OPINION: Why Formula One could be too much for ITV to handle

Formula One enthusiasts will be glued to their TVs for next year’s season. However, suspects David Longman, they won’t be pleased with ads interrupting the racing

Formula One enthusiasts will be glued to their TVs for next year’s

season. However, suspects David Longman, they won’t be pleased with ads

interrupting the racing

I’m a sceptic, I know, but the belief that ITV can win over - and even

increase - the BBC’s six million audience for Formula One motor racing

seems preposterous given the evidence of Euro 96.

When TV viewers had the choice of watching the same match on both

channels, it was the BBC which won hands down. And although the F1 deal

is exclusive to ITV, the figures from Barb make depressing reading.

I have a theory that ITV’s problem with sports coverage isn’t just the

presenters. The key irritant is advertising, its volume and placement in


While the fashionable trend remains to knock the quality of radio ads,

we also have to face the fact that TV ads rarely add to our overall

enjoyment of viewing. When you’re gripped by watching two racing drivers

slugging it out on the track, the last thing you need is someone trying

to flog you a product amid the action.

The terrestrial TV audience for F1 has been used to live coverage

without breaks and I’ve yet to be convinced that any viewer wants their

programme broken up by commercials.

With drama you can construct suitable breaks, with live motorsport it’s

impossible. However, as agencies we want our commercials placed at a

time of maximum viewership to keep the advertiser happy. In the

environment of F1, those different needs can’t be met.

F1’s decision to pull the plug on Eurosport’s stunning coverage was

understandable and certainly a priority for ITV and its advertisers. ITV

wouldn’t want viewers zapping back and forth between the two

broadcasters to catch all the live action during the ad breaks.

As someone who is an avid viewer of Eurosport for qualification and

practice sessions, I’m aware that there can be a positive resistance to

those advertisers which have forced their repetitive and boring message

before my eyes.

All I want to see is action from the track. I fear that, rather than

advertisers winning friends and customers as a result of their intrusion

into the coverage of F1, viewers might actually build up a hatred of

their messages which have destroyed their enjoyment of the racing.

Having lost F1, the BBC is to step up its coverage of the newly revised

World Rally Championship, and its planned live coverage of the excellent

British Touring Car Championship (potential sponsors, please take note)

will in part make up for the loss of F1.

Touring car racing is now big business and I wonder if ITV wouldn’t have

been better employed developing 40-minute packages of live British

touring cars - at little cost to the broadcasters - rather than

investing millions of pounds in F1.

ITV could also have ‘practised’ with motorsport before its headlong rush

into F1 by taking America’s high-profile saloon car series NASCAR or PPG

single-seaters. But that screws up the Saturday evening schedules


The European rounds of the F1 championship can be aired live on Sunday

afternoons without destroying the schedules, but I don’t anticipate six

million viewers tuning in for the Japanese or Australian rounds in the

early hours. Only the races in North and South America will really

impact on the evenings.

ITV must be banking on a British driver doing well. A season dominated

by such names as Panis, Barrichello and Frentzen won’t have us glued to

our armchairs. And with Damon Hill now not in a front-running car, I

wonder what interest there might be.

ITV will establish an audience and some advertisers will invest but,

with possibly no Murray Walker and intrusive advertising, if it isn’t

very careful ITV might alienate the viewers and not win friends among

the advertisers.

David Longman is director of marketing at McCann-Erickson

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