The Italian rights to broadcast live Formula 1 racing in Italy have been won by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia, leaving the state owned free to air channel RAI to lick its wounds.
In a variation on the deal organised in the UK with SKY and BBC, from next season onwards SKY will have exclusive live rights for 11 of the 20 races, with 9 races available to a free to air broadcaster to show live at the same time as the SKY broadcast, with the Italian GP at Monza as one of the live races and highlights packages for the SKY exclusive races. Colleagues from RAI said in Monaco recently that the problem for them was that they would have to negotiate with SKY as well as FOM for the nine races.
Italy has had two broadcasters running in parallel before, with SKY trying to build an audience alongside full free to air coverage on RAI – with Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter Tamara as one of the presenters – from 2007 to 2009. They abandoned this route because it was hard to build an audience when qualifying and the races were also free to air. They have now come back to take a much stronger position, based on the UK model. Colleagues in Italy are talking about a figure of €65 million a year, roughly double what RAI were paying.
SKY Italia has Moto GP from next season as well as Olympics, World Cup, Champions League and Serie A football.
RAI has enjoyed viewing figures of over 10 million in the dominant Ferrari years of the 2000s. SKY Italia now has 5 million subscribers in Italy, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.
“We have a similar agreement in the UK, ” said Ecclestone. “It works really well, amplifying the quality and depth of the coverage and assuring the races are still seen free to air.”
It is quite a delicate balancing act for the sport as it seeks to grow revenues from broadcast rights. The traditional home of F1, free to air TV, is finding it hard to afford the rights fees, especially in countries hit hard by the Euro crisis. But the trade off on audience numbers has to be carefully managed. The demand is different from football, which has been on SKY in Italy for some time, as it has in the UK and it generates huge revenues for the sport.
SKY also has the rights for mobiles, which is surely one of the key areas of growth in the future.
It will be interesting to see in how many more countries this model is rolled out; the rights in France are up for renewal and like RAI, French incumbent TF1 sees a threat from Al Jazeera, another pay TV channel with big ambitions on sporting rights.