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. paul said on 3rd August 2011, 22:44

    we paid for the bbc to upgrade to HD and then they take F1 away from us which was the best program in HD then if you want HD on sky you have to pay extra on top of your sky deal to get it. sky are just a rip off. all the programs are filmed in HD so why the extra cost to watch them??

  2. F1 survives over the years due to young kids starting watching at say 7-11 year olds and get bigger fans as they get older. buying games, dvd(or in our case vhs!) going to races, magazines, hats, etc etc.

    now how is F1 going to attract that on sky? cos lets be serious its going to 10vs10 next year but the year after or the year after that? i dont think so BBC will wind it down.

    you are not going to get your new young viewers who happened to have it on in their bedroom one day and been hooked by it. to watch it they will have to have their parents want to also watch it on the sky feed. If their dad/mum is a fan then great. But that isnt always the case and now we will never get them fans.

    in 10yrs time the effect on the sport will be huge IMO

  3. SoerenKaae (@soerenkaae) said on 4th August 2011, 8:35

    In Denmark we have excellent coverage, and although it is interrupted by commercial, it still is a great show. The price is approx. 120£ a year, but for that price you also get Discovery Channel, EuroSport and various other channels. So all in all a fair price.

  4. dominikwilde said on 4th August 2011, 8:58

    Adam Parr is saying fans should support the Sky TV deal and ‘cost reductions’. Now, it’s not the case for everyone but it is certainly the case for alot of people, me included – How can we ‘support’ something if there is nothing to support? Putting F1 on Sky effectively takes F1 from alot of us so why should we support something we can’t see or follow propperly anymore?! And here was me thinking Bernie was the only true idiot left in the sport! This is great news for the teams, but for how long? Surely after a season or two (three if they’re lucky) the high TV income for teams will drop because nobody is watching it to pay. Soon the only people watching will be someobe waiting for the Manchester Rovers game to come on afterwards with nothing better to do with their early Sunday afternoon.

  5. Metallion (@metallion) said on 4th August 2011, 9:28

    I don’t comment here a lot, so first of all, thanks for all your great articles Keith.

    I’m from Finland and we get 1 hour of highlights on free to air TV. If you want to watch all the sessions live, you have to buy a channel package of 7 channels which costs €14,95 per month on cable or €19,99 per month on terrestrial. I believe there’s an extra cost for HD but I’m not sure how much that is.

    I’ve spent a couple of years in the UK so I’ve experienced the coverage by ITV and now this year by the BBC and I must say that the BBC coverage has been excellent. I’ve really enjoyed the commentary by DC and Martin Brundle and been equally annoyed by EJ during most weekends. I will definitely miss the BBC coverage when I move back to Finland next week.

    I feel for everyone in the UK because I think there’s no broadcaster out there who’s doing a better job than the BBC and I know I would not pay £610 to be able to watch half the season live.

  6. Menno555 said on 4th August 2011, 9:30

    I think it all is useless. Many ten of thousands (and growing) have negative feelings about this BBC/Sky sell out deal, some of those feelings very strong. Why? Because people love Formula 1, they love the BBC coverage. So many people can not get Sky even if they wanted to cause of the costs.

    BBC doesn’t care though and they will just continue. The fact alone that they closed the blog http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/sporteditors/2011/07/f1_coverage_to_be_shared_betwe.html for comments after 8415 (!!!) negative comments is sort of proof for that. Guess the BBC wants us all to use https://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/ to make comments now on the disgrace? ;)

  7. paul said on 4th August 2011, 9:33

    Being a knowledgable f1 fan who has no intention of paying sky around £500 for 20hrs tv. i still dont get it. I dont see what f1 gets out of it. Just small amount of money and lot of hastle for teams , sponsers, track owners and potential damage for future fans.

    I was thing about this last night
    Can you imagine if sky had bahrain , abu dhabi , valencia and singapore.

    Would you pay to watch them. i know i would not.

    And if bbc had them it would kill sport for viewers .

    To be honet i am hoping teams tell burnie to stick and set up there own championship on some of the classic tracks not the tracks that have paid for the privilage

  8. Cappo Mark (@cappo-mark) said on 4th August 2011, 9:37

    TO THE BBC….

    Launch a F1 channel and charge us more. I would prefer this based on the amazing job you have done.

    DO NOT have sky mess it up.

  9. Dan_the_McLaren_fan (@dan_the_mclaren_fan) said on 4th August 2011, 9:41

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

    I’m living in Belgium, and I just had to pay for the TV. Without taking any subscriptions of any kind, I can get 8 free channels, and one of these channels shows each race and qualifying live (SD). Last year, I even had another channel (in flemish) which was also showing F1 (without ad breaks, but without any build-up), but they stopped showing it this year.
    But when I’m living near my university, we have a bit more channels (and I guess the university pays for it), and there we have BBC One, and TF1 (french channel), so that makes 3 channels which are showing F1 in SD, and that I don’t have to pay for.

    A pity that F1 on the BBC will be limited next year, because their coverage was by far the best one!

  10. Iznogoud said on 4th August 2011, 9:46

    For viewers living in Sweden, live coverage was moved from the free Viasat Sport to the subscription based Viasat Motor a couple of years ago. The cost for watching a full season is approximately equivalent to 450 GBP. Given that I rarely watch any TV except the occasional football match and – of course – F1, I went looking for other alternatives instead. I ended up watching delayed BBC coverage using some dodgy way of accessing BBC iplayer. This makes it hard, because there is no way I would go back to swedish coverage again; I would miss Brundle and colleagues too much. Anyway, I’ve grown used to watching the coverage some hours delayed, and I actually like it now. The kids have all gone to bed and you can pause the action while you prepare some more coffee and sandwiches. So, if BBC will show all races in full, although some races delayed, I would say you´re still in for a more than decent experience. That is, if they keep a similar level of coverage, with Eddie’s opinions, Lee and Ted in the pit lane, DC and Brundle in the commentary box, and Jake desperatley trying not to be knocked down by some mechanic.

  11. Shimks said on 4th August 2011, 9:57

    I live in Switzerland. Here, we can watch the races live on Swiss, German and Italian channels. Maybe even French.

    If I were still living in England, I would never pay for a Sky subscription. F1 is the only sport I follow. So I would be watching the re-runs and trying to avoid the results. Which I’ve done before when I’ve missed a race and it’s a pain in the (.)

    Ecclestone is a businessman. He is not interested in anything other that increasing his profits. Plus, time is not on his side anymore. The Sky deal, while rubbish for the rest of us, is perfect for him. He will have made zillions from this.

    The promise from Sky that coverage will be advert-free will be short lived. That’s absolutely clear. They’ve only offered this because they know most fans will turn away in 2012 unless they temporarily offer this. I guess the idea is, once the fans are hooked… Once you’re paying your prescription, it’s unlikely you’ll stop because of the introduction of adverts.

    Just as Bernie is a businessman, F1 is a business. We, the fans, will never have a say and our emotional connection to the sport will only ever be used as a marketing tool. In any other way except dollar signs, our love for the sport means nothing to those who run it. To them, it’s not a sport; it’s business.

    We won’t even have our say as hundreds of thousands turn away from the sport in 2012. Sky and the powers that be at F1 will have already done all the calculations. The potential losses will have been counted and the numbers must still look very good for both sides on this deal.

    Shame for us. Nothing we can do about it.

  12. Marc said on 4th August 2011, 10:07

    I like many was absolutely gutted to hear about this new position on the F1 coverage. I think Keith has hit the nail on the head better than most I have seen in the last few days.

    At a time where the sport is growing in popularity to cut out such a audience with this move could be hugely negative. One of the things about F1 that has always appealed to me is the loyal the fan base is across the world which this website is of great testament to! Because of how loyal this sport is we have essentially being put in a positon where we either pay the money or miss out! I’m sure the BBC will do everything they can to make the highlights as good as possible but the reality is that nothing is going to compare to watching it live.

    Anyway to the point yeah, I really really really don’t want to have to start paying for F1 but realistically am I going to stop watching the sport I love? No. With these free view packages skysports can be bought for £19.99 a month on a non subscription basis (so only pay for the F1 season) which is £5 pound a week so can I go without that one extra pint, pack of cigarettes, BLT sandwich or whatever a week to watch F1. Yeah I think I can. I’m not happy about it in the slightest but I think for £5 a week I can manage. It’s going to be a shame to see the great pedigree of coverage from the BBC be somewhat cut short but Sky will never top what we have now the only thing that is making this seem a bit better is the possiblity of F1 in 3D sure I don’t have a 3D tv but wouldn’t it be awesome to head down to the pub and catch it in 3D?

    Which thinking about it F1 being on Sky might cause us all to come out of our little shells and venture to the pub for the F1 which could be quite a laugh, I mean I only ever watch it by myself (to everyone else in the house it’s cars going round in circles) So sod it lets get to the pub on Sundays and have some F1 banter with each other and I’m sure some good Maclaren, Red Bull, Ferrari competition with others could be fun!

    • Freeview doesn’t have the Sky Sports option; that requires a specialist Sky dish and decoder box, which in turn requires a subscription.

      Also, good luck finding a pub that will broadcast F1…

  13. José Costa said on 4th August 2011, 10:08

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

    I’m from Portugal and I’m paying (since 2010) 25.59 Euros/month to watch F1 (live). HD costs 27.99/month.


  14. PaulM said on 4th August 2011, 10:09

    Not too sure if anyone has covered this already as I have not read through all 350 responses yet, but I was having a look at packages that give you Sky Sports cheaper. BT Vision Unlimited costs £12.50 per month, and then you can add Sky Sports for another £12.50. So £25 for the whole package, whereas my Sky subscription costs me £21 for the basics per month and I will have to add another £20 to that if I want Sky Sports. So £41 per month with Sky, and £25 per month with BT… Time to leave Sky me thinks!

  15. Maniel said on 4th August 2011, 10:21

    Here in Lebanon, we are lucky to watch F1 for free through Abu Dhabi sports channel.

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