Review: Sky vs BBC

Posted on March 19, 2012


Sky’s brand new Formula One channel went head to head with the pared back, but award winning, BBC F1 coverage this weekend. Which was best?

Brundle is one of Sky's top assets.Credit: ToroRosso/Getty

I made great strides to watch the qualifying and race sessions live: this is and will continue to be the greatest boost Sky has. Where possible – and I’ll be the first to admit I can’t always, usually because of work – I want to watch both sessions live. It’s much more exciting and there’s no need to spend hours avoiding the results, something which is more and more difficult given the rise of social networks.

So this weekend, I kipped on a friend’s floor to see qualifying live and then went to the excellent Badger GP #BadgerBash for the race on Sunday. I watched the BBC highlights packages as they went out later in the day, in full knowledge of the results.

Sky did pretty well on the whole. I felt they were very cautious, especially on Saturday. The first package in the qualifying show was a behind the scenes at Caterham, spending a lot of time with one of the truck drivers. This was fine and interesting – but not what I would have chosen for my first package out of the gate. They spent the first while at the back of the grid teams – again great, but I’d have had Lewis Hamilton at the top to help bring in the casual fans trying it out for the first time.

The Caterham feature was also out of date, since it done was before the team changed name – meaning everyone was in Team Lotus kit. When casual fans are already going to struggle with the three team names changing this year, this was curious. It’s not like the change to Caterham was unheralded either.

Clearly, Sky have taken a lot of BBC concepts and bought them right off the shelf. That’s not a bad thing – the BBC coverage was fantastic – and if Sky’s trio can build some chemistry, they may do well. But there is little innovation and where there is, it’s often not great. The “Sky Pad” is at best a bit odd, at worst a complete waste of time. Analysing in detail is good but there is no need to package it around a throw to a studio, with a big touch screen and contrived interviews between two Sky staffers.

But Sky win massively in the commentary box. Having Croft and Brundle in the box is the ideal and for my money should have been the BBC TV combination from the start. The commentary was fantastic. Brundle’s Sunday feature at Ferrari was also excellent.

So, the BBC. I say again, I watched the shows in knowledge of the results.

With three years of experience on the road, I felt the BBC shows were slicker. They’ll be helped in this respect by not being live, obviously. The pit lane trio of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard works really well entering the fourth year.

Neither, so far, do the BBC seem to be struggling for access now they have a major British rival. I thought the BBC feature with Jenson Button was better than Sky’s with Lewis Hamilton. They’ll have to be careful with this through the year as the teams and drivers have the same amount of time as before but inevitably greater demands from both BBC and Sky together.

The post race analysis seemed much sharper on the BBC. Absent any kind of Sky Pad gimmick, they throw up a clip of something and have expert voice overs on the pictures and replays. It’s slicker, in the end more informative and allows them to pack a lot in.

I was surprised there was so little pre-show on Sunday – we were into racing laps about 10 minutes into the two hour programme. With just less than 30 minutes analysis at the end meant most of the racing laps were shown. This is reassuring. There was no forum that I can find – I thought this was supposed to be happening at all 20 races and it’ll be a shame if they are only at the lives. For the major fan, I felt they were excellent since they allowed detailed, techy explanation and discussion without the danger of losing the casual viewer.

Ben Edwards and David Coulthard didn’t do much for me – but I’m very unfamiliar with Edwards’ work. Maybe he’ll grow on me.

The BBC also need to do better with practice session highlights – 1m 41s from three hours of action is pathetic, especially online.

I’ve written several times at my frustration over the deal. I still think it’s pretty lousy for the fans even if the BBC have made a fair pair of programmes.

Where I can, I’ll be watching Sky races live in the pubs – check out F1 in Pubs – and I’ll listen into qualifying on 5Live, with live timing. Short of missing things live because I’m at the office I can’t see me making an effort to watch the BBC coverage on Sky weekends.

I can see many doing the same. Eventually, it will do serious damage to viewing figures and ultimately kill F1 on the BBC. Then the fans will be really screwed. But I want to see the sport live, with timing and Twitter. I still think F1 will regret this move.

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