Sky and BBC to share F1 – Pirelli keeps “an open mind”
It was announced last week that in spite of excellent viewing figures and widely lauded coverage, Formula One has made a deal that will mean that only half the races will be shown live on the BBC from next season. Every race, testing and qualifying session will be shown live on Sky Sports with ten Grands Prix also appearing on the BBC, in addition to highlights of those events for which Sky will hold exclusive live rights. The new arrangement comes two years before the BBC’s current exclusive broadcaster deal was due to end. Exclusive tyre supplier Pirelli has reacted with circumspection to the news, suggesting that it will give close scrutiny to the viewing figures it receives under the new deal.
“We’ll obviously have to see what the details of the plan are,” Motorsport director Paul Hembery said. “But of course we’re pleased that we’ve managed to retain some presence on the BBC, who have done a great job in Formula One. I’m quite sure that Sky will produce an excellent product too, as they have done in football for example, but of course our main interest at Pirelli is in viewing figures. So we will just have to keep an open mind and see what those are like.”
The BBC’s Ben Gallop, head of F1 at the corporation blogged an explanation of the decision: “Ultimately, of course, decisions about which media organisations get the chance to broadcast F1 are taken by Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula 1 Management (FOM). But from the BBC’s perspective the new set-up provided us with an opportunity to continue our association with this gripping sport, which has captured the imagination of our audiences since it returned to BBC screens in 2009, with viewing figures at a 10-year high this season.
“And while our coverage from 2012 may not be as extensive as it has been up to now, the bare facts are that the BBC needs to save money. Given the financial circumstances in which we find ourselves, we believe this new deal offers the best outcome for licence-fee payers….
“This new F1 arrangement will allow us to tell the story of the whole F1 season for BBC viewers, while providing extended access to the biggest moments in the calendar: including the glamour of Monaco, the excitement of the last race of the season, plus the British grand prix at Silverstone, which remains one of the highlights of the UK’s sporting summer.”
Sky Sports’ managing director Barney Francis promised to “give F1 the full Sky Sports treatment”, suggesting that fans of the sport can look forward to slow motion montages replacing Eddie Jordan’s loud shirts in the build up to races.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who controls the commercial rights to the sport through CVC, the venture capital firm of which he is the chief executive, argued that the new deal will be “super for F1”, since “it will mean a lot more coverage for the sport… [with] highlights as well as live coverage on two different networks…”
News reports back in April and May 2011 suggested that Ecclestone was to receive a joint bid for the rights from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Exor, controlled by Fiat chiefs the Agnelli family. News Corp infamously holds a large chunk of – and wishes to fully own – BSkyB. While Ecclestone scotched rumours that the sport could be up for sale, perhaps its mid-contract transfer to Sky Sports could also hint that Murdoch’s interest in F1 has not yet diminished. However News Corporation’s recent troubles, coupled with the valid points made by Gallop about the BBC’s need to reduce its financial commitment to the sport make this purely speculative conjecture.