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. 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…

  2. 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!!

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Jack Holt said on 5th August 2011, 19:51

    I emailed FOTA to urge them to block this move – I got no response. The teams can sniff a bit more money, they couldn’t care less about the fans. It’s horribly short-sighted, F1’s popularity will be reduced in the longer term because of this deal.

  7. john wilson said on 6th August 2011, 17:25

    how many millions more pocket money will this earn bernie he should be ashamed

  8. OldEarl said on 6th August 2011, 23:03

    The funniest thing i read was the very people who can’t afford sky should arrange a boycott of the companys that sponsor F1. Next time you are at Silverstone buy a programme if you can afford any of the products in there sky is’nt a problem.

  9. Brian said on 8th August 2011, 4:02

    In Canada we can watch all races on TSN, which we have to subscribe to, but we get it with a package of other channels on satelite. Its not that expensive depending on your provider.
    The only problem is that we don’t get ANY pre-race or post race coverage, and that is something I would really enjoy.

  10. BasCB (@bascb) said on 8th August 2011, 19:53

    Just went through all these comments. The suprising thing is, there is about 10-15 comments that think its perfectly OK. And the 4-5 from PM telling us how his experience of Australian TV coverage sucks.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 8th August 2011, 20:00

      Let me add, that where I live in the Czech Republic we get some 20 or more stations as “free to air” (you have a TV fee of about 66 EUR/year and must have either a digital TV set or set top box as all signals are digital only now, to save the broadcasters cost).

      F1 is shown on commercial station TV Nova, who are generally considered to do a fine job, there are even people who really love it. They normally show Qualli and the race and have about an hour pre/after race coverage, but count on the ad brakes to miss the best parts :-(.
      I must say, that from being used to better coverage, I find it hard to enjoy it on Nova.
      As I stopped watching TV here a couple of years ago, we watch a lot through the internet, but many sports are not available live that way, so I use streaming a lot.

  11. Chris Yu Rhee said on 9th August 2011, 10:49

    So THIS is why Star Sports/Sky abruptly cut their broadcast in Korea…

  12. Les Speed said on 1st September 2011, 19:39

    CAD $50.00 per race, in Vancouver. BC. The majority at 5am local time, with the few exceptions Montreal, Brazil, etc. and the Asian races in the evening, early morning.

  13. Leo Goman (@leonidas) said on 17th November 2011, 22:43

    I had no idea pay-per-view was so expensive in the UK. I’m from Bucharest, Romania and over here F1 is broadcast on a cable channel which my provider doesn’t..well..provide. Luckily though, that particular channel airs online (totally legal and not breaking any copyright laws, of course..cough cough) so that’s how i watch the races. But afterwards i always download (again, totally legal and not breaking any copyright laws) the BBC coverage of the race because it’s brilliant! Sad to think that i’ll only get half the dose of Eddie Jordan and DC next year.

  14. paul maddison said on 3rd January 2012, 13:32

    the sky hd package is £10 on top of your normal fee. I have the hd package anyway so having F1 on sky there has been no price change for me…..I dont think we should be moaning about the price it will be to watch it on sky ,i think we should be moaning about the price of a normal tv licence… Lets have it right there is nothing on normal tv these days…

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