ESPN continues to try to make amends for a disastrous opening act of its return to Formula 1 coverage last month. After going commercial-free for last weekend’s race in Bahrain amid complaints over abrupt cuts to break, the network, which reached a deal in February to simulcast Sky Sports’ broadcasts, has committed to that format for the rest of its season, reports Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal.
.@ESPN intends to keep its coverage of @F1 races commercial free for the duration of '18 season, ESPN EVP @burkemagnus told @sbjsbd this AM.
— ESPN switched to the format for Sunday's Bahrain race after an outcry during the season opener over issues from using @SkySports' feed. pic.twitter.com/kA2cQesNFp
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) April 10, 2018
ESPN faced tremendous outcry from fans after experiencing a number of technical difficulties during the Australian Grand Prix on March 24. There were interrupted streams, confusion over start times and, perhaps most egregiously, commercial breaks at random times, sometimes mid-sentence or during pivotal moments.
As our Phillip Bupp wrote last month, inserting commercials into a simulcast will almost inherently lead to awkward transitions, missed action and confusion over what has happened during the break.
This is why there is a danger when a network simulcasts a sporting event rather than produces their own. ESPN is probably saving a ton of money by simulcasting Sky’s feed. And to many fans, hearing that they are getting Sky’s coverage, coverage widely regarded as the best in Formula 1, that sounds awesome on the surface.
But when you simulcast something, there is no communication between ESPN and Sky Sports. So when ESPN goes to commercial and misses a vital radio message or a big moment, the Sky Sports commentators aren’t going back and letting viewers know what happened because they’re doing a commercial-free broadcast.
After the backlash to its opening race, ESPN seems to have concluded that the only way to address the problem is to cut commercials altogether (enlisting a single sponsor for the entire race instead). The network’s uninterrupted broadcast of Sunday’s race in Bahrain was fairly well-received by F1 fans, which makes sense because in the end no one is tuning in for the commercials.
Next up on the F1 schedule is the Heineken Chinese Grand Prix, which will air this coming Sunday at 2 a.m. ET on ESPN2, completely break-free.