A look behind the scenes of ‘The F1 Show’

Last Friday I was in the audience for The F1 Show, and having been behind-the scenes at the Sky F1 Media Day a month or so earlier I had a vague idea of what to expect. While the media day consisted of an afternoon watching the team fling paint around for a thirty-second feature, The F1 Show is an hour-long live show, and knowing Johnny Herbert, quite a lot of unpredictability! Before I start, sorry if I spoil any of the magic and thanks also to Dave for letting me write this for his blog.

I digress. The email from the production team told me to be at the studio for 6.15; I arrived a few minutes earlier than that to a queue of people already waiting outside. Name ticked off the list and complaints made about the Sky shuttle bus driver (next time when I ask to be taken to the studio, I don’t mean “can I be dropped off outside a Shell petrol station half a mile away, please?”) I waited around for further instructions and met the fellow audience-goes – a hardy bunch, some had travelled from Scotland to be in the audience and most (if not everybody) had never met any of the team, or indeed been in a television studio before.

After a few minutes of waiting around outside a producer appeared and asked for a few volunteers to do some filming for the pre-title sequence. Since it was (a) cold, (b) I wanted to get my face on TV as much as possible and (c) needed things to write about, I said yes and was led inside to the reception area, was told that I should say a thing or two about the race in Bahrain and led over to a man with a camera.

“Don’t look at the camera” the producer said, “look at me instead” as he held out a microphone in my general direction, ready for me to make my television debut. Thirty seconds and no “ers” or “ums” later my filming is complete. “Ace” I thought, “I’ll be on telly before the show even begins” as I watched the others do their filming.

Filming complete our small group were led outside and around a corner to a “Welcome Centre” where we would spend the next hour or so waiting around. After the world’s worst security check (“Oh, you have overnight stuff in your bag? I don’t want to see your pants, carry on” with a smile) I had to give in my disclaimer saying I’m happy to be filmed (durh) and was given a fetching pink wristband to wear. Thankfully, there were tea and coffee making facilities as well as a large-screen TV showing what was on the channel at the time. Being by myself and not having any 3G internet I watched what was on the TV and looked at the late arrivals. By this time, we were pretty close to the latest arrival time of 7pm and the room was filling up quite a bit.

At about 7.30 or so we were all told that were now going to be transferred to the studio. Figuring that there would be a queue of some sort to get in I walked a bit quicker than the majority of the people (who mostly, were pretty happy to have been picked to go in the audience in the first place) and leapfrogged about 20 people between the Welcome Centre and the reception area (where we did our filming earlier). Bag checked in and secure, I joined the two people in front of me to queue outside of the studio. By this point the tension was building; David Croft appeared every couple of minutes or so doing something or other but always stopped to either (a) rib the audience (pulling out the chap behind me with a very flowery shirt and asking if he was wearing it for a bet was a particular highlight) or (b) tell us one of many pirate jokes. For those who are planning on attending future F1 Shows I’ll leave them out so I don’t spoil the surprise.

Incidentally, the studio used is the same one that Saturday Night Football is filmed in. I’m guessing other sports-related programming takes place inside those walls too, but the fact that “Saturday Night Football” was written on the wall in the corridor alongside pictures of various footballers is a bit of a giveaway. The set itself is a lot bigger than you’d imagine it to be and the wooden bit is so easy to trip over when you’re not looking at where you’re walking.

Entering the studio, we were told to first of all line up on the raised wooden bit next to the (flimsy-looking desk), and also told to make more than one row if we could. It was awfully relaxed; not like a school photo where you’re placed against your will. I was in the second row, and although my view was slightly obstructed by the man in front of me I still had a pretty good view.

The F1 Show studio, screen grabbed from the launch episode this year (March 7th, 2014).

The F1 Show studio, screen grabbed from the launch episode this year (March 7th, 2014).

Audience in, the producer appeared with a clipboard containing the script and asked for someone to come out. “Well done” he said, “you’ve won the star prize of being selected to ask a question” not only getting a round of applause but a prime position.

“Daniel Puddicombe, could you put up your hand, please?” the producer said with a smile. I raised my hand, “you’ve been selected as the other person to ask a question” he continued as he led from my mediocre space and placed me right at the front slightly to the left of the Sky Pad. I genuinely wasn’t expecting any of my questions to be picked so was a little surprised to say the least. After looking at the script to see which question was selected (I submitted quite a few) I was left alone. The team then asked us all to switch our phones off and Crofty told yet more pirate-related jokes to warm us up.

With about five minutes to go (I think, my phone was off and I couldn’t see a clock) Natalie practiced a few lines, David asked Johnny what his favourite Lewis Hamilton race is and was met with silence. “You’ve got four minutes to come with an answer!” he says to roars of laughter. We’re then told to practice cheering (while being filmed each time), and at the third dummy run through the producer is satisfied.

“Titles! Clap!” and we were away. While VTs were playing and adverts being shown a clock appeared on the one TV screen showing what the viewers at home could see showing how long the team had before it was back to them. When the cameras weren’t focused, scripts were checked, water was consumed and the audience was interacted with. It felt like a well-oiled machine, like it was rehearsed several times over in the afternoon, but one thing that couldn’t be rehearsed was the audience bit – hence picking on the guy with the Rihanna t-shirt, and oiking the chap with the Ted Appreciation Society t-shirt out, as well as jokes about the Boat Race and many more besides.

In the studio, we didn’t have any sound aside from the team’s own voices so from where I was stood it was actually quite hard to hear what was being said other than when people were at the Sky Pad or indeed when I had my bit of airtime. Also what was slightly annoying was that there was only one TV screen showing what the viewers at home were seeing; if you saw me crane my neck to the right a bit, that’s why!

I noticed a few people on Twitter complain that although tech expert Craig Scarborough was in the audience, he wasn’t picked out. We were asked to submit questions to the production team by the Wednesday before the show, so it allowed the team to write up a script and come up with a plan. I have no idea whether not Scarbs submitted any questions or not, but it wasn’t as simple as going up to someone and sticking a microphone in their face – even pulling the chap with the Ted t-shirt was pre-planned, as David noticed this while doing a corridor walk and must’ve said something to someone.

Speaking personally, during one of the breaks Crofty shouted over to me:

“You’re 16 in three days’ time aren’t you, Daniel?”

“No, 19 three days ago, Crofty”

“Right, gotcha”

Hence the line that I was all grown up and wasn’t a 16 year old anymore, although he did still get the days wrong when we did it for real, and while we’re on this subject, I had no idea what David was going to say other than that I had a question to ask the panel, if you can call two people a panel. The same applies for his little joke about switching off mobile phones to Karun when he pretended to call Mr Haas, they stemmed from earlier comments, and that worked really well, however I’m can understand if people at home were saying “eh?” at that point.

At the end of the show, we were given a round of applause by the team, thanked for coming along and for being a great audience and were told that there would be photo chances and the like outside in the reception (why that was done I do not know – there’s a lot more room in the studio itself). Crofty being the joker he is walked over to a corner, shouted “Who wants a photo then? I’m guessing Natalie will be more popular than me, though”. For about half a minute, a crowd gathered around Natalie, Johnny and Karun (who dashed off quickly) and nobody was around Croft.

I’ve noted it in the past, and I’ll note it again, but the team are so friendly and down to earth. They didn’t have to spend 45 minutes hanging around talking to whoever came up to them and happily having many photos taken. Hanging back for a while, having walked out of the studio with Natalie and Karun, I looked around the reception area and couldn’t see one unhappy face – all in all, it was a well-executed evening.

Sure, having an audience in the studio can look a bit cheesy when you’re watching on TV, but when you’re in there; it makes sense, and brings a whole new element to the show that we haven’t seen until the start of this year, and for that, Sky should be given a pat on the back.

Scheduling: The 2014 Chinese Grand Prix

After a hectic start to the season, the 2014 Formula One calendar begins to space out from now until July. After a weeks break, the paddock heads to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. Following this race, the next meeting in Spain is not until May 11th, before we get into the usual race – week off – race – week off – race format into the European season.

If you want to skip straight to the weekend’s schedule, click the links below:

- Thursday 17th April
- Friday 18th April
- Saturday 19th April
- Sunday 20th April
- Wednesday 23rd April
- Classic F1

Bruno Senna is back with the Sky Sports F1 team for this weekend, his second appearance with the team this season, substituting with Anthony Davidson who is racing in round one of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone. I’ve added the scheduling details for the WEC below, which us live on Motors TV.

Over on BBC, alongside their TV highlights, you may notice an unfamiliar voice in the Radio 5 Live commentary booth. That is because China will be the first of four appearances for Jack Nicholls as lead commentator. At the age of 23, he will become the youngest lead commentator yet for Formula 1, surpassing Ben Edwards who currently holds that feat.

Thursday 17th April
08:00 to 08:45 – F1: Driver Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
20:45 to 21:00 – F1: Gear Up for China (Sky Sports F1)
21:00 to 22:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 18th April
02:45 to 04:50 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1)
02:55 to 04:35 – F1: Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06:45 to 09:00 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
06:55 to 08:35 – F1: Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
09:00 to 09:45 – F1: Team Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
11:00 to 12:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1)
18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Saturday 19th April
03:45 to 05:15 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
03:55 to 05:05 – F1: Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
06:00 to 08:45 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)
06:55 to 08:05 – F1: Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
13:15 to 14:30 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (BBC One)
19:45 to 20:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)

Sunday 20th April
06:30 to 11:15 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1)
=> 06:30 – Track Parade
=> 07:00 – Race
=> 10:30 – Paddock Live
07:35 to 10:00 – F1: Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)
10:30 to 18:30 – BTCC: Donington (ITV4)
11:30 to 18:30 – WEC: Silverstone (Motors TV)
14:30 to 16:30 – F1: Race Highlights (BBC One)

Wednesday 23rd April
20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report (Sky Sports F1)

Classic F1 on Sky Sports F1
16/04 – 21:00 to 23:30 – 2007 Chinese Grand Prix
17/04 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 2008 Chinese Grand Prix
18/04 – 21:00 to 23:30 – 2011 Chinese Grand Prix
19/04 – 08:45 to 09:45 – 1974 Season Review
19/04 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 2013 Chinese Grand Prix (Sky commentary)
20/04 – 11:15 to 12:15 – 1975 Season Review
20/04 – 21:00 to 21:30 – 1990 United States Grand Prix Highlights
21/04 – 21:00 to 23:15 – 2010 Italian Grand Prix
22/04 – 21:00 to 22:00 – 1982 German Grand Prix Highlights
23/04 – 21:00 to 23:45 – 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix
24/04 – 21:00 to 23:00 – 1989 British Grand Prix
25/04 – 21:00 to 00:00 – 2011 Singapore Grand Prix
26/04 onwards – ‘Senna Week

Your Formula 1 2014 television viewing habits revealed

Over 350 people in the past month have given their thoughts on how they have consumed Formula 1 both so far this season, and also in 2013. The findings are not meant to be representative of the entire population, but merely a snapshot, of what my blog readers think as the season is in its early stages. The first question removed anyone who is not based in the United Kingdom, which brings the total number of people down to approximately 320.

One general comment to begin with – question three (pay-TV) has been commented upon, in that users clicked ‘Other’ because there no option for ‘None’. Admittedly, this was an oversight by me, however on the basis that many of you clicked ‘Other’, I don’t believe this affected the results significantly.

General Conclusions
- 16 percent of readers have changed their viewing habits between 2013 and 2014
- 83 percent of readers would pay £9.99 or less if Sky Sports F1 was a stand-alone channel
- 34 percent of readers believe BBC’s F1 line-up has got worse between 2013 and 2014
- Consumption of races broadcast exclusively by Sky has increased, but not for either broadcaster

The main conclusion concerns Sky Sports F1′s pricing model. As documented extensively on this blog, the price that fans have to pay year-on-year to view Formula 1 has increased for 2014, and this is noticeable in the comments that were made. Looking at the comments made, I think £4.99 per month would be the most realistic price for the channel, and should satisfy most of their potential audience should Sky wish to offer it as a stand-alone channel, but I don’t think that is very likely myself.

BBC’s line-up changes has unsurprisingly had a negative effect on the results, more people are likely to view Sky Sports F1 this season, but the swing is not as big as expected (see below). A lot of people commented on Gary Anderson’s exit, and it is definitely a big theme on people’s minds, many feeling that BBC’s coverage is heading in the wrong direction given the nature of Anderson’s comments.

Audience trends
- Illegal streaming and foreign TV on the rise for Sky exclusive races?
- More content being consumed during shared races

Some fascinating trends here, in completely the opposite directions. One trend that is concrete is that ‘Other’ viewing has increased from 13 percent to 16 percent for Sky’s exclusive races. Which, considering how close the other results are year-on-year in this area is surprising. On the basis that Sky have not had anyone downgrade over the Winter (four out of 195), this appears to be BBC viewers hunting out other methods of watching. For the shared races, more content appears to be being consumed across the board, however I do accept, that when looking at the results, the outcome for both can go both ways.

Change versus 2012
The final three questions asked whether readers were more likely or less likely to watch BBC or Sky versus 2013. Whilst Anderson and BBC have split, and a lot of readers were unhappy about it, not a lot of people have defected to Sky as a result. 58 percent said that there was no change as to whether they consume BBC coverage in 2014 versus 2013, compared with 61 percent for Sky. There was a swing from less to more for Sky and vice versa for BBC – 22 percent more likely to sample Sky’s coverage compared with 2013 versus 16 percent for BBC.

As I said at the beginning, the survey is by no means definitive, but is there to just give a snapshot of the picture from my blog readers. This post is just my reading of the results, however for full disclosure the survey results are below. I think though that the survey results are only part of the story, the comments, of which there were a lot are worth a read. An advanced warning that there are ten pages worth of comments, but some of them are fascinating. I could have narrowed it down to just ten, but felt that I needed to include a wider range so to avoid ‘handpicking’ the ones that I personally liked.

The full survey results can be found here, and a selection of detailed comments from a variety of readers can be found here.

Scheduling: ‘Senna Week’ on Sky Sports F1

On May 1st, 1994, Formula 1 lost one of the greatest, if not the greatest driver that this sport has ever seen. At 14:17, at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari circuit in Italy, Ayrton Senna was killed. To celebrate his life, Sky Sports F1 will be commemorating Senna in a series of special programming to air from Saturday 26th April to Friday 2nd May.

The week begins with ‘The Last Team Mate’ as Damon Hill visits the Imola circuit to relive the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix which killed his team mate, and Roland Ratzenberger, who Sky will pay tribute to in a separate half an hour show. Alongside a journalists special featuring Murray Walker and The F1 Show Special, the week will see Sky Sports F1 air a previously unseen interview with Alain Prost talking about the three time champion.

Nigel Roebuck speaks about Senna in ‘Echoes of the Past’, whilst Ted Kravitz visits the McLaren Technology Centre in a special edition of his Notebook. Also airing is a new edition of F1 Legends focussing on Senna, ‘A Winning Partnership’ and seven of Senna’s classic races.

Saturday 26th April
20:00 to 21:00 – The Last Team Mate
- with Damon Hill
21:00 to 21:45 – 1984 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights

Sunday 27th April
20:00 to 21:00 – Senna Journalist Special
- presented by Simon Lazenby with Murray Walker, Maurice Hamilton and David Tremayne
20:30 to 21:00 – The Boy from Brazil (BBC Radio 5 Live)
21:00 to 21:45 – 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix Highlights

Monday 28th April
20:45 to 21:00 – Echoes of the Past
- with Nigel Roebuck
21:00 to 21:45 – 1987 United States Grand Prix Highlights

Tuesday 29th April
20:30 to 21:00 – Ted’s Senna Notebook
- from McLaren Technology Centre
21:00 to 21:45 – 1988 Japanese Grand Prix Highlights

Wednesday 30th April
20:00 to 20:30 – Roland Ratzenberger Special
20:30 to 21:00 – Prost on Senna
- billed as an ‘unseen interview’
21:00 to 21:45 – 1992 Monaco Grand Prix Highlights

Thursday 1st May
06:00 to 13:00 – ‘Senna’ programming from earlier in the week (R)
13:00 to 13:45 – 1993 European Grand Prix Highlights
13:45 to 17:00 – ‘Senna’ programming from earlier in the week (R)
17:00 to 18:00 – 1986 Spanish Grand Prix Highlights
18:00 to 18:30 – Ted’s Senna Notebook (R)
18:30 to 19:00 – Roland Ratzenberger Special (R)
19:00 to 20:00 – A Winning Partnership
20:00 to 21:00 – F1 Legends: Ayrton Senna
21:00 to 22:30 – 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix Highlights
22:30 to 01:00 – FILM: Senna (ITV4)

Friday 2nd May
20:00 to 21:30 – The F1 Show: Senna Special
21:30 to 23:00 – 1989 Japanese Grand Prix Highlights

With seven hours of original programming, plus classic F1 races on top of that, I think it is fair to say that Sky have done a fantastic job in putting the schedule together, and a big ‘thank you’ in their direction for making it an entire week of programming as well.

As an aside, I’m happy there is, quite rightly, a programme focussing on Roland Ratzenberger as well. I imagine some bits have been taken from various F1 Legends episodes, but quite clearly some of it is new, such as the Prost interview. I’ll update the schedule if anything changes.

Update on April 14th – Okay, here’s what has happened filming wise in the past few weeks. Sky filmed at Donington Park on April 8th with some of Senna’s old cars, including the Lotus 98T, Bruno Senna and Martin Brundle at the wheel (click here and here). Yesterday and today (April 13th and 14th), Sky have gone out to Imola to film footage for The Last Team Mate and the Roland Ratzenberger special, with David Brabham and Damon Hill.

Back at base, interviews are being conducted with engineers and personnel who were with Simtek during the 1994 season. Neil Wooding tweeted saying that he has done a piece with Humphrey Corbett, Simtek race engineer, for the Ratzenberger special.

Update on April 15th – ITV4 are screening ‘Senna’ again, whilst BBC Radio has a documentary on Senna’s early years. I can’t see anything in the BBC TV schedules yet, although this is primarily a Sky Sports F1 piece, I’ve added those two bits above.

Bahrain Grand Prix sinks to seven year low

We’ve seen in the past how the scheduling of the North American highlights races on the BBC can dictate how badly a race does. And this was repeated last night, as the Bahrain Grand Prix dropped to its lowest rating since 2007.

Race
Live coverage of the race on Sky Sports F1, won by Lewis Hamilton, averaged 1.00m (6.3%) from 15:00 to 18:30, peaking with 1.55m (8.3%) at 17:40. Perhaps unsurprisingly due to later timeslot, the average for Sky was higher than previous years, 2012 averaged 963k (8.0%) and 2013 averaged 824k (7.6%). Sky’s peak is up on 2013, but down on 2012, which peaked with 1.61m (13.3%). Interestingly, because of Sky’s split programme strategy, this is the first time a programme has averaged over a million viewers on the channel (1.0017m).

With the later start time, it meant that BBC’s coverage began later, as the contract says. Last year’s highlights show averaged 3.58m on BBC One, at the more favourable early evening timeslot. This year, at 22:00 on BBC Two, the highlights averaged 2.38m (15.3%), bringing a combined audience of 3.38m, down about a million on every year from 2009 through to 2013. 2008′s race, broadcast live on ITV, averaged 3.55m (30.4%). Races moving nearer to primetime, in the case of Bahrain, is only a good thing if broadcasters exploit it. On this occasion, the BBC didn’t exploit it. For some reason, the race weekend clashed with both the Grand National on Saturday and then the Boat Race on Sunday, which meant that the chances of BBC picking Bahrain live was zero.

Qualifying
Saturday’s Qualifying session didn’t fare much better, again thanks to the scheduling issues noted above. Live coverage averaged 373k (2.8%) from 15:00 to 17:45 on Sky Sports F1, down on 2012 and 2013. A direct clash with the Grand National, which peaked with over 8 million on Channel 4, didn’t help. BBC Two’s highlights averaged 1.96m (9.8%) from 21:00 to 22:15. The combined audience of 2.33m is the lowest for the Bahrain qualifying session since the pre-BBC days. The ratings beg the question of whose idea it was to have the highlights for the North American races at that time when the contract was drawn up – was not having the race highlights at 21:00 possible?

I’m not sure whether the contract specifically says that the race cannot be screened until 22:00, but it appears to be one rule for qualifying and another for the race. This year, BBC are screening highlights of USA and Brazil, which means we will get more late night highlights. How is Formula 1 meant to build an audience as the season heads to a climax? Because screening highlights at 22:00 does not benefit anyone, and limits the audience potential. I’m expecting some to point the finger at the poor racing (in the view of many, myself not included) for Australia and Malaysia, but it is much more complex than that: poor scheduling, no ‘multi 21′ drama, good weather amongst other things, some of which have been noted in your comments in the survey that I am currently doing. If we get into the European season and viewing figures are still dropping, then I think there is real cause for concern, but not until.

GP2 Series
Last weekend, GP2′s coverage began on Sky Sports F1 for 2014 with pleasing ratings. The feature race on Saturday averaged 46k (0.7%), with the sprint race on Sunday bringing 70k (0.8%). The feature race was slightly above last year’s ratings, but the surprising rating is for the sprint race – its the highest rating for a sprint race ever on the channel. Hopefully the figures continue to improve as the season progresses.

The 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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