IndyCar On Sky Sports For 2019

The NTT IndyCar Series will air in the UK exclusively on Sky Sports F1 for 2019 and beyond, in a deal announced just over a week before the first race.

This is exciting news if you get Sky Sports F1. And possibly good news for the series to get in front of more eyeballs. This is not so good if you were watching on BT TV.

I’ll get on to the future in a little while. First some context.

History With Sky

The old IRL had long been aired on Sky Sports. Eurosport aired the rival CART / Champ Car. When the series merged, Sky aired the unified IndyCar Series as a continuation of the IRL deal.

At the time Sky gave IndyCar little promotion and audiences were tiny. But they gave it some attention by providing a London studio which filled in the gaps.

US TV is allowed to take far more advert breaks per hour than British TV. This causes a headache for UK channels when they take live American sport. How do you fill the gaps? This is trickier if the host doesn’t show the action while US TV is away.

Sky Sports provided a studio for Keith Heuwen and a regular guest. Keith, the former 500cc Grand Prix motorbike racer and now MotoGP lead commentator for BT Sport. The guests were often former Indy Lights racer and long-time sportscar driver Johnny Mowlem, or British IndyCar engineer Andy Brown who had worked for teams in F1, CART and IRL with success.

Pre-race would be a discussion in London which joined the US broadcast just before the green flag. We rarely saw the packages from the host broadcast. Mid-race, when they didn’t go to break themselves they’d talk through the action we’d seen and show replays again, always a benefit. It was a good compromise.

Unfortunately it could also be dry which is just a function of the format. I’m never a fan of going to a studio during a live event. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be racing, football, athletics, whatever. I find it detaches you from the event and sucks the life and atmosphere away. I’d rather see the event I’m tuning in to see and have the remote analysts talk over it. I get the sense I’m missing something when they cut away. Unfortunately it is common practice in UK sports broadcasting.

Sky Sports F1 launched in 2012. There was a bit of cross-pollination with 2 or 3 IndyCar races on the channel, but mostly IndyCar was on Sky Sports 4 and the two didn’t interact very much.

History With BT Sport

IndyCar TV rights outside America were held by ESPN International. ESPN had been trying to get into the UK market for a while and set up their own channel in 2009. IndyCar moved to ESPN UK in 2013. But by Summer 2013, BT, the telecoms giant, set up BT Sport as a big-money rival to Sky Sports with the intention of poaching some of the Premier League rights. They succeeded. BT Sport also purchased ESPN UK and repositioned and rebranded it to focus on American sport.

BT Sport ESPN

IndyCar on BT was basic to start with, just taking the raw feed from the US and I’m sure they even showed UK commercials for every US break.

After a while the US broadcaster provided a continuous feed during US ad breaks. This allowed BT Sport to employ their own team in London, again filling in the gaps, but this time with no formal studio. It would be audio only, over the pictures from the US. Perfect! The team included Keith Collantine of RaceFans.net (formerly F1 Fanatic), Ben Evans who commentates for BT on other series such as GT Open, and freelance Tom Gaymor who you will have heard at Eurosport on basically any racing they show. Usually it would be a pair from this three.

It was the best of both worlds. You never lost sight of the action. It settled into a routine whereby if US TV took a break while the race was green BT would stay with it with British commentary, but if the race was under Safety Car BT Sport would take a commercial break. This worked well – especially when the number of yellows decreased significantly in the last couple of years!

Occasionally this too could be dry, especially when they exchanged statistics rather than talked about the racing – the lone race where the BT team covered Road America in its entirety was particularly bad for this. But in general the team illuminated the coverage from a British perspective and kept it moving, even including fans’ comments via Twitter and running Q&As for people new to IndyCar. It was a very positive step.

There was moment when a different production team on the UK side covered Indy. The theory was good, big fanfare and explainers for newbies, but they made the same mistake as Sky with a UK studio. It meant UK fans watching for the first time were denied the pomp and ceremony preceding the race, which are as much part of the Indy 500 as the race itself. Instead we watched an incredibly dry discussion about how Fernando Alonso might do. The usual knowledgeable UK team were sidelined which was very unhelpful in explaining to potential new fans.

That race in 2017 the viewership hit 200,000, some 10 times higher than usual! Again generally IndyCar viewing numbers were terrible, just like with Sky, barely making 30,000 some weeks. There’s no way it should be that low in a country so mad on F1.

Future With Sky Sports F1

Sky Sports F1 has matured since 2012. It found its place and has built a loyal audience of motorsport die-hards willing to pay money to watch racing. So this is a good deal, yes?

Sky Sports F1

Well, I have three concerns. One is promotion. How often do Sky promote the non-F1 series they already have, Formula 2 and GP3 (which will be FIA Formula 3 this year)?

Last year they failed to show a live F2 race, choosing instead to show F1 drivers playing giant Jenga, even though three British F2 drivers would sign to race in F1 this year (Russell, Albon, Norris) and two of them fought for the F2 title. For me this is not forgivable. The future of British talent in F1 was handed to them on a plate and they didn’t take it. Will IndyCar races get pre-empted by a magazine show about F1?

The other concern is those loyal die-hard Formula 1 fans. Judging by internet comments and comments I’ve overheard at racetracks and at Goodwood FoS, many have proven over many years to have a real problem with IndyCar. They jump to conclusions about “just turning left” or being “F1 rejects”, though a lot of IndyCar fans in the US make the second point as well.

It makes no sense to me. IndyCar races are mostly on road and street courses. They are open wheel single seater cars that race at high speed. Oval races often are tactically brilliant while being insanely fast.

Will F1 fans give IndyCar a fair shot? I hope so. It’s a fantastically competitive series. And the depth of talent is higher than ever. The top 5 were always as good as anyone in F1, but now you could extend that to the top 10 or 15. Drop Josef Newgarden or Scott Dixon into a Mercedes with 8 days of testing and they’d run Lewis Hamilton close.

The positives?

If even a portion of these fans can be convinced, there is a ready and waiting audience. 600,000 fans regularly watch Grands Prix on SSF1. Convert even 10% of the audience and you’re already ahead of what BT achieved.

And the Indy 500? Lots of potential there. Could we see 400k? 500k? That would be a record for a UK audience. Will the channel see an uplift in subscriber numbers now F1 is exclusively live?

Costs

This is my third concern and it’s a big one. Sky is very expensive. Even with the deals on offer.

For a full cost analysis of Sky Sports please see Motorsport Broadcasting (the blog is also the source of the viewing figures quoted in this piece). The comparison includes Now TV streaming and the Sky Sports Mobile TV app which is by far the cheapest option.

If you already subscribe to SSF1 this is a win for you.

If you don’t you’ll either have to miss IndyCar – and live F1 – or you’ll have to switch. You will at least have delayed highlights of F1 on Channel 4.

YouTube was another option. Races have been uploaded in full to YouTube within days. I have a smart TV with a YouTube app and this was a great way to catch up on those 2am night races if I forgot to record them on BT.
However in the US there’s a new agreement with streaming and on demand catch up on NBC Sports Gold. It remains to be seen whether the series will continue to upload races to their YouTube channel. I suppose we will find out next week.

Speaking Personally

I have BT fibre broadband and BT TV and will lose IndyCar and F1 in the same year.

I had been resigned to watching F1 with Channel 4’s evening highlights.

To be honest I’d assumed IndyCar would stay on BT Sport and was happy with that because they have MotoGP. Two of the best series in the world justified keeping BT Sport and I got to see some Champions League and Premiership Rugby as well.

Yes I know they have other racing, DTM, GT Open, and so on. But I don’t watch those.

I’ve been an IndyCar fan since 2000 and this year’s series promises so much. SSF1 having live F1 and live IndyCar has me seriously looking at subscribing.

There are deals around which drop the price of Sky significantly, though it is still expensive. I’m trying to justify it to myself. It might mean changing broadband.

I won’t be able to get Sky installed before Round 1 at St. Pete next weekend and probably not before the Australian GP the week after. But to guarantee two of my favourite series for two years… is it worth it?

Is it worth it?

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MotoGP to BT Sport in 2014 (IndyCar & NASCAR too)

UK TV coverage of MotoGP will be switching to the new BT Sport channels from the 2014 season. IndyCar will also be on those channels later this season. I’ll focus on MotoGP as that is by far the bigger series in terms of fans and ratings.

Err, What?

BT Sport is a new venture from the telecoms company after it bought ESPN UK & Ireland, which itself grew out of the ashes of Setanta Sports. The line-up will be BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 – each with HD and SD simulcasts – and the existing ESPN channel will be retained, but it’ll be run by BT instead of ESPN. The existing ESPN Classic and ESPN America will be discontinued. MotorsTV has moved on the Sky EPG to make way.

Is this a good thing? The elephant in the room is Sky Sports, the dominant player in subscription-TV sports. If Setanta nor the mighty ESPN could make it work against Sky, could BT, despite little experience operating linear TV? BT already offer an on-demand service via IPTV (it beat Sky to that by a couple of years), could that make the difference?

Given Thursday’s announcements they are certainly giving it a damn good try!

No Free-To-Air MotoGP

Now for the bad news for many – no more BBC or Eurosport MotoGP coverage.

The free-to0-air* BBC2 airs all races live, and Moto2 and Moto3 races, and MotoGP qualifying, are live online and on the red button.

* excluding the Licence Fee but since everyone has to pay it anyway it is moot.

British Eurosport – but I believe not many other branches of Eurosport across the continent – air all sessions live for all 3 classes apart from the MotoGP race, which is delayed to give BBC2 the priority. Eurosport only requires a £5 extra fee on Sky (along with a whole host of other channels in the Entertainment Extra pack), and is on a fairly reasonable tier on Virgin Media cable TV, I think? It also has a very affordable web and app presence costing only £2.99/mth which is how I watch it.

The sharing agreement was set up in 2009 specifically to boost ratings by giving priority to the more widely available BBC2. It seems priorities have changed at Dorna!

As of now the only UK TV coverage is exclusive to BT. Sadly this means, unless a highlights deal is announced, MotoGP will no longer be available on free-to-air to the whole population.

This is a huge loss for MotoGP’s UK fans. I am sure Dorna took this option for their own reasons, possibly financial. The BT deal will inevitably result in far lower viewing figures. BBC2 gets about 1 million people per race, this is sometimes higher than F1 races on Sky! BT would be doing extremely well to reach 20% of that and it might be more like 10%.

There are some people who will get it free-to-air, effectively. More on that in a minute.

What MotoGP Will They Air?

Everything. All sessions and races will be covered live. Tthey’ll be covered live from site and from a London studio, perhaps they’ll send one or two pit reporters (and crew) and keep the presenting team at home? That’s a backwards step, the interaction you get from Matt Roberts, and previously Suzi Perry, is very much worth the investment. Talking heads sitting in a remote studio is not interesting to me.

What is interesting is the promise of extra programming between races, they’ve not given specifics but I imagine that might include profiles of legends of the sport, insights into GP history, a tour of a team HQ.

How.. And How Much?

First things first – the hook:  If you have BT Broadband you will be able to get BT Sport’s channels as a free extra. I’m a BT Broadband subscriber so this makes me quite happy! Effectively MotoGP remains ‘free-to-air’ if you are already with BT.

There are those who complain it isn’t “free” but that is only valid if you are now with a competitor at a lower rate – you’ll end up paying more by switching. That’s fair enough. For those of us already paying BT’s higher rates, this offer makes those prices better value. I’m paying them anyway so anything extra is a bonus. Ok it isn’t ‘free’, it is a new feature that makes my higher cost more bearable. Believe me I was seriously considering switching away at the end of my contract and this deal will heavily influence my decision.

Don’t have BT Broadband? A subscription costs £12 per month or £15 for HD but at the moment you can only get it on Sky.

Here are the four options. They say three but there are four, I consider the web player to be separate from the app. There’s a possible fifth.

Option 1)  Sky. If you have Sky you can ring up BT and give them your viewing card number. You DO NOT have to be an existing BT customer – the difference is only in cost. If you are with BTB you’ll get Sport free, if you’re not you’ll be charged £12 or £15. Seemingly you can only get it direct from BT (don’t call Sky), I bet this is to check you’re a broadband customer which Sky wouldn’t know.

Option 2) BT TV. BT have a couple of TV options of their own. You’ll need their broadband to get either.

They want you to get YouView but that requires some hoops to be jumped: You need to have BT Infinity (“superfast broadband” as they call it), their fibre-optic system which is slowly rolling out across the country.

If like many people you currently can’t get Infinity you can have BT Vision instead. For that you will need normal BT Broadband, or ADSL as most of us may know it. There appear to be no other restrictions on getting Vision. (Annoyingly there’s also a Vision-branded section on YouView – don’t confuse the two).

BT Sport will be delivered by encrypted Freeview channel needing a viewing card in exactly the same way ESPN is currently, but it’ll be the SD channels only and there’s a £10 fee for the card.

Update – more details here.

Both systems are focused on ‘On Demand’ services so I hope BT Sport content will appear there for free.

Option 3) Web Player. Seems to be BT subs only. Go to btsport.com and login with a MyBT username (the one you use to look bills). A big concern here is the use of unreliable Microsoft Silverlight which is my main bugbear with ITV Player.

Option 4) App for tablet or smartphone again needing a BT login.

I hope options 3 and 4 become available to non-subscribers. If BT are serious about bringing sport to the masses at lower rates than Sky, they would surely allow people to subscribe only to the web player and/or the app.

Potential Option 5) Virgin Media cable TV. No deal has been agreed right now but you can bet they are working on it.

Away from BT, another option for fans is the VideoPass on MotoGP.com – real diehards only though, a standard pass costs £85 per year or £21/month! A ‘MultiScreen’ pass is £30/mth.

Existing ESPN subscriber? I’m pretty sure I saw that your subscription will only run until ESPN changes hands at the end of July. If that means you have unused months I suggest you ask ESPN for a refund.

The Takeaway

Depends on what you have already.

++ for anybody with BT broadband and a Sky dish or YouView. Just ring BT and get all this stuff for free. If you currently pay for ESPN you’ll save £10-15 per month.

+ for anybody with BT broadband but no Sky dish. You (and I) will get the web player and the app for no extra fee. Most of us are perfectly used to watching BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Eurosport Player so this is a very good thing for us.

~ for people with Sky but not BT. £12-£15 isn’t going to break the bank if you only want BT Sport, but if you want Sky Sports too it’ll soon mount up. If you pay for Sky Sports and ESPN right now nothing will really change, a sport or two will have moved from one place to another as they do every year.

– for those who can and would pay for BT and/or Sky but are currently with other providers – switching is a hassle.

— if you can only afford one set of premium sports channels, do you choose Sky for F1, or BT for MotoGP & IndyCar? It’ll fall on your preference of racing and other sports.

— for anybody without BT or Sky and are unwilling or unable to switch for whatever reason. Cost is likely the main reason as both BT and Sky are expensive. There are a lot of people who just can’t afford it.

MotoGP’s ratings are going to drop substantially in 2014. ESPN’s ratings at the moment are dire and that will not change for a while. Even Sky Sports, the market leader in subscription sport, usually has poor ratings compared to Free-To-Air.

The increase in shoulder programming is a good thing – will anybody watch it?

I applaud BT for not only allowing their current customers access for no further fee – remember how often people complain the sweet deals are only for new customers – and also for keeping the monthly cost at a minimal level for non-broadband customers.

On a Personal Level

I have BT Broadband with BT Vision TV – unfortunately the Freeview part is broken so I can’t get ESPN, but even if the box worked I live in a transmission blackspot – if you pick up a main transmitter you see all Freeview channels but if you use a local repeater transmitter you only see half of them. Guess where I live! I must get an engineer to move the aerial.

I should be able to see a lot On Demand for free with Vision which is good. Anything I want live I can see on my PC or iPad for no extra charge, also brilliant.

Alternatives? I’m in a rented property so I can’t have a Sky dish – I might be allowed at this address but who’s to say how long I’ll be here and if my next landlord would let me? I also live well outside Virgin’s cabled area. These are the reasons I went for BTV in the first place.

Is this deal any good for you? Let me know! It certainly feels better than the Sky F1 deal but is that because I’m now used to that idea, is it because I know I’m getting availability for no extra cost?

Other Racing

IndyCar – BT seem to have taken over ESPN’s current IndyCar deal right off the bat, from channel launch this August. Good news. IndyCar fans were faced with having no coverage at all so it is a very different position to MotoGP which is reducing viewers. I’m *VERY* happy to finally be able to watch one of my favourite series completely legally for the first time since 2002!

NASCAR – There has been mention of NASCAR which I presume to be the 1-hour highlights show of the Sprint Cup. Time will tell. If so it might even mean I’ll stay with Cup for a season for the first time.

At the moment that seems it for motorsport but anything could change between now and the 2014 season.

Other Sport

Football, football, and more football: English Premier League, Scottish Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, MLS, English Women’s League.
English Premiership Rugby. WTA tennis. Red Bull ‘extreme sports’ (interestingly including Red Bull Crashed Ice!). UFC. And these from the head of digital production: “Our confirmed list of US sports: college basketball, Indy car, NASCAR, college football, MLB, Red Bull, MLS.”

It seems like a very decent line-up if you like those sorts of things. I’m not too into the different types of football so I wouldn’t pay for the channels, but since they are free-to-me I might dip into a few things to see if I like them!