In an era of smartphones, instant video streaming and 4G internet connectivity almost anywhere around the world; sports broadcasting is at the fore-front of the new technology available. Sky Sports now offer viewers full 4K broadcasts of all Premier League games, while fans of Cricket and Tennis events are regularly treated to on-screen overlays with cutting-edge graphics and analysis from all angles of the game within minutes of a ball being played. With much of the footage available around the stadium for paying customers to enjoy.
It is therefore baffling to fans of motorsport that these technological revolutions have not been embraced by those at the forefront of the fastest show on earth. David Addison is one of those fans. Familiar to many for his television commentary of the British Touring Car Championship for ITV4, Addison’s involvement in motorsport media for over 20 years provides us the perfect opportunity to dissect why motorsports broadcasting must evolve and how in the digital age.
“We’ve got YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitter, all these different things. The sport’s got to start embracing that rather than trying to be aloof and make Formula One aspirational.
Ultimately, it’s the future generation, the younger generation you need to appeal to because you want to hook them in now and keep them for 30 or 40 years.
They are your future audience and if you make a sport that they are not interested in, or they can’t consume, they are not going to hang around.”
Addison’s words reflect almost a complete contrast to former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s viewpoint on social media in the sport. In an infamous 2014 interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific magazine, Ecclestone remarked that that there was “no point” in trying to engage a younger generation through digital platforms as they were not the affluent and ageing audience sponsors were targeting.
The decision to put a high proportion of international motorsports series behind a pay-wall in recent years, including Formula One from 2019 after an exclusive rights deal was struck with Sky Sports, has been one of controversy amongst supporters, with many venting their frustration by turning away from their television sets.
Overnight Viewing Figures from the sport’s two broadcasters, Channel 4 and Sky Sports, show a combined average audience of just 2.63 million viewers, a drop of 29.7 percent on average from the 2015 season and the lowest for a Formula One season since records began in 2006.
Throw into the mix that 74.5% of this figure is made up of viewers on free-to-air Channel 4 and you have a worrying picture for Formula One’s television future post 2019, a move that Addison feels is the wrong approach going forwards.
“You’ve got to be careful not to price yourself away from the viewer. So, from a Touring Car point of view, by 2019, to be the only free-to-air mainstream motorsport potentially on television. Fantastic.
“I think other championships need to be careful as well, not to be blinded by money, come back and make themselves free for people to watch which is how it should be.”
Although some championships have built up an impressive online portfolio; think Formula E’s fan boost service, DTM’s live YouTube streaming, and live timing available online for many of the top-flight British national series through TSL Timing; Addison feels that the use of online engagement and streaming is perhaps most beneficial to Britain’s lesser-known series.
“I think motorsport on television is going to start to go back to how it used to be in the sense of being the top end of the sport, a lot of your grass-roots racing will go online.
“Some of it looks a bit ropey and its audience is very limited. Hill rallying as an example, people who want to watch it, largely, are people involved in Hill Rallying, so stick it on a YouTube Channel and let them watch it. I think motorsport on television will become a better product again.”
Although fan engagement on television is a dramatic issue in an age of dwindling TV viewing figures, this is only half the objective. Getting people through the doors, and staying there, is something the MSA have been targeting for a while under their “Go Motorsport” initiative.
With 140,000 spectators turning up to see Lewis Hamilton drive to race victory in the 2015 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and a record 33,000 fans descending on Thruxton in May for last season’s British Touring Car thriller, numbers at events suggest that some of the work is paying off in getting people trackside. Although, keeping new fans excited in a sport which is at times difficult to follow is a problem that Addison feels needs addressing.
“They need big screens so that people can see the bits of the track they can’t. They need to have a radio, and it should be free. That should be a given so you can hear what is going on. There should be more scoreboards showing all positions and there should be a wireless LAN so you can get onto a live timing site.
“They are, for me, utterly fundamental. There shouldn’t be any argument or question of whether these are a good thing, they should be a given. We are in a modern age and almost, to a degree, the facilities for spectators are the worst they have ever been.”
As the sun begins to set outside the window of the café we have occupied for the past hour, there is just enough time to ask Addison’s predictions for the upcoming British Touring Car campaign. A season where reigning champion Gordon Shedden is joined on the grid by three confirmed former champion entrants and a wealth of new talent all looking to taste success in Britain’s premier tin-top series.
“I think Shedden, to do three in a row, would be quite something. It has happened before but not in a generation like this, not in an era where it’s been so competitive.
“If I had to put money on the table now, I would guess that Colin Turkington would go to BMW, away from BMR, and that it would be between him and Gordon Shedden”.
A titanic title battle awaits, available Live and free on ITV4.
“Just how it should be” smirks Addison as he finishes his Double Espresso in one quick swish.