard the ticker that has been present in their coverage for the past decade.

When the race finished on Sunday morning, I tweeted stating that I believed the direction overall was “generally good.” It felt like, assuming it was not my tired blurry eyes, that the majority of action was captured in some form. The only blip was a failure to replay Valtteri Bottas’ spin during the Safety Car period, although this was uploaded to social media and played out on Sky Sports F1 during their post-race programme.

I thought it was worthwhile going back through the race and seeing how many of the 32 overtakes (source: Forix) were captured by FOM. Note that this does not include the first seven laps, which were interrupted by both a virtual and real Safety Car. FOM broadcast around two-thirds of all overtakes (21 of 32). It is easy to criticise and suggest that every overtake needs to be shown. Some overtakes are of little importance to the overall race, especially if the overtake is for slim pickings. So, what overtakes were missed, and why?

  • Lap 8 – Carlos Sainz on Fernando Alonso
  • Lap 8 – Valtteri Bottas on Felipe Massa
  • Lap 9 – Esteban Ocon on Felipe Massa
  • Lap 9 – Stoffel Vandoorne on Jolyon Palmer
  • Lap 9 – Nico Hulkenberg on Jolyon Palmer
  • Lap 10 – Valtteri Bottas on Daniil Kvyat
  • Lap 10 – Nico Hulkenberg on Stoffel Vandoorne
  • Lap 11 – Daniil Kvyat on Esteban Ocon
  • Lap 11 – Nico Hulkenberg on Felipe Massa
  • Lap 16 – Jolyon Palmer on Stoffel Vandoorne
  • Lap 16 – Romain Grosjean on Stoffel Vandoorne
  • Lap 33 – Jolyon Palmer on Marcus Ericsson

Looking at the above, it is easy to suggest that FOM’s direction was poor in the laps following the Safety Car. At this stage, the most important battle was Red Bull versus Ferrari, as both Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel tried to challenge Hamilton. Verstappen overtook Raikkonen quickly on lap eight and was ready to pounce on his team-mate. It would have been an error of judgment for the director to switch to battles further down the pecking order. So yes, some action was missed in the phase after the Safety Car, but for the right reasons.

In hindsight, you could say “the director should have replayed some of the key moments above” or cut to them live, but these are split second decisions that are being made. Given the tricky on-track conditions and the relative gaps between the four cars, I can understand why the director was fixated on the battle for 2nd until it was eventually resolved on lap 28.

By that point, little value would have been gained in replaying the moves from earlier in the race. It would have been nice to see them, but not a necessity. The only value we lost was not seeing Valtteri Bottas climb through the field, but apart from that, I thought the direction was fine. In the F1 Digital+ world fifteen years ago, you could imagine the Red Bull and Ferrari battle being part of the Supersignal feed, with the Bottas climb through the order being covered in the secondary track feed.

As a future enhancement, I do think that FOM should look towards picture-in-picture so that they can focus on two battles at once (maybe with an on-board camera from a secondary battle, like MotoGP currently do). It is an unlikely scenario, but it is something that they need to think about so that they can adequately cover the entire field.

Channel 4 to split live Formula 1 race day programming into three

Channel 4 are to follow in the footsteps of other commercial broadcasters by splitting their live Formula 1 race day programming into three separate chunks.

Starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix, Channel 4 will air a build-up programme, which will run until ten minutes prior to the race. On the other side, a reaction show will wrap up the race action, in the same way Sky currently do with Paddock Live. Steve Jones will continue to front their race day programming.

Channel 4’s race day schedule for Bahrain is as follows:

14:50 to 15:50 – Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix Live – Build-Up
15:50 to 18:15 – Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix Live
18:15 to 18:45 – Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix Live – Reaction

As noted above, this is now common place across the commercial sector both in the UK and abroad with Formula 1 and other sports, such as football. Sky have recently started to split their Super Sunday programme up into smaller bite sized piece.

In terms of Formula 1, Sky starting splitting their programme into three in late 2013, eventually moving to a four-way split in 2015. Splitting the programme into separate chunks means that viewers have the option to record only the main event, if they so desire. Inevitably, there is also a viewing figures drive behind it, in an attempt to boost the numbers for the race itself, although this can negatively impact figures for the build-up as a result.

A Channel 4 spokesperson said that the new format “makes it clearer to viewers when the live action starts. There will be those who only want to tune in for the live race so this will make it easy for them to see that on the electric programme guide.”

Opening BTCC round peaks with 349k

The opening round of the British Touring Car Championship performed solidly on Sunday afternoon (April 2nd), overnight viewing figures show.

Mixed year-on-year picture for touring cars
Live coverage of the British Touring Car Championship from Brands Hatch averaged 189k (2.2%) from 10:15 to 18:15 on ITV4, an increase on 2016’s average audience of 169k (1.6%). It should be noted that the opening round in 2016 clashed with the Bahrain Grand Prix, as well as MotoGP action from Argentina.

As a result, whilst the average audience is higher than 2016, the peak audience is down slightly. Last year’s programme peaked with 360k (3.8%), compared with 349k (5.4%) from this past Sunday. The audience shares have increased across the board, with the total television audience declining year-on-year.

The second race of the season peaked with 301k (4.0%) at 14:25, whilst the third and final race of the day peaked with 260k (1.9%) at 17:35. The programme outperformed ITV4’s slot average in all demographics which shows that, despite diminishing returns year-on-year, the British Touring Car Championship is still a worthwhile commodity for ITV4. Their coverage across the day will have reached near to, or in excess of, one million viewers.

Formula E heads to Mexico
The 2016-17 Formula E championship headed to Mexico City for round four of its season. Live coverage of the race, broadcast on Channel 5 from 22:30 to 00:20 on Saturday evening, averaged 238k (2.2%), significantly below Channel 5’s slot average. The average audience for the past three races has settled around the 2.2 percent market share, despite the individual races airing in a variety of timeslots.

There are no valid year-on-year comparisons for this race, as the ePrix aired live on BT Sport Europe last year, with highlights following later on ITV4. Formula E haemorrhaged the lead in from Football on 5, with the first five-minute period from 22:30 averaging just 97k (0.6%). Nevertheless, the audience quickly built up to over 200k during the build-up.

At the start of the race, an audience of 323k (2.5%) was watching, briefly rising to 335k (2.8%) at 23:05. Audiences dipped towards the middle of the race, hitting a low of 258k (2.5%) at 23:25 but spiked briefly to 296k (3.3%) at 23:35. As with rounds two and three in Marrakech and Buenos Aires, no highlights of the race were aired on Spike TV.

With a third of the Formula E season now gone, an average audience of 288k (2.5%) have tuned into the first four races on Channel 5. The average is a significant increase on the equivalent ITV4 numbers from both seasons one and two of 197k (2.8%) and 87k (1.0%) respectively.

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