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. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 :-(

  5. 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£

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 :(

  12. 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.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 9th August 2011, 10:28

      Yes, although going to Silverstone might mean they would have to stock up on the grandstands before being able to sell more tickets :-)

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

  14. 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….

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

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