Flash Says…

Formula 1 coverage to be split between BBC and Sky: Everyone loses

Posted on: 2011-07-29

Today Formula 1 fans in the UK woke to the news that from 2012 the BBC will only show half of the season’s Grand Prix. Sky Sports will cover every race. This is bad news for the sport and the fans alike.

The sport loses out because their financial model relies upon races being broadcast on free to air (FTA) television. Instead of taking money from TV revenue, the teams have sponsors, based on the fact that their logos will be seen on television screens the world over. Back in May the President of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), Martin Whitmarsh, said: I think it’s clear that the business model of all the teams relies on free-to-air. We’re selling a large, broad, media exposure. That’s the business model and I’m sure that that’s the business model of all the Formula One teams will require going forward.

Ofcom agrees, explaining “The majority of Formula One’s income is derived from sponsorship which relies on the sport attracting large viewing figures …
Sponsorship, rather than media rights, is the primary source of income.”

Unfortunately it’s more likely that the BBC are trying to make savings and can no longer afford to keep Formula 1 in its current format, than that Sky have made a vast offer to show the sport, which would filter down to recompense the teams. I can see FOTA being up in arms about this move away from every race being free to air in a country which is one of their largest audiences, and where most of the teams are based.

The news is bad for fans, too. My husband has already said we won’t subscribe to Sky Sports as he doesn’t want to line Rupert Murdoch’s pockets; not everyone can afford the subscription in any case.

So my other option is to find a bar showing each race. Hang on – some of the Grand Prix are on at 5am! No longer will I be able to trudge to the television while wrapped in a duvet, and pubs don’t open in time to show many of the early morning races.

Even when the Grand Prix are on at a more humane time of day, why would I want to watch them on Sky? For me, the BBC is the home of Formula 1. I grew up listening to the excitable Murray Walker and posh James Hunt. Nowadays I enjoy Martin Brundle’s grid walk, and the post race “Red Button Forum”. Sky just won’t be the same. Martin Brundle himself is not happy, having tweeted: “Found out last night, no idea how it will work yet – I’m out of contract, will calmly work through options. Not impressed.”

What is the point for the BBC of showing just half the races? The news is spun by the broadcaster as a way that the sport can remain with them for longer. Rubbish! People will want to follow the whole season or not at all. Watching Grand Prix becomes a fortnightly habit – I keep the weekend clear and tune in. Inevitably people will get used to watching Sky, the BBC will demonstrate a drop in viewing figures and bow out altogether, leaving us with no alternative.

I wonder whether Sky will offer online options – like they do for cricket – where you can sign up just for the day and stream the event? That could work, although I would keep the sound down and listen to BBC 5 Live’s commentary in the hope of some familiarity and a credible commentary. There are other, less legitimate, websites which stream races – at least that would be one way to watch the race without giving my money to the Murdochs!

Whichever way you look at it, this new deal is bad news for both the sport and the fans. With the new deal, we get the worst of both worlds.

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1 Response to "Formula 1 coverage to be split between BBC and Sky: Everyone loses"

Personally, I’m entirely happy with this. As an existing Sky Sports subscriber, I’m not going to miss out on anything, and as a licence fee payer I’m glad that the BBC will be reducing its costs.

F1’s problem is that they want it both ways – as you point out, most of the teams rely on the large audiences delivered by FTA broadcasting to attract sponsors, and yet F1 is also the most expensive sport to buy the rights for, in terms of cost per airtime minute. That’s why ITV dropped out of the bidding a couple of years ago, and why the BBC has found itself forced to share the costs with Sky now. If a long-term consequence is that the teams rebel against the current FIA management and force them to reduce the broadcasting rights fees, so that the BBC can once again afford to pay them, then that will be a win for both the teams and the viewers.

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