ESPN apologizes for F1 broadcast dumpster fire

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On the surface of it, Formula 1 couldn’t come to terms with NBC Sports due to F1’s desire to release their own streaming service called F1 TV. Understandably, NBC may not have been too excited to have competition to its NBC Sports Gold App that streams their programming. Was that a catalyst to the breakdown in negotiations? That’s the conventional story I hear.

Left without a broadcast package for the US, Formula 1 tacks and offers ESPN the rights for little or no money (from what I have heard). It would be difficult for F1 to ask ESPN to hire on-air talent and a full production staff to put a full-court press on this broadcast package given that you were, in fact, getting ready to launch your own streaming service.

F1 must have orchestrated some fancy footwork to get a deal with Sky Sports for their F1 feed as the re-broadcast package for ESPN given that the latter wasn’t going to staff up for a full US broadcast production. At face value, if the desire was to launch the new F1 TV app in the US and drive most of the market towards it, the delay of the F1 TV app prompted a very difficult situation for ESPN. ESPN was now the only game in town for US fans to watch F1.

Think of it this way:

The F1 TV app is to be the ultimate F1 viewing platform in the US. As such, the F1 TV hierarchy goes from two versions of the F1 TV app (top-shelf and stripped down versions) to the most basic of F1 content delivery being the ESPN feed of Sky Sports. No commentary team, no production crew to orchestrate accurate commercial ad breaks, no color commentary to provide a soft landing for re-entry after ad breaks or to recap what the viewer missed during break.

It is as if the Sky Sports stream was playing, you left the room for 5 minutes and came back without any idea of what happened while you were out of the room. For an effectively free broadcast rights package, ESPN added more and longer commercial breaks than NBC seemed to so the desire to monetize is certainly alive and well at ESPN but the production value isn’t.

If F1 was banking on the F1 TV app as the key medium for US fans with OTT features, the inability of F1 to launch for the first race meant that the entire US fan base was served the most basic, Spartan version of F1 coverage known to man as the season opening production. Once again, F1 seemed to underestimate just how touchy US F1 fans are to their broadcast sensibilities.

The fact is, US fans have an overwhelmingly different F1 viewing experience than much of the world given the time zone differences. DVR’s are a US fan’s best friend meaning guides and times have to be accurate for DVR’s to work. Pre and post-race coverage needs to be accurate and are highly desired as news sources for a fan base thousands of miles away from the epicenter of F1.

An American F1 fan’s entire F1 experience is mostly centered around a foggy-minded, sleepy-eyed early mornings and coffee, not afternoon race fun with a beer and your buddies. We sit in isolation in the dim light of a rising sun on a couch as lethargic as the we are…for 15+ races mind you.

ESPN apologizes:

ESPN’s Andy Hall was forced to take to Twitter to apologize for the broadcast errors:

“We deeply apologize to Formula 1 fans for the technical issues that caused them to miss the first 20 minutes of the pre-race show for the Australian Grand Prix. We are sorry that our first F1 telecast did not go as smoothly as we would have liked but we are taking steps to prevent those same issues from occurring in the future. We thank fans for watching and for their incredible passion for F1.”

Astonishing to me that their streaming service can’t muster the desire to run full pre and post-race coverage. Immediately after the race they bail out at 3am to some 30 for 30 episode? Really? A live world event takes back seat to a pre-recorded re-broadcast? What planet is that a reality on? It also seems that the Split screen just means longer commercial breaks.

Reaction

The overall reaction was incredibly negative from US fans including professional drivers voicing their disgust on Twitter. Fans have reached out to me about this raging dumpster fire and are beside themselves with what F1 has reduced itself to.

ESPN touted the pride of bringing F1 back to its original broadcaster, but this package is setting F1 broadcasts back decades. Apart from being Lewis Hamilton fans, Sky Sports has a terrific team and offer a level of detail the US fans are enjoying instead of the SPEED and NBC Sports least common denominator approach of the past. Sadly, ESPN is simply re-broadcasting the backhaul feed with no US production value or commentary team to ease viewers in and out of the Sky Sports feed.

Solution

F1 and ESPN had better do something quick or they will be seriously damaging their US fan base. You can’t puff your chest up about bringing F1 back to ESPN and a mysteriously absent F1 TV app and then fail to deliver on both accounts.

I have a lot of patience with the complexity of what they are trying to do, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to a race broadcast with Leigh, David and Steve and I know what it takes. It isn’t easy but they’ve had a year to get this sorted.

I have a lot of sympathy for what Andy Hall is going through and to be honest, I feel like F1 should be the one apologizing, not Andy. I think his hands are tied. In what part of Sean Bratches’s world did he think dumping a backhaul feed on the US fans with no production would be a good thing? He came from ESPN for heaven’s sake. Surely he would know this isn’t the way to treat fans?

I would have thought that releasing the basic F1 TV service for the race with no commercials and pre and post-race coverage would have been better even if the service wasn’t quite ready for primetime? Maybe it wouldn’t have had all the “OTT” features but a basic feed would have been better than what we were exposed to (“Last Name” vs “Last Name” graphics were a delight).

Positives

Sure, there are some. From my experience, the video quality of ESPN’s stream was really good. Much better than my Directv Now or Sony Vue streams. The images looked great to me and there was no lag like there was on my other streams. That’s great news.

Sky Sports F1 are professionals and part of their real appeal is the lack of seeker-sensitive tripe that broadcasts to the least common denominator. Some of the onus to get into F1 is on the viewer, you can’t spoon feed them every race without alienating your real fans and Sky Sports knows that.

The real magic is Sky’s pre and post-race coverage and ESPN did carry some of that but would be even better if they carried more of it.

ESPN did have replays but given the blowback, they may think about making replays without commercial breaks because they need something to appeal to the fans who now have bloodied noses over their ham-fisted approach.

The audio was better during the race and that’s good because they were having balance or mix-minus issues on Friday’s broadcast.

Moving Forward

Here is hoping that Sean and his band of broadcast gypsies can get the F1 TV service going for Bahrain. I’m not sure how much longer US F1 fans can stomach this zero-production package and at this point they are either promoting illegal VPN streams on the internet or losing fans period. I still believe in Sean and his “OTT” app and I think it will be terrific, but we need it much sooner than later folks.

As for ESPN, I think they will continue to have the stuffing beat out of them unless they concede the notion that hard breaks in the Sky Sports stream isn’t going to work very well. If they didn’t pay much for the service, better to offer the full Sky Sports package and let it run to help build ESPN’s brand than to try and monetize the hell out of a feed with no production considerations. I am realistic enough to know this isn’t entirely ESPN’s fault, mind you, but in the end, they have a brand to protect.

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Tom Firth

Ok so obviously I didn’t see ESPN’s broadcast but at least from what I’ve read and heard from friends, you are all right to be angry and disappointed at today’s broadcast and broadcast dumpster fire would sum it up well. I don’t really understand what is going on at FOM, regarding the ‘world feed’. Not only did we get the broadcast gaffe with ‘driver name’ etc but stories were leaked this week that a lot of broadcast elements, (some of which i’m glad weren’t) should have been shown in the race broadcast. It does appear FOM pulled them rather than… Read more »

Jeff

TSN does side by side for adverts so you loose the audio but not the video. They show the full pre and post race coverage from a Sky without any local intro. If things go overtime they continue to show the full coverage post race so no complaints. Great Sky coverage.

sunny stivala

Although the viewing situation in the USA doesn’t effect me I am one that always believed that the US market was mostly untapped and that it couldn’t but be one of the most important markets for F1, as such I try follow the situation from on the web and from on some friends contacts in the States, really saddened to read such articles as the pitpass one “pitpass.com:- American fans outraged by ESPN coverage fiasco. News story 03/2018”.

Carrizoj8m

Hopefully it will get cleaned up. On TV, we got to the podium interviews and that was it. No real post race. Other than the glitches and commercials, I did enjoy the broadcast.

Memyself

Perfectly summerized the situation. Thank you. Any contact information for liberty media and ESPN so we fans can direct our disappointment to those who so richly deserve to hear it?

Kelly O

The transitions were just awkward. The Sky team was cut off mid-sentence on more than one occasion; even at the very end. (For, as the author pointed out, an early morning rerun of 30 for 30.)

subcritical71

Good to see ESPN acknowledge a less than stellar weekend. I didn’t like the hard breaks in the ESPN coverage, but I was prepared as we’ve discussed this on this website in the lead up to the race. I can’t imagine how the fans who don’t frequent F1 message boards or F1 websites felt going into the race weekend. It must have hit them like a ton of bricks. As far as the replays. First, I love the ability to get onto ESPN’s site and view the replay almost instantly. With NBC last year it was hit or miss (mostly… Read more »

Andrea

I sure hope that’s a Queensryche reference ;)

Andrea

Born in 76, child of the eighties, back when MTV was a thing and played music ;) Empire was a great album, technically released in 90 but whatevs :D

The Captain

Todd, if you’re sick of my long rants on this just let me know :) (rant incoming). I agree with everything you said about ESPN, I just don’t trust them to do anything about it other than make a press release or twitter apology. They didn’t ‘pursue’ F1, they took it because it was free and they could milk that for money. Granted I’m not one to give people the benefit of the doubt before they earn it so with that I find myself seriously questioning Liberty’s basic media strategy for the U.S. too. I mean how is this better… Read more »

The Captain

You’re absolutely right. And it would be fine. But the only answer I can come up with is, they just don’t care. I really do think there are probably a least a few people within the network that do, but the ones in management, the ones who allot resources I don’t think give a damn. That’s really the only thing I can come up with to explain it. (and the most depressing thing) Just look at what they did with the replay stream. The replay has full screen ads in place of the side by side ones the broadcast got.… Read more »

oryan_dunn

If it’s a replay, there’s no reason they can’t just randomly insert commercials without the need to drop any coverage at all. Yeah, it’d still be annoying, but at least you’d see the whole product.

Tekneek

Worse than ESPN not caring is how Liberty/F1 approve of this. OTT is great for the hardcore fan. It is not how you grow the sport’s audience. The crap show that ESPN is putting on is going to lose more fans than it gains.

FlyNavy

Excellent post.

I agree with you; I don’t see how the F1 fan base can/will be expanded with OTT model. I think Liberty Media, et al., are in for a big surprise.

In my business…”out of altitude, out of airspeed, out of ideas!”

Fred

For some time I didn’t have broadband or cable/sat tv. To watch F1 I tuned to the spanish broadcast and followed on Twitter. Frankly that was better than watching it on ESPN2 I understand technical problems such as the pre-race deal, but the overall commentary, poor sound (made it hard for my old ears to to hear the commentary) meant that I fell asleep before the end of the race.

Donald Sprague

Well…this was truly a bust.
ESPN offered a few minutes of pre-practice or pre-race coverage.
They made coverage nearly impossible to find (was it on “The Ocho”?) and then threw commercial breaks in randomly with absolutely no concern for what was happening during the race.
I agree that Sky generally has good and knowledgeable coverage, but this ESPN presentation of it was truly a dumpster fire in terms of sports broadcasting.
If the goal was to make me want OTT in order to watch decent coverage…mission accomplished.

Tekneek

I was not as informed as some of you (not having been here before today), so I had no idea just what ESPN was going to do. I had read the hype about using the Sky Sports feed, which gave me hope. However, I was not prepared for the commercials to go the way they did, for the ending of coverage to be so abrupt, etc. It really felt incomplete compared to the coverage we have had for years in the US. Sky is good, there is no doubt, but this was like getting a restricted preview of Sky coverage… Read more »

derMechaniker

What I cannot understand is why Liberty is behaving as though none of us noticed that F1 TV isn’t available nor is there any information regarding its current development status or its estimated deployment date. For a media company, they seem to be quite poor at the basic art of communicating about their media. I was also poking around the ESPN app and discovered short video clips dating back to the car launches and pre-season testing. Why hadn’t that been publicized as available by anyone when it was originally posted? If Liberty want to develop F1’s presence in the USA,… Read more »

Unsatisfied

It was imposible to find the practices and qualifying all on different chanels. The race way to many comercials and no post race? It was terrible if things dont change i dont know if ill keep watching. NBC had great coverage especially post race and espn goes to some pre recorded crap after the race not a good way to keep viewers coming back.

oryan_dunn

It’s interesting you thought the stream quality was good. I’ve had the exact opposite experience. Sky’s using the 50fps world feed since that’s the native frame rate for the UK. ESPN then has to frame interpolate that to 60fps for the US. Certain camera pan speeds and on-boards would clearly show this, and it was a juddery mess. The NBC guys used the 60fps world feed and it shows. I compared Tivo dumps of my NBC races to this ESPN race and they were perfectly smooth on NBC. I doubt that’s something they’ll ever be able to fix as long… Read more »

oryan_dunn

Yes, the ESPN feed was better than the WatchESPN app (via either my phone or my Chromecast), but it still wasn’t very good. I pulled the video off my TiVo and inspected it, most frames were a combination of two frames. Only every 6th frame was solid. Reminded me of early and/or poor deinterlacers. As far as 50-60fps goes, it’s likely about as best you can do, but it still stinks we don’t have a 60fps feed (hopefully F1 TV will have a 60fps feed).

Andrea

It’s kind of funny that Liberty Media sucks at….well…….delivering media.

FlyNavy

Yes! Your comment is the heart of this whole mess…period…end of story!

Lemongrab

From Canada – our in/out from commercial breaks isn’t terrible, as they at least seem to try to time it well to not miss anything. I was quite impressed with some of the build-up elements (new music and graphics, aside from some illegible red text), and moving race start to 2:10 is an obvious improvement (though I’m not sure how fixed to the top of the hour the rest of the world is in their TV programming start times?). 10 mins extra sleep on some of the early races! Of course there were a few gaffes, but there were lots… Read more »

Drew

First, yeah, I’m old. How old? I grew up watching Wide World of Sports for month-late, b&w highlights of F1 with JYS commentating. Congrats ESPN! This was a little bit better than that! In the years since WWoS, there was a period where F1 was on ESPN, and they treated F1 watchers with obvious disdain. Reruns of the big 3 ball sports superseded live F1 coverage. Is the race being tape-delayed? Then ESPN will spoil the race for you by running the results in the crawl. I was never so happy to see a programming change as when F1 left.… Read more »

Tekneek

This hits on what I see as the two significant dangers Liberty has created for F1 in America.

1) Not going to make new fans from what ESPN is doing and new fans won’t subscribe to an OTT service just to check it out, so potential growth is close to nil.
2) People will be fed up with this and “explore options” that will now include NOT subscribing to the OTT service.

This is a net loss all around. Whoever approved of this plan is not a very strategic thinker.

Daniel

Ok so let’s talk about the big elephant in the room. Commercials, if they can’t get a place in the US that will show the race without commercials (doubtful) we will always have a sub-par product. I’ve switched from watching the races live to finding “alternative” means of getting the full sky feed, and I’ve never once regretted watching it that way. I’m looking forward to being able to be legal again with the F1TV app when that comes out. The only real solution is to steal an idea from Pandora which regularly offers me an ad free hour if… Read more »

Tekneek

I don’t have a problem with the concept of commercials. If they need to be there, so be it, but ESPN’s idea to pretend that maybe the commercial didn’t happen at all is definitely not the way to do it. If a broadcaster is going to introduce that complication, they should have a plan to do it in ways that seem to fit the flow of the event first, and second have some way to recapture critical events that happened during that break. If you don’t have a plan for that, you’re being lazy and should get into a new… Read more »

Darth Jadun

Read all these comments and it surprises me to know end that people had faith in LM taking F1 in to the future. They will bleed F1 dry and leave the fans wondering WTF happen. That being said and being a fan of F1 for over 30 yrs now I hope they prove me wrong.

Steve W

I’m starting to form the same opinion… It may not be too long before we start missing the days of Bernie and CVC. At least Bernie knew he had a successful and valuable product. I don’t think Liberty has any real idea of exactly what it is they bought and what to do with it.

George P Burdell

Given what I’ve seen with Liberty Media (LM), when I heard that LM was taking over the F1 commercial rights I was wondering just how they were going to screw it up, not if they were going to screw it up. Having seen their ineptitude for anything sports wise other than monetization of the Atlanta Braves and hosing Cobb County over the stadium deal, I fully expected them to suck F1 dry. Later with the ESPN announcement and how ESPN planned on handling the broadcasts, it just seemed like the first step in fulfilling my expectations

Matt

Todd, I think your Anglofile bias may be applied to Sky in some instances… I am not especially hot on hearing the accent in the broadcast, but I thought I’d be able to understand it easier as I have many friends and customers w/GB accents… what I got of FP3 and Qualy both had the sound of an on track Mic (completely uncorelated to the cars on video) washing 50-50 with the commentators. That, plus the general faster more anxious tone of British accent being spoken as though we were watching a Brazilian Futbol match made those two broadcasts unmistakable.… Read more »

Steve W

Actually, I was OK with it. Granted, not much of pre-race and post-race, but overall the coverage was acceptable to me. Is it me, or did the picture quality seem better than what NBC Sports was giving?

benagainagain

i may have stumbled on a band-aid solution…I was staying with the fam in a hotel…had ESPN on mute (as not to wake others) and listened to the F1 app BBC audio feed on headphones. Sync was good but not perfect – BBC carried on commentary regardless of ESPN commercials.

surveyortom

As much as it pains me to jump on the negativity train, in this case I feel I have no other choice. I can forgive the technical glitch during the pre-race – stuff happens. I can even forgive the split-screen commercial arrangement, had it been timed with any sense at all. The total lack of local fill-in and updates was disappointing to say the least. I knew the ESPN was trying to do F1 on-the-cheap, but I guess I never thought about all of the implications of that approach. The result is not surprising given ESPN’s current state. This same… Read more »

Steve

Liberty media trying to force feed us crap. Maybe we should change to a healthy diet and follow Indycar. MUCH better racing anyway. Fernando might not disagree.

ETM

Let’s just hope they get the OTT going sooner rather than later. ESPN has no incentive to improve the content knowing that OTT is looming. They are just going to milk it for all they can.

If F1 is worried about over stressing the new service they should initially release it regionally in the USA rather than in all the markets at once.

While OTT is going to give us many other in car feeds plus T&S, isn’t it going to have the same graphics and commentary as we saw on ESPN?

Mike

Best article I’ve read about the “dumpster fire” broadcast of the Melbourne race. It addressed the point I’d been making; “our attention should be focused on Liberty Media…not ESPN!” Liberty allowed this to happen.

Christopher Gensheimer

I am a diehard F1 fan. I was absolutely embarrassed at the totally unprofessional broadcast. That was horrible and I was very angry, thinking” this is the way it is now?” I’m glad I didn’t try to sell anybody on how great F1 is. F1 is great, but I was highly disappointed. And I want our announcers back. I felt like I was being assaulted by the guy that took no breathes in between speaking, it sucked.

Mark W

I’m NEVER going to get up early enough to watch F1 live on tv or streaming. won’t happen. I really enjoyed finally getting to see SKY Sports coverage. They were excellent. split screen commercials were not as bad and not nearly as long as NBC’s. NBCs crap announcers and many many many commercials for the same 3 nbc shows nobody wants to see made it very difficult to watch. I was very upset when ESPN cut off the pre-race show to an episode of 30 in 30.

Steve

Coverage sucked again. The new broadcast teaqm is very poor compared to the Hobbs, Matchet, Diffy Help!!

Michael H

Love Hobbs, Matchet just became bloated and pompous, Diffy is annoying in his own way. Having said that, If I absolutely had to choose, it would choose HMD over the Sky team.

Having said that, I like Paul Di Resta, reminds me of Brundle when Brundle first started announcing. Di Resta could have a future if he doesn’t let Croft and Brundle pollute his mind.

Listening to many of the other racing series, there are some very fine announcers out there who bring excitement and neutrality to their craft. Get rid of the whole Sky team but save Di Resta.