Formula 1 broadcasting has changed a lot over the years and is now one of the most popular televised sports in the world, more than half a billion people watched F1 on TV in 2010, but I have issues with certain elements of the broadcasting. Seeing as Sky F1 launched this weekend, it seems logical that I write about them just now. I can only talk with authority about coverage in the UK, but some elements affect viewers globally.
For a sport that actively touts itself as being at the pinnacle of technology, it has been solidly behind the curve when it comes to television technology. High definition TV has regularly been shown in Europe since 2004, and in the UK Sky launched their HD services in 2006, but the first F1 race to be shown in HD was the 2011 Australian Grand Prix. No real reason was given for the delay, and seeing as most races have had their coverage produced by the FOM world feed since 2007, the delay was illogical because the cost of equipment wouldn’t be borne by the local broadcasters. In terms of interactive TV, unless you live in the UK or Germany, you get nothing. The BBC has offered a driver tracker since the 2010 British Grand Prix, and for a number of years Sky Sport Germany has offered two onboard feeds and live data, Sky Sports F1 will offer a similar service in the UK this season. Most other territories will get qualifying and the race live, and some practice coverage, but other countries get next to nothing; Slovakia, for example, gets the race and the race only. A decade ago UK viewers had the option of watching the F1 Digital+ service, for the frankly ridiculous price of £12 a race (that works out as £204 for the 2002 season), and although the amount of choice was great, it wasn’t exactly a financially viable option.
In terms of paying for F1, personally I don’t mind that much, as long as I can be guaranteed decent coverage, and seeing as Sky are going to offer all sessions live, GP2 and GP3 coverage as well as special programming, I can’t complain too much. But judging by the first episode of Sky’s F1 Show, they are going to repeat problems I have both with them and general F1 programming. In terms of the issues I have with Sky, it really boils down to their use of on-screen graphics, they seem obsessed with rotating images, and The F1 Show has cars revolving in a virtual showroom in the background for no good reason. Also, their “Sky Pad” featuring virtual cars is a pointless gimmick which doesn’t serve any purpose other than to show that they can do it.
The other issue I think I’ll have with Sky, I have with the BBC and I had with ITV before that; their assumption that viewers have no knowledge of the intricacies of F1. F1 may be a complex sport, but I think almost every person watching knows how a wing generates downforce, but on an annual basis it will be described as “an upside-down plane wing”. Sky made Ted Kravitz show us what a diffuser is by utilising the virtual car hovering over the “Sky Pad”, quickly followed by showing us the exhaust. In no other sport are you treated like an idiot for daring to watch it, rugby union commentators don’t feel the need to explain a scrum every time a ball’s knocked on; tennis pundits don’t describe what a double fault is; but F1 TV producers make sure that we are given a 10 minute segment about drivers having to use both available tyre compounds. F1 fans are treated as if they’re new to the sport, and it happens every season.