On lap 34/49 of the Paris ePrix Jean Eric Vergne’s steering failed, sending him straight into the wall. Once the safety car was called out a lap later and a replay of the crash had been shown, Channel 5 opted to go to an advert break during this safety car, with presenter Andy Jaye interrupting the action with 15 laps to go and promising us that we’d be back after a quick commercial break and we “won’t miss a thing.”
Suffice to say, this immediately went down pretty badly…
Obviously there is a huge risk in doing this: For instance what if someone drops out of the race during the safety car? (It’s rare but we did actually see it happen rather cruelly to Daniel Abt during the 3rd safety car on the very final lap of the race) There was also the chance for the commentary team to interview one of the drivers by contacting their incar radio during the safety car period, as they did for example with Antonio Felix Da Costa at the Saturday London ePrix last year.
But because all the drivers had already pit during/after the first safety car there was really no pitstops left to happen aside from Lucas Di Grassi, Jerome D’Ambrosio and Sam Bird waiting in the pitlane for the safety car period to end so they could try and salvage the fastest lap from their ruined races. So as it happens Channel 5 had taken a calculated risk and Jaye’s promise of not missing anything important was kept, although returning just before the start of lap 38 from the advert break at the same moment as the safety car was pulling in was cutting it fine, and the transitions from live commentary to studio and back again were quite poor; clearly the vision mixer had a small technical issue or was overwhelmed as temporarily Jack Nichols was being intermittently cut out during his commentary.
Now when this happened although I shared everyone’s frustration I did have a hunch that rather than immediately cutting to adverts after the race we’d get more of the post-race reaction that we in the UK never get to see anymore due to Channel 5 having to fulfil their ad quota. (Channel 5 sacked their in-house team and outsourced their advertising sales to Sky and unsurprisingly this is where they make the vast majority of their profits)
For once my hunch was correct (Remember pre-season when I thought no-one would want to pick up Formula E at all after ITV dropped it?) and we got to see everyone cross the finish line, including the aforementioned Daniel Abt incident which we probably would have missed otherwise. We got to see the Renault e.Dams and Mahindra teams celebrate strong results in their team garages. We also got to hear Buemi talk to Jack Nichols about his win over his in-car radio, as well as to Nicki Shields once out of the car. Later we got an interview with a disappointed Di Grassi on his crash with Da Costa; this is all valuable dynamite stuff which we usually aren’t privy to anymore and it was refreshing to have that immediate reaction rather than finding out about it purely through articles or via the wrap up video that Formula E publishes the day after the race.
There was another (shorter) ad break before the podium of course but as they were cutting it fine so we didn’t miss any action during the race there may have been a few that they skipped and were obligated to show instead, although this is purely speculation on my part. The final thing that bugged me was the on-demand service (My5) not having the coverage available until the day after the race, but this is a complaint expressed to me by others and I thought I’d include it here simply to cover the whole picture.
In conclusion I believe Channel 5 were presented with a unique opportunity to address fans complaints about cutting to advert breaks immediately after the finish due to the timing of the second safety car, and the decision they made was very pragmatic and justified because of the extra reaction they managed to put into the programme as a result. No-one likes having advert breaks but at the same time Channel 5 has got to pay the bills in this way like every TV broadcaster in the UK save for the BBC. The main problem for me is their messy vision mix but we don’t know whether that’s a technical issue they’re struggling to get on top of or simply incompetence on Channel 5’s part, so I will reserve judgement on that.
I think Channel 5 get a lot more flak for their ad breaks than they deserve, and also I have to praise Channel 5 for letting Formula E use their presenter Sian Welby to host their magazine show Street Racers, which is produced by Formula E, shown on C5’s sub-channel Spike along with qualifying, and all the better for it. ITV went the other way with their own produced show “Sound of the Future” and well, we all know how that turned out…
What do you think? Did C5 make the right call in Paris? What do you think they need to improve on in the future? Let me know by contacting me however you like. (Preferably don’t shout answers to me in the street though, that would be very embarrassing for both of us)