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BBC and Sky drop F1 broadcast bombshell, teams seek answers from Ecclestone
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Jul 2011   |  11:13 am GMT  |  463 comments

This morning’s announcement by the BBC and BSKYB that they are to share the coverage of Formula 1 in the UK has come as a bolt from the blue to the F1 paddock and to fans of the sport. It is clear that the teams and sponsors have not been consulted and it remains to be seen how they will react when they learn the details of how this arrangement will work. And it could start a trend across the international broadcast landscape of F1.

The teams are likely to resist any deal which reduces the audience number. Whereas the BBC currently enjoys audiences of around 6-7 million per race the SKY audiences for Premier League football suggest that they might get an F1 audience of around 1-2 million on their pay sports channel, far less when the race is also on BBC at the same time.

Until recently it had appeared that the BBC was likely to drop the expensive contract it signed in 2008 as the BBC Trust looked to make significant savings. The word in the TV sports industry was that Channel 4 was a possible destination.

But with ITV not in the running and no other competitive free to air offer on the table, F1’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone clearly wasn’t satisfied with the money on offer from Channel 4 and has struck a bold deal, which doesn’t completely go against his and the team’s stated credo that F1 should stay on Free to Air TV, but which offers a rather awkward compromise for fans and sponsors, whereby half the races stay on BBC with the mass audience, while the whole season will be covered in great depth and with significant resources thrown at it by Sky Sports.

Although half the races are free to air, this will still require the dedicated fan to get a Sky dish or sign on to a Sky package on at around £40 per month on BT Vision, Freeview or Virgin Media.

But the economics of the situation mean that as fans will get 10 of the 20 races for free on the BBC, they will still have to pay the monthly subscription for only half the races which are not shown free to air. That seems an awkward sell to me.

Sky also runs adverts during its coverage of long-form sports like cricket, but has confirmed they will not put adverts into the 90 minutes of the live race.

There is already a strong reaction to the principle of this deal among F1 fans in the UK.

Here is my analysis of the situation.

What’s the deal?

Sky Sports will cover all the races, qualifying and practice sessions.

BBC will continue to broadcast F1 in its current format but for only half the races. The only races they have confirmed are Monaco, Silverstone and the final round. This is likely to save up to half the roughly £8 million production budget a year plus offer a possible discount on the rights. But crucially it extends the BBC’s relationship with F1 until the end of 2018 (its original deal was due to end in 2013 and would not have been renewed). They will continue to be active online and on mobile.

“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,” said BBC head of sport Barbara Slater.

How will the gaps be filled in?
There are a number of questions arising; for example what races will the BBC show live? If they have a strong negotiating position, they would prefer to go for the races in the UK friendly time zones, which means Europe, Middle East, USA, Canada and Brazil – in other words not the ones which show in the middles of the night.

But one wonders whether it will be as simple and convenient for the BBC as that. Sky need to have some marquee events if BBC are showing the crown jewels of Silverstone and Monaco.

Another question is how the commentary and presentation will work. Will it be two separate units or will there be crossover?

Sky is likely to want the Martin Brundle/David Coulthard line up because they are established and offer credibility. Brundle is not under contract to the BBC and it remains to be seen whether he will want to be part of this. He has described himself as “not impressed” this morning.

One school of thought is that the commentary might perhaps be shared across the two platforms. I think this is probably unlikely given the way the two broadcasters work.

Either way the two broadcasters will obviously have two separate presentation teams. if the BBC really want to save money they will host the race from a studio in London and have just the commentators and reporters on site at the races.

David Croft and Ant Davidson could get either job or may fill in the gaps covering the practice sessions, as they do today on the BBC TV Red Button. It’s all to play for.

F1 will be on a hybrid free to air/pay TV platform in UK in 2012

What do the teams and sponsors think of this?
Since the NewsCorp/Exor takeover of the sport was first announced FOTA’s chairman Martin Whitmarsh has made a great play of teams insisting that F1 stay free to air in the major markets. Ecclestone himself told me four weeks ago in an interview that F1 would remain based on a free to air model. But circumstances have made him change tack in order to keep the value high.

As I’ve posted here before it’s been inevitable that at some point the UK F1 fan was going to have to pay for his/her pleasure like football fans have been doing for over 20 years on SKY. Williams’ boss Adam Parr, who is reserving judgement on the deal said to me this morning that the balance between revenue and audience reach needs to be right and that, “Nobody asks ‘Where can I see football on TV in the UK?'”

And as with SKY’s investment in sports like football and cycling, F1 will inevitably get much wider coverage in the NewsCorp owned newspapers like the Times and the Sun.

However Whitmarsh has already questioned whether the deal aligns with the principles in the Concorde Agreement which have to do with Free to Air TV. Ecclestone argues that this deal extends the level of coverage of F1 in the UK, Whitmarsh says that the teams want to know the details of how it will work and whether their safeguards under the Concorde Agreement have been protected before giving a detailed response.

Many fans will be unhappy at the idea of having to pay Rupert Murdoch, one of the main shareholders in SKY and its driving force, in order to watch F1, especially in the current climate with all the goings on at the News of the World.

This is a typically bold deal by Murdoch and a strong forward move in the teeth of adversity. To me it feels like it’s been coming for some time. F1 fans will provide new cashflows to the Sky coffers, in a business which always needs to generate new lifeblood.

Who knows, Murdoch may even have personally had a hand in the deal, popping in to see Ecclestone while he was in London appearing in front of the Parliamentary Select Committee last week!

Major sponsors I have spoken this morning have mixed feelings; on the one hand they are concerned that the mass audience will inevitably fall in size, but on the other hand they have more opportunity to activate their sponsorship on Sky as it is a commercial station. And their return on investment from F1 is so much greater than the spend in any case that it is not going to fall in value below what they spend, even with the shrinking of audience.

Foreign broadcast colleagues have already resigned themselves to their own networks looking at this deal and seeing a way forwards for the future. Who said the revolution will not be televised?

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sky want £20 a month not from me ill be watching half the races skys a rip of ill download the other half torrent files like i did last year


I’m absolutely furious about this. I’m a fanatical fan of F1 and have never missed a race along with the brilliant commentary on BBC1. I have a virgin media package but will absolutely not pay to watch a race. Simple greed and is going to ruin a well tested well loved and highly watched package.


A person necessarily lend a hand to make severely posts I would state. This is the very first time I frequented your web page and up to now? I surprised with the analysis you made to create this particular publish extraordinary. Magnificent job!


Well it has finally happened, another british sport taken away from its loyal and dedicated fans. I will never pay to watch the F1 motor sport, this is a very sad day for all motorsport fans, and what is next?…..Tennis, Snooker…they have already ruined the cricket.Many have stood back in the past and have let other homegrown sports disappear to money grabbing networks, i am heartend to see so many other people comment on this dire situation. My father introduced me to the grand sport of Motor Racing when i was 7yrs old, i am now approaching 50, i never envisaged the day i would walk away from it, but after 43yrs, i bid a sad goodbye!


I cancelled Sky years ago, not on cost but their all out approach to gaining rites to Football coverage. Has all their money input been good for the game as a whole, i think not. Will Sky be good for F1 and provide more sponsors for the teams or will the smaller teams suffer only time will tell.

I for one will watch the BBC coverage then use my motorised satellite dish to watch the other races live on a German FTA channel.


Ecclestone is just Money hungry. But I believe the change will make no difference to ch OneHD in Austraia.


To all those people that think Sky will have the best interests of the F1 audience at heart – what channel do expect f1 to be on? Many of the races will collide with football and there is no way Sky will shunt premier league games onto SS2 to keep F1 on SS1. In fact you may even get F1 on SS3. So you will need package that supports all of these channels. No hope of watching the pub if the footy is on or if it’s an early am race.

Sad sad day…..


I have a daughter on the way and every penny I have is spent making sure she has a roof over her head when she arrives. I work long hours for next to minimum wage, and one of my main pleasures in life is to relax on a Saturday / Sunday afternoon with my feet up, drinking a cold beer and watching the excellent F1 coverage on the BBC. I dont have the money to pay for a SKY subscription and even if I did, I wouldnt give Murdoch’s Umbrella Corporation a penny of it. It’s massively sad time for all true F1 fans.

I havent missed a race / qualifying session in years – no matter what time of the night it’s on, or where I am, I’ve always found a way to watch F1. But now I have NO CHOICE but to turn away from the sport – as other posters have pointed out, in some ways watching half a season is worse than not watching it atall.



Pathetic. I have hardly missed an F1 race in the last 30 years but no way will i be getting Sky. Ecclestone should have offered the Beeb a better deal to keep it free to air. This is a detrimental move which will hit profits for all


The pole should have another option for “I already have Sky”.

That said im not impressed, the beebs coverage has been top drawer. Im less bothered about the price and more bothered about the quality of the presenting and commentary.

The biggest thing I would miss is iplayer which I regularly use to watch the qualifying and red button shows, just so my weekend isnt completely wasted watching F1. That said of course with Sky you get Sky+.

It was always inevitable, the beeb say they cant afford it, Bernie will never ever reduce the price of anything, 2 + 2 = 4 last time I checked, Bernie and that #$”! Murdoch are cut from the same cloth, like I said, inevitable…

Mark Pinchbeck

I’ve been a loyal follower of F1 since 1992 and this has to be the worst thing to ever happen to the sport.

I am not paying the extortianate fees charged by Sky when I don’t have an interest in Football which is primarily what Sky Sports is for. If I can’t watch every race then it looks like this season will be the last I’ll ever watch. To quote part of James Allen’s artical “F1 fans will provide new cashflows to the Sky coffers”, well if the F1 fans refuse to follow F1 to Sky then their coffers will rightly suffer.

Unfortunatley others will suffer from this deal done by those who care nothing of the fans. I’ll have to cancel my subscription to F1 Racing magazine and there’ll be no point buying James Allen’s book at the end of future seasons.

I’ve never felt compelled until now to submit a comment before despite reading this website regularly since JA started it. But this travesty deserves it. I just hope that it all back fires on Sky and F1 remains or returns rightly on free-to-air.

The question is, how can a “World” championship use the word “World” when it restricts its viewing audience to only the wealthy?


If I couldn’t afford Sky Sports when they stole all the equestrian events; if I couldn’t afford Sky when they stole cricket… I sure as shit can’t afford it now they’ve stolen F1 at a time when I’ve had a salary cut and a cost of living hike.

The papers love to talk about two-tier this and two-tier that – well, now we have two-tier TV as well.


Also, I’ve read that Sky will keep the free-to- air status of the F1 but how are they going to do that, as all there Sports channels need a monthly subscription & how long will it be before they start to charge a PPV charge as they do for boxing & some other sports!!


I would like to know how us fans who don’t live in the UK & are unable to get a Sky account due to our location are going to be able to watch the races every week???


The beginning of the end.

There’s plenty of other exciting and less arrogant sports on TV that deserve more exposure.


I live in Japan and as James mentioned, we get a split service. Advert free, all sessions on a subscription service and advert riddled, delayed broadcast on the terrestrial channel. The difference perhaps is that I pay about 10 GBP a month for my subscription as its F1 only. If FOTA has any sense they force this model for Sky Sports as it’s not bad value at all, and I’m happy to pay for a full service TV GP weekend. Ironically R.Murdoch also runs the service as part of his Sky Asia empire.


What is this going to mean for the rest of the English speaking world, who predominately get their commentary feed from the BBC?

I know that here in Australia we our broadcaster has bought the rights to BBC commentary for next year, but what will happen for those races that the BBC won’t cover?

Am I going to have to listen to crap commentary from people who seem to know nothing about the sport whilst putting up with more adverts during the race to pay for it?

Or will we get 2 different commentary teams throughout the season?


I live in Australia and have happily enjoyed FTA broadcasts of F1 for a long time. (Always look forward to your comments on One’s broadcast)

I am concerned that this will set a dangerous precedent for other regions (ie F1 is sucked up by Pay TV in Australia)

Over here Rugby League is split between pay and FTA, and that works ok as I just go to the games that are on Pay TV.

Unfortunately the global nature of F1 makes it difficult to go to each Formula 1 race.

I love sport like most Aussies, and unfortunately there are just some sports like A-League soccer that I just will not follow due to it being a “Pay TV exclusive”.

It would be sad for Formula 1 to become one of those sports.


I can understand why all this is a “shock” to UK residents, but seriously come on guys wake up and smell the 21st century!!

I live in NZ, have done all my life, and ever since I can remember watching TV, my parents, and now myself, have always had a Sky subsciption. There is simply no other way to get live sport in NZ other than on pay TV. It does cost a fair bit ($100 NZD) a month, but all the Cricket, Rugby, Football, F1, WRC, MotoGP etc etc is on there.

What else can you do but pay the money to Murdoch’s empire and enjoy your 50″ of escapism.

I don’t think any of this will effect me down here in NZ, as we will either get the BBC feed, or the Sky feed (more likely), and enjoy the same level of professionalism and production quality as now, at the same price, at the same time.


The only way that there will be a u-turn on this absolutely shocking decision is if the sponsers give an ultimatum to the little sell-out, but most importantly the drivers and the teams need to make a stand. Lewis, Button Vettel. The big teams just need to say to Bennie if the deal is not changed so that all the races are free to view, they will break off from formula 1 and form a new racing show.


Being on the BBC was what helped the growth in audiences for F1. Non-stop coverage, the quality of the pre and post race formats all contributed. Will sponsors be as happy when they see the 2012 viewing figures drop? When 3 of the drivers are British and the majority of teams are based in Britain I couldn’t think of a more deserving sport to free to air. We’ve already lost cricket and football to Sky. What’s next? This half-baked broadcast plan has left me fuming and disappointed.


Isn’t F1 on paid TV in most other countries? Not sure what the huge deal is about this.

Michael Saunders

our articles contradict each other. One says that BBC will be showing the entrire races but time deferred and another says it will be highlights. Why the mixed messages??


Sad news. It was all too good to last: great action, great coverage, great and growing ratings over the past 5 years meant it was always going to attract attention from SKY. No doubt in a few years time it will be SKY only. But it was the BBC’s most expensive show. It’s all very sudden too, with Football, changes in league highlights / Cup coverage are announced 2 or more years in advance. This has come as a big surprise to everyone. Which in essence means that any other deal could be subject to a further sudden change (probably in favour of SKY).

I’ve never watched so much F1 since the days of Senna, Mansell and Prost. I tuned out during the Schumacher years and the ITV coverage was woeful. I guess I’ll continue to follow it as much as possible as Hamilton is always exciting to watch. He and Button are a big draw for UK fans. Should Lewis leave the sport for some reason, I wouldn’t be interested as much in F1. That’s a partizan view I suppose but I’m sure most nations follow F1 to watch their home drivers / teams.

I won’t be getting SKY, though SKY are probably looking for some expert pundits that are not contracted to the BEEB so maybe a T.V role for JA???

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