The UK F1 Digital+ logo
|Owned by||Formula One Management|
|Picture format||576i (PAL) 4:3|
|Country||Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom, Poland|
|Sky Digital||Channel 434|
F1 Digital+ (also known as just F1 Digital) was the name of the enhanced world feed for Formula One coverage between mid 1996-2002. The service offered additional features to the normal television feed of the sport, which broadcasters had the option of taking up (at a higher price than the standard television feed, which often necessitated the broadcasters charging viewers for), such as channels dedicated to onboard cameras, cameras in the pit area and live timing data. The programmes were also broadcast commercial-free.
The service launched at the 1996 German Grand Prix. Initially the service was only offered by the German-based DF1 service, broadcasting into Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The French broadcaster Canal Plus, also signed up for the service in 1996, with a ten-year contract estimated to be costing $60 million per year. Italian broadcaster TELE+ launched at the beginning of the 1997 season. British broadcaster BSkyB however did not offer the service until later.
An initial investment of $35 million was made to set up the service. By the time the service closed, over $100 million had been spent on it.
The race coverage shown on regular terrestrial TV was produced by a local broadcaster (the host broadcaster) and provided to all other broadcasters around the world. By comparison, the majority of the coverage shown on the F1 Digital+ service was produced on-site at each Grand Prix venue by Formula One Management. The operation involved transporting around 200 tons of equipment to each race. To transport the equipment required 18 trucks for European rounds or two Boeing 747 jumbo jets for fly-away races. At the race venue, a 1200 sq m air-conditioned tent was set up containing the majority of the equipment. The service was run by Eddie Baker, and the tent was colloquially referred to as Bakersville.
Two hundred staff were employed to provide the coverage. A two-week turn around was required to dismantle and reassemble all the equipment. Dismantling would begin immediately following a race broadcast on Sunday and would be finished by Tuesday. It would then be transported to the next venue. Between Friday and Sunday the broadcast centre would be reassembled and all cameras and cabling around the circuit would be completed by Wednesday. The equipment was tested on Thursday in preparation for the first broadcast of a race meeting on Friday.
The initial offering consisted of six different channels, as well as a seventh "overall" or Master channel, which combined footage from the first 4 individual channels listed below. This master channel was similar in style to what was available on the regular terrestrial broadcasts, however it differed in that it had access to more cameras, had extra graphics including a lap counter and broadcast radio conversations conducted by the teams. The first channel showed action from the trackside cameras as well as onboard and pitlane. A second channel focused on showing action that was taking place involving cars lower down the running order. The third channel consisted entirely of material from the onboard cameras of the cars whilst the fourth consisted of material from the cameras located in the pit-lane. The fifth channel provided a highlights reel of action from the race up to that point. The sixth channel transmitted the data screens showing timing information (positions, laptimes etc.)
From 1999, a new design for the graphic overlays was introduced to distinguish it from the standard coverage, and to incorporate new features such as race control updates. At the 2002 United States Grand Prix, the digital feed was available free on the normal channels, such as ITV. Although the option to change to a different camera was not available, the coverage was more extensive, featuring the overlays, additional cameras and team radio from the channel.
Launch in the UK
After negotiations with BSkyB as far back as 1996 and with onDigital, the UK version of the service was launched in 2002 on a dedicated channel on Sky, as a joint venture between BSkyB and FOM originally contracted to run for two years. The service was commentated on by Ben Edwards and John Watson, with pit lane reports from Peter Windsor.
The initial seven channels was expanded to eight with the addition of a new UK exclusive Master channel, produced by FOM, incorporating additional studio programs before and after the on-track sessions, as well as broadcasting interviews. The previous "Master" channel produced wholly by FOM was renamed as the "Super-Signal"
- Master - A studio channel (produced exclusively for the United Kingdom by FOM at their studios in Biggin Hill), which was presented by Matt Lorenzo and featured discussion from guests including Damon Hill and Perry McCarthy and showing footage from the super-signal (the main FOM-produced world feed) during the track sessions, cutting away from the world feed for features such as interviews during the race.
- Super-signal - Also known as just 'Super' (and before Sky's UK coverage began, was also called a master channel), this was the main digital world feed produced by FOM for all of Europe, combining footage from the below two track feeds, the Pit lane channel and the onboard channel.
- Track A - Similar to the super-signal, but focusing on the leaders of the race.
- Track B - Again, similar to the super-signal, yet focusing on action involving cars lower down the running order.
- Data - Live timing and data screens
- Onboard - Consisted entirely of material from the cars' onboard cameras, without any commentary.
- Pitlane - Footage entirely from cameras in the pit-lane, without any commentary.
- Highlights - Rolling Highlights up to the current point in the race.
Take-up for the service, charged at £12 per race, was low with as little as 9,000 viewers subscribing to see some races, compared with audiences of 3 million viewers for some Formula One races on UK free-to-air television that season.
In order to increase the flagging take-up, F1 Digital+ ran a promotion where one could get the final six races of the season for only £50 compared with paying £72.
Although the service was at the cutting-edge of sports broadcasting, it was never financially viable and was terminated at the end of the 2002 season with the loss of 220 jobs. Technical limitations at the time also added to the problems. Sky+ boxes, which could record and time-shift other broadcasts, refused to do so with this – the transmission had to be viewed live.
Although F1 Digital+ was a commercial failure, many of the innovations the service offered were gradually implemented on the main Formula One World Feed over the following seasons. In 2004 new television overlays were introduced which closely reflected those of F1 Digital+, reintroducing elements such as the lap counter, track status indicators and rev counters. Team Radio was broadcast at the 2004 Chinese Grand Prix and was available at every race from the 2006 season onwards.
The biggest innovation of pay per view was a permanent production team at every Grand Prix, establishing consistent quality over the variable nature of host broadcasters. The success of F1 Digital+ in this area resulted in Formula One Management gradually taking control of the World Feed in the subsequent seasons. From the 2007 season Formula One Management directed the TV coverage of all but three races, and for the 2008 season this number was reduced to two: the Monaco Grand Prix, produced by Télé Monte Carlo, and the Japanese Grand Prix, produced by Fuji Television.
- The service was dubbed 'Bernie-Vision' as the service was run by the F1 commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone.
- ABC Sports used the service for its coverage of the 2001 United States Grand Prix and four grands prix in 2002 (the Monaco Grand Prix, Canadian Grand Prix, Italian Grand Prix, and United States Grand Prix). For its telecast of the 2001 U.S. Grand Prix, ABC decided to supply its own commentary team of Bob Jenkins and Eddie Cheever. In 2002, ABC used the default UK commentary team of Ben Edwards and John Watson.
- The overlays were used in the game Formula One 2003 for the Spectator Mode option.
- Warren, Dan (2002-12-12). "Digital F1 service scrapped". BBC Sport Online. British Broadcasting Corporation.
- Collings, Timothy (2001). The Piranha Club. Virgin Books. p. 237. ISBN 1-85227-907-9.
- Day, Julia (2002-02-28). "Damon Hill to host Sky's formula one show". guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited.
- Saward, Joe (1999-08-01). "Inside Bakersville". GrandPrix.com.
- Spurgeon, Brad (1997-09-27). "Formula One's New View". International Herald Tribune.
- Saward, Joe (2001-03-02). "Inside the F1 digital television center". GrandPrix.com.
- Horsman, Mathew (1996-07-11). "Sky deal may flag digital broadcasts of Formula One". The Independent. p. 21.
- "BSkyB may not release figures for F1". Sport Business International. 2002-02-27.
- Milmo, Dan (2002-07-19). "Sky's grand prix ratings stay in the pits". guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited.