After a disastrous Formula 1 return last year, ESPN made a huge change in how they broadcasted races. The jarring debut broadcast that got much criticism abruptly cut to commercial without warning, usually in mid-sentence from the Sky Sports feed in England. And when ESPN cut to commercial, they were unlucky in that they did that right before some of the most critical parts of the Australian Grand Prix. And because the commentary was out of ESPN’s control, viewers couldn’t get a recap of what happened during commercials.
In other racing broadcasts that have a world feed, there’s usually a host who finds a break in commentary and smoothly transitions in and out of commercial, providing viewers with an update if something happened during the break. Instead, ESPN went one step further and made every race commercial free, with full race sponsorship from Mother’s Polish, in accordance to Sky’s broadcasts. Sky Sports went commercial free during the race and in qualifying sessions with commercials taking place in practice and ESPN followed suit. According to SBJ’s Adam Stern, ESPN is planning to do the same in 2019 though it’s unknown right now if Mother’s is coming back as a sponsor. (UPDATE: Stern reports Mother’s will be back as ESPN’s presenting partner)
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) January 22, 2019
It’s not every day a company screws up, listens to their viewers and immediately makes sizable changes that go above and beyond what was expected. ESPN did that, made things right and turned a negative into a positive where their coverage is being praised by those same viewers (me included) who were initially angry at them. Later in the season, ESPN was rewarded by drawing the highest audience for an F1 race since 1995 with their broadcast of the Monaco Grand Prix.
[Adam Stern via Twitter]