Whitmarsh reacts to News Corp story on BBC dropping F1
F1 on TV
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Jun 2011   |  11:34 am GMT  |  147 comments

Yesterday’s story in the Sunday Times that the BBC is thinking of dropping its coverage of F1 has certainly lit a blue touchpaper.

Printed as it was in a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which has announced that it is looking at a joint bid for F1’s commercial rights with the Agnelli owned Exor group, this has added another dimension to the story and put the subject of the commercial model for TV coverage centre stage.

As someone who has worked in TV for over 20 years, I’ve seen plenty of shifts of emphasis within networks, as executives vie for supremacy and different parts of the budget and schedule struggle for priority. Properties, like F1, can be in favour with one management and then out of favour with another.

It is a fact that F1 is costing the BBC a lot of money. And it is a fact that the BBC have to cut £60 million from their annual sport budget as part of their required cutbacks. They paid a big price for the rights in March 2008, when ITV pulled out two years ahead of its scheduled contract end date. They also have high production costs as their operation has a lot of travelling staff working across TV, interactive and online.

There are clearly factions within the BBC who do not think that F1 at that level is right for the BBC. Recently it has been suggested that the BBC must either cut F1 or lose it’s digital arts and intellect channel BBC4. We’ve seen these kind of threats issued before from BBC with Radio 6 music, which was under threat and then saved.

Whether the people who don’t like F1 would be placated if the Corporation were able to negotiate a lower price for the next contract post 2013, is hard to say. It is possible that this can be achieved, as contact renewals have been achieved at a lower price in several important territories recently, thanks to a more realistic post credit crunch media landscape.

Then there is the other question of what the Murdochs and Agnellis might want to achieve, should they actually get control of the sport. Although Murdoch is active in pay TV platforms like SKY, does that mean that he would insist on the coverage being on his platforms, or would he be happy to take the money from free to air networks? F1 has also tried the model of live on pay TV with delayed re-run on free to air in some countries. But it’s not easy to see that working for a UK F1 audience.

Today McLaren chairman Martin Whitmarsh made a statement on this subject, reacting to the Sunday Times story. His full statement is worth looking at closely.

“Formula 1 insiders have been surprised by the recent newspaper reports, since they contain significant statistical inaccuracies,” he says.

“The reality is that the Formula 1 viewing figures in the UK are high and getting higher. In terms of average viewership, peak viewership and average share of viewership – the three key indices for TV executives – more people are watching Formula 1 this year than last year or indeed than in recent previous years.

“For example, the average share of viewership for the BBC’s coverage of the recent Chinese Grand Prix, which Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won, was more than 50%. In other words, as many people were watching Formula 1 in the UK that Sunday morning as were watching every other channel combined – including all terrestrial channels and all satellite channels – a staggeringly impressive statistic. And the TV viewing figures for other recent Grands Prix have been massively impressive too.”

To be fair, it’s not all that surprising that the BBC audience for the Chinese Grand Prix should be 50% of the total TV audience at that time, given that the race was on in the UK at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning. It would have been more instructive to look at race starting at the standard European slot of 1pm. F1 does well generally in this regard. In these days of multi channel TV anything around 25% share is very good.

Whitmarsh reiterates the point he made to a group of us in Turkey that F1’s current business model relies on the mass-market reach of free to air TV, particularly for the sponsors and manufacturers. A switch to a pay TV model requires a change of emphasis for teams, with more of their income shifting to their share of the commercial revenues, (of which TV is a part) and less from sponsorship. While this would make it easier for teams in one sense, as multi-million dollar sponsors are not easy to find, it would also place an even greater emphasis on getting the teams’ share of revenues at the right level, which is what the current Concorde Agreement negotiations are about.

“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,” said Whitmarsh.

“Moreover, besides the quantity of viewership, the quality of the BBC’s coverage is consistently high too – which is just as important. Also important is the demographic data – which shows that F1 is now attracting an increasing number of younger and female viewers, which is also very positive.

This is very important and has been a pre-occupation of the sport for some time. The BBC very noticeably promotes F1 in all kinds of shows, including radio, kids programmes and more. They have done a really good job of promoting the sport and their coverage of it, both on TV, radio and online.

However Whitmarsh’s final remarks are spoken from within the F1 bubble, as he starts talking about F1 being the “pinnacle of motorsport” and says it would be “sad” and “unwise” for the BBC to stop. The bean counters who run TV networks will say a resounding “Who cares?” to this.

To them these remarks will mean nothing at all. F1 is a commodity, like anything else. If it were on commercial TV doing the numbers it is doing, then it would be good business, as long as the rights fee and production costs were under control.

But the BBC isn’t a commercial organisation. It has a public service remit and that means providing everything from drama to arts to children’s programmes, to current affairs. Sport is a small – but expensive – part of that and within that subsection F1 is an already rich sport with races in all kinds of timezones, which makes it hard to schedule.

“Formula 1 is the pinnacle of world motorsport – always has been, always will be,” says Whitmarsh. “As such, it’s appropriate that the BBC should continue to cover it.”

“I think it would be very sad, and most unwise, if the BBC were to disappoint so many millions of British sports fans by axeing it, and that’s why I don’t believe for a moment that they’d seriously consider doing such a thing.”

Although the discussion is about the BBC pulling out at the end of the current contract in 2013, there are voices around suggesting that the pull-out could be a good deal earlier than that. I have no inside knowledge on this and from discussions with senior people on the BBC F1 team I don’t think they have either.

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mike mcdermott

the day the BBC drop F1 is the day I stop buying a TV license

its the only thing I watch


I've never watched bbc 4 and never will. Its just another channel for repeats when most people allready have bbci player (according to the magazines). The BBC give the best uninterupted coverage that anybody can and to say that they have to cut F1 is absolutely stupid. How much is being spent on the olympics and all the programmes before it, loose some of those and forget about bbc 4 and KEEP F1.


As much as I love F1, I abhor Murdoch more, to the extent that I will never subscribe to Sky, just as I never read any NI newspaper.


The reason that F1 is enjoying better and better viewing figures is because of the BBC coverage. They had become complacent untill they lost the rights to ITV, when they got it back they upped their game and the figures got better.

I have watched the BBC coverage from all over the world, many contries air the BBC coverage raw because of quality even though english is often the second language.

I for one will not be watching a pay channel not become interested in edited highlights.

I didnt change my mobile contract from vodafone because it supported jenson and lewis.. roll on renewal, cheapest gets my vote now.

Sorry Burnie but the sparkle of F1 now has a deep tarnish



I'm sure football coverage costs them more but I bet they haven't concidered dropping that....


Hi, i think that i saw you visited my website thus i got here to return the want?.I am trying to to find things to improve my site!I suppose its adequate to make use of some of your ideas!!


Agree, I wanted to watch FP2 today, but the BBC thought everyone wanted to watch different courts at Wimbledon.

Makes me annoyed how the government has now agreed to pay 2m to keep BBC Arabic service!


...........most balanced response I have seen in a long time.


The trend with all the very popular sports,football in the UK, AFL football here in Australia, both have been sucked into pay TV. F1 will ultimately end up there, as sport is the main draw card to any pay channel, most entertainment is the same on any channel pay or free,but sport draws the big numbers, F1 is and will always be popular, the BBC must do all it can to retain it, or Mr Murdoch & Co will get it all.


Doctor Who costs the BBC almost nothing: it's underwritten by BBC Worldwide and sold, at substantial prices, to overseas networks. It's also responsible for a huge industry in DVDs, mostly sold at full price, which kicks back to the BBC against fully depreciated material that it owns outright. Worldwide makes a profit of £145m per year, of which Doctor Who is a major part. That money used to make Doctor Who is making an overhead contribution to BBC Wales, too.

Antiques Roadshow is in pretty much the same position: it's incredibly cheap to make, the BBC own all the rights to it so that they can sell episodes (and the format) overseas. Like Doctor Who it gets upwards of 5m viewers for almost no net outlay, and like Doctor Who delivers significant residuals.

F1 costs cash, straight out of the bottom line, for the rights, and cash pretty much straight out of the bottom line for the coverage costs. The ratings are there or thereabouts comparable to Who or Roadshow, but neither of those decide that they're afraid of a few drops of rain and respond by flooding the Sunday evening schedule with two middle-aged blokes speculating as to whether a bird is a red-winged blackbird or a red-shouldered blackbird. The BBC doesn't own the rights, so can't make any follow-on money, either.

Whitmarsh obviously needs F1 on free-to-air, as otherwise his sponsors will run to the hills. However, that's his problem, not the BBC's: they're not responsible for keeping McLaren in business. If F1 needs free-to-air TV, it's simple to organise: just cost it at zero. To both demand sky-high fees for coverage and then complain when public broadcasters don't want to show it seems disingenuous.


Doctor Who has won BAFTAs (the BBC tend to dominate) and per hour of coverage must be far more economic, they can also sell the program abroad. Programs like Antiques Roadshow are very cheap to make and still have an audience.

The BBC surely overpaid last time and they're positioning themselves to try and negotiate or possibly withdraw.

James any possibility of the contract going to multiple broadcasters? Sky started out taking the winter cricket tours, while the summer tests were kept on free-to-air.


Hold up - Doctor Who is rubbish to you but one of the two most successful BBC programmes (the other being Top Gear funnily enough) and as such from international sales it makes back much more than the production budget. So cutting it would be an economically bad decision and something that would justify cutting revenue losers like, for example, F1.

Careful with that axe, Eugene.


I think you have something there, Richard Brooks has stated his figures in the article (that most would agree are way off the mark), came from the BBC. Now why would someone from the BBC give out wildly inaccurate data?


Care to elaborate?

I'd be interested to see how you quantify this claim besides simply taking your word for it on this occasion.

I understand it may not be prudent for you to substantiate this in detail, but worth asking as any solid evidence to support your claim would be compelling.


What evidence do you have to support that assertion? Or is it another self perpetuating myth? There was probably a big anti F1 contingent in ITV too!


Have you got any stats for the number of male/female viewers?

I think this is a common myth and the number of female viewers is growing.


Different countries have different rules

Oxford Bullnose

You get the BBC via BBC online (using a VPN)?


That's an interesting take on it. The BBC paid for motogp because of toseland being wsb champion going to motogp. Eurosport is the English language feed for motogp as the BBC coverage uses the eurosport feed for 125 and moto2. It then uses it's own production crew for motogp. BBC and eurosport broadcast 125 and moto2 live but eurosport shows the motogp on tape delay as well as all the practice sessions and qualifying to boot.


I am also a U.S. viewer. I am satisfied with Speed and I think our commentators do a good job given their resources (let's not kid ourselves: Speed cares much more about NASCAR than F1).

....but the BBC coverage is so much better. The pre-race show is usually superb. The post-race one is usually quite good as well. They are usually able to get better interviews with drivers and team personnel simply because they are BBC and not just "some other broadcasting company". This is a sad but true fact.

I usually watch the races live in Speed but also download the BBC broadcast to archive it (only started doing this last year).

BBC coverage would be sad to lose.

*To be fair, the ITV coverage at the time, to me, seems comparable to BBC. Same quality pre/post race show (from what I recall) and same quality commentating (GO JAMES!). No commercials on BBC is always nice though 🙂

Marty McSuperFly

Is Speed the only broadcaster of live F1 in the USA?

I always thought that RTL's approach to ads during F1 was the least-worst (they dual screen) and alternate between which is more prominent.

Marty McSuperFly

You need to think globally.

However, if F1 went to a pay-per view / subscription structure in a key geographic such as the UK, and it was shown to be successful, then it might be a good way for NewsCorp to strengthen their position for purchasing the commercial rights.

Marty McSuperFly

Cheers for that.

Any idea of the cost breakdown of the £60 Million?


If you take the annual cost of F1 as £60m, then divide by the average viewing audience of approx. 2.5m, and take the number of hours broadcast as 200, then you get about 12p per viewer per hour.

Note, then, that there's two distinct statistics here: (i) the cost per viewer; (ii) the cost per viewer per hour.

BBC4 broadcasts more hours per year, hence if you want to make BBC4 look better value for money you simply take the second statistic.

Most BBC4 programmes, however, are repeats. Tuesday evening's schedule this week, for example, had only one hour of original programming. If you calculate the number of hours of original programming broadcast by BBC4 per year, it's probably less than the 200 hours of original F1 coverage broadcast per year.

None of which will have any bearing on the decision made by the BBC, which will be based upon corporate executives making an assessment of how their own careers can be best promoted.

Marty McSuperFly

OK, I was just repeating something I'd read in another article.

How was the 11.7p calculated exactly?


In the US, we have Speed TV (owned by Fox incidently), which requires cable subscription for access, therefore not free-to-air, but not ppv either. Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett in Speed's NC studio deliver superb coverage, ably assisted by Will Buxton, who is present at each GP. Yes, there are commercial breaks, but they try to time them as best they can to avoid disruption at the worst times such as the closing stages of a race. The BBC may be able to run with a similar model as they used to with Murray Walker and James Hunt to reduce costs. However, I would definitely miss Croft's Chequered Flag podcasts on bbc.com if they go away.

Mark Callaghan

I truely hope that the BBC retains F1 coverage but more than that Murdoch/Sky MUST NOT get hold of it.


BC has publicly stated that he wants F1 to remain on the BBC. (http://en.espnf1.com/f1/motorsport/story/52012.html)

Furthermore, as James pointed out in this article, if F1 moves to pay-per-view the entire payment structure of the sport will have to change.

I'm not sure this has anything to do with patriotism. I think this is about whether Bernie Ecclestone's model of F1 will survive beyond 2013. The uncertainty over UK broadcast rights from 2013 may act as a trojan horse for News International to offer a radical alternative to Bernie Ecclestone's vision of F1.

At the moment, the cost of broadcasting F1 appears to be too expensive for both ITV and the BBC. Realistically, that only leaves BSkyB. If they buy the rights, the argument goes, sponsors may have to reconsider the financial prudence of forking out millions of Euros for exposure on a network that cannot guarantee a million viewers a race and may only attract half that amount. It would be the equivalent of Petronas, Shell, Phillip Morris, Vodafone and Santander all queueing up to sponsor late night re-runs of CSI on Channel 5.

Reduced sponsorship will leave the teams financially hamstrung.

Bernie appears to have a choice to make; either he lowers the cost of broadcasting F1 to ensure the status quo is maintained, or, if the sport moves to pay-per-view, he gives a greater share of revenue to the teams.

But a move to pay-per-view also creates a huge opportunity for the News International consortium. They could make an offer for the sport that includes sweeping and wholesale changes to the way teams get paid and a coherent, global sponsorship strategy that exploits their combined European, Asian and Continental American broadcast capacity.

As Bernie himself recently admitted during the Bahrain debacle, F1 simply cannot happen with the support of the teams. If News International put together an offer that is financially attractive not only to CVC, but also the teams and their sponsors, then the game may be up for Bernie Ecclestone.


In Australia we have the BBC F1 commentry team - which I like. We also have James on ONE HD with expert comments. My view - don't mess with these!!


The real question is, what are the BBC saying? If they say nothing, they maybe just be thinking along these lines.

What does not help is Bernies family spending 150 mil on a house in the U.S, while Briton is doing it tough. If the BBC is owned by the public, they look at Burnies extravagant life style and think, gee we paid for that.


"Formula 1 is the pinnacle of world motorsport"

LOL F1 really need to get over themselves and actually dig in to make that happen.

Atm they are only pinnacles of Euro-centric drama-queenery and insane spending on microscopic aero tweaks.


My contact at the BBC, who works at a senior strategic level, says the chances of the BBC dropping F1 in 2013 are 'very good' and that the likelihood of SKY stepping in is 'very high'. Its a shame for the BBC, because F1 was a real opportunity to flex its cross platform muscle and make an impact across traditional and digital media. But my understanding is that the cost of broadcasting F1 is not the issue - its Bernie. The commercial rights are just way too expensive. So, if F1 is to remain free to air on the Beeb, Mr. Ecclestone will have lower the cost of broadcasting the sport.


Apart from the rights and wrongs, the politics, I'd like to say:

I think the BBC F1 coverage eclipses all other sport coverage I've ever seen. They do a great programme, with plenty of interest for the expert as well as the passing viewer. The production qualities, lack of commercials and enthusiasm and openness of the whole team not just on TV, but across all mediums make for an excellent show all round. Not forgetting HD.

(No I don't work for the BBC, just wanted to air my opinion of the current BBC output)

And don't forget people. If F1 manages to lose the BBC it also loses "The Chain"

Oxford Bullnose

The pro-BBC side of the argument seems to be relying on the 'free-to-view' principle when the BBC isn't free to view anyway, it's £150 a year, which means all the people saying 'F1 is the only thing I watch on telly' are in effect paying £7.50 per race anyhow...

Also, there seems to be an assumption that just having F1 available to all 60m potential viewers here in the UK is a good thing in itself, while ignoring that despite it being 'free' only 2-4m (let's say 3m for the sake of argument), mostly men, mostly the same men weekend after weekend, bother to watch. So the team advertisers aren't getting through to the mass of the population anyway - what's Whitmarsh thinking, that the whole UK is watching F1 just 'cause it's on the Beeb?! - it's just the same people again and again. For a flagship show which costs so much that's pretty damning. IF F1 went to Sky Sports, for example, I'd bet a large percentage of those 3m either already subscribe to it for footy or whatnot, or else would pay up and join. And many who already get SS for other things would tune in to F1 and get hooked on it (this is a well-established pattern - people who've joined SS for live Premiership alone end up following cricket matches and rugby games and golf tournaments they'd hardly knew existed before.) I predict viewing figures for F1 on Sky would be matching the Beeb's within a year or two of the switch and the vast majority would be the same people watching as watch now.

ITV (with James?) would be even better though.


BBC already sells the coverage to other countries, Martin Brundle often refers to having 60 million viewers as he elbows the Germans out of the way during his gridwalk - how much do they make from this?

ITV (presumably) dropped F1 as they weren't making enough money out of it on an advertising-funded business model. With the economy it is hard to see why they would be interested now, so if the BBC doesn't want F1 it looks inevitable that it will end up on a paid channel, and that will be even more likely if News Interntional owns F1.

As James points out, moving away from free to air broadcasting would have massive implications for both teams and sponsors. The best hope is for the BBC to slim down the coverage and Bernie to reduce the cost - assuming this isn't all just mischief-making by Murdoch to get the price down of course.


The only solution in the long term is for the BBC to produce the official F1 feed. That way they can make it on break even by selling on feeds. But of course this will never happen.

It is a tricky situation cause f1 rather have the BBC than say itv but at the same time the revenue it gets from tv is massive so pricing will stay high and at some point the beeb will have to pull the plug.

Are there any examples of BBC programs being funded outside of license payees money? And I am not talking something like top gear that makes them money with all international deals. If so the answer would be that the teams pitch in a little.

But hang on then why would the teams not start their own broadcaster?


BBC not showing F1 would be like not showing Wimbledon. There must be so much other dead wood in the schedules that could be removed before F1 was handed to Sky on a plate and put on an obscure channel no one will ever find as it clashes with the precious 3 hour Wigan v Blackburn coverage that so many people are revolving their lives around. Is BBC4 really a necessity? What does it show other than repeats of programmes from BBC1 & 2? BBC Parliament, how many people want to see 6 people debating in the commons, i'm sure it's thrilling viewing!! Why not put that on the red button occasionally? They could also perhaps overhaul their radio stations, i'm sure there are new younger (cheaper) presenters that could be used rather than the extremely annoying Fearne Cotton and Sara Cox? Why not make each radio segment an hour longer each day and then cut out 1 segment at 4am? Although the beeb probably sees that as a necessity as 100 truck drivers listen to it. BBC3 are showing Norbit this week. That wonderful Eddie Murphy film. Obviously that must be a top priority!

Or perhaps not pay £40 MILLION for the rights to The Voice, another boring reality tv show. £40 MILLION, i'm sure that money would be better spent on bonuses for the beed bigwigs surely?

I agree with the previous comments, why does the BBC need 3 people to do a very similar job? Couldn't Lee McKenzie do the pit interviews for 5live as well as BBC1? How many different ways can you ask, so how was your race? Happy with your performance? Why did you breakdown? And surely by removing 2 staff from the overall coverage of F1 that saves about £100k in wages, travel and expenses per year?

The idea of the BBC is a wonderful thing however in this day and age perhaps it has become redundant? If they no longer show F1 then why should I have to pay £149 per year for something I don't watch? I am paying for a serivce I don't care about, i wouldn't be using and have no time for. Of course you are unable to watch any tv then so perhaps it should be fixed that if you don't pay your tv licence you don't have access to the BBC? Or give ITV, Channels 4 & 5 some of the money so they could bid for the rights to something like F1. I am getting off topic now but i have found this entire situation to be rather annoying and putting a very dark cloud over what is otherwise fantastic viewing!

I would be interested to know what other channel brings in the audience share the BBC does on a Sunday afternoon from 12 - 3 when a GP is on. Having just looked at the tv guide for when the European GP is on this sunday I can see no original programming on any terrestial channels. Would be interesting to know

Only certain sports are protected and must be on free to air channels but if every other sport goes to ppv then our free to air channels will be filled with more repeats of Only Fools and Horses and Bargain Hunt. £149 a year is pretty expensive for 4 tv channels who basically recycle their back catalogue from 20 years ago

I have submitted a praise report to the BBC about their F1 coverage, maybe if the 8 million people who watched the Canadian GP all did the same then our fears would be put to rest


Something I would like to add on why they take who they take.

They take Lee & Ted because one covers the paddock to get the interviews with the drivers while the other covers the actual pit lane to get the news from the pits.

You can't have 1 person covering both so if the BBC dropped Lee or Ted we would either lose the driver interviews or lose the updates from the pit lane.

As to switching Jake & EJ from the track to a studio in London. Other broadcasters cover the races in a studio away from the track & the coverage is never as good as a result.


Is the "free to air" issue more specific to the BBC and the UK. In Canada I can only watch F1 if I purchase specialty sports channels like Canada's TSN or the US Speed channel. Usually you have to buy these channels as part of a larger package. For example I bought Sentata for a while and that was $12 a month or something like that. TSN carries the BBC feed. I wonder how much TSN pays to the BBC? I'm guessing that many countries carry F1 via a 'pay channel'


Actually, the point about other countries taking the commentary feed was what I wanted to mention. Do other countries pay [the BBC] for this? How much would that likely offset the production costs, and could they sell the entire show abroad?

Would other foreign broadcasters who take the BBC feed be willing to chip in and pay for the rights, and take a subsidised feed / whole show?


The BBC have done F1 proud since the rights came back to them. Quite simply they should spend their entire sports budget on it if that's what it takes. They would get a genuinely popular sport on their channel 20 weeks of the year in return.


This is why all elements in F1 have to work to make the sport as exciting as possible -- and yes, this year so far is a great start. The more people watching the more likely it is that...

1) the BBC will want to hold on to the rights.

2) F1 will want to ensure the coverage is free to air so that sponsorship is maximised.

The worst thing that could happen is that F1 becomes a backwater on pay-per-view, watched only by die-hard F1 fans. That's also why we need to learn to accept a hyped-up commentary ('Hollywood style' as some have suggested) -- as keen fans we might not like it but it helps Joe and Jollene public feel the excitement.

Of course we have to accept that long-term all TV channels will disappear and all content will be delivered via the web onto your TV or computer. Already the Panasonic TV in my lounge has an internet connection and technically this is feasible, although at the moment it just carries cr*p channels you've never heard of. My neighbour's Samsung, however, carries iPlayer and the picture in HD is stunning.

Maybe one day James will be bidding to carry live F1 straight to the fans on this site! Well why not?


It's very much worth remembering that Formula 1 on the BBC provides some of the highest value programming on the BBC, and delivers an extremely high volume of output in terms of any of it's media platforms, eg its television and radio channels, interactive channels, iPlayer and bbc.co.uk, compared to pretty much any other programming the BBC commissions or owns rights to broadcast. F1 delivers around 150 hours of high viewership programming just on the live qualifying and races, plus the 30-odd hours of highlights programming, and delivers consistently high iPlayer viewing figures. The company I work for delivers all transmission and encoding on behalf of the BBC, including all the F1 races so we're well aware of the impact it has had.

The cost of the show is reportedly around 1.7% of the total licence fee, but admittedly it's value is probably less than that. It's clearly a premium product that reaches a high peak audience, but the BBC's remit is to deliver a wide range of programming that reaches all UK viewers. However, there is clearly an argument that the BBC should maintain a clear presence in the top tiers of all sports (not just motorsports as Martin Whitmarsh mentions), and Formula 1's viewing figures, growing interest and clear technological, environmental, educational, sporting and media related impact provides an excellent platform from which the BBC can deliver even greater benefit to the licence fee payer through it's programming departments (eg Richard Hammond's recent shows), news formats, educational platforms and other key areas such as BBC Worldwide's interest in Top Gear magazine, such as following Lotus in 2010 for editorial copy and the Top Gear team larking about on Monaco's streets with Adrian Neway and Ross Brawn.

F1 and the BBC - there's more to it than it seems. And most of it's great 🙂


First and foremost, I would love F1 to stay on the BBC. No adverts and fantastic coverage of all sessions from Friday through to Sunday via the red button.

However, I would agree with the other comments that the BBC team at each race is becoming very bloated. What does Eddie Jordan add to proceedings? Could Jake not top and tail some of the GPs from London if it means saving a couple of airfares? For sure, Martin and David need to be on site, plus one pit lane reporter, but all the others?

I would rather the BBC kept F1 coverage on a skeleton staff, as opposed to losing it altogether if it refuses to cut the costs of all the different TV/radio/online reporters travelling all around the world 20 times a year on licence fee payers money.

However, if the bean counters do decide to bin F1 from the Beeb, I for one would prefer to see F1 on Sky rather than back on ITV.

When Sky put their minds towards developing their coverage of a sport (be it football, cricket or golf), it really takes off. I think the Murdoch millions would do more to increase interest in F1 than putting it back on ITV (who I don't think would be interested in bidding in any case).

Also, I will never forgive ITV for San Marino 2005 when they went to an advert while Schumi was closing down on Alonso.

Is there a facebook group we can start to keep F1 on the Beeb?


"There are clearly factions within the BBC who do not think that F1 at that level is right for the BBC."

But the BBC's own report on their sports rights shows that Formula 1 is their best performing sport, when cost per viewer etc, is taken into account.

Cost per Viewer Hour = Hit

Cost per Viewer = Hit

Actual Reach 54% = Hit

Actual Live Rating = Hit

It outperforms all their other sporting output.


Those that have free to air F1 coverage, count yourself lucky. I am paying around 60 pounds per month to be able to watch F1... And that doesn't even include what I pay for a decent internet connection to be able to follow up the events online.


British Gigolo

According to Joe's blog The BBC coverage is watched by aprox 50 million people globally. That doesnt seem to bad to me. This being so the Beeb is getting quite a lot of income from foreign broadcasters, similar to what they do for Doctor Who & Top Gear. There are hundreds of more shows that are not generating any income what so ever. Why axe a show that is making some cash? It is of excellent quality compared to the farcial Speed TV coverage in the USA & also I have seen F1 coverage in quite a few Euro countries as well & although my veiwing pleasure was diminished by the language barrier I can definitly say the current BBC coverage is world class in comparison. We have knowledgable presenters & good indepth coverage showing all aspects of F1. It would be a disgrace if the coverage was stopped or switched to pay per view or Sky.


I think we need a little perspective on this topic. The BBC is a public funded organisation and as such any aspect is evaluated on a regular basis, nothing is ring fenced. F1 is a flagship for the corporation and if you take into account the cost per minute of the whole coverage over the entire race weekend - meaning practice sessions, qualifying, the race show, the forum, the radio coverage, the website - and then take into account the 18 times it happens this year, I would expect the costs to be far better per million viewers than most of the drama series the BBC produces.

The current coverage is superb, my only gripe is that I think James was the best foil for Brundle. Otherwise I think they have done an amazing job of making the viewer feel much more involved. The additional reporters are necessary for this. But I think people need to realise the small number of staff actually present, probably around 40. Now look how many went to cover the American election, or the world cup. I think people forget the race broadcast is provided by FOM meaning much less personnel needed, it is only the British Grand Prix with higher numbers of BBC personnel present.

I would also like to know how much money is brought in from overseas users of BBC content as I'm sure this is an area that could be improved by selling the forum footage especially.

This is just games by Murdoch trying to get other people to argue that the BBC should lose F1 so he gets it for a cut price. I stopped watching much football and rugby when they went to sky, I'll not be watching F1 if it goes too.

I've never been a fan of sport being interrupted by adverts and I'd much rather the BBC lost News24 which is just pointless repeating, BBC Parliament which is only useful at elections, one of the numerous radio stations, anything with David Dickinson, the staff jolly to Glastonbury, and 90% of the antiques programs. Should free up some budget. Sorry, rant over : )


I really enjoy the BBC coverage but I'd be enraged if I was handing over my TV fee so that the BBC could spend £75 mil a year on artistic drama shows about modern art and waffles.

The 50% of viewers comment is as James pointed out just a circumstance.

Mclaren's comments sound like the go directly back to their sponsorship contracts which I'm sure have some kind of TV viewer metric in them and the BBC will always have the best viewership in the UK as it's the BBC.


I think that the current coverage on the BBC with the red button, website practice sessions and the post race forum are just about perfect. I don't see how a step back to pay TV would help anyone.

The one thing that i would like to see on the BBC is access to the live timing screen as available on F1.com. I find it invaluable and always have it on my laptop while watching the TV, however I think a 50/50 screen split with the TV would be great and a real eye opener for other viewers.


Here in Canada, like Bayden in Oz, we only get the race feed with Martin and DCs commentary. In all the years I have been watching, the coverage has never been better. The BBC is the face of F1 to much of the English speaking world, and is doing a great job of it.

That said, the BBC has to live with a budget like everyone else, and it seems like there are too many other "on air personalities". (If the BBC is paying for EJ's flight for example, well......)


The magic date of 2013 seems to be increasingly important at the moment.

If we look at 2013 as the date for the new Concorde Agreement, potentially a new engine and tech-spec formula and also a possible date for the sale of F1 by CVC to a News Corp-led consortium then it starts to look like ‘Judgement Day’.

It feels like we could be edging towards a new F1 landscape, where crucially, the teams will negotiate a far higher share of the revenue. Bernie, having not had a bad run, perhaps takes a step back and secures the future of his legacy through a massive financial deal, which is funded by means of pay per view TV or at least subscription channel broadcasting? It certainly worked for the Premiership.

James - you talk about the teams needing to re-think the way they finance themselves through sponsorship if we move away from free to air TV, I guess the new Concorde Agreement could come precisely at the right time to do this, if all roads point to 2013.

I would hate to see coverage move away from the BBC because I think they've done a great job. From a personal perspective, I could do without it going to Sky because I live in a Grade II listed building, can't have a dish and there's no cable down my street. I need to move house or hope there's an IPTV provision by then!

I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the thought of Rupert Murdoch playing such a key role in the future of F1 but that is more on ideological grounds than anything else. If you look at how most sports have flourished when taken under the News Corp wing, then we don't have too much to fear.

In any event, we ought to find out pretty quickly how the TV-rights issue will play out, as it's such a fundamental consideration for the teams and their sponsors that all of the CEO's, who look way beyond the next 12 months, will be asking some pertinent questions, I'm sure.

A very interesting topic.


I agree with many of the comments regarding the size of the crew the employs - this could number could be significantly reduced. Sarah Holt, Mark Hughes, Andrew Benson - why do they need to travel to races to blog? James - as a blogger yourself do you see the necessity of this? Also, Lee McKenzie and Natalie Pinkham do exactly the same job - can't one of them provide interviews and coverage for both TV and radio? Whilst I don't want to see F1 leave the Beeb (the coverage has been very good) it has to be sustainable in the long term.


Interesting comments from all sides of the arguement BUT if you are an F1 fan, obviously the BBC coverage is worth everything, being the best of any sport, except football, and improving year on year. I am personally sick to death of the current ethos of 'value for money' to bin high cost programming. BBC is a public service broadcaster, so actually find out how many people watch F1 programmes, not the estimated figures used - take a sample and multiply it - and I am sure that the numbers would justify most of the expense. Cut the numbers of 'commentators' and 'experts' by all means as long as the quality of information does not suffer, in fact, get rid of the so called experts in all sporting programmes, the ex-players who really do not contribute much at all. If F1 went pay-per-view, I for one would NOT watch, after many, many years!


If Sky got hold of Formula 1 it would be a disaster. Their covereage of any sport is trashy and vulgar, their presenters sub-standard, and their programmes are packed with adverts.

Conversely, the BBC's coverage of Formula 1 is the best covereage it's ever had.


James, it would be interesting to know the true cost of the BBC's F1 coverage when one factors in the revenue earned selling the package to international broadcasters. I believe that worldwide viweing figures are in the region of 50million. Do you have any information on this? Thanks


By way of contrast to Formula 1 viewing figures between 4-6 million, it's worth pointing out that BBC4 has peak viewing figures of only half a million.

For w/e 12 June 2011, the most-watched programme on BBC4, 'A Garden for all Seasons', garnered only 591,000 viewers. (BARB data).

'The Sunday Times' article suggested that BBC4 was to be saved at the expense of the BBC's Formula 1 coverage. If so, then given the contrasting viewing figures, that seems like very poor value for money.


it would be a massive shame if the bbc opted to drop the f1 coverage.

i think the overall quality of the coverage the bbc have providde has been the best we have ever had.

for the 1st time in the uk on free-tv we have practice, qualifying & the race all live with the extras like the in-car feed and the driver tracker with a choice of commentary options.

we alo have no commercial breaks which in f1 today is vital. i watched the american speedtv broadcast of the turkish gp and with the commercial breaks it became 10x more difficult to follow the race and pit-stops and vital passes were happening during the breaks.


James, a little off topic, if it does come to it that BBC gives up the rights, whether it's this year or after 2013, and say ITV re-acquire the rights, what are the chances that you could return to the commentary booth?

Here in Australia, we don't get the full BBC coverage, only the race feed with Martin and DCs commentary, but when I was in the UK last year, I thoroughly enjoyed it, the whole show is carried out with immense professionalism, I fear that unless somebody like ITV steps in, F1 will suffer profoundly if it were to move to Sky.

By the way, loving the cross you do to RPM and during pre-race coverage


It would be interesting to know what annual value the commercial sponsors would place on having F1 broadcast on free-to-air, and secondly whether they would also value the 'quality' of the BBC production (uninterrupted coverage alone must translate into higher viewership). These two factors should give the BBC massive bargaining power when negotiating a price. I wonder to what extent these are reflected in the existing deal, and whether they can now point to higher viewership figures in order to argue down the price for a future extension.


The BBC appears to be run by vastly overpaid academics with their heads either firmly stuck in the sand of the past or esoterically floating miles above the clouds. In any case the best way of saving money would be to fire everybody in the top three director/management levels.

We have not only saved the world service, (actually only most, not all of it) but also invented some new radio stations or channels as well.

For F1 there is undoubted duplication of radio, online and tv personnel at venues. However the R5live commentary of Crofty and co is very often better than the tv commentary, which I watch on subtitles with the sound down. (where has Natalie gone and why do we now have Jenny Cow?)

ITV's coverage of the BTCC is not bad, that's where Louise ended up. While ITV's financial situation is getting a little better, they cannot afford F1.

The organisation format of BTCC could be changed to allow driver interviews in F1 style before the race. There of course is the simmering row of the turbo vs non-turbo, something we may well see again in F1 (yes I'm old I remember the turbo F1 era)

But a lot of this has to do with Bernie and FOM selling the rights to the various media types properly in future. Much is missing. Having a press/satellite oligarch owning the thing is not going to help.


I think this is just posturing from the BBC trying to ensure they can extend the contrct at a lower rate.

I think their technical coverage is ok, but could do without the dramatised Hollywood-esque presentation. The racing is exciting enough without the production team going over the top.

I do think they could significantly reduce the number of people they actually have out there though.

Michael Grievson

the bbc have far too many staff. People like Lee McKenzie and Ted Kravitz, then the 5 live crew, then the commentators and pundits. I don't understand why you need so many people?

Bin one commentary team and use the remaining for the tv and radio broadcast.


The BBC has done a great job of promoting F1, but the question remains - why should F1, a sport pretty much for millionaires/billionaires, have such vast public subsidies? Why should someone on a minimum wage, in a dingy flat, be forced to contribute to F1, even if they have no interest?

I sympathise with those inside the corporation who probably don't feel the BBC should be investing such massive sums of money into F1.

Of course 'free-to-air' television is great for F1, but for other rival motorsports as well...they've been blown clean out of the water.

F1 enjoys a massive monopoly in the market place, helped by state funds. No other motorsport can ever dream to compete and in normal market conditions it's unacceptable.


I think the BBC have hit their stride with F1 coverage. It keeps getting better and better. It would be such a shame to go back to commericals every 10minutes.

Its obvious they will lose the coverage though, money talks and at the moment the BBC dont have it.

Edward Valentine

Wasn't Murdoch's attempted purchase of Man Utd a few years back blocked by both the UK Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the European Commission citing competition law?

The same should be very likely regarding Murdoch's desire to buy the commercial rights for Formula One. If he were to become the commercial rights holder then that would (in the EU zone at least) immediately preclude F1 coverage going to any sky channels. The selling of the broadcast contract by the rights holder to any broadcasters owned by the rights holder would fly in the face EU competition law. This would not be allowed to happen. Sky can go for the broadcast rights yes, but that would stick a nail in the coffin of Murdoch's ambitions to become the commercial rights holder for F1.

BBC are producing the best ever broadcasting standards of F1 and the rights cannot be taken away - if they are then I'll be happy to ebay my T.Vs, hand back the license and play scrabble on a sunday afternoon instead


That would be typical of the Beeb, wouldn't it ? And of England in general come to that. Do something really well, then underestimate its worth and get rid of it just when the benefits come rolling in.

To justify the licence fee, the Beeb has to show that's its programmes are popular - that it's not just a cultural backwater (altho' it needs to do that too). Hard to imagine any better way to do that than what it's doing with F1.

Fingers crossed that the penpushers don't win.

Marty McSuperFly

I definitely think that the beeb could cut back its expenditure on F1, are all those bloggers, tweeters, pitlane reporters really needed? Surely one person could be assigned to each role.

Whilst I generally think the BBC product is a polished one, it always seems rather self-reverential and grandiose. Maybe the F1 demographics enjoy this, but I can’t stand it – and as a result tend to either sky+ through all the bumf or watch the highlights on iplayer.

Perhaps this is all just a NewsCorp power play, but the BBC really needs to publicise just how much money goes on ‘talent’ remuneration alongside production and overlap costs.

@James, 6music was saved by the BBC trust (which is separate from BBC operations), which overturned the latter’s plan to scrap it. The basis of it surviving was due to it being deemed worthwhile to the fee payers. Whilst is true to say that F1 is more popular than 6music, in terms of viewers, I can’t see F1 being deemed worthwhile without a substantial cull.

Links permitting, here is some info on the licence fee


Oxford Bullnose

Actually, a 50% share for very early on a Sunday morning - what time did the China GP coverage start? 6.00? 7.00? - is pretty mediocre - who else is watching TV at that time - a few kids on CBeebies maybe? I'm surprised it wasn't nearer 90%. Just goes to show...


It would be a great shame to lose F1 from the BBC; the coverage is of a consistent high standard (even if Red Bull seem to get a lot of free advertising!). If the BBC need to save money, I for one wouldn't miss BBC3 with its 'Snog, Marry, Avoid', 'Freaky Eaters' et al. I quite like BBC4, it reminds me of how BBC2 used to be.


Firstly I love F1.

That said the BBC should not be over paying for any broadcast and I believe the amount they are spending on F1 is way too much as are the salaries they are paying their headline presenters.

F1 and Ecclestone somehow belive it's their right to turn a blind eye that most of the world is finding it tough and the way and amount they charge is nothing short of scandalous.

Oxford Bullnose

Interesting that you say it could happen sooner than 2013. That's the vibe I've been getting - the rumblings are becoming stronger. Whitmarsh obviously has very little influence on the final outcome, so why his opinion should be more valid than Joe Bloggs' I don't know.

If you were a betting man, James, where do you see it being in 2013?


The two things I feel about this ;

1) Undoubtedly it would be a shame to lose F1 on the BBC as they have done a tremendous job. I listen to the 5live F1 radio coverage with the TV on, so cutbacks in terms of the overall production of the BBC F1 show wouldn't bother me in the slightest. However clearly a lot of people enjoy it as well, so that would be missed.

2) I think it's more important for the BBC to stay diverse and interesting. I would rather the BBC kept BBC4 and the World Service going than keep F1 on BBC1 or BBC2. Those things are more important, ethically if nothing else, than F1. Sport is a minor concern when compared to the effect the World Service has.

If it had to move to ITV or even C4, I personally wouldn't mind too much. The adverts would get annoying, sure. But I'd take that if it meant the BBC keeps its' remit.

If F1 moved to pay-to-view, however.. no chance.


Another story trying to demean the great season we are having. If I was the BBC I would be looking at the value motogp brings to the corporation compared to f1. I like both but the quality of the programming is miles apart. It looks like the BBC can't be bothered with motogp and is seeing out the contract. The BBC need an exclusive live sporting event and f1 is that.


I really hope this doesn't happen as in my eyes F1 is one of the last good programs on the BBC if not TV. The only one that was watchable was Top Gear which is now far too predictable.

I don't see how they can justify putting rubbish on constantly from Doctor Who to Antiques Road show (which I don't watch) and justify this by cutting F1. Yes 60 million has to be saved but why not try cutting the salaries of the people who work for the BBC? Isn't Chris ...[mod] Moyles on hundreds of thousands? How many other shows win Bafta’s?

Cut the crap before F1 or I'm getting rid of my TV license and just watching dvds...


MotoGP gets very little promotion across the BBC, but in any case the rights are dirt cheap.

Eurosport lost the rights because of it going to subscription only, hence the BBC picking up those UK rights for a song, as the rights holders wanted it to go Free-to-Air.

Food for thought there for F1, as it reinforces Martin Whitmarsh's position.



Also let's remember who the source is for this story, they've got their sums wrong too. The BBC need an F1 contract almost as much as F1 needs a BBC deal. I expect an extension to the present deal to be in place within a year. As you say the BBC isn't exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to significant sports contracts as for all this talk of BBC4 and the World service, well, that way lies subscription TV and TV execs definitely don't want that.



I like Dr Who, and I also enjoy their Tennis coverage, British Open Golf coverage and cant wait for the Olympics etc.

And I am also a fan of F1 as well and dont want it to leave the BBC.

But get a grip the BBC has to cater to a lot of people and calling for these shows to be axes because you dont like them is just plain dumb.


Family Guy, just to answer your question.

I do not have a telly and watch F1 on iPlayer after on my PC. Beside F1 some interesting programs can be found there roughly once a moth in the science section or some art programs are very good too.

I guess people watch what interests them. Most people watch soaps and things like Doctor who and telly bosses will act accordingly, make peace with it.

But hey! The question is why spend precious time in front of TV box in the first place? It is far better to go out, meet people, have fun isn't it? There are tonnes of things to do.

So, if they drop F1 I'll just stop watching it. The looser would be F1 itself.


The BBC do pay large amounts for 'talent'.

Tim Henman is rumoured to be getting 250k

for 2 weeks Wimbledon commentary !

I once worked on a documenatary and Tom Baker, ex of Dr who, got 15k for the voiceover narration which amazed me at the time.

Just because it's tax funded doesn't mean the BBC wont pay market rates.


Motorsport events of all levels take place all over the UK every weekend - 200,000 people taking part in 5,000 events per year - hardly a niche.

State subsidy? BBC covers the Olympics, Wimbledon, the World Cup, all at vast expense. Of the £350 million the BBC spends on sports, almost £250 million goes in rights, ie paying for the right to cover an event, and only £100 million on the actual cost of broadcasting. F1 takes a fair percentage of this, but the viewing figures justify it.

There is no motorsport to rival F1, that's not the BBC's fault, and anyway I want to watch the best drivers in the best teams at the best circuits.

The BBC doesn't just do programming that isn't commercial ... have you heard of Eastenders? Casualty? Holby City?


We aren't talking about football here that happens in every park and school yard in the entire country. We are talking about one of the smallest and most exclusive sports in the entire world - F1.

If F1 is so popular then surely it can survive without state-intervention? The BBC is there to provide products the market wouldn't usually cater for (tho the net has totally changed that). So BBC parliament for example.

At what point is it justifiable that a bunch of billionaires cruising up to Monaco on there yachts are subsidised by the average British citizen. And bare in mind the licence is a far larger proportion of income to a less wealthy person than a richer person.

F1 enjoys a massive monopoly in terms of motorsport coverage. The BBC, who do enjoy a monopoly on broadcasting in the UK, have basically made it next to impossible for any other rival motorsport to gain anywhere near the kind of attention or prestige. Why should the richest of all motorsports get this?

I can whole heartedly understand why there are those within the BBC who are angry at the amount of money spent on F1.

Let F1 broadcasting survive with private investment. If F1 is as popular as you say it is then the 6,000,000 that want to watch it can subscribe to it at £20-30 a year. That would pay for more than enough coverage and in-depth analysis.


>if F1 is to remain free to air on the Beeb, Mr. Ecclestone will have lower the cost of broadcasting the sport.

So you're hoping *patriotism will override his fiduciary responsibilities to his stockholders? So that it remains "free"?

"Hope" isn't a good battle plan, y'know.


If F1 and BBC4 cost approximately the same amount of money, and F1 has more viewers, then how could the cost per viewer of F1 be greater than the cost per viewer of BBC4?

£1 per hour per viewer for F1? Elsewhere on this blog, it's been pointed out that "With 199.5 hours of broadcasting and the average race audience taken into account, it actually costs 11.7p"


No need to have the timing screen available on the TV when you can have it on your laptop, as you said, or on smartphones using the F1 app (although there's not quite as much info on that).

I sometimes have to watch Grand Prix on a 14" TV screen in a particular hotel - it's hard enough seeing who is who on a portable sized telly without any of the screen being taken up with timing screens! If people want the figures, there are ways for them to access them already.


"and let BTCC go to Eurosport or some other backwater – which is where it belongs"

I'm sure there are lots of people would object to that, even though I'm not one of them.

It's not tax payer's money though, it's license payer's money. To me it's no different than paying a Sky subscription except you don't have the choice. True, it does give the BBC more responsibilities but the end result is the same, some people will ALWAYS object to how the money is spent.

Sky is no different, they will charge you a small fortune to send these millionaires around the world too. Most people probably don't care anyway, they pay their license/sky fee and then just want some entertainment in return, whether it's provided, in part, by millionaires or not.


Sky's presentation of football golf cricket and tennis is the best. Yes some of the lesser sports are filled with adverts etc but it's main sports are done brilliantly.

I am sure if f1 went to sky they would take it even higher than the BBC. By the way I really like how the BBC covers f1 it does it brilliantly and I have no complaints. However I am sure sky would improve it in the same way that BBC did from itv.

Oxford Bullnose

No. But I do prefer their coverage of most sports - one thing for sure, if Sky did get F1 there'd be a lot more F1 programming available, even on non-GP weekends, I'm sure. But ITV would be fine too - ITV 4 would be a good place to put it (and let BTCC go to Eurosport or some other backwater - which is where it belongs).

I just think the Beeb needs to take a good look at itself - in a time of austerity using taxpayer money to send millionaires like DC and EJ around the world to cover a sport that's run by and participated in by millionaires seems out of touch with reality for a British public service broadcaster. So, much as I love F1, on that basis alone I'd be happy to see it move from the Beeb. To Sky or ITV or elsewhere is less relevant.


Please substantiate your posts with some figures, Dale...

How much are the BBC paying their presenters?

True, times are tough... But if you love F1 the way you say, racedays are something to look forward to. Maybe the highlight of the week. How much tougher would it be if there wasn't even the race to look forward to?

Tough is knowing that the race has taken place and you couldn't watch it. The next three races at Valencia, Silverstone and the Nurburgring will not be shown in the US until three hours after the race has finished, thanks to FOX.


Good post. F1 has gone the same way as football. Never again will I pay the price now needed to go to watch a top soccer game, nor attend a GP as I did in the past. The prima donnas have lost all touch with reality and believe they have a right to earn millions for a few hours work now and again.


Because without sponsors there are no teams, and without teams there is no sport. It's nothing to do with the 24 people driving round in circles, or their salaries, and everything to do with the 6 million people who enjoy watching them do so. F1 is second only to football for viewing figures. - that's why the BBC should keep it.


The thing is why should we care about implications to teams and sponsors? What about implications to teams and sponsors that don't race in F1 that get absolutely no coverage at all? What about those who race or organise rival motorsport series but know it's an impossibility to compete with F1 because it's supported in a way they can't even dream of matching.

Is it really the public's duty to subsidies a sport exclusively for only the most extremely wealthy people on earth?


The BBC don't sell their coverage anywhere. The coverage is produced by F1 itself and the BBC purchase that. There was a suggestion that the BBC sell their audio commentary feed to other broadcasters but in a comment above, James suggests this is not the case.

The clear answer is for Bernie to reduce the cost he charges the BBC. I think he might as other broadcasters have recently negotiated a reduction. Whether this will be enough for the BBC to keep it is another matter.


That's a fair point. I suspect there may be an element of star ego in it - Coxy and Stavros are too big to cover the little classes.

They could take a lesson from Toby Moody and Julian Ryder. They commentate on all 3 races, plus the qualifying and free practice sessions of all 3 classes when those are live on Eurosport. And they don't have a studio or front-man to hand back to between races. Sometimes it seems like they never stop talking all weekend! I guess they either scoff their lunch during the ad breaks or have an intravenous drip. Those guys earn their money!


I get something in excess of 300 TV channels, of which I think 11 are from the state-funded BBC. Funny sort of monopoly.

Edward Valentine

No it does not as there are public service commitments that the BBC must honour which are sent out as a mandate from the EU itself. This means the BBC is in some ways restricted in the output that it must broadcast and thus cannot spend the money on whatever it wants.


That would be a great tag line for BBC4 🙂


I believe the current advertising regulations prohibit it in the UK. The regulators have historically favoured a clear separation between programming and advertising. But with product placement now being allowed, perhaps there's now an appetite to relax the rules.


...in all honesty what does Brundle's pit walk add? And please get rid of the incoherent Irishman. He blagged it as a team owner, and he blags it as a commentator, and it shows!

Oxford Bullnose

A1 GP was never, ever a goer..

Marty McSuperFly

Also, you need to look at cost of programming per viewer. I believe that F1 costs about £1 per viewer, which is significantly more than normal output.


I imagine keeping BBC4 running will mean many hundreds of BBC staff will keep their jobs. If the BBC ditched F1 how many would become redundant? Not nearly as many I'd guess. I can imagine there's union pressure within the organisation for F1 to go.


BBC also flogs their F1 commentary to other countries.

After we have heard our 3 talking heads (non of which have anything do with f1... one is a motocyclist) and a bit of JA for 2 mins or so, we then get the BBC Brundle and Coulthard commentary for the race interupted by ad brakes which themselves are bookended up Webber updates and what ever they heard by watching the feed over the ads as the latest infomation.

In short, while Dr Who is sold overseas, so is the BBC F1 commentary.

I'm Australia and we have heaps of government channels




ABC 24



compared to



7 two






one on free to air

Is the BBC just spreading itself too widely like the ABC in Australia?

My basic instincts say that if a program is watched by enough to make it cost effective then other networks would stick it on their channels happily to get some cash.

If they wouldn't then obviously the number of people interested isn't enough in the first place.


Are you a sales rep or something for Sky?

"It seems to me that people can be ravingly, rantingly anti-Sky until they actually get it, and then they change."

No chance, my girlfriend has it and I would never pay for most of the trash they have on there. I'd never take out a subscription for any sport, or any other TV channel for that matter.

"People who watch a lot of one sport tend to like watching other sports too. F1 would flourish on a sports channel."

You assume too much. Personally, F1 is the only sport I watch and it does just fine on BBC without being surrounded by other sports thanks very much. It's fine where it is, and long may that continue. Sky would ruin it with their trashy, ad laden coverage.


A1 GP blossomed didn't it, and so did F1 digital.

Sky would slowly kill off F1.


Good points. I agree that if it really does come down to a straight choice I'd rather they kept BBC4 (and the World Service) - a good variety of informative as well as diverse and interesting programmes. The Comprehensive Spending Review last autumn included the transfer of the World Service into the BBC's remit Scotty and this will happen in the next year or two I think.

Thanks for mentioning ITV etc. Most people seem to have interpreted the notion of BBC not renewing the contract as meaning that a move to pay-per-view is imminent but this need not be the case if someone like ITV bids (and particularly if Sky doesn't or is frozen out by a premium on free-to-air). Regarding Scotty's comment, I think ITV's advertising revenues have picked up well over the past year and they may even have joined the FTSE 100. They've got programmes like X Factor and Britain's Got Talent that do well so they should have money to make a decent bid if they want to.

However, there are two points to consider: 1) If the BBC doesn't renew and the bidding comes purely down to an inverse (upward) price war then Sky would probably trump ITV and 2) ITV's online and interactive services don't, to my knowledge, tend to be as good as the BBC's and so any bid would probably need to consider this and the cost-benefit of the online coverage as well as the conventional TV coverage.

The BBC are doing a great job so far but both ITV and Sky should be decent bets in terms of coverage offered - though I do at this stage think that F1 on pay-per-view would not be the best move for the sport in the UK.


Re adverts - I was in Spain for the Monaco GP last month, and the local Catalan TV cut to adverts periodically during the race, but did it on a split-screen, so you had the advert playing but could still see the race (I think without commentary) one one side of the TV. Is there any way that ITV or C4 could adopt that if Formula 1 goes back to commercial TV in the UK?


Why would ITV or C4 want to shell out millions for F1 rights, when then financial climate would likely not allow those sums of money to change hands, and ITV were so keen to offload it a few years ago?

As for the World Service - no doubt it would be unethical to cut the World Service, but frankly, that money should be coming from the Foreign Office, not from the core BBC budget. If it comes from the BBC budget, then the BBC should be the ones to decide whether it is cut or not, not the government! As for BBC4, let it sink and the money go to the other 3 channels.... That wouldn't be unethical!

However, as you say, if F1 moves to pay TV, then its stuffed in this country.


Technically speaking the BBC is a 'pay channel'. It's funded via a compulsory TV licence that everyone has to pay if they want to own a TV. Even if you do not wish to consume any BBC products, you still have to pay a TV licence.


Most of it yes. They have to reduce their holding from 17.9% to under 7.5%


As far as I'm aware, yes, or at least significantly reduce it.


The same argument can be used in their motoGP coverage. Why a seperate commentary team is needed for 125cc and moto2 when Coxy and Stavros are at the circuit commenting on the motoGP race is beyond me.


I would like to think that the 5live team is subsidised as it forms the English language broadcast on kangaroo tv or what ever it's called now. The BBC tv feed is used as the english language feed to whoever will gave it surely money comes from the FOA for these services.


that woudn't work as radio commentary & tv commentary require completely different styles of commentary.

commentating on radio needs extra description because the listners can't see what your talking about. commentating on tv requires less description because the listners can see what's been talked about.

besides the radio team are actually independant of the bbc-tv guys with everything been handled by ups content rather than the bcc. the costs for the radio crew are actually very small so dropping the radio team woudn't lower costs by any significant margin.


Don't be expecting a birthday card from Lee or Ted after that that comment!

I definitely agree though as don't see the reason for both of them even though both do a good job.


Agree with Marty here. Ted Kravitz does a truly excellent job as pitlane reporter. Then they have 1 or 2 others as well? And most of the blogs are pretty mundane, although that's compared to James' one, which definitely sets the standard. Apart from Brundle's grid walk, why do they need all these (probably expensive) things in the build up? Just a couple of interviews and chat would suffice; cut the build up to half an hour. Would be such a shame if the BBC didn't cover F1.


the reason they have both lee & ted is so they can cover the pit lane & the media area where the drivers go for interviews.

ted covers the pitlane while lee gets the interviews.

if they got rid of one we would either have no driver interviews from the media area in the paddock where all the drivers have to give interviews or we would have no news from the pit lane.


Which is sort of ironic considering you're already paying for the subscription.


Actually, I remember reading an article a few years back that said the British Motorsport put way more into the economy than they took out, and that professional motorsport teams were consistently the least supported and most profitable in relation to size of any car industry in Britain.


F1 coverage has certainly moved on from the days of Murray and James. It does now feel like the BBC's F1 team has a cast of thousands. I also feel there is a great deal of waffle in the 60 mins build up to the race. Whether getting rid of a few people and some of the waffle will make a huge difference to the budget remains to be seen.

It would be very interesting to see the BEEB's expenditure on covering F1 - presenters, film crews, bloggers, editors, travel, etc.

If F1 went to pay per view I would stop watching.

Oxford Bullnose

I ...[mod] on this subject on a previous thread (sorry to say I hijacked it, tbh) so won't repeat myself - but I definitely think Marty's spot on here.


This cost lies in the contract to show the sport, not in individual salaries. It's not overly expensive to run in reality - 75% of the broadcast is just 5 people talking.

I think this is just the BBC's way to negotiate a cheaper contract renewal. Bernie will be increasing the price no doubt, so leaking a few press stories that it is 'under threat' makes sense.


It doesn't cost £1, that's what the biased article said. With 199.5 hours of broadcasting and the average race audience taken into account, it actually costs 11.7p

And as the BBC Trust's own review into BBC sports rights showed, F1 is the corporations most cost effective sport.

F1 Cost per Viewer Hour = Hit

F1 Cost per Viewer = Hit

F1 Actual Reach 54% = Hit

F1 Actual Live Rating = Hit


Euro 2008 Cost per Viewer Hour = Miss

Euro 2008 Actual Reach 35.2% = N/A?

Olympics 2008 Cost per Viewer Hour = Miss

Olympics 2008 Actual Reach 42% = Miss

Olympics 2008 live Rating = Miss

Open Golf 2009 Cost per Viewer Hour = Miss

Open Golf 2009 live Rating = Miss

Snooker 2009 Cost per Viewer Hour = Miss

Snooker 2009 live Rating = Miss

Oxford Bullnose

What you say about Sky is right - every sport it's taken on has blossomed. F1 would be no different. I reckon there'd be no PPV - you'd just need a Sky Sports subscription - as does anyone who follows the Premiership (footy or rugger), golf or cricket. No difference. It seems to me that people can be ravingly, rantingly anti-Sky until they actually get it, and then they change. I was the same. In fact, Sky as an organization out-does the Beeb all-round as far as I'm concerned (compare Sky Arts to BB4 for example) - and it has the added advantage of not being run by smug taxpayer-funded, jobs-for-life, public-sector 'friends' of NuLab..

F1 could actually gain viewers in the crossover from other sports - how many golf fanatics will catch a race and get hooked? People who watch a lot of one sport tend to like watching other sports too. Some watch no sports at all. F1 would flourish on a sports channel.


An industry that relies on state-funding to exist will never be sustainable because eventually other people's money runs out.

F1, has a mix of both private and state investment, and it has to adapt to survive and flourish. The BBC's involvement in F1 is nice for F1 and it's fan, but not everyone else.

F1 is full of some of the brightest engineers on the planet, it really wouldn't take long for them to find other work. However, there will be no mass lay-offs because F1 is massively popular anyway regardless of broadcast rights.

Anyway... what was I sayin'? lol


Who has who over which barrel though?

Bernie? The teams? The FIA? The broadcasters? for the first time ever I can't tell who's the puppetmaster, who's the puppet and who's blissfully unaware in all this.


Only the commentary goes international and I don't believe that BBC get the revenue from that. ITV got a few hundred grand from overseas broadcasters like Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Philippines etc


Lots more to come on this theme, no doubt


But of a UK centric view - THere's more to the F1 commercial rights than UK TV rights. It's a global sport remember..


Why do we have - today - tennis on both BBC1 and 2? While I am not living in a dingy flat - yet - I do pay the licence and my wife would like some entertainment on an afternoon. As matters stand, there is no alternative to tennis, channels Three & Four don't show up until 7pm.

Of course, we could be driven away to ITV and its various canned American offerings....


remember though that f1 also puts a lot back into the british economy.

since most f1 teams are based in the uk it also provides thousands of jobs to uk workers.


Why should someone on a minimum wage, in a dingy flat not be able to watch F1 cause they can't afford a SKY subscription?

Oh wait they can watch BBC 4 instead cause no one else watches it.


"Why should someone on a minimum wage, in a dingy flat, be forced to contribute to F1, even if they have no interest?"

But surely you could use that argument for anything? I generally watch only three things on BBC. F1, Dr Who, and Top Gear. I also have Radio 2 on in the car while driving to/from work. Why should I be forced into contributing to one of those ghastly David Dickinson shows? Or Wim-bore-den? Golf? Snooker? Or the olympics? Or any number of the many other programs that don't interest me personally?

Perhaps the best way to go is in removing the license fee and making the BBC a commercial organisation that competes a little more fairly with its competition. Then we can simply pay for the things we enjoy and not pay for all the other stuff we're not interested in?


Maybe, but the fact remains, there is a very strong anti F1 lobby in the BBC


They used to sell it. ITV did too. I'm fairly sure that they don't get the money from it under current deal


Aren't they obliged to sell that stake in ITV?


Itv will do a worse job than sky. It's focus is now football on itv1 and f1 will be relegated to itv4 just like the btcc. But maybe full coverage of race day including support races would be good but again it cones down to cost

Marty McSuperFly

Don't forget NewsCorp are a significant shareholder in ITV, about 17% I think.

But I doubt that ITV could afford F1 again, they dropped it like a hot potato. They've picked UEFA CL as their banner sports broadcast.


This is an interesting point which leads me to the following question.

As well as being a cost centre for the BBC F1 also generates revenue through selling of commentary and programme elements to other English speaking broadcasters around the world. Does anyone have any idea how much BBC generates from this activity so we can get at a net cost to the licence payer?


Average price BBC pay for BBC 1 and 2 per viewer is 7p, F1 costs way over 10 times as much at £1.00


Yes I think Doctor who is rubbish.... I don't want to watch it but I am sure it will continue to be made. This is surely how the license fee works. But my point is why do I have to lose what I want to watch but Doctor who cares stays?

I can see your point of the economic benefit but aren't the BBC how selling their F1 coverage around the world?

Irrelevant of how much it costs I pay my license fee and I would like it to stay.

With regards to Top Gear yes it used to be a good show but I as well as a lot of other people are losing faith in it - mainly because its far too false and manufactured. (Many have argued it has always been the case - but I feel the last few series have made it obvious)

Can anyone who reads JA On F1 actually state another program that is good on the BBC?


Jenny was filling in. Better heard than seen.


The BBC enjoys a state funded monopoly of UK television and radio, does that not also fly in the face of EU competition law.

Kettle meet pot 🙂

Marty McSuperFly

Just because NewsCorp might buy the commercial rights to F1 does not mean that BSkyB or any other European Sky broadcaster would be the defacto broadcaster. Those are broadcasting rights and are separate.

Murdoch heads a media conglomerate, it’s not just one massive company that does everything.

I'm sure NewsCorp have figured out they could make money from the commerical rights without massivley disrupting the current boradcast contracts.


It is not only that we would go back to commercials, we would also have to pay extra for some sort of subscription or pay per view to have that privilege to be interrupted every 10 minutes!

Agree, when the coverage at BBC couldn't be better this is annoying they could loose it.


The one thing that i would like to see on the BBC is access to the live timing screen as available on F1.com. I find it invaluable and always have it on my laptop while watching the TV, however I think a 50/50 screen split with the TV would be great and a real eye opener for other viewers.


Well they can start by cutting the world cup, Wimbledon, Olympics, Moto GP, Snooker, The Open Golf and all other sports before F1.

On the radio side they can cut all these useless DJ's that talk more nonsense and think they're important and funny, complete waste of money.

Then to soaps and dramas, cut Eastenders, Holby city, Doctor Who and all other useless commodity that could be watched on download. I for 1 will also cut my TV license if they stop F1 it's just plain ridiculous, people get away with watching TV without the license everyday and maybe I'll join them.

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