The changing face of F1 broadcasting was illustrated again yesterday when SKY Italia launched its new pay TV F1 programming in a ceremony at Monza.
Italy is moving to a model similar to the UK, where SKY has every race weekend live on a pay channel while BBC covers half live and the rest highlights only, on free to air terrestrial TV.
The previous free-to-air incumbent of the rights in Italy, RAI, is expected to take the BBC-equivalent role in Italy with just nine races live and the rest on highlights, but it hasn’t come to the table yet, with less than two months to go to the first race.
F1’s TV numbers in Italy have been traditionally high, thanks to the nation’s passion for Ferrari, but the number of core viewers across the season is likely to decrease with this rights split. Sky Italia is not as well established in homes as its UK counterpart.
SKY Italia’s Jacques Reynaud said that the UK model had worked well, claiming more people watched F1 in the UK in 2012 than in 2011, but there were clearly some races in the second half of last season where that was not the case.
Nevertheless, with a greater penetration of pay TV into homes in mature F1 markets, the sport’s commercial rights holders are looking to strike a balance between licensing the TV rights to pay platforms, which have access to higher budgets for rights and production, against a drop in viewership. To increase revenues from TV rights, this is a path they feel they need to travel, while aiming to minimise a loss in viewership, which sponsors do not want.
Although they will not enjoy the high budgets of their British counterparts, the Italian SKY coverage will be comprehensive, with 30 hours across a race weekend and a dedicated F1 channel. It will be fronted by the experienced Carlo Vanzini, while Jacques Villeneuve, 1997 world champion and son of Ferrari legend Gilles, was unveiled as the star pundit, alongside one of Ferrari’s current reserve drivers, Mark Gene.
Villeneuve, who tried a bit of punditry with SKY UK last season, has always been outspoken, particularly since he retired and he said that he doesn’t plan to spare anyone’s blushes in his new role,
“I cannot change,” he said. “If I wasn’t allowed to say what I think then there would be problems.”
Like its UK counterpart, the coverage will be multi-faceted, with nine channels, from pit lane to onboards to choose from and the pricing was quoted at 33 Euros per month.
Murdoch-owned or operated TV networks now have the rights for F1 in UK, Italy, Australia, Pan-Asia and Pan-Latin America.
* What do you think of the joint Pay TV/Free to Air model? If you are based in the UK, how has it worked for you? Leave your comments below.