Scheduling: The 2018 Ad Diriyah E-Prix / Christmas reviews

A bass riff may not accompany Formula E, nor may it be airing on one of the BBC’s traditional television outlets, but nevertheless, the electric series takes a major step into the future as season five begins, with live coverage across the BBC’s digital platforms.

The start of the 2018-19 season takes the championship to a new, perhaps controversial, location as the series descends on Saudi Arabia for the Ad Diriyah E-Prix.

For UK fans, as well as the BBC and incumbents Eurosport, the actions airs live on BT Sport and YouTube for the first time. The BBC’s coverage is of the race itself, from the five-minute sting to after the chequered flag, excluding the pre-race festivities.

In a departure from last season, Eurosport are taking the World Feed commentary with Bob Varsha, Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti, a surprise considering Eurosport usually provide their own commentary feed for motor racing events.

However, BT Sport is the only UK television station that will air every Formula E session live, including the Shakedown on Friday afternoons, as well as practice on Saturday mornings. For non-BT Sport fans, the good news is that every session airs live via YouTube. Additionally, highlights air on Discovery-owned channel Quest following their Football League highlights show on Saturday, with a repeat on Sunday morning.

Vernon Kay and Nicki Shields complete the World Feed line-up. Kay stays in the Formula E paddock after impressing as Channel 5’s presenter last season. Last year, North One Television produced Channel 5 output, North One also forming part of Formula E’s worldwide output alongside Aurora.

Laurence McKenna hosts the tailored YouTube race programme, called ‘Voltage’, with Becky Evans alongside him. Neither are names regular readers will recognise, but both are young and active in the car scene on social media, and are exactly the right people to grow Formula E’s presence amongst the younger generation.

Red Bull profiled Evans here, whilst McKenna has presented a variety of social media output and podcasts in the past few years. KSI and Zerkaa, who form part of the Sidemen (a group of YouTube personalities), join McKenna and Evans in the YouTube London hub.

Elsewhere, December is packed with season reviews. BT Sport are going the extra mile with their MotoGP review show airing live from The Bike Shed in London. Suzi Perry presents as usual, with special guests including Bradley Smith, Sam Lowes, and triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo.

Sky’s F1 review show premieres on Christmas Eve, whilst Channel 4 are not airing a formal Christmas show following their short review during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend.

Formula E – Ad Diriyah
All sessions air live via YouTube and the following UK channels…
14/12 – 11:45 to 12:30 – Shakedown (BT Sport 1)
15/12 – 04:00 to 04:45 – Practice 1 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 06:00 to 06:45 – Practice 2 (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 07:30 to 09:00 – Qualifying (BT Sport/ESPN and Eurosport 2)
15/12 – 11:00 to 13:30 – Race: World Feed
=> live on BBC’s digital platforms from 12:00
=> live on BT Sport/ESPN
=> live on Eurosport 2
15/12 – 11:30 to 13:10 – Race: Voltage (YouTube)
15/12 – 22:30 to 23:30 – Highlights (Quest)

Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series – Ad Diriyah (BT Sport/ESPN)
15/12 – 04:45 to 05:30 – Qualifying
15/12 – 09:30 to 10:30 – Race

MotoGP (BT Sport 2)
09/12 – 19:30 to 21:00 – Season Review

BBC Radio F1
TBC – Season Review

Sky Sports F1
24/12 – 19:00 to 21:00
=> 19:00 – Fernando Alonso: What’s Next?
=> 20:00 – Season Review

In the run-up to Christmas, keep an eye on this post in the event of any changes to the review programming over the festive period.

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Formula E joins forces with Quest and BT Sport for 2018-19 season

Following on from previous UK rights announcements, coverage of the upcoming 2018-19 Formula E season will also air on Quest, series organisers have confirmed.

The channel, which is available free-to-air, will air highlights of every round, with four races also airing live. The supplementary rights agreement increases Quest’s own sporting line-up, which includes regular highlights of the English Football League. Action will also air on Quest’s on-demand platforms.

From Formula E’s perspective, Quest sits alongside the BBC, YouTube and Eurosport in the ever-expanding UK arena, a major shift compared with previous seasons. Discovery Communications owns both Quest and Eurosport, whilst they are also a minority investor in the electric series.

The UK rights agreement between Discovery and Formula E is like the British Superbikes series, but on a smaller scale. Every BSB race airs live on Eurosport, with Quest also airing a selection of rounds live. Eurosport provides significant on-site coverage for British Superbikes, which is not currently the case with Formula E from a UK stand point.

At a glance: the UK rights so far…
> Season 1 – ITV4
> Season 2 – ITV4
> Season 3 – Channel 5 / 5Spike
> Season 4 – Channel 5 / 5Spike / Eurosport
> Season 5 – BBC / YouTube / Quest / Eurosport / BT Sport

Simon Downing, Head of Quest and Eurosport UK, said: “We are delighted to be adding to our sports line-up on Quest. The upcoming season is set to be an incredible one with plenty of action for fans to enjoy.”

Ali Russell, Director of Media & Business Development at Formula E, said: “We are delighted that Quest have become a major addition to our UK broadcast offering for Season 5, guaranteeing that the ABB FIA Formula E Championship will continue to be available on a free-to-air basis in a key market for us.”

“We are excited by Quest’s coverage plans and believe that this partnership will further amplify the popularity and growth of Formula E in the UK,” Russell added.

The wording of Russell’s statement may suggest that Quest are planning bespoke wrap-around coverage for the races that they are airing live, but this is unconfirmed as of writing. It is also unclear whether highlights will air on the same day as the race, or whether they will air later in the week. I have requested comment from Formula E on this front.

Update on December 4th – In addition to the above, schedules for the first race weekend in Saudi Arabia show that BT Sport are joining the Formula E party. Formula E have yet to issue this as a press release, but BT’s schedules include live action from Saudi Arabia. BT will cover every session live, including the Shakedown on Friday afternoons, as well as the supporting Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Series.

Motorsport Broadcasting: Your 2018 Verdict

The 2018 Formula One season has ended, and with it, brings down the curtain on the motor racing year.

On-track, it has been a year of generally good racing wherever you look. Whilst neither the F1 or MotoGP seasons went down the wire, the racing in both has been worth watching on many occasions this year.

Off the track, there have been many developments on the broadcasting front. Traditionally, the end of season verdict has stuck to the UK F1 view point, but we live in a motor sport world far greater than both the UK and F1, and with that in mind it makes sense to expand the scope of the verdict to encompass all elements of broadcasting.

Whether it has been the launch of F1 TV, or World Rally Championship’s All Live service, there has been plenty of movement in the online arena. Liberty Media have made their mark on Formula 1’s graphics set, whilst closer to home, 2018 was the last year of Channel 4’s current F1 contract, the broadcaster remaining in a reduced capacity, for 2019 at least.

Now, we want your opinion. Has something irritated you with this year’s motor sport coverage? Have I missed a revolution that this site should be covering? And what would you like to be different about the motor sport broadcasting scene in 2019? Are you planning to watch a new series next season?

As always, the best thoughts and views will form a new article closer to the festive period.

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’…

Is Formula E’s streaming partnership with YouTube the recipe for UK success?

Last week, it was announced that Formula E fans in the United Kingdom will be able to watch the action in the upcoming 2018-19 season via the championship’s YouTube channel, with every race being streamed live.

The first two seasons of the electric series aired live on free-to-air television on ITV4, whilst the series has more recently aired across Channel 5 and 5Spike. As the series heads into season five, a free-to-air deal remains up in the air, with only Eurosport on-board currently, although Formula E says further UK rights deals are upcoming.

As part of the rights agreements in place, the official YouTube stream of the race, consisting of the World Feed, was geo-blocked for the UK. The only way for the UK audience to watch was via the respective television partner.

Now, Formula E has turned back to YouTube to try to boost its UK profile. The picture on the television front for season five will become clear soon, and it will be fascinating to see where Formula E ends up.

As analysis of Formula E’s audience figures on this website has shown on numerous occasions, the championship has struggled to hook in the casual fan in the UK. There are many reasons why: little marketing from organisers, a lack of promotion, poor scheduling, and apathy towards the series from the wider public.

But what has happened has happened, you cannot turn the clock back. Instead, Formula E must now move forward, making the most of the opportunities presented to them, both on the traditional television platform, and over-the-top. The launch of their Gen2 car presents them with an opportune time to do that.

From a UK perspective, Formula E joins a variety of motor racing championships in the YouTube arena including the Blancpain GT Series, British GT, European Le Mans Series and the Euroformula Open to name just a few. Live streaming the World Feed output on YouTube is not innovative, however series organisers are going a step further to make it so.

Enter the term ‘influencer’.

Stepping into the unknown
The E-Prix itself will still feature commentary from Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti, but prior to each race ‘influencers’, such as KSI, will join presenter Laurence McKenna in the YouTube Space London studios. From a motor racing perspective, using ‘influencers’ during race coverage is innovative, and a step into the unknown for Formula E.

The stream will be UK-only to begin with, although Formula E hopes to open it out to other markets in the future. Other countries with access to Formula E’s YouTube stream will receive the World Feed only as in previous years.

“Working in tandem with some of the biggest names and influencers allows us to grow our existing audience, which is primarily a younger and more digitally-engaged demographic,” says Ali Russell, Formula E’s Media and Business Development Director. “This partnership truly fits their needs and viewing habits.”

So, what is an influencer, and how does it work on social media? Here, we use a very basic example. Influencer X has 10 million followers, and promotes product Y. The aspiration is that a percentage of influencer X’s followers start regularly engaging with product Y, boosting the profile of said product.

We have not seen influencers get involved with a motor racing series on Formula E’s scale before, meaning that it is difficult to say how much of an impact they will have on Formula E’s total audience. The new audience may come for the influencer, but whether they stick around for the E-Prix is another question.

It also depends on how the influencers promote Formula E across their own social media platforms. For example, KSI has 2.4 million likes on Facebook, 4.6 million followers on Twitter and 19.7 million subscribers on YouTube (whilst collating those statistics, I can see several people I know in my age bracket [26 to 30] are following him, so he is clearly of relevance to some).

There is a very big difference between KSI passively tweeting a reference to Formula E, compared to say, KSI doing a video blog about the championship and explaining why his audience should follow the series, or even doing a behind the scenes piece. The latter could genuinely be influencing, resulting in a successful partnership, the former would result in little gain.

Anyone can pretend to influence with the right mindset, but the execution is critical here to the Formula E’s success. What Formula E does not want is a high bounce, and that is people who click onto the live stream and quickly disappear before the race begins.

I am intrigued to see how this works in practicality. How will the pre-race build-up lead into the race without alienating those that are viewing for the first time? Formula E needs to strike the right balance to not alienate one group or the other.

I dare say, and I absolutely mean this with the greatest of respect to Nicholls and Franchitti because I thoroughly enjoy their commentary, but Formula E should consider having a commentary team specific to the YouTube stream. Nicholls and Franchitti will be talking to viewers worldwide, and might come across as detached to those watching the bespoke stream.

If an influencer is going to influence, surely the influencer needs to be present throughout the race itself as opposed to just the pre-race build-up? If you have tuned in to watch the influencer, going ‘cold’ from the YouTube Studio into the World Feed could be the jump-off point for the non-motor racing watchers.

If done right, however, the rewards could be huge for the championship to break through and attract a new fan to motor sport…

BBC Red Button a possible home for Formula E
During the Valencia test, e-racing365 reported that the BBC could broadcast races via its Red Button service for season five. One assumes that would also cover the BBC Sport website.

The BBC deal is currently unconfirmed, but if it comes off, it means Formula E will not be on a traditional television channel in the free-to-air space at all. Nevertheless, being live on the BBC Sport website would offer the series significant exposure.

Again, it feels like Formula E has exhausted all avenues on the television front, and that going behind the BBC’s Red Button is one of the last free-to-air options available to the series, alongside YouTube.

If the BBC deal comes off, it means that the YouTube broadcast could have far more flexibility, with Formula E in the knowledge that the sports fans could tune into the championship via the BBC website.

I am interested to see how many people view Formula E live in the UK via their YouTube channel. Some of the streaming figures for motor racing events on YouTube have historically been very poor, with only the dedicated fan of that series sourcing it out.

You are more likely to stumble upon something via a TV set than via a YouTube live stream. You are unlikely to channel hop to Formula E’s YouTube channel, which is why the influencer aspect of the YouTube deal is important.

Season five is a step into the unknown for Formula E, and as the young kid on the block still, it is exactly the kind of series that should be trying things like this.

After all, trying something new is better than not trying at all, and for that I commend Formula E for going down the ‘influencer’ route.