Free to Air F1 TV: Are there any lessons for SKY and the UK in new French TV move?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Sep 2017   |  6:05 pm GMT  |  172 comments

Viewers in France without subscriptions to pay TV are to have the curtains opened to them again next season under a deal announced today.

An agreement between F1 Group and leading French free to air station TF1, begins with the 2018 Championship and TF1 will show four Formula 1 Grand Prix races in exclusivity on free-to-air in their entirety, including the Monaco GP and the newly restored French GP at Paul Ricard in July.

Two additional races that have yet to be confirmed will also form part of the live race coverage. Meanwhile TF1 will also have the rights to show highlights of all rounds.

This deal is interesting because it rows against the tide of recent years which have become increasingly Pay TV focussed. While Pay TV undoubtedly pays far more for the live race rights than Free to air broadcasters can, it also takes the sport out of the minds of the people of that country.

In France F1 has been behind a paywall since 2013 and audiences have fallen from around 4 to 5 million on TF1 to 750,000 on Canal Plus, which renewed its contract in May to 2020.

Alain Prost

France was an early and extreme example. The UK is heading the same way in 2019 with a five year exclusive deal for SKY, which now charges for individual sports channels. The UK, like another key market Italy, has managed to hold onto a split rights deal until now, whereby the terrestrial broadcaster has half the races live and the highlights of the rest. This works quite well in Italy, which scored dry high ratings for the recent Italian Grand Prix on both the free to air RAI and the pay TV SKY Italia.

What the TF1 deal shows is that the new management of F1, under Liberty Media, realise the value of what is known in the business as ‘barker content’ – content on the big platforms that lets fans see the sport and have some access to it, so they can then pay for full access if they are so minded.

TF1’s CEO Gilles Pelisson said, “The whole group will mobilise to ensure that Formula 1 gets the biggest exposure. We are also very happy to offer the sport to the widest audience possible at a time when France will once again play host to a Grand Prix race on the legendary Le Castellet (Paul Ricard) circuit.”

SKY TV F1

The problem with the SKY deal from 2019 is that it is not only exclusively behind a paywall, but also the highlights rights are not in F1 Group’s gift, but in SKY’s gift.

And their obligation under that package is only to show a single live race, the British GP plus highlights of the others, on free to air TV.

So theoretically they can put that secondary package on one of their own channels which qualifies as ‘free to air’ by the end of 2018 and F1 will disappear from mass market view.

One could argue that on the minority FTA Channel 4 it is half way there already, with audiences of just over a million and a half, compared to the mass audiences on BBC and before that ITV, which had exclusive live rights from 1997 to 2008, where race audiences were between 4 million and 12 million depending on time of day.

However Channel 4 has struck notable success this month with the revamped “Great British Bake Off”, which it poached from BBC and which has pulled in audiences of over 7 million, proving that people can find that button with the right incentive.

So the TF1 deal clearly gives pause for thought and attention turns to SKY now to see what their intentions are. The SKY deal is worth around £170m a year to F1, more than double what the combined SKY/Channel 4 deal nets and it was clever of CVC and the previous F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone to do the deal in time for it to inflate the F1 sale price to Liberty Media.

For Liberty it is a double headache as not only did it mean that F1 cost more to buy, but it also has a potential backlash on its hands in the UK when F1 disappears from view behind a paywall, without them having any real levers to do a deal like the new TF1 arrangement in France.

In a perfect world SKY would do a deal with the BBC to give affordable access to F1 highlights and the British GP; this would be the most common sense approach as the BBC as a non-commercial entity, would not cannibalise SKY’s ability to sell packages to F1 sponsors, unlike ITV or Channel 4.

But BBC Sport fell out of love with F1 in 2015 and today has very different priorities in sport, including balancing out the gender gap, with widespread coverage offered of women’s sport, which satisfies political pressures from outside and is also very cost efficient.

What do you think of this story? Do you live in France? What has it been like with F1 behind a paywall? Do you welcome this deal? And if you live in the UK, what are you hoping for post 2018? Leave your comments in the section below

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1

It’s also possible that the lower ranks of the sport will suffer.

The spectacle of F1 draws spectators to the more accessible levels of the sport at local circuits. Without fta the casual or accidental viewer won’t exist and that ‘spark’ of interest will never be ignited.

2

Why can’t F1’s own tv service not be made available to all F1 fans, we are the only real looser’s , money talks, stuff the sport and the real fans

3

No chance I would pay for F1. I will stop watching and so will anyone from younger generations.

4

I have watched F1 for over 30 years and can probably count on one hand the amount of races I have missed. I do not use Sky anymore and the charging approach they had was a rip off. It may be better now but after some bad experiences with Sky that ship has sailed. I think this year will be my last to watch F1. It has been a good ride since I started watching in the 80’s. I guess some things are not meant to last.

5

The only way to make your voice heard over this terrible decision is to completely boycott F1 in 2019. Don’t pay Sky, don’t go to races, particularly the British GP. Then maybe, just maybe the situation will be reviewed. I hate the way Sky tie up all of sport with their despicable greed.

6

F1 is basically finished…..it is a 20th Century idea and set to become about as important as powerboat racing……unless they find a way to buy Sky off and get it back on free to view.

7

The 10-network in Australia had the F1 coverage, showing delayed broadcasts of each race and qualifying (delayed by only an hour, to fit in better with saturday and sunday evenings programme schedule) and then it went to their dedicated sports channel for a while, free-to-air live. That all stopped about four years ago and they only show about five races live and highlights of the rest. Full coverage is now on Pay-TV (Foxtel). THey have done the same with the Australian V-8 Supercars, MotoGP and lots of other sports. About the only sport left on free-to-air is underwater basket-weaving.
If F1 wants to get its audience numbers up, it should get rid of the paywall and have the races free-to air. The real rev-heads can subscribe to the pay-TV and watch the practice sessions and pre+post session analysis, interviews etc.
Being able to watch only a small number of races per season would be like being allowed to only read five chapters in a 22-chapter book.

8

I genuinely believe that we’ll see races on facebook and YouTube in years to come. If you want to win/win back a younger demographic you’ve got to work with portals/media they use. Subscription or not the current format is dated. Hopefully liberty media inject some pace into this over the next few years.

9

Australia has this week gone backwards, The deal for network 10 to broadcast free to air 10 races a year has been revoked and the only FTA F1 race will now be the Australian GP, as an follower of over 40 years who I am totally disgusted by this. without subscribing to Foxtel I will have no choice but to watch very poor highlights packages 24 hours after the race is completed. I thought Liberty had said they were going to try and wind back these deals because the F1 survey showed they had dramatically reduced the viewership. So much for that. so here i was getting ready to watch the Malaysian GP and instead I am hit this. what an extremely poor way to treat your fans and they wander why they are in so much trouble of falling ratings.

This SUCKS

10

I think Sky and BT in the domination of live sport in this country have caused so much damage. Cricket ,Golf and no doubt Wimbledon will follow all thinking it’s good commercial sense. F1 in its typical arrogant stance thinks it’s above everything and bullet proof. I have watched it avidly for 45 years but once it goes full time live with sky it’s a goodbye from me. Even if F1 and sky relent and allow highlights which I seriously doubt they are collectively on a ship of fools. Coverage in Britain is crucial for sponsorship and lost viewers will make a difference. Couple this with a dominant 2 horse or worse a 1 horse championship makes for a very worrying future. I think F1 will be back on free T.V within three years of sky 2019 because of losing sponsorship and falling subscription. As for me thanks for the memories but I am off to touring cars snd formula E. As for formula one never has so much greed been taken by so few from so many. RIP F1 and for heavens sake don’t let Ecclestone back in any form lol

11

I’m only able to continue watching all the races on Sky F1 via skygo because my daughter let’s me use her account on my laptop. Should she decide to close her Sky Sports account I will lose my access, simply because I could not afford my own account…..

12

I think one of the things that the promoters and broadcasters forget is, aside from the monetary aspect, F1 fans INVEST into the sport in terms of their valuable time! Especially in places like the UK where the weather isn’t so good it’s actually quite a big commitment to dedicate the prime time of your precious weekend to watch F1 on TV!

I’ve done it, and been an avid fan for 30 years, but in the modern era of ‘watch when you want’ media I find myself less inclined to sit in front of the TV for several hours on weekend afternoons.

We need MORE ways of watching F1 not less! The audience drop off is a very real thing as far as I’m concerned – a few years ago I used to meet up with mates to watch every race, and I am the last one standing – and I’m starting to waver. I’ll pay for an app but I’ll certainly not pay for SKY, and I’m not the only one!

13

I have the sky f1 coverage in the UK as part of the HD package, they now offer it as a seperate channel @£18/month with a minimum 18 months. As a long time sky customer my HD deal is better value, but why would sky think £18/month is good value when the sport shuts down for 4 months over the winter. At £10/ month they would get lots of interest but they have pitched this at the same price as their other stand alone sports channels.
If my HD package increases again, i will probably drop it as i get fed up with skys annual increases when no one is getting pay rises, i dont get more on my pension either. Sky need to stop paying silly money for rights and give people a fair deal

14

A good move but if F1 wants to really build it’s audience instead of build it’s audience a little but really just focus on pulling in as much race fee and and PayTV money as they can, which is the reality of the product Bernie built and Liberty bought, then it’s got to be the start of a trend, not the drop-in-the-ocean it appears.

With Paul Ricard coming back on song, Ocon, Whinejean, Renault-McLaren, Renault factory team, Alesi and Prost poking their heads in at Ferrari … the French flavour to F1 is returning. However you can take it from this Australian: patchy/absent F1 on free-to-air is the single biggest fan-killer for the sport. Liberty should focus on reclaiming all the TV rights for themselves and look to a future where FOM provide the pictures, Liberty distribute them globally, and fans opt in/out on a global internet-delivery model. If you want commercial-free, you pay $5 a race to stream it over the innernets. You want commercials interrupting your race, but pay nothing? You get it ‘free’ to air. That’s the only model that makes sense. If Liberty can’t make more money out of that than selling the rights to regional pay TV players, then they’re not trying hard enough to really promote the sport and attract all these fans they claim to want. If every person who watched it streaming paid $5 (or whatever) instead of a pay TV monthly subscription where they’re forking out around $40 for a whole lot of bullshit content they don’t want (and can’t possibly watch), it’s cheaper/easier for the fans, and Liberty would make a tonne of cash.

15

It is a no brainer to have F1 on free to view because a lot of fans cannot afford Sky so viewers will ultimately drop and now sport is any good without people watching it

16

I’m french and live in France. I’m a F1 fan since I’m young in the 80’s.
For me, pay to see a F1 race is a nonsense. I just can’t imagine that !
Since F1 is on that pay TV I don’t want to name, I can’t see races live… such a shame ! I must see it later when I can have it elsewhere on the web… with all the frustration it caused.
The return of the F1 on TF1 is a good news for me as we will see the next french GP. But it is very frustrzating that it’s only for 4 races !
F1 must be free on TV, that’s my opinion.
You said it : “In France F1 has been behind a paywall since 2013 and audiences have fallen from around 4 to 5 million on TF1 to 750,000” : Isn’t it stupid !?

17

The sky deal is like being mugged at £18 a month and you must sign up for minimum of 18 months even though there are periods where there are no races. When it was shown on BBC everybody watched and on Monday a great discussion point but now because of the cost nobody watches the live broadcast and it is not even mentioned on Monday [ know someone who works in sky and they inform me the viewing figures are a disaster one month they went below 600,000] even though the UK is the centre of F1 sky for the public have destroyed it for the public

18

I live in France and am a long-time F1 fan (over 40 years). Since F1 disappeared from FTA TV I’ve watched far fewer races. I only watch when I can find a decent stream on the Web, and even then I often drop out, as that experience is so poor. The loss of FTA TV has catalysed a distinct loss of interest in the sport for me. And I’m a hardcore fan! I can only imagine how casual viewers feel.

19

Adding my view but it’s a common one. I’ve been keen on F1 for 40+ years. I’ve been happy with Channel 4 coverage and will miss it. I won’t be a Sky subscriber so will miss watching either live races or highlights. It won’t take long, however, for my attention to move to something else and my interest in F1 will likely fade pretty quickly. Shame.

20

i can’t speak for anybody else, bu i have no intention of EVER paying for F1 viewing.

whether that is via Sky or an app or any other source, it’s not something that i will prioritise within my family budget. If F1 goes behind any sort of paywall, then i’m gone as a viewer.

i don’t mind adds the way that channel 4 are showing races, and my wife would prefer me to watch highlights anyway due to the prime weekend family time lost to watching TV.

I never watch the coverage at the time of broadcast anyway, i just have a series record setup and avoid the web until i have time to watch, which means it’s sometimes Tuesday before i watch certain races if they are broadcast later on a sunday evening.

21

I’m a long time fan of F1 but in my opinion it has become technically controlled to such an extent that the excitement of watching has fallen dramatically. If it were to go totally behind a pay-wall then I’m afraid I would no longer watch. I’d certainly not pay to see what I regard as a largely artificial and manufactured ‘spectacle’

22

Here in the U.S. I get all the races, all the qualifying and most of the FP2 sessions live. Of course, I have to pay $100+ monthly for my TV service and I get a boatload of commercials on each broadcast. Odd that this occurs where there are perhaps 300,000 total viewers per race…

23

Know it’s late coming to the party, at the same time not much to offer in the discussion(s) relating to how F-1 is or isn’t available in Europe. The quote below from James’ story summary above ring a bell regarding probabilities for an expansion of the U.S. audience.

The observation about how the viewing audience dropping from somewhere between 4 and 5 million to a number of 750,000 since going ‘behind a pay wall’ looks pretty staggering. The drop in event attendance, one surmises, is directly related to folks’ attention and interest migrating to other offerings or pursuits. because of their perception of value and/or ability to pay the price. There’s lots of stuff out there to do when you really think about it and taking any activity off the wider stage (through cost or availability) will, most likely, shrink interest and opportunity to retain or expand fan participation at events themselves.

Here is what tells the tale above: “. . .affordable access to F1 . . . would be the most common sense approach. . .” If easy and affordable access is available to a viewing public, then their interest will be supported and probably increased. The opportunity to attend a “live” event when it is also ‘affordable’ to attend will generate increase attendance. The economics of the situation relate to stimulating elastic demand for events. Elastic demand, simply stated, is the condition observed where total revenue increases more than in proportion to lowering the cost of both viewing and event attendance.

Just tossing it out.

24

I can’t afford sky and it’s going to hurt not watching f1 anymore. I don’t watch any other sports too. I think a lot of uk f1 fans will miss it.

25

Very interesting thread indeed.

Knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated fans who are abandoning F1 in droves, and will quite literally switch-off in 2019.

Its a damning indictment of the situation, and there’s clearly still a lot of anger all these years later.

I too echo many of the sentiments here. A lifelong fan with, at one time, an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, reduced to not actually caring anymore.

Yes I read the newswires and watch a race if its on, but I simply will not commit to the pay model for various reason relating to the rights holder, not to mention a general sense of injustice! Don’t even get me started on the notion of having to pay to watch heavily ad-filled content (double-taxation!).

Highlights don’t work either. As several posters have commented – what’s the point unless you can watch live, or at least on-demand?

Enforcing a digital black-out to maintain any sense of suspense also cannot work. My social feeds are full of F1 related content, and ignoring them (as well as TV and news sites) for 6-8 hours after a race doesn’t work for me, and I suspect many others.

Barker content – what a loathsome phrase – is not the answer. It just exacerbates the problem, not unlike Carey and Bratches going at it with their unintelligible management speak.

What is needed is a modern digital approach; subscription-model, on-demand, ad-free. See Netflix, Amazon Prime, and a whole host of other services that are redefining how we digest content.

While we’ll (unfortunately) never return to the salad days of FTA, let’s hope innovation and technology can be applied beyond the racetrack to appeal to the many disenfranchised fans that share the same hopes and fears.

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