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
David Longman is director of marketing at McCann-Erickson