Why Sky’s deal will damage F1’s popularity


Start, Monaco, 2011

BBC will continue to show the Monaco Grand Prix live

Let’s get one thing clear up front: I am a Sky Sports subscriber.

Does that mean I’m happy with the deal announced on Friday which will split live F1 coverage in the UK between the BBC and Sky? Far from it.

The worst time to leave the BBC

For the second time in three years, Britain’s host F1 broadcaster decided to abandon its existing F1 deal two years before it was set to expire. First ITV in 2008, now the BBC.

While ITV wanted out of their deal to spend money elsewhere, the BBC has been forced to make cuts since the government ordered it to freeze the licence fee for six years at the end of 2010.

The upshot of this is a new deal which will see half the races broadcast live on the BBC, the other half on Sky Sports. Exactly how much money the BBC has saved isn’t clear.

Could a deal have been struck to keep F1 on the BBC at a lower price? Or did Bernie Ecclestone seize the opportunity to seal a more lucrative deal with Sky?

Whichever is the case, it couldn’t be a worse time for F1 to leave the BBC. Viewing figures grown in recent years, aided by the better quality racing seen this year, BBC’s excellent standard of coverage, and the success of Britain’s drivers and teams.

Almost five million people watch the British Grand Prix. Over 6.2m saw the rain-hit Canadian Grand Prix – even more viewers than the 2010 season finale attracted.

The Monaco Grand Prix saw a 15-minute peak of 6.1m viewers – a ten-year high. Just this weekend the Hungarian Grand Prix was the most-watched programme on any channel.

But with half of next year’s races on a subscription sports channel, this growth will not be sustained across an entire season’s racing.

F1’s core audience at risk

Looking at the figures in detail, F1 in Britain enjoys a core of three to four million regular viewers, with audiences numbers fluctuating between the most significant races and those which are shown early in the morning.

The Sky deal risks compromising the core of F1’s popularity. Live football matches only attract around 1.4m viewers on Sky.

F1 fans complained in huge numbers online – over 8,000 on one BBC article. Many in the media closed their ears to the criticism, some branding it “hysteria”.

But there is much reasonable objection from fans to the potential damage it will do to F1’s popularity. And, naturally, to the extortionate cost of watching the ten missing live races in 2012.

??61 per race

To see those ten races live and in HD, as all F1 races have been broadcast on the BBC this year, viewers will have to fork out a staggering ??610* – that’s ??61 per race.

(It would be interesting to know from F1 Fanatic readers outside the UK how much they pay to see F1 races live.)

The deal will split F1 fans between those who will pay the extra to watch live, those who will be content to watch delayed, edited highlights – and those who will just stop watching.

But with real-time coverage increasingly popular in all forms of media, the prospect of watching postponed coverage will not be appealing for many. Especially given the difficulty of not discovering the result beforehand.

“For sure there are going to be a lot more people viewing,” reckons Ecclestone. Perhaps, but I suspect many will be watching illegal online video feeds.

I’m not going to jump to positive or negative conclusions about what Sky’s coverage will be like. They certainly have the budget and resources to do a good job, and the news that they will show the races without adverts is an encouraging sign.

But that is almost besides the point when so few fans will be able to afford it in the first place.

Update: Since this article was published further details of Sky’s subscription service and how it affects F1 viewers have been announced. See here for more.

*Based on a minimum 12-month contract Sky Sports HD subscription. ??48.70 per race for standard definition.


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452 comments on Why Sky’s deal will damage F1’s popularity

  1. SkinBintin (@skinbintin) said on 4th August 2011, 10:31

    I’m in New Zealand. We only have one paid TV provider, which funnily enough is Sky. There are also one or two resellers, of which I subscribe to one. TelstraClear simply because I already use their cable internet and my phone line rental is through them too. They resell all the various Sky packages, of which I receive through their Cable service (so no rain fade like normal Sky Satellite feeds).

    Anyway, here’s my costs.

    The base TV package costs $51.70 per month, and offers a selection of free to air channels and documentary, news, kids, food, music channels etc. Movies and Sports channels cost extra. So…

    Base Package: $51.70
    Sky Sports addon: $17.96
    Digital Upgrade: $2.02
    T-Box Decoder (so I can record the races, they are the middle of the night here): $14.95
    HD Ticket (to get HD content): $10

    so that’s NZ$96.63 per month or NZ$1159.56 per year.

    Personally, I don’t watch much on it outside of F1 plus the odd race in other series such as GP2, GP3, V8 Supercars, IRL, NASCAR, etc and Rugby. Other people in the house hold watch things on it though.

    But for me, that does seem rather expensive for F1 coverage. That includes all three practice sessions each GP weekend along with Qualifying and the Grand Prix itself. We don’t get the pre quali or pre GP buildup shows, or the interactive forum (sorry BBC, but I download them as there’s no other way for me to ever see that content).

    Pretty expensive really. My only hope is that if Sky are now producing the shows, and decide to also do buildup shows and an interactive forum type show, that being owned by the same people we’ll finally get that extra content broadcast. Fingers crossed at least huh?

  2. Jarv027 said on 4th August 2011, 10:38

    Bernie Ecclestone said in the Daily Mail 30/7/11 ‘If the BBC had stayed alone they would not have had the money to continue as they do now. It would have been like the old days-no build up and when the cars finish, the programme finishes. The lights go out and that’s it.’

    Well I would’nt mind the old days Bernie 5mins before and after would suit me just fine, I can go on internet for drivers interviews.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 4th August 2011, 13:42

      Bernie hasn’t really caught up with the Internet.

      You make a valid point though.

      With that in mind the BBC could stream them all no-frills online. Sky wouldn’t like that though.

  3. sumedh said on 4th August 2011, 10:44

    I stay in India. We use Star Sports. We have to pay around 1500 rs (18-20 pounds) per month for all channels (not just Star Sports).

    I don’t understand the logic of 61 pounds per race. I mean, when you pay 610 pounds for Sky, you don’t get ONLY F1 on Sky, do you? You get Football, cricket and everything else, correct? So the actual F1 cost will be much lesser than 61 pounds, right?

    • Menno555 said on 4th August 2011, 10:54

      I don’t know the actual costs for Sky. But yes, if you already have Sky Sports then it would not matter.
      But the problem is that a LOT of people do not have Sky. They either can’t afford it or do not want it. So, if they want to see the whole season, they have to get Sky just for the Formula 1. Lots of people do not care 1 bit about soccer, cricket, tennis or whatever so if they get Sky for Formula 1 they will pay full package only for that.

    • It’s less what one gets and more what one wants. For those not interested in the other stuff that comes with the Sky subscription, F1 is either £48.70 or £61 per race, depending on whether HD is chosen, for the non-BBC rounds.

  4. I think this kind of decision was inevitable given the cash-strapped times we live in. It could have been much worse, sold exclusively to Setanta or ESPN then we really would have been stuffed. To be honest I don’t really like Sky and their glamorous presenters, flashy studios and Hollywood-style screen graphics, but I have a Sky Sports subscription anyway for some years, for England Football and IndyCar, plus other bits and bobs throughout the year.

    Sky did a good job with A1GP when it was running. I subscribed to Sky’s F1 Digital Plus in 2002 and it was pretty good too, with proper multiscreen options for pit lane view, follow leader, follow midfield, timing screen, studio, etc. – so if we can expect that kind of thing for no extra cost (Sky just announced a price freeze for 12 months and channel package simplification) then I can’t really see any cause for complaint. They’ll probably enhance it with web stuff and iPhone / iPad apps like they have done for football too I’d imagine, and other tweaks the BBC have not done.

    I appreciate that many people who don’t have Sky Sports might now have to pay extra if they aren’t prepared to put up with just BBC highlights of the more tedious races like perhaps Valencia or Bahrain. But this is probably the future of sport and if you like F1, the Indycar that comes with your Sky subscription is well worth watching with many international and former F1 drivers like Sato and Wilson participating.

    • mename2332 (@mename2332) said on 4th August 2011, 11:29

      It wasn’t inveitable. The government only needed to allow the beeb to use product placement and we would have never had a whiff of this deal

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2011, 11:35

        No advertising of any kind takes place on the BBC because it’s publicly funded, regardless of whether it’s product placement or any other kind.

        • Neil said on 4th August 2011, 13:54

          Thats not really true in practice though is it Keith. Everytime i watch something on the BBC and a computer is involved, you can garantee it’ll be a Apple, they always very subtly get the logo in shot.

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2011, 14:01

            We’re going beyond the realm of my expertise here (not to mention the subject matter of the article) but it’s certainly not something I’ve noticed watching the BBC generally. In terms of their F1 coverage, I remember when Jake Humphrey started using a tablet last year it had a logo on it but as I recall they taped it over it pretty soon after.

            And remember, product placement is where they’re being paid to put logos in view, which is not what happens on the BBC (as far as I know, again, I’m not a marketing expert).

    • Ironically Setanta would have been better; you can get that for £10 a month with a compatible (i.e. slotted) Freeview box. ESPN would have been marginally cheaper because that would have involved buying one channel on Sky instead of between two and four, depending on clashes.

      If Bernie had worked out from the “hints” of his deals of the last few years failing due to high prices, he wouldn’t have tried charging the BBC so much in the first place. Neither would he have accepted this deal which will very likely cause worldwide F1 media prices to collapse in the latter half of the decade. Pay TV is quite clearly not the future of any international sport that wants either high audiences or a sustainable revenue stream. National-level sports can get away with it if and only if they have plentiful alternative streams of income such as local tickets affordable to the masses.

  5. There are quite a few comments about people wanting to withold their licence fee, or make a protest against the decision by not paying.

    I question how productive protesting about the BBC not being able to afford F1 by restricting their income even further would be.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely annoyed about this whole situation, but many people who complain about the licence fee seem to fall into the group of Little Englanders who object to anyone spending ‘their’ money on something that doesn’t directly interest them. The Licence Fee pays for radio as well, so if you want to listen to Five Live when you can’t watch a race then you have no justification for not paying (quite apart from the fact that half the races will still be live on BBC).

    • Some fella said on 4th August 2011, 13:14

      If you don’t have any equipment to receive a TV signal you do not need a license. You only need a TV licence to receive ‘LIVE TV broadcast’.
      So No, you are wrong.

      • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 4th August 2011, 13:43

        That’s not strictly true. The Licence Fee also covers things like iPlayer. Anything that can receive a television broadcast basically.

        • Some fella said on 4th August 2011, 17:54


          Sir, you are wrong. My original statement stands true “You only need a TV licence to receive ‘LIVE TV broadcast’.” So in fact you can view any recorded program on iPlayer without the need for a TV licence. However if you intend to watch the live feed on iPlayer you will need a licence.

          • markg9 said on 4th August 2011, 19:49

            you need a TV licence if you have a device that is capable of receiving a TV or Radio signal…this includes a mobile phone,Ipad,PC,MAC,etc

    • Radio hasn’t been covered by the UK TV licence since 1971 and neither are things like the iPlayer. Even though both are paid for by the TV licence. These workarounds do not function in many European countries, but they do in the UK so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many are at least proposing to use them.

      I’m not sure if the protests will work because they do not speak to the reason the BBC dropped the coverage.

  6. Probably the best article written on the subject so far, how the BBC thinks we’ll be able to avoid finding out the race result before watching the highlights in this crazy multi media age we live in is beyond me. Hence why those who can’t bring themselves to walk away completely will be looking for other illegal methods to see the races live. I wondered about finding a friend with Sky Sports to ask if I could use his Sky account to watch the races online, not sure how that works though or if thats feasible?

  7. Xighor said on 4th August 2011, 12:20

    In Poland – almost every cable channel company have Polsat tv in standard offer (so you can’t have a tv access without already paying for it) but if you’ve got tv antenna you can have it for free. No hd (have to pay for it about 40zl/month. 1zl=4euro and minimal salaries are 1200zl/month – officially) but it’s 100% accessible for free and without adverts in the middle of a race. That’s about races and qualies, if you want to see free practice and broader commentary, need to pay. The level of coverage is not as proffesional as one might want to, but they’ve got a lot to learn still.

  8. mrjlr93 (@mrjlr93) said on 4th August 2011, 12:20

    In Australia we receive the F1 telecast on Free to air in HD with the BBC commentary.

  9. lennie (@lennie) said on 4th August 2011, 12:25

    I would actually be happy to pay for Sky, on the condition that I no longer had to pay for the BBC! I don’t even watch BBC tv any more, there’s nothing worth watching anyway except for the F1 coverage. I’m not paying for both.
    I think that we will look back on last year and think of it as the glory days. A tight championship, great coverage and record attendance at Silverstone. Watch all those slowly drip away as the sponsors stop supporting the smaller teams, who get less coverage in highlights shows, for the ever dwindling viewing figures. And fans losing the will to only watch half a season. So sad :-(

  10. Toncho said on 4th August 2011, 12:35

    I think you forgot another possibility. Just get satelite and watch the remaining races using a foreign broadcast. I don’t know about other countries but RTL is FTA so you can get that for free. Granted, is not ideal to watch F1 in German but with the help of this forum (and maye radio, sorry I don’t live in the UK) is a good option compared to those 610£

  11. Rocky (@rocky) said on 4th August 2011, 12:55

    Toronto, Canada F1 coverage is free on TSN but they I believe purchase the feed from the BBC so I have not heard anything as of yet as to what will happen but I fear the worse.

  12. TomFor said on 4th August 2011, 13:03

    I live in Belgium and always watch F1 races on the BBC. It’s only regular and not HD because a subscription for all HD channels isn’t currently worth it.
    Sky is not available in Belgium (as far as I know) so for those 10 races I will have to watch on a local (commercial) but the commentary is absolutely terrible and every 20 minutes you get commercials stuffed down your throat.
    Very sorry to see this happening.

  13. Stuart Harrison said on 4th August 2011, 13:47

    Your Sky fee is incorrect. Assuming Sky only broadcast on one Sky Sports channel (e.g. SS2), you can get away with paying £10.25 per month, a total of £123 per year or £12.30 per “exclusive to Sky” race (assuming a 10-10 split).

    That’s a far cry from your £61 per race!

    Regardless of the above I won’t be subscribing to Sky, but you might at least get your facts right!

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2011, 13:49

      But as you say, you’re making an assumption. Based on the information we have at the moment, the figures I’ve given are correct.

      Accusing me of not getting the facts right when you’re the one leaping to conclusions is preposterous.

      • Stuart Harrison said on 4th August 2011, 16:19

        The reason I’m forced to make an assumption is that the facts aren’t available. As such, my “assumed” figure of £123 per year is no more or less valid than your figure of £610. Clearly we can’t both be right!

        Even if you took the Sports World subscription (SS1-4), you’re still only paying £240 per year, so it might helpful if you showed your working rather than just picking the most expensive package possible with Sky and using that as a headline – it’s precisely the sort of tactic I’d expect from the tabloid press.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against what you’re saying, I just take exception with your assertion that it will cost people £61 per race next year. I think that figure is woefully inaccurate and doesn’t help the core debate.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th August 2011, 16:59

          it might helpful if you showed your working

          I already have done, read the footnote in the article and refer to the earlier article and external link (something you have not supplied in your comments).

          • Stuart Harrison said on 4th August 2011, 22:05

            I had referred to the link and the previous article; that’s not showing the working, but here’s mine.

            After speaking with Sky, I’ve confirmed that new customers would have to take a Sky TV package (i.e. you can’t just get Sky Sports on its own – something I missed from my original calculation).

            The minimum TV package you can take costs £19.50 per month
            Sky Sports 1 or 2 costs £12.25 per month (£20.25 if you take both)
            If you optionally want HD, that’s another £10.25 per month.

            Hence the maximum you will pay is £50 per month for the full HD, full Sky Sport package, which works out at £600 per year (£60 per event if Sky have 10 exclusives).

            The minimum you’ll pay is £31.75 per month, £381 per year (£38.10 per event / 10 events).

            Existing Sky subscribers can have Sky Sports for £12.25 per month (and not have to take any TV packages), with or without HD; hence pay as little as £147 per year (£14.70 per event); or £270 per year to watch in HD.

            While the initial year might be expensive, future years are markedly less expensive.

            Can you clarify where your extra £10 comes from (i.e. the total of £610 per year)?

          • £10 refers to the installation fee, which you have to pay as a first-time user. You don’t have to pay this if you already have a digital Sky installation. There now seems to be something about that £10 being offset against the first month’s bill. I don’t think that was there before, but it’s possible that installation is effectively free for both HD and SD.

            As a result, we’re now down to £47.70 or £60 per race for someone only going to Sky for the F1. It’s an improvement but not a big one.

            However, every year is the same price because that means the cost in month 1 (including the upfront fee) is the same as in every other month, unless Sky changes its prices. The basic packages and sports channel(s) still have to be paid for every month, even after the first year, which appear to be the only things billed now.

            Also note that at the minimum price Stuart Harrison quotes, one is taking a gamble that the race and other coverage will never be moved off Sky Sports 1 due to clashes. Whereas buying Sky Sports 1 and 2 together means you get 3 and 4 thrown in free, so you can guarantee actually getting all 10 events.

  14. xabregas said on 4th August 2011, 13:59

    What´s going to happen next year to British F1 Fans, happened to Portuguse Fans a few years ago, if we wont to watch F1 live we must pay something near 70£/month( at least).
    Last year i did that because i could watch live not only F1 but also motogp, indy races and nascar.
    This year i shutt down, it´s just to much, but i didn´t stop watching, there is something called internet that provides us the chance to still watch it.
    It hasn´t the quality of HD TV, but at least i still watch LIVE the sports that i like.
    That´s the route i´m expecting lots of British fans follow next year.

  15. tim_g23 (@tim_g23) said on 4th August 2011, 14:19

    Not sure if anyone has already mentioned this;
    sky sports play a whole lot of football at the weekend- surely more important to its business, so I imagine the matches will be on Sky sports 1 and 2, leaving F1 to be broadcast on 3 or 4, a more expensive package in total. Those hoping to watch the races on boxes with Sky sports 1 and 2 will be disappointed.

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