2014 saw MotoGP move to pay television in the UK, with live coverage of the sport now on BT Sport, BBC having lost the rights the previous spring. ITV did get in on the act though, with free to air highlights airing on ITV4. So, how have things progressed since this time last year?
> Audiences record slight increase versus 2014
> BT Sport sees 40% increase
> ITV highlights drop, but still above BT
The picture at the end of 2013 was that around one million viewers on average were watching MotoGP on BBC Two. During the first half of 2013, an average of 1.15 million watched the series across the BBC and British Eurosport. That number excludes BBC iPlayer. All the numbers that follow are BARB overnight viewing figures as usual, and exclude the likes of ITV Player and BT Sport’s app. Does this mean we are missing a significant chunk of the audience? It is difficult to tell, but when you are playing with a low audience anyway, a audience of 50k for example watching the BT Sport app makes a fair difference to the numbers. Not a huge difference, but perhaps noticeable. Anyway, ITV and BT, being commercial broadcasters, do not realise the on demand numbers into the public domain.
Last year, BT Sport’s live coverage from 12:30 to 14:00 (or equivalent) for the first half of the season averaged 155k. At the time, I commented that the number was poor and I stand by that submission when you consider what the BBC was getting the year before. Okay, the reach of BBC Two is many magnitudes bigger than BT Sport 2, but either way I did not expect MotoGP to lose 80 to 90 percent of its audience. In comparison, BT Sport’s live coverage so far this season has averaged 218k, an increase of 41 percent year on year. Every live race that BT Sport has covered has rated higher than 2014. The biggest jump year on year was for Le Mans, which went from 112k in 2014 to 262k in 2015, and peaked with 330k (4.4%), which is BT Sport’s highest MotoGP peak to date.
There are many reasons why BT Sport’s coverage has increased considerably year on year. The first is related to the fact that their coverage has been presented on location for this season. It is no secret that viewers are more likely to be engaged in coverage when they can get closer to the action. The other is that BT Sport may have more subscribers than this time last year, but I’m not convinced that argument holds up as their Premier League coverage has not increased by anywhere near the same amount. Two words can sum up the main reason for the increase in my opinion: Valentino Rossi. I will admit to being openly biased here. I am a Rossi fan, and it is fantastic to see him winning again. No doubt that has converted some of the ITV highlights watching audience into watching BT Sport’s coverage live. It is just unfortunate then that the 41 percent increase represents an increase of only 63k and not something of a much bigger volume…
With the UEFA Champions League coming on board for BT, alongside the changes to their subscription packages, it will be interesting to see how MotoGP’s numbers are affected, if at all. Surprisingly, ITV4’s highlights numbers have dropped 11 percent. An average of 327k have watched Monday’s highlights programme so far this year, in comparison with 366k for the first half of 2014. I should note that ITV4 are repeating the MotoGP Highlights show a lot more this year, which may explain why the Monday airing has suffered as a result. As is usual practice for the blog, repeats are not included in the figures outlined (aside from +1 channels). The high number of Le Mans on BT Sport was not replicated on ITV4 – in fact, on the weekend, BT Sport 2’s live coverage beat ITV4’s highlights number: 262k for BT’s live MotoGP portion of the show versus 253k for ITV’s highlights. It is an interesting anecdote, and does indicate that the pendulum is swinging towards BT Sport. The audience for the first half of 2014 was split 70/30 in ITV4’s favour. That split has tightened up to 60/40, still in ITV4’s favour but significantly closer than before.
Overall though, the numbers remain low compared with 2013. Even taking into account BT’s ratings increase, a combined average of 545k for the first half of 2015 is still massively down on BBC Sport’s figures for 2013, albeit 5 percent up on the average of 521k for the first half of 2014. BT Sport should be very happy with their figures – momentum is on their side. The momentum needs to be replicated in ITV’s highlights show. And, for whatever reason, that just is not happening at the moment. Neither BT Sport or ITV responded to a request for comment from this blog concerning MotoGP’s viewing figures.
The 2014 mid-season MotoGP ratings report can be found here.
The Associated Press, in conjunction with the British Movietone, have released over a million minutes of historical archive footage on to two new YouTube channels.
Unsurprisingly, both channels contain masses of Grand Prix footage dating back to before the war. The majority of the footage covers the period before 1982 – i.e. pre Formula One Management – however there is still some archive material that is clearly from FOM’s archive (but also AP’s, evidently) on the channel:
Unfortunately, given what has unfolded in the past week, the first page of results when searching for ‘Grand Prix‘ on AP’s YouTube channel are a few safety related videos, although this video in the aftermath of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix is one that I have not seen before. It shows Max Mosley addressing the media on the Wednesday following the events of that weekend:
More recently, we have the outcome of the McLaren 2007 spying case, with Norbert Haug, Ron Dennis and Pedro de la Rosa trying to escape the court room:
I don’t know how many motor racing videos have been uploaded to the AP’s and Movietone’s YouTube channel, but there will almost certainly be some hidden gems in the collection that has been uploaded.
The Formula 1 paddock returns from its first Summer break to what is going to be a sombre weekend at the Hungaroring, for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The scheduling details can be found below:
BBC TV – Sessions
24/07 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Two)
24/07 – 13:00 to 14:40 – Practice 2 (BBC Two)
25/07 – 09:55 to 11:10 – Practice 3 (BBC Two)
25/07 – 12:10 to 14:20 – Qualifying (BBC One)
26/07 – 12:15 to 15:15 – Race (BBC One)
26/07 – 15:15 to 16:15 – Forum (BBC Red Button)
BBC Radio – Sessions
24/07 – 08:55 to 10:35 – Practice 1 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
24/07 – 12:55 to 14:35 – Practice 2 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/07 – 09:55 to 11:05 – Practice 3 (BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra)
25/07 – 12:55 to 14:05 – Qualifying (BBC Radio 5 Live)
26/07 – 12:30 to 15:00 – Race (BBC Radio 5 Live)
23/07 – 21:00 to 22:00 – Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)
24/07 – 18:45 to 19:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
25/07 – 11:10 to 12:10 – F1 Rewind (BBC Two)
25/07 – 19:45 to 20:00 – Inside F1 (BBC News Channel)
Sky Sports F1
24/07 – 08:45 to 11:00 – Practice 1
24/07 – 12:45 to 15:00 – Practice 2
25/07 – 09:45 to 11:15 – Practice 3
25/07 – 12:00 to 14:35 – Qualifying (also Sky Sports 1)
26/07 – 11:30 to 16:15 – Race (also Sky Sports 1)
=> 11:30 – Track Parade
=> 12:00 – Pit Lane Live
=> 12:30 – Race
=> 15:30 – Paddock Live
23/07 – 14:00 to 14:30 – Driver Press Conference
23/07 – 20:45 to 21:00 – Paddock Uncut: Hungary
24/07 – 16:00 to 16:45 – Team Press Conference
24/07 – 17:00 to 18:00 – The F1 Show: A Tribute to Jules (also Sky Sports 1)
29/07 – 20:30 to 21:00 – Midweek Report
GP2 Series – Hungary (Sky Sports F1)
24/07 – 11:00 to 11:50 – Practice
24/07 – 14:50 to 15:30 – Qualifying
25/07 – 14:35 to 16:05 – Race 1
26/07 – 09:30 to 10:45 – Race 2
GP3 Series – Hungary (Sky Sports F1)
25/07 – 08:45 to 09:25 – Qualifying
25/07 – 16:15 to 17:15 – Race 1
26/07 – 08:20 to 09:20 – Race 2
If anything changes, I will update the schedule above.
The 2014-15 Formula E season came to a thrilling climax on June 28th from Battersea Park in London, with Nelson Piquet, Jnr clinching the championship in a finale that could be described as the electric version of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. Overall, the inaugural season has been a success, ten cities hosting eleven rounds. But what has gone well, what hasn’t gone well and what could be improved for season two? There are a lot of lessons that the championship could learn going forward, but also some things that they should be congratulated on.
Viewing figures and scheduling
According to overnight viewing figures from overnights.tv, the inaugural season of Formula E averaged 216k (2.6%) on ITV4 for their eleven race day programmes, with an average peak audience of 366k (4.1%). It is worth remembering that the championship decider was broadcast live on ITV to an audience of 700k (6.9%). Removing that number brings Formula E’s average down to 168k (2.2%), with an average peak of 285k (3.4%). Broadcasting the final race live on ITV’s main channel made a huge difference to the season average. The audiences for ITV4 have been solid, but they have not been spectacular. In my opinion, I don’t think ITV is all to blame for that.
Some of Formula E’s scheduling decisions during season one were bad, some their own fault, and some beyond their own control as we saw with Malaysia being moved from October to November, thus creating a two month gap between rounds one and two. Their season two calendar unfortunately does not fill me with much hope. The Formula One season starts in April, and I had hoped that Formula E would take advantage of that fact. Instead, what the provisional calendar shows is an seven week gap between rounds three and four, with a further six week gap between rounds four and five, neither gap makes much sense. Formula E should capitalise on Formula 1’s absence with a race every three weeks (Christmas aside), if feasibly possible.
The season two problems are compounded by Battersea Park’s date currently showing as TBA. The calendar needs to be more compact, to get the viewers into a routine in the off-season. From ITV’s perspective, it is difficult to promote something that is not on regularly. There’s less incentive for ITV to broadcast races on their main channel with long gaps. As of writing, we don’t know whether ITV will be covering Formula E for season two. I assume the answer is yes, given that ITV’s Formula E presenter Jennie Gow has referenced Formula E in some of her tweets recently, in but this has yet to be confirmed to me. I would outline what I think ITV should do scheduling wise for season two, but I think it is worth waiting until official confirmation that they are actually screening season two live first…
Graphics and Direction
The World Feed for Formula E’s inaugural season was produced by Aurora Media, who packaged each session with their own broadcast crew, led by Nicki Shields, with Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary (more on that later). From a graphical perspective, the package was slick, and looked great in high definition. Unfortunately, the graphics did not stand up very well in standard definition, which was evident when I watched the races live on ITV4. The main timing graphics wall, which included the energy percentages, was superb. Easy on the eye, allowing the casual viewer to easily track the story of the race. Kudos to whoever came up with that idea for the percentages on screen, because it was executed fantastically. There were two graphics in my opinion which suffered from fatal flaws.
The first problem was the speedometer, which stayed the same for the entire season. The problem here was that too much information was being conveyed in a small amount of space. One of the core fundamentals of any user interface is that the user should be able to understand what it is telling you within around 10 seconds. When I’m looking at the speedometer, what exactly am I focusing on? And is that information important for the casual viewer? If the guy who watches every race struggles to understand or digest the graphic, then the casual viewer has no chance. It is good that this information is being provided to the viewer, but it certainly needs to be separated out to be made more useful (aka. separation of concerns).
The second problem I found concerned the qualifying graphics. I also want to put this under the “let’s make the commentators job easier” category. The graphic itself is an addition to the timing wall, and normally sits to the right of it, which shows the amount of kilowatts that the driver is currently using. Normally, it is either 150 kW for a slower lap and 200 kW for a fast lap. The problem I have is that the graphic fluctuates considerably as the driver goes round the lap, sometimes even going into negative values. I mentioned this on Twitter a while back, and the reaction to the graphic seemed positive so it may be just me that feels this way.
Across the season, the direction was largely good, highlighted by the superb camera angles. I don’t think you can ever get tired of seeing Formula E cars leap over kerbs and hurl themselves towards the fence and the onlooking camera. One worry before the season was whether the camera angles would convey the speed well, however for me this was quickly dispelled with round one in Beijing, as described above. Not every round was perfect, I didn’t think the open airfield of Berlin portrayed the cars well, as it meant that the camera angles were not generally as close as previous rounds. But overall, it was good and for the most part it was clear that the team were learning as they went along, the pit sequence an example of something which improved significantly as the season progressed, helped by the aforementioned on-screen graphics.
However, as with the graphics, there were two aspects about the direction that I wasn’t a fan of: cutaways and heli-cam. I can understand the occasional cutaway to Alain Prost or whoever in the pit lane. But as the season progressed, the cutaways felt more intrusive on the coverage, and also held onto the subject for far too long, some shots seemingly stuck forever. A separate issue was heli-cam. It works the majority of time in Formula 1 as it can help visualise the speed at places like Monza. But when the Formula E cars are slower than other single-seaters as it is, you really shouldn’t use any shots that highlights this fact. The heli-cam was used frequently in London, and I wasn’t a fan. I don’t like saying this, but the direction behind the restart of the second London race was a mess as a result.
Commentary, other bits and looking ahead
The commentary team of Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti does not need much explanation, nor analysis. Why? Because it was Nicholls and Franchitti that helped made Formula E what it became during season one. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Nicholls and Franchitti are currently the best motor sport commentary duo around. The young, energetic style of Nicholls alongside the veteran analysis from Franchitti is a fantastic combination, and one that I hope is maintained for season two. It certainly deserves to be.
A few other bits to round off. Social media is good, with great use of Grabyo for instantly sharing clips from the race, which has paid off with famous stars sharing the clips. Weirdly though, there has not been much direct interaction with fans from Formula E themselves, in the form of Q&A’s and the like. Furthermore, I found that Formula E did not promote their own live streaming, which was incredibly bizarre. I mean, if you want someone to access the live streaming, surely you would provide a direct link to it? As I say, the social media content itself is great, but the interaction, not so. The website is okay, but it is not optimised for mobile browsing as far as I can see. Speaking of live streaming, if you didn’t have a direct link to it, chances are you would find it difficult to spot it. It is silly that the Video page, linked from the homepage, has none of the full sessions listed, but the Live Streaming page, not linked from the homepage, has every session listed. A goldmine if you want to grab new fans, if you ask me, which is not being exploited.
Season one for Formula E has gone incredibly well. Have they proved the naysayers wrong? I’d like to think so. The points I have outlined above will only serve to get better as time progresses. The cars will only get faster, the technology will become more mainstream and attract a bigger audience. Formula E has its baseline. But the race is not over. The chase for viewers is only just beginning. Please, just don’t do anything stupid. Keep it free and accessible, and you will attract more viewers.
Oh, and the segway is fantastic. Never forget the segway.