Should broadcasters’ lobby to take over the FOM World Feed?

There’s two things I could use this blog post to complain about, both of which reared their ugly head in Canada. The first concerns Sky Sports’s Formula 1 coverage very quickly turning into ‘The Lewis Hamilton show’ with some worrying traits, the latter is regarding the incompetent direction of Formula One Management (FOM). I’ll use this post for the latter. Whilst the Canadian Grand Prix was thrilling from start to finish, with Daniel Ricciardo eventually winning, it was not FOM’s brightest hour. Seemingly, constant zoom ins and an ever growing reliance on virtual advertising means that their priorities are changing from what they once were. No longer is the car the sole focus of the picture, meaning the sometimes the raw speed does not come across to the viewer as well as it once did. One might ask: is it time for change?

If I’m going to criticise FOM, then I think it is only fair to begin by focussing on the positives. Of which there are several, don’t get me wrong. The thermal image shots lead the way on the innovation front, it is probably FOM’s best innovation by far. With both rear-view and front-view shots, it gives the viewer a good idea of how hot the tyres get under braking, and also in last Sunday’s case how warm the brakes on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes were getting shortly before retirement. It’s a very effective innovation, and one that many fans like seeing. Rotating cameras is another innovation, however if you watch the IndyCar Series you will know that rotating cameras have been around for many, many years. Nevertheless, from an F1 coverage point of view, it is a step forward in the very least. A final innovation is line comparison, which sadly is used nowhere near as much as it should. Despite first appearing back in 2009, it has only been sporadically used by FOM since. It should be used more, but for some reason isn’t. A line comparison feature, for example, would have been fantastic to see for Nico Rosberg’s Qualifying excursion in Monaco.

One of Formula One Management's best innovations: the thermal image, here seen on Romain Grosjean's Lotus during FP2 for the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix.

One of Formula One Management’s best innovations: the thermal image, here seen on Romain Grosjean’s Lotus during FP2 for the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix.

I feel it’s important for me to highlight that FOM has done some great innovations, and for that we should applaud them for. However, more recently, they have been let down by two things: virtual advertising and poor direction. I made a point last year about virtual advertising, when it was starting to appear. “The virtual advertisements that are subtle are the best,” a point which I still maintain. When virtual advertisements work, and blend in with the image, I have no issue with them. You know what, it’s cost effective and I can see the logic in using them. The issue I’m having is that the advertising is creeping into Formula 1 coverage more and more, to a degree where it is taking over certain shots, and in some cases is blatantly obvious. I’m not against FOM using virtual advertising, however, they need to rethink a) how and b) where they use them. If it is going to disturb the piece of track that the camera is focusing on, or become an unintended distraction to the viewer because of its size, don’t place it there.

The second part concerns the poor direction as of late which for me, and many other Formula 1 fans came to a head in Canada. Constant zoom in to the crowd, cutting away from Lewis Hamilton running wide at the hairpin and very nearly missing Daniel Ricciardo overtake Nico Rosberg for the lead. I’m a motor racing fan. I watch to see that move, that moment. I don’t expect someone up in production to then determine that a crowd shot is more important than seeing the on-track action. This is similar to the virtual advertising issue above. I can live with one or two crowd shots if the track action is quiet, but in Canada things were teetering on the edge. Obviously cameramen do not decide to pan to the crowd out of their own accord, so calling the cameramen ‘stupid’ for doing their job won’t get anyone anywhere. They would have been directed to pan into the crowd every so often by whoever was leading FOM’s production team on Sunday. Just after Ricciardo overtook Rosberg we had a pan to the crowd. This was mildly amusing because the crowd didn’t appear to be reacting at all, which led Ben Edwards covering up that fact moments later.

The 2014 Canadian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton gives the lead away to Nico Rosberg as the camera cuts away to a crowd shot.

The 2014 Canadian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton gives the lead away to Nico Rosberg as the camera cuts away to a crowd shot.

As an aside, when all the sound kerfuffle was going on earlier this year, one angle of it concerned FOM. The camera angles currently do not present Formula 1 in the best light and are instead used to get maximum exposure for the sponsors in the background. What the live camera angles should be showing is this sport that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up at 200mph. The secretive structure at FOM means that it is difficult to know where the buck stops, and it goes without saying that those who direct the F1 also direct other events. To put it simply, whoever at the top is making the calls at the moment is making the wrong calls. Whilst the innovations are largely fantastic, I hate to say this, but Formula 1’s television coverage is heading into reverse. I don’t want to blame one person, or one director, because they do this for a living, and for the large part do a great job at it. I’d like to think that they do Formula 1 directing because they’re the best in the business. Canada wasn’t their finest day, however, some of the decisions that are made during races need a serious re-think. Formula 1 fans deserve the best World Feed possible, akin to what F1 Digital+ provided across Europe between 1997 and 2002. Do I think we’re currently getting that? No.

Another perspective is that the World Feed needs some new blood. In November 2012, speculation began to mount about Sky Sports taking over the World Feed following this comment from Barney Francis, who is the managing director of Sky Sports. Three months later, and Sky would cover testing live and in 3D, a Formula 1 first. Nothing ever happened after that, Sky didn’t broadcast testing live this year. Given FOM’s current direction, I’d love to see Sky Sports get their hands on the British Grand Prix weekend and take over the World Feed. Given that this is year three of their contract, I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened already, as it gives them much more control in terms of the camera angles and the editorial aspect that they want to present to the viewer. Once Sky have done it, assuming it was universally liked, then they can get other broadcasters on-board in order to try and have more influence on the World Feed – or perhaps have Sky as the World Feed ‘leaders’ (given their potential pan-European status in the future, this could have a lot of weight), with other broadcasters playing a supporting role.

I’m not saying Sky controlling the World Feed would be better, however from a curiosity point of view, I want to see it happen. And given FOM’s lack of direction last weekend, who can blame me. I’ll finish off by linking to the below, which was all filmed, produced and edited by Sky Sports in the latter stages of the 2011 Formula One season.

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Posted on June 10, 2014, in Formula One Management and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. When good ol’ BBC was covering F1, closing credits after the broadcasts mentioned the producer & director by name. But in typical FOM fashion, now the entire broadcast team is anonymous. Just one more distance between fan & F1,
    The direction from Canada was appallingly incompetent, similar to the worst of MotoGP when the camera focuses on team members watching monitors instead of on-track action.
    Clearly, this kind of direction shows how out of touch the production team is with (a) the fans and (b) the sport itself.
    Maybe if Bernie would watch the TV coverage from time to time, he’d realise how poorly his product is being promoted to his cherished TV audience.

  2. That’s my favorite f1 trailer video of all time up also.

  3. OK first to answer the question… should broadcasters take over the world feed…. NO. No. And No again… local broadcasters are terrible at F1 I encourage you to try and watch San Marino 2004 or Spain 2003 to 2006 for proof of that… anything is an improvement on that frankly… second point. For all the talk of the TV direction last race one thing they did get right was virtually no shots of women pretending to look shy on camera in the pits and paddock which was a very very welcome change.. third point is no… no were not getting the F1 digital plus style coverage with the full screen track side or on board or pit lane feeds. And if you watch one of the 2001 races on you tube youll see a big difference between the way the production worked then to now.. especially the use of on board cameras. The trend now is to linger on an on board shot for almost ages then track for ages then an on board for ages. The direction just seems so…. slow and… I don’t know… almost…. lazy. It makes a fast paced sport seem slow.. I actually would welcome the F1 digital plus coverage back with the old direction from back then but sadly I can’t see it happening at the moment

  4. We don’t need crowd shots unless there’s something to see (ie them cheering a pass for the lead maybe).

    We don’t need pitlane shots, whether it’s the pitwall or people in the pits/garages (sorry but Sunday was a farce when they showed us Massa’s brother just after we could see Bottas’ wheel seemingly wobbling).

    We don’t need to see so called celebrities.

    In terms of advertising, Monaco was bad as coming out of the right hander down towards Portier you could see the camera every time lingering and clearly focussing in on the big Rolex (I think) advert behind it.

    They’ve made some good innovations, some of which aren’t used enough and some of which have been around for donkeys years before ever reacing F1, but the fact of the matter for me is they’re not good enough anymore. It’s all about the crowd, celebrities, adverts rather than the ONLY thing that people tune in for, which, amazingly given the form of sport is called motor racing, is what people want to see, they want to see fast cars racing each other, not some woman in the pits because she looks nice or the teams on the pitwall just sitting there or a celebrity stood in the pits watching a TV, seeing themselves and then waving.

    Their priorities are all wrong, but sadly I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

    • Monaco is the only race that FOM do not produce the TV coverage.

      Monaco is still handled by a local production crew.

  5. Stupid thing didn’t post my comment, so I’ll cut it short this time.

    People tune in to watch motor racing, so show motor racing, not people in the pits watching a TV or focussing in specifically on adverts, etc etc etc.

  6. I have to agree that I see no benefit from letting the local broadcasters produce the show, you’ll just have a total mix of styles. At least with one centralised production team, you should in theory have a better product on average.

    Interestingly Tata has just launched a F1 crowd sourcing competition to fix 3 issues in F1 – https://prize.tatacommunications.com. We should hear about the first one before Silverstone and maybe we can feedback on the TV coverage!

    • Ah more on this from F1.com:

      The three challenges will be announced exclusively on Tata Communications’ F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize website, starting with a design evolution of the sport’s display of live data provided by Formula One Management.

  7. http://m.youtube.com/results?q=formel%201%20premiere&sm=1 hope that works… its basicalky how I think F1 today should be done ;)

  8. Truth is, this year F1 looks 10 seconds slower due to the lack of fast-pace camera movement and proper angles. I can tell that for sure, from a commentator point of view, as we are presented with the worldwide TV feed just like everyone else. I find it hard sometimes to sound excited.
    Perhaps FOM should hire Michael Bay or some other action director to make the race transmission more eventful and actually use all of the options and the raw pace that the ‘pinnacle of the motorsports’ has to provide.

  9. Having known people who work for FOM I can tell you that the ‘directors’ could be anyone from an under paid vision mixer to someone in managements niece fresh out of Uni (just like the rest of the broadcast industry where nepotism and influence far outstrip actual talent).

    Much as I like the thermal camera I wouldn’t pat FOM on the back too much. The moving in car camera is pityful and hardly cutting edge, Aussie touring cars had them in the 90’s!!!!

    I’m afraid FOM’s output, as David suggests, is a mix of ignorance, bungling and sponsor brown nosing.

    I’m sorry David, much as the FOM output can be poor, at least it’s functional.

    SKY TAKING OVER THE BRITISH GP WOULD BE AWFUL!

    I can see it now, the opener would be references to other great British sporting events (at least the ones Sky cover) in a thinly veiled cross channel promotion.

    Then there’d be a piece with Pinkham wearing as little as possible with zero F1 content.

    Then a really self indulgent piece with the boys going on a pub crawl, again, no F1 content. It will be a mix of shallow depth of field ungraded DSLR footage shot at clashing frame rates and including terrible shots only a media student would use.

    Then the usual build up where the entire team walks round the paddock asking ‘WHAT CAN YOU DO FROM THERE’.

    Finally, at the end of a stonking race, just as 1 and 2 battle for the lead we’ll get a VT telling us we can watch on our iPad and that in 5 minutes some football match starts on Sky Sports1.

    NO NO NO, sky anywhere near F1 is like letting drunk football fans organize a state funeral.

  10. Steve Lewis-Evans

    I have to agree about the TV and the crowd action, I was screaming at the TV, not at the action as it should have been but by the repeated view of a crowd or the back of the pit lane crew, the only time they are relevant is as an after shot on a replay

  11. I agree that there can be improvements made regarding the FOM director, but overall I am okay with them. I hope they have a continuos effort to improve their broadcast and sort out mistakes that were made in Canada.

    I like the Sky Coverage generally, and regarding the “Lewis Hamilton Show”, I can tell you, German TV have had a 4 year period of the “Sebastian Vettel Show” and that was worse. Clearly, none of you guys have seen the german coverage of f1 at RTL yet. They obviously also get the world feed, but they have horrible commentators and ads in the worst moments of the GP. Their build-up is often of poor quality, interviews don’t hit the nail. Maybe you got a brief impression when Kai Ebel did the podium interview at the German GP.
    I would pay to watch the British Sky, but I can’t (because it is not possible to get it legally here), so I have to rely on streams.

    I would be terrified if RTL would take over the World Feed.

  12. I cant stand the cut-away shot that directors insist on putting into motor sport coverage. I don’t want to watch some expressionless person I don’t know watching themselves on the monitor. The amount of times they do this, and when they cut back all the action has been missed. Show it on a replay if there’s not much going on, but other than that don’t do it.

    The commentators should call them out on this, they have their commentary ruined when they can’t see whats going on and it makes them look stupid.

    Take the cameras out of the pit lane, and give us more angles on track.

  13. I too was getting increasingly annoyed at the fixation with the crowd and Massa’s brother (comment on the BBC was something like ‘he won’t know, he’s not an engineer…) and the total lack of coverage on McLaren. Not their best work (FOM, not McLaren…!)

    • fom have come up with things like helmetcam(wish it was used thisyear) thermal cam,rotating cameras etc.

      what they really need is spilt screen for replays,onboard or when there are 2 different battles happening(sky use this sometimes) so we dont miss action. its not just us tv viewers that get annoyed cutting away imagine the poeple like massas brother watching the action in the garage and it cuts away! do fom have like a complaint or support email or something like that so we can voice our concerns and ideas

  14. I agree that Canada was a fairly poor show from FOM. Having to view a pass for the lead for the first time via replay because it originally happened while we were seeing a crowd shot is pretty inexcusable.

    I imagine that we got so many crowd shots because the stands were packed with excited, passionate fans (how many long glimpses into the grandstands did we get in Bahrain, for example?), which is visual shorthand for “F1 is popular with the fans, no problems here!”.

    Annoyingly, most camera angles are set up solely to showcase a particular sponsor logo at the side of the track (or not, in the case of digital ads) rather than capturing the excitement of the cars as they pass by. The result is lots of long-distance or high angles, which severely reduce the sense of speed. The one exception to this was the camera just after the wall of champions, but this was mostly used for slow motion shots.

    I could go on – because this is a topic I feel very strongly about, and a couple of simple tweaks to the presentation could really highlight what great racing is actually happening this season – but to butcher a quote from the great Murray Walker: “and I’ve got to stop, because it’s angrying up my blood”.

  15. Im not sure I would like to have local broadcasters or Sky taking over the world-feed.

    We have seen in the past how bad the local directors could be & how focused they often were on local teams and/or drivers.

    I also fear that if it was handled by Sky we woudl have the coverage focused around there commentary as we see with the coverage in America for Indycar & Nascar.
    If the Fox guys want to talk about Danica for 5 minutes then we see Danica on-screen regardless of what else is going on.
    You mention Sky’s Hamilton-Bias recently, If Sky had the coverage & there commentators were talking about Lewis, We would likely only see Lewis. It was actually a bit like that in there live testing coverage last year.

    At least with FOM there is no bias to any driver or team & while some of there shot are questionable (Pits/crowd etc..) at least they stay around the best on circuit action rather than just sticking with the leader or a local driver or whatever.
    Coverage is not perfect, Its not as good as they had it when they had that pay tv broadcast what 12 years ago, But its still better than what we had in the past with the local tv crews.

  16. danielsussex

    As bad as FOM was at Canada, i say no to Sky taking over.

  17. If anyone here watches test cricket, Sky have control of the cameras for the home England matches, so it matches their commentary very well. I would like to see Sky take over the director’s seat, but not the camera angles as such; keep the cameras in the same physical places and get the Sky director to, well, choose the appropriate camera, as it should be done!!

  18. Loved the video. It actually makes f1 look fast again. But I think if sky did the world feed it’d have to be unbiased otherwise it’s become the Lewis Hamilton show or whichever Brit is winning the most.

  1. Pingback: Patriotism and Bias in F1 | A blog analysing F1,with some humour in it as well

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