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Anti-Murdoch MP calls for BBC bosses to clarify F1 deal
Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Sep 2011   |  11:56 am GMT  |  189 comments

According to a report in today’s Mirror, a member of the coalition government, who sponsored a motion against News International, has called for the BBC director general Mark Thompson to explain how the BBC/Sky F1 deal came about. Under the deal, BBC will show only 10 of the 20 races, the rest will be on a SKY pay platform.

In a letter to Thompson, which was leaked to the Mirror, Lib Dem MP Don Foster says, “I do not believe plans to share coverage between the BBC and Sky promote the best interests of licence fee payers and motor racing fans. I believe the best result would have been for the rights to remain with a free-to-air broadcaster, even if this was not the BBC.”

He adds: “My main concern is that your account of who made the key decisions behind the agreement does not agree with the version of events given by Formula 1 Management.”

Bernie Ecclestone has said that the decision to bring Sky in on the deal was the BBC’s, while a spokesman for the BBC has said that the Sky decision was made by FOM.

Foster, who has a track record of chasing popular causes, has noted the strength of feeling from fans in the UK and the e-petition on the subject. His letter is clear and concise and gets right to the heart of fans’ problem with the deal.

However Foster also has a track record as an outspoken critic of News International, which has a large stake in BSKYB. In July he sponsored a motion in parliament that “That this House believes it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB”, in which he argued that “News International is simply no longer respected in this country.”

Foster has called for Thompson to address the matter and explain how the deal came about when the BBC makes a scheduled appearance before a Commons Select committee shortly.

This appearance will follow a similar format to Rupert and James Murdoch’s recent appearance before a select committee over the phone hacking scandal in that it will give MPs a chance to ask questions and try to get to the bottom of the situation. Foster voices the issue many fans have raised, that half a deal with the BBC is no use, as F1 fans will still have to pay for a full Sky subscription to watch the 10 non-BBC races. He describes it as a very bad deal for fans.

It is unlikely that the hearing will change much as the deal is signed and doesn’t violate any anti-competition laws, but at least F1 fans will get a definitive answer about why the BBC went into this deal.

Ecclestone said that he spoke to ITV and Channel 4 but couldn’t do a deal with them because the BBC had another two years left on its contract.

Meanwhile there were suggestions at the weekend that for the races it does not show live, the BBC could screen a full race re-run a few hours after the race on the Red Button digital service, rather than merely serving up a highlights package on Sunday evenings.

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I’ve watched this sport for around 10 years, but I will no longer be watching it any more.


Perhaps the UK viewers could spare a thought for those in the rest of the world who are used to substandard and suboptimal coverage and count themselves lucky for how good they had it for so long.

I live in a country where most GPs are shown between 10pm-5am. Even when the time zone is suitable, the local rights holder chooses to delay its coverage and show local sports rather than F1.

As for payment for licences, this is better than watching ads (usually some homeshopping rubbish!) every 5 minutes, missing most of the decent action during each break and not even getting replays! Notwithstanding JA’s involvement, the treatment of the F1 fans has been shameful.


something worth remembering when talking about what the viewing figures will be next year is that the BBC Highlights will be on around 6pm.

This could actually bring an increase in viewers as more people tend to be watching tv at that time of day/evening. In fact I believe that the viewing figures right now tend to be higher for the races on at around that time of day.

The live figures for Sky exclusive races will be lower, However the BBC highlights may not see as big a drop as many expect for the reasons stated above.

Something else to consider is that its likely they will look at combined figures rather than just the figures from Sky or the BBC. This is what is regularly done in Germany when talking viewing figures, they just combine the RTL & Sky Germany figures or come up with an average using the 2, They never single out figures from one broadcaster or the other.


From my point of view if the BBC can show the full race in the evening and/or post it on iPlayer then I’ll be happy. I’m quite often out and about on a Sunday and often watch the race later on iPlayer so it won’t be much different to me.

A lot of people have been criticising Bernie for being ‘money-hungry’, and there’s some truth in that but its worth remembering that although he has a stake in F1 himself, he is employed by the majority stakeholder CVC as the CEO, so if he didn’t try to get the best deal for F1 financially then he wouldn’t be doing his job.


This article in the Independant today appears to show that the BBC will not show full replays later in the day (No mention of red button though). Seems to imply they are limited to only being able to show 75mins of the race…..

Ecclestone cuts BBC coverage

By Christian Sylt

Monday, 5 September 2011

Ecclestone owns the rights to F1

Formula One executive Bernie Ecclestone has confirmed that the BBC will not broadcast full reruns of the 10 races which it is not showing live next year. From 2012, Sky will broadcast all races live while the BBC’s live coverage will be restricted to 10 of the 20-race calendar.

In July Ecclestone confirmed to Formula One’s teams that the BBC would broadcast every race in full after it has taken place. The McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, said “Bernie assured me, and I asked him several times, the deferred coverage will not be highlights, it will be a full race. That, to some fans, will be very important.”

However,in a U-turn, Ecclestone said yesterday: “The BBC will broadcast 75 minutes of every race.”


This deal is obviously bad for F1 fans, who feel cheated, but it is also bad for F1.

The other major market where F1 was once 100% on free to air TV, but is now on a mixture of Pay TV and free to air is Japan. As JA pointed out recently, viewer numbers in japan have plummeted from a very healthy base (when F1 was 100% free to air). There is even talk that F1 may even drop the Japanese round. The lesson is clear: if F1 is taken from free to air, public support for the sport will drop. I’m sure the sponsors will be aware of this.


James, I know that you have some affiliation with the current Asutralian broadcaster that takes the BBC feed this year. Have you heard how they will approach next year, or is it still too early to tell given that we don’t know what’s going on in the UK (if Brundle doesn’t know who he’s working for and if we’ll have a ‘common’ commentary team, then you probably can’t answer my question, but it’s worth asking)…


They are waiting to see how it shakes out, like everybody else


Unfortunately for the UK viewers, but F1 has moved on. The future lies in developing countries which have populations far higher than the UK. The attendence and viewing figures have been dropping for years (you could argue due to possible gouging!) so the focus is shifting East. Thats why in my opinion, so long as F1 has a presence for the rusted on viewers, the establishment could not really care less what people in the UK think. That just brings them into line with how a lot of other countries’ fans have been treated for years rather than being singled out for some special treatment.

mohamed south africa


mohamed south africa

when did everyone in the uk get so poor that url crying for a measly 60 quid a month. so much for being a first world country


60 quid might be measly to you, but it’s actually a lot to some people.

laurence hartland

How about a compromise? The bbc has a pay per view F1 channel. Then we wouldnt have to buy sky dishs. Subscription should be cheaper than sky as we are already paying for 10 grand prix’s through our licence fee. We know the coverage standards of BBC. Could work…………..



out of interest, will you watch on Sky? (sky+) obviously, or the Beeb reruns…


I live in Belgium and I always watch the BBC coverage, cause the Belgian coverage is crap!

It’s an absolute shame what BBC has done, not only they spit in the face of millions of F1 fans all over the world. They even don’t seem to care about it… .

Don’t just hide behind money and budget issues. Why have they even bought the rights from ITV in the first place? Only to have 3 full seasons. Yes the show they brought was fantastic and their access to drivers, team principals, pit, is why I watched in the first place. But now when people are psyched about F1 since a long long time, they choose for a very bad solution. I was a fan of the BBC and had nothing but respect but now, pff they let us down boys, bigtime!!!!!


All we want to know is……

What coverage are we going to see on the BBC?

With this knowledge we can make our minds up on which way to watch.



I’m just going to buy sky. Issus goes away then! And I wont bother to watch any off the races on the bbc. Done


I believe that Bernie says, when asked, what he thinks viewers want to hear, cleverly, ambiguously, so that he’s not actually lying. I would hear him answer with openness and clarity.

Similarly, I think the statement from Neil Land, saying …

“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of FOM [Formula One Management] to decide which broadcasters cover the sport. FOM must decide what is in the best interests of the sport, its employees, manufacturers, sponsors and viewers – when choosing its broadcast partners. On this occasion, FOM decided that a broadcast partnership between the BBC and Sky was in the best interests of the sport.”

… is ambiguous too. This statement doesn’t preclude the possibility that the BBC and Sky worked out the deal and placed it on FOM’s desk for their perusal. Yes, ‘ultimately’ it is FOM’s responsibility to decide what’s best. Bernie may well be telling the truth that the BBC and Sky came to them with the proposal, and Neil Land may well be being truthful that FOM ‘decided’ that it was ‘in the best interests of the sport’.

It strikes me that, unless the right questions are asked, we might not learn a lot, and both sides will be exonerated. I hope the MPs do their research!

One thing we should remember, maybe, is that Murdoch was blocked from having a controlling share in BSkyB. As much as we think of him and Sky as one and the same, he’s not. My issue is not with him (annoyingly – I’d like it to be!) -it’s with Bernie and the Beeb.

James – do you have access to details about the financials of the C4 and ITV offers?


*I would LIKE TO hear him answer …”*


Purely from a selfish point of view as someone that has Sky & Sky Sports, Im actually looking really forward to F1 on Sky.

Why? because I believe they will provide much better coverage on than we have on the BBC now & what we likely would have got on ITV/C4/C5.

With the brief description Sky have already given in the initial annoucement it sounds as if were going to get more in-depth coverage across the full Sky sports platform & it also sounds (Based on autosport magazine) like we will get the full support package shown live & in full (Something EuroSport currently regularly fails at).

Obviously this deal sucks for those without Sky but as I said purely from the selfish POV of someone with Sky I think the coverage is going to be great & im really looking forward to it.


The real issue here is that someone is not telling the truth about how this deal came about and I think the fans have a right to know whose idea this particular deal was. The BBC seemed almost proud that they had “saved” FTA coverage after the deal was announced but is it really just a trojan horse, tow-in-the-water exercise to see if F1 fans will take out enough Sky subscriptions to go fully onto pay TV in future but leaving the back door ajar for a return to FTA should sufficient sponsors vote with their feet?

I also don’t understand the red button race re-run – I thought the BBC had the entire red button service in the firing line as a cost saving? Still I won’t be waiting three hours to watch highlights or a race re-run for the result – would any real fan? I would be too tempted to just look it up on the web or maybe listen to 5Live then just not bother watching it later – why waste 2 hours of your life when you could see the result instantly or had already heard it on the news, it’s just not the same; this scenario reminds me of that episode of “Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads” where Bob & Terry had to avoid all their friends, radio & TV for a day in order to avoid finding out the results of the England game so they could enjoy the highlights on TV later but this isn’t the 1970s – news is now even available on a phone, try avoiding the result for 3 hours – no chance…


James….I dont see that he is ani Murdoch, hes just asking sensible questions.

Just remember it ant over till the fat lady sings and until shes finished her last breath the UK F1 fans will keep getting sensible MPs and others to fight their corners. The way this deal has been done is WRONG.


Agreed that it’s good the background comes out (if it does) but his past actions give critics some ammunition to say there’s an agenda here ie nit like a disinterested person raised the issue


For the sake of clarity, why don’t you list those past actions. Then people can judge for themselves whether he can be called ‘anti-Murdoch’.


Don Foster should also write to Channel 4 and ask them if they were really in a position to pick up and run the BBC contract on the same terms, at least for the first two seasons.

Whilst I make full use of the limited interactive services currently avaiable such as the in-car feeds and live timing, none of these are going to be available, even on a full race re-run.

Although Channel 4 coverage would have given us interactive services for every race, it would almost certainly have brought the return of commercial breaks during the races.

I’m pretty sure that most UK fans would very reluctantly prefer no avoid advertising breaks at the expense of half the events being time delayed, full re-runs.

None of these options is anything like as good as what we currently have.

The BBC should be ashamed at the way they are playing politics here : In the forlorn hope that the government would be blamed for enforcing cuts, they have broken the trust of the viewer and sold out to Sky.

Instead of selling out, they should have cut a few more top salaries and further reduced their bloated staff numbers.


Auntie Beeb approached Bernie and Sky.

Rather than loose out to Channel 4 which is totally free to air (the license fee doesn’t support it) they went into bed with Sky.

The BBC are a disgrace – nigh on every household in the UK is forced to pay for them and they would rather us pay again to watch F1 than loose to a no threat free to air broadcaster 🙁

I for one look forward to them been forced into total disclosure over this, up to now they have hidden behind Competition Contract legislation. Now the MP’s are involved here we go 🙂

The Beeb is now trying to calm (avoid further enquiries) the situation by offering red button full race coverage.

Whilst I hate to say it, so far it would appear Bernie has done nothing wrong. He always said they could show the whole race. He has said repeatedly free to air etc.

Sky, whilst I despise the murdoch empire appear to just want F1 and who can blame them. If the Beeb approached them allowing them to get the foot in the door then fair game. No subscription is coming from my house though!


What I can’t work out is why the BBC didn’t just cut their production costs on F1. Much as I like Jake, DC and Eddie, they are really just fluff. Ultimately all we want to see is the coverage which could be commented on from a studio in the UK. This would mean all the Beeb would really be paying would be the rights money to show the FOM feeds. Saving made, F1 still FTA and fans appeased.


Wouldn’t have saved enough. Production is about £10m, rights almost five times that.


Rights cost started at just above £33 million, not £50 million.


It galls me as a follower of F1 to stick up for the BBC. At the end of the day the BBC are admitting that they don’t have the money to afford F1 for the foreseeable future.

The reason that they don’t have the money is because the Government has frozen the licence fee for the next few years – so without increased income how are the BBC expected to pay for everything that they currently produce? On the grounds the costs to continue to rise then something had to give. F1 is one of the things that has been hit – from the BBCs point of view they have to go for the biggest saving affecting the least number of viewers – F1 is one of those, I expect that somewhere they have a price per minute cost of all their programmes and will be extremely suprised if F1 isn’t somewhere near the top of the list.

Yes they could scrap ooh lets pick Eastenders – that probably costs a good amount to make but with an audience share considerably higher than F1 and very likely lower cost per view ratio – of course it won’t be scrapped.

As I pointed out to my wife last weekend, it is probably the last time I will see the Belgian GP live – but it is not the end of the world. I hope that the BBC will be able to run a delayed transmission of the race, in the evening would be ideal.

As for Sky, well I won’t take out a Sky contract nor will I pay 30 odd a month for TopUp TV to get SkySports via Freeview. What I would consider though is Pay per View – that worked relatively well previously and then I can pick and choose the races that I see and watch those ones live. At the most it will be 10 races, in reality I would probably at the most pay up for half of them if the BBC did a delayed transmission. After all does anyone really enjoy Valencia?


‘from the BBCs point of view they have to go for the biggest saving affecting the least number of viewers – F1 is one of those’

Please explain your reasoning for this comment. F1 viewing figures have increased dramatically with the improved BBC coverage and helped by better on track racing and 2 British WDC’s.

I think average figures are around 6 million, one of the most watched productions on the Beeb. Many many useless, trashy programmes on the Beeb (BBC3 in particular that will barely reach 100,000 viewers) that could have been axed to help save money. I know F1 costs a huge amount but is not best to preserve the best output and get rid of the rubbish!


Maybe the BBC could scrap Casualty, which costs £255,000 per hour more than F1, and gets nearly 2 million less viewers … It’s not as if it’s a unique or original programme.

Or they could simply not commission the X-factor copycat cat show ‘The Voice’, which just by coincidence costs about the same as the BBC are saving by cutting in half F1.

Or maybe not spend £13 million on taxis for BBC staff … The F1 decision was nothing to do with money, it was to with with the BBC Trust’s report showing that F1 was now the BBC’s best performing and most cost effective sport, and that didn’t sit well with the anti-F1/pro-ball games clique operating within the BBC.


If that is the case then surely the deal can be brought under judicial review for not acting in the best interests of the service users, eg. the license payer…


The BBC is one of the few organisations i trust even less than FOM.

On this occasion i really would not be surprised if Bernie and FM are intact telling us the truth that it was the BBC who approached them about changing their rights deal in order to save money.


I wouldn’t mind so much if paying for sky meant I didn’t have to pay for BBC…but there’s no way I’d pay for both! If I had a choice though, my loyalty is still with BBC regardless of finances.


What I would suggest is that we pay one fee to F1 (and not BBC or SKY).

F1 will re-distribute the money to

(1) the TV networks,

(2) the teams and

(3) the circuits.

This way we are not just paying the TV channels, but also the teams and circuits (we love). Please, let’s make F1 accessible and democratic. Make it one (low) fee per race.


We should be paying the circuits instead. I’d love to pay by race if I could help the struggling circuits.

Stories like the financial woes of Spa break my heart. I am horrified by Alesi’s proposal: http://www.itv.com/formula1/news/2011/9/jean-alesi-sees-merits-of-mooted-spa–france-race-share-deal/

Please let us vote with our money and let us pay by race! Boring circuits will get punished by the tv audience, great tracks will get a welcome extra income.


I don’t pity Spa at all – after attending the race there over the weekend I found it to be the most expensive of all the circuits I’d ever been to (and I’ve been to a few, but not Monaco which I know is very expensive). For example, a sausage in a roll was €6, a portion of chips was €5 and then if you wanted a squirt of sauce it was an extra €1 on top. A 500ml can of beer was €5 and they even had people on the doors at the permanent toilets to collect 70 cents from people – no wonder the forest is such an attractive place to relieve oneself!

Compared to places such as Hungary (approx £2.50 for a can of beer) or Silverstone (approx £3.70 for a pint) Spa was a rip off. And ticket prices were considerably more than other circuits I’ve been to, I thought after seeing similar high prices in Brussels (€1.95 for a cheeseburger compared to 99p here)that Belgium must be an expensive country overall but then I read in Tom Bower’s Bernie Ecclestone biography that “At the Spa circuit… Ecclestone had negotiated ‘ownership’ of the F1 race for ten years at no cost, and kept income from the gate receipts, the catering and even the lavatories’ so maybe it’s just a case of knowing that if people want food/drink/toilet enough they’ll pay for it.


Maybe that has more to do with the current value of the gb pound. Euroland is just plain expensive.


Don’t get me wrong mate, the track itself is amazing and has some of the best views I’ve ever seen at a grand prix. Only downside was the inflated cost of everything! I’m considering going to Monza this weekend, hopefully it won’t be so expensive!


I am sorry to hear about the miserable catering in Spa. However, the circuit remains one of the most spectacular ones to drive: http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2011/09/01/f1-fans-videos-belgian-grand-prix/


Wow sucks to live in the UK. Being from Australia this deal does not really affect me. But I do feel for people in the UK.

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