Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Adam Macdonald, with special assistance from Mattpt55
Some things have been very poignant from the BBC broadcast this season, with one of them being David Coulthard holding the show together. Primarily, he provides expert analysis pre and post-race, and is relied upon even more since Eddie Jordan has been intermittent on screen. Also, he co-commentates on the races with Ben Edwards.
Earlier in the year I covered the shortcomings of Suzi Perry (Perry Looking Perilous?). However, it seems the problem is more than just lacking of technical know-how for the BBC. When commentating live, Edwards does not seem to be able to give much of a useful insight into the race. He injects excitement into the racing that is essential, but David Croft manages this for SKY F1 week in week out as well as considering occurrences in the race. For those who own the F1 year review DVDs, you will understand my feelings of how Edwards is more suited to highlight reel commentary than live action.
Therefore, it is often left to DC to explain much of race to the viewers. Whilst this may not seem like a problem, going forward this is a disaster for the BBC. With SKY F1 clearly still angling towards gaining the world broadcasting rights to the sport, they will continue to hoover up any talent there is out there in the Formula One broadcasting world. With the broadcasts in 3D having been a real success story for football and rugby, with the only limiting factor at the moment being the ownership of 3D televisions, it is surely only a matter of time before F1 follows suit and enhances the viewers’ experience even further.
I for one, would relish the opportunity to have F1 being broadcast in 3D in my living room, with a decent surround sound as well, it would revolutionise the experience. Perhaps it would even help to reach the occasional viewer and give them more of an idea of what it feels like to be at a race. Until 2011, I had never been to a race, and would find it difficult to do the race atmosphere justice in writing. The smell of the burning oil, the crackle of the gear shifts and the glimmer of the cars are something quite magical.
How long will DC be able to resist the (presumably) increased pay cheque and further opportunities they (SKY) would be able afford him? As the saying goes, “Every man has his price.” Martin Brundle jumped ship from the BBC at the first opportunity, citing being able to commentate on all the races live as the reason for doing so in 2012. Was this his price or the large quantity of notes that were suddenly going to be in his pocket? The jury is still out on that one.
The feeling that you were watching friends chatting about the race that Jake, DC and Eddie Jordan brought to the F1 broadcasting was entirely different. I recall the watered down F1 for dummies show after the Korean GP this year left me feeling slightly short changed. Of course, it doesn’t help the broadcasting that DC has nobody really to discuss race issues with, apart from when, Gary Anderson makes an appearance.
Gary Anderson has grown into the role this year being able to explain technical aspects of the cars when others have been flummoxed. Hiring him was and is still the best move the BBC have made this Formula One Season.
So where now?
What can the BBC do to change this half-hearted feel to their broadcast? Now that only half of the races are shown live it really seems they are in an unenviable position. There is little they can do to compete with SKYF1’s coverage of GP weekends and nothing to counter the dedicated channel with extras like the F1 Show every Friday. The BBC is becoming the breeding ground for young talent to be tried and tested, before being shipped off to the ‘Big Time’ and bright lights of BSKYB.
You could even draw the comparison of SKY being Red Bull Racing, with the junior sister team being the BBC – Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Given that the household favourite, Jake Humphrey, has left for the more steady life of Premiership football presenting it would suggest flying all around the world to make a highlight show is just not worth the hassle. The only reasonable thing (both economically and logically) the BBC can do is appeal to the less dedicated fans who watch towards the end of a season when ‘it gets interesting.’ Although a rocky road could be ahead if they do this…
The Return to the USA
With the possibility of there being 2 races in America next year – even if it looks extremely unlikely now, (even with the helping hand that Bernie is offering New Jersey with Valencia’s fencing) – it will only be a matter of time before F1 becomes more popular stateside. With many fans turning away from IndyCar there is a thirst for racing which needs to be quenched in America.
Currently coverage in the States is on the NBCSN network. They have spent barrels of money on the rights to F1 this season, stealing them away from the former SpeedTV (now Fox Sports). Clearly, they have a long term plan for growing coverage in the states, which might well include acquiring some overseas expertise to bulk up the current commentators.
As part of the NBCSN deal, former Speed commentators David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Leigh Diffey jumped ship, leaving behind Bob Varsha from the original team. Hobbs, of course, is a world class driver and Matchett a former wrench for Benetton in their title winning years. Varsha had covered F1 since it came to ESPN in 1986. Often, the best of their broadcast was simply listening to them reminisce as the race unfolded before you. With Varsha gone, Diffey an Australian with many years less experience covering the sport has stepped into the spotlight (he formerly substituted for Varsha at Speed as well as covering Supercars and Champ Cars amongst others), and the difference in chemistry is noticeable.
It’s not just chemistry, though, with the large bet NBCSN has made on F1, commercials and set piece production numbers have become even more prevalent than they were on a Speed (for example, during the Brazilian GP, they actually ran a nice piece about the last of the V8 engines, DURING THE LAST TEN LAPS OF THE RACE) as well as a marked simplification of commentary, that wasn’t all that sophisticated to begin with.
So it may be that if the audience growth doesn’t meet NBC’s expectation, it will not be only the BBC experts in front of the camera, but also those behind it that find a new home with welcoming arms and fat pay cheques in the land of the super-sized fries. There is little recent American F1 experience to help with punditry. I can’t see viewers being happy to tune in to watch Scott Speed talk about the race, they will want someone they recognise more as a household name.
The ailing BBC coverage with lower wages and declining publicity could suffer as a stateside broadcaster wants to air the races with expert knowledge on what is at the best of times, a complex sport to understand. This, coupled with the interest in a foreign presenter could open doors for many. One only has to look at the likes of Piers Morgan, who wasn’t the most popular character in the UK, who is, for all intents and purposes, a household name in the States, or Will Buxton who seems to be adored working by many, working for NBC as the pit lane reporter. The simple fact of the matter is ‘Being British’ sells.
So where now?
With Tom Clarkson the BBC has a future star as well. Retaining this kind of talent is essential if they want to regain the viewers and maintain some level of broadcast. Jennie Gow and James Allen do a sterling job for Radio 5Live – so long may that continue.
The best move the BBC could make over the winter would be to appoint Lee McKenzie into the position she rightly should have been given in the first place. We saw Suzi Perry once again exposed with her lack of F1 knowledge when she was unable to give an opinion over who would be on pole, when questioned by Eddie Jordan.
One example was her floundering when dealing with people who put her on the back foot, as seen in the video below.
The video below shows how Lee McKenzie is just that little bit cooler under pressure, and why Eddie Jordan is sometimes a loose cannon with the microphone in hand.
What would the TJ13 viewers like to see in the UK for the BBC? And for our stateside viewers, is the NBC broadcast a realistic long-term station to bring F1 to the masses?
It would appear it is not just the teams that have a lot of work to do over the winter break.
[If you liked this article please share it using the buttons below]