Why Sky’s deal will damage F1’s popularity

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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. I live in Mexico and have watched almost every race since ’77. From 2005 onwards I’ve downloaded every race, from the Fox Sports, that Spanish Chanel, ITV and BBC feeds.

    What I do is I watch them online (lately vipstand.me works nicely) and then I download them on higher quality and to see what did I miss, because here most of the races are at 7am.

    The best show I’ve seen is for sure the current BBC setup, and I’m sad to see it gone one form or another. We don’t have advertisement, we have knowledgeable comentators, and so on… This is bad news for us, the fans, mostly for those of you that have to pay for this. For me that live overseas, things won’t change so much in regards of how we get our F1 dose: Either we watch the crappy Fox Sports live feed or we watch it live from whatever feed you UK guys are getting at the moment, or else skip those altogether and just download the race the day after.

    :( sad, so sad :(

  2. Spend £600 on SKY or go to a race, easy choice go to a race. Unfortunately I can’t afford either at the moment.

    Good bye to my record of only missing about 10 races in the last 20 years, it looks like I’ll miss that many next year alone. :-(

    Like when SKY took over the cricket and Rugby I’ll end up trying to follow it on the radio and internet… anything to get my fix.

  3. Has anyone got a link to the official petition to get it debated in the House of Common?

  4. Chris said on 4th August 2011, 18:11

    Well after following F1 for over 30 years I’m about to call it a day. Loved the beeb coverage. No intention of stumping up for sky sports even tho I am a sky customer and no desire to watch half the season. So that’s one less customer Bernie, you massive pillock….

  5. Patrick said on 4th August 2011, 20:18

    I follow F1 from Malta, it is broadcast live by RAI in Italy where they also broadcast live GP2 races. It’s all free at the moment but as one broadcaster sees the other gaining more money than him they will soon follow suite. I just hope that they won’t do like the british, too expensive to watch football and now too expensive to watch F1…………………..sadness

  6. F1Yankee (@f1yankee) said on 4th August 2011, 21:04

    comcast plays games with the numbers, so an exact price isn’t discernible. based on my bill, i pay $80/month to obtain speed in standard definition – speed hd isn’t available to me, despite having the largest cable company in the most developed area of the country. i believe it would cost an additional $20/month to obtain speed hd if it becomes available. i don’t care about the other shows or entire channels that includes since if you want f1 coming out of your tv, at least $80/month is coming out of your wallet.

    $80 * 12 months = $960
    2011: $960 / 16 races live on speed = $60/race
    2012 (best case scenario): $960 / 20 live races = $48 per race

    for that $60/race, i get minimal coverage in quantity and quality, and i’m absolutely blistered with ads.

  7. IceBlue (@iceblue) said on 4th August 2011, 21:14

    My television provider in the U.S. is DirecTV (satellite) which I pay ~$70 a month for the middle package so I can get the HD SPEED channel that broadcasts, almost, all the F1 races live.
    The “almost” is in there because SPEED is owned by FOX (yeah, that scrote Murdoch) and FOX demands to show four of the F1 races on its own 2nd rate channel. This totally sucks because the FOX coverage is delayed. It also doesn’t include any post race activity except one edited brief comment from the winner and then, because FOX only allocates two hours to F1, it’s off to the next hour of Murdoch’s usual programming sewage.
    I apologize for my bitching like that about such trivialities, because you folks are getting royally hosed to watch the sport.

  8. Aaron from Seattle (@aaron-from-seattle) said on 4th August 2011, 21:54

    I am from the USA and have a different view point. Before i say anything I would not pay $1,000 dollars for a few races like what has been announced, but on the other hand, you people in the UK have without a doubt the best F1 coverage on the planet.
    If any of you UK people were to come to the states and watch a speedtv feed of the race you would change your minds about paying the new price. I can guarantee watching a speedtv F1 feed would be the worst F1 experience of your life.
    Be grateful of the excellent coverage and intelligent announcers who bring the bbc coverage to you each race. And for those not into paying, the internet is made for these situations.

  9. Steven said on 5th August 2011, 0:01

    Just for comparison, here in the Philippines I pay around 10 pound a month for my cable subscription which gives me StarSports where the F1 is broadcast. It is NOT in HD and there is around 8 ad breaks during the course of the live action.

    So, approx, 6quid a race…

  10. Kman said on 5th August 2011, 3:35

    I believe it is also compulsory to have a sky box hooked up to a telephone landline which is another £12 to £14 standing charge per month to add on the cost of F1 on Sky

    That’s another £15ish per race, taking it up to £76 per race in total!!

  11. HoKu said on 5th August 2011, 7:32

    This is ridiculous. I can’t imagine how country like the UK, with such motor sport tradition, so many drivers currently starting in F1, one of the best GPs in calendar will loose FREE TV coverage?!

    In Poland it’s all free, even though without Robert number of viewers has decreased 4 times!

  12. In India, the Star Sports commentary and overall race programming may be far from satisfactory (a massive understatement) but at least I get to watch it for free once I’ve purchased a cable connection or a satellite DTH connection.

    In fact I get to watch F1, most NASCAR races, Moto GP, most World Superbike races, some V8 Supercar races and Superleague Formula live for free without having to pay for specific events, but only the ESPN Star channel package on the Airtel DTH service or the Asianet cable package.

  13. Alexandre said on 5th August 2011, 17:07

    There are a lot of places in the internet where races could be viewed for free, find it and inform all your friends and F1 fans. Perhaps they will stop this ridiculous idea that we also have in Portugal. UK is now copying developed countries.

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