Wake Up F1 On NBC Sports

I suppose it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise that America’s lowest-rated network would be incapable of providing halfway decent coverage of Formula 1, but to botch 1 of 2 nationally broadcast events, not to mention the sport’s only trip to the United States is inexcusable.

f1_on_nbc_01

Formula 1 is close to wrapping up one its most boring seasons since the Schumacher era. Sebastian Vettel’s dominance is certainly a factor, but race strategies heavily impacted by Pirelli’s hellacious tires, DRS and fuel conservation have produced a brand of racing most fans would likely forget entirely. The overabundance of street circuits on the calendar have also greatly impacted the sport’s entertainment factor. So without even discussing who’s broadcasting the sport, Formula 1 is a tough sell to an American audience perfectly happy with football.

When it was announced less than a year ago that NBC Sports would take over Formula 1 coverage from the ailing SPEED, the response was optimistic. A major network handling Formula 1 would bring it to a national audience and help to grow the sport domestically, or so we thought…

Today’s nationally broadcasted coverage of the United States Grand Prix was atrocious. With commercial breaks every 5 laps, spanning another 3-5 laps, cutaways from the live action to promote other NBC programming and a 13 minute technical error during the podium ceremony, it’s no wonder American’s have little interest in Formula 1. So much of the sport’s success in America is how it’s branded. Formula 1 is the most expensive and glamorous sport in the world and should be handled as such. To watch today’s broadcast live would tell a different story. NBC underestimates the intelligence of their audience. We all have Internet access and are more than capable of learning the ins and outs of a sport. When’s the last time you watched an NBA game where the announcers spent 10 minutes explaining the rules? It should be the network’s assumption that we’re well aware of how the sport works and if not, we’ll take it upon ourselves to learn. By dumbing down their broadcast, NBC is alienating the core audience to which they should be catering their broadcasts towards, the diehard fans. To be a fan of Formula 1 takes a bit of effort. There are untold numbers of technical regulations, an expansive international cast of players and an inconsistent schedule that sees races happening at all hours of the day. To follow such a sport means that the fans, especially in America, are a passionate breed who want to see their sport shown in a proper light. NBC has missed the mark nearly all season long.

f1_on_nbc_02

Commercials are likely to be everyone’s biggest gripe, they’re certainly mine. However if executed properly, the network can have their cake and eat it too. Instead of putting the race feed in a 1/5 PIP window, put the commercials there. Christ, even keep the audio for the commercials running. At the very least it would keep the attention on the racing so that we wouldn’t miss so much in the 3-5 lap span of a commercial break. Secondly, the broadcasters should learn when to speak. Leigh Diffey in particular is a broken record during the race – talking over radio transmissions and over commentating everything we can all see with our own eyes. Enough explaining already. Some of us would prefer to hear the cars and team radio chatter. Lastly, the cutaways for other Formula 1 tidbits and NBC promos during the race! No one cares! If we wanted to watch Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea, we would turn the channel. Why on earth would a network direct people away from the program currently airing? I think I’m right in saying that we’re all fans of Will Buxton, who is easily the strongest member of NBC’s team, but I don’t need to know what Will was up to in Austin on Media Day, save that crap for the post-race show!

f1_on_nbc_03

It’s easy to blame the hosts for NBC’s less than ideal broadcast of Formula 1, but this falls in the hands of the people behind the scenes – the programming directors, the producers… Until whoever is handling Formula 1 broadcasting in the United States can wake up and do it properly, it will remain a niche sport for fanatics who like to stay up all night. If you want to win the audience, Tire Talk with Steve Matchett isn’t the answer.

Wake up NBC.

Advertisements

6 comments

  1. I was stoked to finally watch a race live for the first time this season.

    I got through the pre-race with much boredom and many instances of “Why? Why are they aiming for the lowest common denominator?” Seriously, interviewing DeMarcus Ware, what insight does he have to contribute? This is akin to Dave Chappelle’s tale of Ja Rule being interviewed after 9/11 (of course on an entirely different scale/topic, not comparing the two at all).

    The race starts and Diffey doesn’t even give us a few seconds of pure engine/race audio, even NASCAR knows that hardcore fans really enjoy that. Then we get the usual Vettel snore-fest broken up by a load of commercials.

    The only bright spots coming in the form of Bottas and Hulkenberg making some great moves for position to really show off their skills as underrated dudes in the sport.

    I will have to disagree with you on one point, I think this season has surpassed any of the Schumacher years for boredom’s sake. Even in the days of Schumacher dominance, you still had Rubens to cheer for as Ferrari seemed to throw him a W every so often.

    This sport really needs to check themselves, they need to realize the limitations they’re putting on the teams are not helping competition or cutting costs, they’re aiding the mega rich teams which can exploit those rules to their furthest extents.

    1. The pre race was absolutely horrid. I thought the whole point of flying the studio broadcast team out there was so that they could join Buxton on the grid? Instead they were set up in some tower that didn’t even look like it was in the facility. It’s become pretty apparent that NBC has absolutely no interest in getting involved with the sport on a personal level. If I were the director, I would’ve set up that broadcast booth right inside the entrance of COTA. Seeing the hustle and bustle of fans behind the hosts would show all the newcomers at home what a world-class event F1 is.

      I’m with you on the start of the race. I kept wishing Diffey would just shut up so we could hear the crowd cheering as the engines wound up. He tries to emulate Murray Walker’s style of commentating and fails miserably.

      There were some good scraps involving Bottas, Hulkenberg, Alonso and Button but the race was largely another parade with Vettel as the grand master. I’m done blaming Red Bull for dulling down the sport. They’re just so far ahead in terms of performance that it’s become painfully obvious that the other teams have no idea what to do. The tires definitely aren’t helping. I don’t know if I can bare another season of Hamilton’s engineer telling him not to push and conserve his tires. At what point did F1 stop being a race?

      I think Bernie has gotten increasingly greedy in his twilight years and he’s setting up the sport in such a way that only the top flight, most well-funded teams can even enter the competition. The collateral damage is of course pay drivers like Maldonado. It shocks me that Pirelli were renewed as the tire supplier. The longer they dull down F1, the more their reputation will suffer with consumers. It’s a vicious cycle that I don’t see ending until Bernie hangs up his hat.

      In the meantime, NBC should spend a little more time listening to their audience and a little less time promoting Barclay’s Premier League. Most F1 fans I know torrent the BBC/Sky broadcasts and that number will only increase if the network continues to let the fans down every weekend – most of us are paying over $100 a year for this “premium” network. Not good enough…

      1. When I mentioned that I was watching the F1 race live on NBC on an F1 thread that I frequent, many of the other ‘regulars’ were amazed that I wasn’t watching a live stream from Sky instead. They’d rather watch a sometimes choppy, low quality feed of Sky than watching the NBC broadcast, even in perfect 1080p.

  2. Yes, the producer(s) are in way over their heads… They need to hire a professional instead.

  3. Nice summary or what can only be described as poor coverage. Some additional thoughts…

    NBC rightfully received a lot of criticism for their Olympic coverage, but at least they made a great effort to provide live online streaming of virtually every single Olympic event (if not all of them). There is no excuse for not providing live streams for FP1 and FP3. We don’t even need commentary – just the raw audio. SpeedTV provided us FP1 and FP3, and NBC can do it too. The lack of coverage is inexcusable, particularly with the oft-repeated mantra of “promoting” the sport in the United States. Of course, to rub it in NBC will tweet about FP1 and 3 being about to start and how wonderful everything is. Thanks for nothing.

    The commentary – and I really hate to bring this up as I don’t enjoy singling people out. But it has to be said… I miss Bob. I’m sure Diffey is a great and knowledgeable guy, but his commentary can be somewhat annoying. Bob provided the perfect balance with the rest of the team. On a positive note, at least NBC does have an exceptional crew at their disposal with Buxton, Hobbs, and Matchett. Diffey would be a welcome addition if perhaps he were not quite so over-bearing? As for Buxton, Hobbs, and Matchett, NBC isn’t worthy.

    I applaud their efforts to provide “F1 nonstop” (ie picture-in-picture) commercial breaks. Yet before one begins shoveling on the praise, consider the massively wasted real estate on screen. Being a frustrated and curious F1 nerd, I used a screencap to take measurements in Photoshop. Result: the ad consumes roughly 32% of total screen area while the continued F1 coverage accounts for about 8%. In other words, the remaining 60% (!) of screen area is completely wasted. Why? Who benefits? Advertisers are left with smaller ads and F1 fans are left with smaller and harder to follow continued coverage. Meanwhile, NBC is left to boast about uninterrupted coverage which, when one considers the wasted space, is a hollow victory and just another botched execution. In the design world, very often “less is more” – and that certainly applies here. Too many logos and too much text – all plastered over a completely useless background with zero benefit for anyone. Incredibly, if they left the size of the commercials unchanged and just moved that window to the right – they could almost double (!) the size of the F1 coverage window. Such a small, simple change, with a massive benefit to the viewer… yet a change probably too complicated for the producers to wrap their heads around.

    To make things worse, at times NBC will return from this non-stop coverage only to interrupt it with their own promotional garbage. And on this note, people watching F1 also couldn’t care less about these ludicrous “paddock postcards” and what not which NBC insists on inserting to interrupt LIVE action. Only an utterly clueless bean-counter with a complete disconnect to motorsports is capable of reaching such nonsensical decisions to the detriment of their viewers.

    Speaking of needless interruptions, here’s a concrete example from Live Q1 at Austin. 12:32 to go and NBC interrupts it with a “rewind”, followed by tables with the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Total interruption: almost 2 minutes. That alone is 10% of Q1 time wasted… and this on top of other interruptions and commercial breaks. Let’s look at Q1 as a whole:

    – Q1 starts and NBC blesses us with 13 seconds of live action before embarking on an interruption for self-promo and explanatory break.
    – Q1 coverage
    – Buxton’s thoughts. Now, Buxton rocks. But there’s no need to have him explain things on video. Keep video on track please or use PIP, as we just missed another 38 seconds of live action.
    – Q1 coverage
    – “Rewind” of Vettel in India etc and the drivers’ / constructors’ tables. If commercials are done using PIP, why not the rewind and the tables?
    – Q1 coverage
    – With 9:35 to go, commercial break (ok, fine)
    – Above break followed by maps and look at last years’ winners and what not.
    – Q1 coverage rejoins with 5:40 to go

    Actual live Q1 action (with timing/replay displayed on top):
    About 12 minutes out of 20 *golf clap*

    While the amount of third-party advertising in Q1 was “acceptable”, the amount of advertising as a whole during qualifying and the races borders on obscene.

    There have been a lot of complaints, particularly on twitter, over schedule and coverage/broadcast mix-ups. I’m referring to people missing out on live FP2 or Qualifying as they’re unaware of which channel it’s being broadcast on. Given the number of complaints, one would think that, at some point, NBC execs would be asking themselves “maybe it’s not all down to our stupid consumers, maybe it’s us”. Even I was surprised to find this week’s live coverage split across THREE channels. That’s ridiculous. SpeedTV at times also had to move coverage to Fox, yet for some reason it was conveyed much more clearly and it was easier to track.

    One final gripe for now…

    “NBC Sports presents over 18 hours of United States GP coverage”, read the headline. What an insult. One could brag about covering an entire weekend live from FP1 to the final post-race interviews, but please spare us from boasting of the number of reruns.

    I’ll be copying this to an email to send to NBC. Will anything come of it, who knows. But one thing’s for sure – without complaints it’s a *guarantee* nothing will change at all. So I suggest anyone who’s not content with their coverage do the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s