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

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  1. hey (@hey) said on 3rd August 2011, 19:00

    I already have Sky Sports (or rather the house I live in does). I know that the box notes down everything we watch and sends it to Sky.

    The thought of watching/recording the Sky Sports races and it being added to their viewing numbers repulses me. If the BBC highlights are anywhere near good then I can live without watching the Sky races, or maybe I can listen to Five Live while I take up running during races or something.

    But I’ll tape and watch every BBC race and highlights program on my skybox just to really **** Sky off when they add up the figures on the other end. I’m willing to miss 10 races for the greater good.

  2. KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 3rd August 2011, 19:06

    In Finland, the cheapest you can get live coverage of F1 is probably MTV3’s Katsomo service on the internet (IIRC something like 50€ for the whole season).

    On TV, MTV3MAX belongs to multiple different channel packages. Cheapest is 15€, and it contains the HD channel as well (in cable and satellite). And you don’t have to subscribe for 12 months, so you basically can get the whole season for about 150€ – next year that’s just 7,5€/weekend. That’s cheaper than going to the movies :P

  3. YoungGuns (@youngguns) said on 3rd August 2011, 19:18

    In Southern africa we have been paying for F1 the last 5 to 8 years we pay around USD $1200 per year as part of supersport I hope this deal is not going to push up our prices as my supersport subscription is mostly for motorsport I bearly watch any other TV.

  4. Alexander (@al3xander) said on 3rd August 2011, 19:26

    so the races that aren’t live will we get to see practice and qualifying? on the red button.
    bbc 3 highlights are terrible 5-10 min at start for quali report and 15 min at the end for interviews so thats only 40-45 min of action

  5. Mahir C said on 3rd August 2011, 19:45

    All right, I am confused. How much extra money should a person already a Sky subscriber, lets say one who already gets Premier League, pay for F1?

    I looked at sky website, it shows 32 quid(42 if you want HD) a month for Sky plus sky sport.Dont know what it includes exactly, but it says that you get two sport channels which I assume contains EPL maybe it will include F1 as well.

    • Alianora La Canta (@alianora-la-canta) said on 4th August 2011, 19:11

      Sky haven’t announced which channels they plan to use, but I’m guessing the race will be on Sky Sports 1 unless there’s a clash, and the highest any other session will be is Sky Sports 2 (there’s a Sky Sports 3 and 4, which are currently available free if you have Sports 1 and 2).

  6. Leyland94 (@) said on 3rd August 2011, 20:08

    Does anyone here listen to races on BBC Radio 5 Live? I listened when I was out during the German GP and actually found myself enjoying the coverage. I may need it a lot more with this deal, for early morning races in particular. I will have to go to relatives for the afternoon races on Sky. It’s hardly ideal, I’m gutted. This was my first season following F1, can@t believe it’s being snatched from me again.

  7. lluis said on 3rd August 2011, 20:13

    In Spain we have free coverage of all F1 races in “La Sexta” (private TV, in spanish) and TV3 (public TV, in catalan). I guess we’re lucky!

  8. James Aston said on 3rd August 2011, 20:55


    I subscribe to Sky and have done for many years and will continue to subscribe but that doesn’t make me happier that F1 is moving to it.

    I love watching F1 and never miss qualifying or a race.

    I think the decision is ludicrous and it’s like biting the hand that feeds you… What a slap in the face for the true fans.

    I travel a lot with work and I have watched F1 FREE in Spain, Hong Kong and China!

    The show on the BBC is second to none and the figures keep improving race on race… They’re must be some deal somewhere that someone is cashing in on!

    I will continue to watch it because I am fortunate enough to be able too but what about the millions that can’t… It really is disgraceful!!!

  9. JohnnyG82 (@johnnyg82) said on 3rd August 2011, 21:19

    I’m in Canada, and the only live coverage we get is the BBC feed. Later in the day we might get a SpeedTV feed, but the BBC is much better than the Speed broadcast.

  10. Andy Price said on 3rd August 2011, 21:24

    My house is listed and surrounded by trees so it limits where I could site a Sky dish. I cannot really afford what would be an expensive intsallation and cable is not an option locally. I have managed for years without Sky and would only want it for F1 and cricket. Next year will mean that I will not see all the races live and that saddens me. I will have to make do with David Croft (who is excellent) and Test Match Special on the radio.

    I have attended a number of races over the last few years and love it but the cost, now that I am retired, is just getting silly.

    I love the BBC coverage and despair when I see the money they waste on other stuff. F1 had a big audience but clearly that does not matter any more. It is very sad.

  11. Alex said on 3rd August 2011, 21:44

    In an ideal world….perhaps the sponsors of the teams could contribute to the licence fee. They are after all losing a large proportion of their audience and it could be seen as beneficial for them to pay the fee to reach the UK market.

  12. Alistair said on 3rd August 2011, 21:50

    Why is Lewis Hamilton in F1? The answer: because he became enthralled seeing Ayrton Senna slide his McLaren around Monaco – on free to air TV.

    The lack of free to air TV will hit F1 hard in Britian.

    • John H said on 3rd August 2011, 21:55

      You’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head Alistair.

      There are also so many German drivers probably due to watching schumi on FTA.

  13. Hallard said on 3rd August 2011, 22:23

    In the US, I pay about $70 a month (on top of my basic cable TV and internet package) just to see F1 broadcasts on Speed, which are shown chock-full of ads of course.

    If I were a UK resident, I would be signing up for a Sky Sports subscription without a second thought. It’s vexxing that F1 can treat its fans with such contempt at times, but it certainly doesnt make it any less intoxicating.

  14. Here in Germany F1 is FTA on RTL in SD, however they have massive advert breaks (worse than ITV!) and last time I watched it was always a Schumacher love-fest plus a report on some other idiots who were either getting in his way or confirming his glorious talent. I’m sure it hasn’t changed much, just a new champion….and before anyone says UK TV is a Hamilton/Button love-fest, it just doesn’t compare.
    They’ve now introduced an HD option at €50/year (first year free) if you have a CI+ slot, and it still has the adverts, which cannot be skipped on recordings.

    Anyway, the other option is to pay Sky Germany for the privilege. I used to do this prior to the Murdoch takeover when they were still Premiere and the coverage was quite good – Norbert Haug proved an excellent interview subject, with fair and detailed summaries. This coverage now costs €29.90/month for the first year, thereafter €33.90, or €39.90/43.90 if you want HD, plus €28.90 startup costs, and includes a basic receiver only (no recording).

    Whichever coverage you choose, the TV licence is €53.94 per quarter on top.

    Personally I’ve been watching with my Humax Freesat HDR on ITV and the Beeb up until now, so if I did want to go the Sky UK or DE route (which I don’t), I’d be needing a new sat receiver on top of the subscription.

  15. Tiomkin said on 3rd August 2011, 22:41

    The reason why F1 will die is stupid people giving into blackmail. If nobody took out Sky subscriptions, F1 (even football) would be back free to air within 18 months.

    The UK people do not deserve F1, they are too thick to realize THEY are the ones allowing SKY to put all sport behind a paywall. Beat a path to Sky’s door, muppets.

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