One of the biggest stories to dominate the weekend during the Hungarian Grand Prix was the news about the television rights in the UK from 2012.
It was news that most fans feared, Formula 1 is going to pay TV from 2012. With the BBC forced to make cuts in their spending due to a freeze in the current license fee and with a rumoured contract costing £60m a year, Formula 1 coverage was something that have deemed as something to cut in order to reduce their budget.
So what happens for 2012?
Sky Sports have signed up the rights to Formula 1 in the UK, which means viewers will now require a Sky Sports subscription in order to watch the full season live. But it’s not quite as clear as that as the BBC have announced that they will be showing 10 races over the season live themselves alongside Sky, including the British Grand Prix, the Monaco Grand Prix & the season finale. There will be either a full race re-run or extended highlights on the Sunday evening of the 10 races not shown live on the BBC (the details of which have yet to be revealed)
What this means for fans is having to pay a Sky Sports subscription to essential watch the 10 races live on Sky that BBC will not be cover live on their channel.
Obviously this deal has caused much outrage from the fans, comments & letters flooding websites & forums with the fans now unhappy at having to pay for Formula 1 coverage which has always been free to air.
For me personally, this has no impact, as I currently already pay a subscription for Sky Sports, due to my passion for Football, but for those who do not, it is a major expenditure to consider for the ability to watch only 10 races on their channels. With Sky’s football coverage however, this is quite different. During the football season, there is usually a match on from different leagues or competitions every day of the week. With Formula 1 we only get 20 races over an 8 month period, so it is understandable that Formula 1 fans feel outraged with regards to the costs involved just to follow Formula 1 live.
Many comments I have seen from fans say that they will stop watching Formula 1, I find this quite harsh. Unlike the Premier League football coverage, there will still be live Formula 1 races on the BBC and fans will still be able to watch highlights of the other 10 races that BBC do not show live. Formula 1 is a sport I have followed for as long as I can remember and I will not stop doing so from 2012 despite the move in TV coverage.
There are still question marks however over Sky’s coverage. They have stated that they will not show any advert breaks during the race itself (something that they will have learned from ITV’s time with the sport), another unknown is the presenters and commentary team. Rumours are that they will attempt to poach Martin Brundle from the BBC, who has become synonymous with Formula 1 coverage in the UK since 1997.
Many have commented that Sky will improve the coverage of Formula 1 as they have done so with the Premier League, but I do not feel that is the case. Bernie Eccelstone’s FOM control all the race feed images we see (any time you the F1 logo in the bottom left corner of the screen, that is from the FOM feed) so what will Sky actually do different?
Currently on the BBC we get around an hour of pre-show build up to Qualifying and the Race, and around 30 minutes of analysis, with an additional hour post race for the F1 Forum. All Sky’s cameras will be able to bring us will be similar pre and post race shows. I know the counter point to that is that we will see interactive options for onboard cameras, but BBC also currently has this option available as well, whether it is choosing the Radio 5 Live commentary, onboard camera, or the driver tracker, this can all currently be done on the BBC coverage either on the Red Button or on the BBC Sport website.
I for one utilise these feature when I watch races as I follow the onboard feed and driver tracker on the website while watching the TV coverage. That is one thing I know I will probably not be able to do from 2012 on Sky. Sky Sports website is not the greatest or easiest to use and their complicated account settings and restrictive registration of PC’s for their live and on demand features have always caused me problems, and that is assuming they even make these options available for viewing on their website.
So that is something I will lose out on from 2012, as well as the ability to view those Sky races in HD. BBC One HD is available for free, but Sky charge £10 a month for their HD pack, this is a charge I refuse to pay. Sky have pushed the ability to get HD in our homes and therefore should be setting a standard and make this free. For me, and many like me who do not have Sky’s HD pack, this will mean watching 10 races in standard definition quality. I personally believe it was pressure from the BBC on Bernie that meant we have HD coverage of Formula 1 this year, so if Sky truly wishes to set a new standard for Formula 1 coverage, they should be making HD coverage available to everyone.
Of course it is clear this TV deal is not all about TV coverage. There is definitely some politics involved. The BBC have been forced to cut costs, and are doing so with Formula 1 coverage, and this week rumours of BBC 4 being cut back or maybe slashed altogether, but it is the BBC that got itself into this mess. They have been wasteful with our money, whether it is the new Media Centre they have build in Salford and housing the staff in that area, filling our TV’s with overpaid ‘celebrity’ reality TV shows, or even dare I say, Formula 1 coverage, which it was rumoured they massively overpaid for.
BBC are trying to compete with the likes of Sky and ITV, who of course have the ability to get more income through advertising revenue. In doing so, BBC has filled our screens with lowest common denominator TV, be it game shows, talent shows or celebrity competition shows. All the while, true ratings winning programming has been cut or budgets have been slashed.
I have read many reports stating that programs such as Doctor Who and Top Gear are operating on reduced budgets, these are two of the BBC’s flagship shows and two that are sold to many countries around the world. This is what the BBC should be focusing on and not the likes of Total Wipeout or Hole in the Wall. Other top shows such as Spooks have been axed recently, which was another BBC hit.
If what is shown on TV is dictated by ratings then BBC would have found a way to keep Formula 1 on their channel, with every race so far this year gaining higher ratings than last year (bar the European Grand Prix in Valencia). The August issue of F1 Racing magazine details these figures for those interested in the numbers. So it’s clear that there are other factors involved, the biggest being cost, but at time when BBC are cutting Formula 1 coverage, earlier this week it was announced that they will open up BBC 3 during the day during London 2012 for Olympics coverage and there will also be a dedicated Olympics radio station for the duration of the games. Is this what Formula 1 coverage (and potentially BBC 4) is being axed for?
I have seen many petitions being circulated on the government e-petitions website to keep Formula 1 on the BBC, but honestly, how many think this will actually work? The decision has been made, the contracts have been signed and it was the government that gave the mandate to the BBC to cut costs. Unless the petition contains about £60m there is no chance of this deal changing.
I know this seems like a personal attack on the BBC, but this is my opinion on the way the BBC has been run and managed. This is not an attack on the people that bring us these programs, who no doubt work hard on any show that they are a part of, and this is certainly not an attack on the BBC F1 team. They have done a fantastic job in bringing us Formula 1 coverage, not just the team of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan, David Coulthard, Martin Brundle, Lee McKenzie & Ted Kravitz, but all of the team behind the scenes that edit and put the show together, the 5 Live radio team, and the website team. After these past couple of years with F1 on the BBC, it is hard to remember what previous coverage was like. They have all done a brilliant job to bring us F1, and I do congratulate them on that, and they thoroughly deserved their BAFTA award earlier this year.
Now we move on to Sky. Robert Murdoch has been in the news around the world due to the recent News of the World allegations, many have suggested boycotting his other media outlets as protest, but with the might of Sky in the UK, that is quite difficult, as there is no real alternative for television in some parts of the country, for example, I subscribed to Sky TV after all cable TV coverage in my area of East London was deactivated, leaving Sky as my only option at the time.
Beyond the wider politics of News Corp, and Bernie, it is clear that this 2012 TV deal could be the start of a bigger move by Sky and News Corp. Rumours surfaced earlier this year that New Corp were looking to buy FOM which at the time was refuted by Bernie Eccelstone. But with this 2012 TV deal, this could be a first step by News Corp to get themselves in to Formula 1 with a view to purchasing the sport in the next few years. Only time will tell if this is the case.
There are still wider implications of this TV deal, will sponsors pay less knowing that they will be receiving a lower TV audience? Could there be less people attending Formula 1 races as they will have switched off from watching on TV and therefore have no interest in attending races? Could this be the start of a complete phase out of Formula 1 coverage by the BBC?
Until we get into the 2012 season, it is hard to answer those questions. I haven’t found any Formula 1 fan that is happy about this TV deal, but I, like many else who love this sport, will have to accept the change to keep following Formula 1. Since I already pay a Sky Sports subscription, this is not likely to have much of an impact, and as I have subscriptions to Autosport and F1 Racing magazines respectively, I have no qualms about paying to follow Formula 1.
It is those fans that cannot get Sky, cannot afford Sky or do not want to pay for Sky that I feel for, not just with Formula 1 coverage. Sky is a massive corporation that has used its money to continually price the other TV companies out of programmes and sports coverage, forcing us viewers to pay as well. At a time when everyone is trying to save costs, it is us hard working members of the public that feel the burden the most.
Only time will tell if this was the right move for BBC, Sky and Bernie. All we can hope for is maybe one day; Formula 1 can find its home on the BBC again.