The UK sports broadcast market has just been shaken up. It was announced today that the BBC and BSKyB have jointly won the television rights from Formula One Management to broadcast Formula 1 in the UK starting next year and running until 2018. This is despite the BBC’s current contract running until the end of the 2013 season.
The BBC has been the exclusive broadcaster of F1 in the UK since 2009 after picking up the rights from ITV. However recent reports suggested that the BBC were looking to slash costs by up to 20% and a way to achieve this was to offload or reduce its F1 coverage.
The key points in the new deal are as follows:
In a press release the Director of BBC Sport, Barbara Slater, said:
“We are absolutely delighted that F1 will remain on the BBC. The sport has never been more popular with TV audiences at a 10 year high and the BBC has always stated its commitment to the big national sporting moments. With this new deal not only have we delivered significant savings but we have also ensured that through our live and extended highlights coverage all the action continues to be available to licence fee payers.”
New rights holder BSkyB (Sky Sports) will welcome this good news following much turmoil over News Corporation‘s withdrawal from a bid for full ownership of the subscription television platform following the UK phone hacking scandal. It is also good news for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation which has reportedly been looking to buy F1’s commercial rights. These rights are currently held by private equity group CVC.
Commenting on the deal Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports, said:
“This is fantastic news for F1 fans and Sky Sports will be the only place to follow every race live and in HD. We will give F1 the full Sky Sports treatment with a commitment to each race never seen before on UK television. As well as unrivalled build up to each race on Sky Sports News, we will broadcast in-depth live coverage of every session. Sky customers with Sky Sports will also be able to enjoy F1 across multiple platforms and devices, including Sky Go.”
This must be the biggest sports broadcast news out of the UK since Channel 4 lost live Test Cricket rights following the English team’s victory in The Ashes against Australia back in 2005. Nowadays exclusive live international cricket is only available on Sky Sports in the UK with highlights available free-to-air’s Channel 5.
This deal is also similar to the recent AFL rights deal where Seven will have live coverage of 4 matches per round, all finals and exclusive live coverage of the Grand Final, and FOXTEL will have live coverage of all matches (except the Grand Final), including exclusive coverage of 5 matches per round from next year.
With no word yet on possible commentary teams for BSkyB’s Sky Sports coverage or whether the BBC will take the Sky Sports feed for the races it covers, the impact for Australian viewers on ONE is likely to be minimal. At the moment ONE uses the BBC commentary of Martin Brundle and David Coulthard for its F1 race coverage and this is likely to be the only aspect that would change for Australian viewers. The international race feed is not produced by the BBC but in-house by FOM and this means graphics and in-car cameras etc. are unlikely to change. F1 broadcaster have the opportunity to add their own commentary to the international feed, ONE and other English-speaking territories choose to use the BBC commentary.
There has already been strong reaction in the UK to this news with viewers crying foul of the need from next year to pay a minimum fee of £39.75 a month (AUD$59.20) for access to the Sky Sports channels on the Sky platform. This is especially so as viewers in the UK also have to pay a licence fee in order to watch free-to-air television (this fee funds the BBC).
One comment on Sky Sports’ website from robert [sic] in relation to today’s announcement said:
“Given that I’m not interested in anything else Sky Sports has to offer, I suspect that it will not be cost effective for me to watch F1 via Sky Sports. Problem is, I’ve no desire to only watch half the races live, so looks this will be my last season watching F1. Once wonders [sic] how much of the licence payers money the BBC has wasted offering this reduced service…”
In a plus for UK viewers Sky has already committed to their in-race coverage being commercial free, similar to FOXTEL’s treatment of AFL and Rugby Union. This is in keeping with the BBC’s coverage, which as the government broadcaster cannot show advertisements, like the ABC.
This is an interesting move by Formula 1 and goes against Bernie Ecclestone’s desire to have Formula 1 as a free-to-air sport as opposed to tennis, which as Australian Grand Prix Chief Ron Walker described early this year as primarily a cable-tv sport. In fact only a few weeks ago Mr Ecclestone was quoted in the UK’s the Telegraph newspaper as saying,
“It isn’t possible that F1 could go on to pay-TV, we wouldn’t want to do that…”
This sentiment was also heard last month from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh who said,
“It’s crucial to the commercial model of Formula 1 that TV coverage should remain free-to-air, and therefore universally accessible, and therefore widely consumed and enjoyed by large numbers of viewers – and the BBC delivers that in the UK”.
The move by BSkyB is a serious win for its Sky Sports product offering as they now have broadcast rights to the three big sports in the UK namely, Barclays Premier League Soccer, England Test Cricket matches and Formula 1.
This weekend the Formula 1 circus moves to Hungary for Round 11 of the Championship with qualifying and race coverage live in Australia on ONE.
“It’s crucial F1 coverage remains free-to-air” - F1 Fanatic
BBC and Sky to share F1 broadcast rights – The Guardian
BBC and Sky partner for live Formula 1 rights - Press Release
Bernie Ecclestone says News Corp bid for F1 likely to fail – The Telegraph