Formula One UK enters Pay TV market with BBC/Sky deal

After weeks of speculation, we finally know the outcome of how F1 will be broadcast in the UK for future years. It’s not back off to ITV, Channel 4 won’t be nabbing it, it’s not even leaving the BBC entirely. But it’s caused uproar amongst fans of the sport (myself included) as from next year you will need a subscription to Sky Sports to enjoy the full Formula One season.

A number of things about this are very bad, not least the fact that a basic Sky Sports subscription will set you back almost £40.00 per month – money that many people simply don’t have. When channels can charge this amount, it makes the humble BBC license fee (£12.13 per month) seem a drop in the ocean!

I fail to see why people should be forced to pay for a sport that for several years they have had free access to. Not only that, it’s a sport amongst the richest in the world. F1 doesn’t need any more money, why should we now have to fork out cash to continue seeing this ‘spectacle’ on our screens.

Now of course, I am missing out part of the deal which was announced earlier today. The sport isn’t entirely leaving Free-to-air TV, the BBC will still broadcast half of the races live. But what’s the point in that? I don’t really want to watch half a season of a sport, I want to see the entire picture.

We have been promised ‘extensive highlights’ by the BBC, but what exactly does that mean? Will it be more or less than the rather disappointing highlights package which currently airs after every race on BBC Three? And regardless, I think I speak for all sports fans when I say watching highlights after the event is never the same as seeing it unravel live.

Then there’s the deal itself. The BBC have apparently secured such gems as Monaco, Silverstone and the final round of the championship live for 2012. But how long will that last? Sky aren’t going to be happy if people choose not to subscribe to their service (after all, this deal is no doubt costing them millions). They will keep pushing the boundaries until the BBC is left with only the poorer races of Bahrain and Valencia. Don’t deny it, recent events have proved how sneaky a Murdoch company can be.

I also fear for the many thousands, even millions of casual fans. F1 viewership is at a 10 year high and that is in no small part down to the current BBC broadcast. The Beeb have put the sport everywhere, provided so much more access than their predecessors and really helped engage a whole new range of fans. But casual fans aren’t going to want to pay an upgrade fee and neither will they enjoy the disjointed-ness of live races some weeks and highlights the next. The sport will lose them, no doubt about it.

The BBC have made a terrible decision to end this contract early (they had exclusivity until 2013) and opt-into this 7 year ‘partnership’ with Sky. But lets not forget, their hands may have been tied. The corporation is trying to make massive savings at the moment and rumours suggest that they had to choose between full F1 coverage or Wimbledon (we all know the result of that one).

What I don’t like is how badly it’s been handled. Commentator Martin Brundle tweeted that he was only informed of the news last night and anchorman Jake Humphrey only heard the news this morning with the fans. These people are the ones who have made the show, they should have been involved in the negotiation process rather than letting some BBC execs make the decision with no input from the people that matter.

And the less said about Mr Ecclestone the better. Bernie said only a couple of weeks ago that F1 would not be going to subscription TV, yet here it is. And what’s more, it looks like he’s managed to talk the teams into the idea also, lessening any chance of a rebellion due to the Concorde Agreement.

There is however a possible glimmer of hope emerging from a meeting held earlier today. Martin Whitmarsh, team principle of McLaren has hinted at the BBC possibly still showing full race coverage for every Grand Prix, just delayed for half the season. This would, for me make a huge difference and could save me from a painful decision between the BBC and Sky.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that this isn’t the end for F1. It will still be shown on the BBC, just not as in-depth as we would like. Sky have also (whatever you think of them and their management) done wonders for sport, particularly football and I’m sure those that choose to watch with them will get a very detailed and all-encompassing service.

However it’s hard to ignore the fact that todays deal was entirely driven by money at the expense of the fans. You have to wonder how many more times sports can keep doing this and push their fans patience before they lose interest themselves.

3 Responses to Formula One UK enters Pay TV market with BBC/Sky deal

  1. Tommy says:

    I think, sadly, this is the best result F1 fans were ever going to get. As you’ve put, the BBC are being forced into cutting spending – and it’s always easier to do this in one sweep than by ‘trimming down’ multiple services. Therefore, it was always likely to leave the BBC in some way.

    Sky have also been sniffing around for a long time, and the only saving grace for most fans has been that teams are discouraged if races aren’t free-to-air. The alternative to this partnership would have been Channel 4 or even Five taking over, and that wouldn’t have been brilliant for fans as an experience.

    I think fans also need to remember where things have come from. Before ITV revolutionised coverage, we’d often go over to qualifying or the race late as part of Grandstand with no pre-coverage. We’ve been spoiled for the last 15 years, even if coverage tailed off during the ITV years.

    Let’s not beat Sky up before they show us what they can do; they could look to show the GP2 & GP3 feeder races for example – something long called for by fans. And I’d hope that the BBC would get to call which races it shows, as with football coverage.

    But a discounted option to only receive Sky Sports only over GP weekends and not the rest of the month wouldn’t go amiss.

  2. […] But do you know what? I don’t care. So long as the on track racing remains exciting (which it certainly is) I will continue to  enjoy watching it… well for this year at least… […]

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    Formula One UK enters Pay TV market with BBC/Sky deal « The Rich, Harsh Poet…

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