Unless you have been walking around with your eyes closed, and your head encased in a block of concrete, with a blindfold tied around it, in the dark – unless you have been doing that, you surely can’t have failed to have seen that Formula One coverage in the United Kingdom will be shared between the BBC and Sky Sports from 2012-2018.
News of the deal came as quite a surprise, not least because Bernie Ecclestone suggested that a switch to pay-per-view would be “suicidal” for Formula One just a few weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, Internet forums, social media and even talk down the pub have been awash with criticism and complaints about future reduction in free-to-air coverage for the sport.
But before that, let’s rewind back to the beginning. Back to 2008…
Despite the recession Formula One was rolling in cash, not least from television. In a quickly negotiated move with ITV’s Michael Grade, Ecclestone had switched ITV’s broadcasting rights back to the BBC – naturally at a profit to himself. Grade wanted to use the Formula One dosh to finance a bid for the European football rights.
If numbers are to be trusted, ITV had paid in the region of £30m a year for the rights to the sport. “I’ll take them back,” Ecclestone had told Grade, “if you sign the contract by the end of today and pay a fee.” That same day a contract was drawn up and that was the end of ITV’s F1 coverage.
Having trousered a vast sum for ITV terminating their contract early, Ecclestone subsequently did a deal with the BBC who picked up the rights for more than ITV were originally paying, but without the ability to recover any of the fee through advertising. Very shrewd.
One assumes that at the time it was a buyer’s market, for Channel 4 were going through a financial rough patch and, reportedly, there were very few (if any) who were interested in picking up the rights to Formula One coverage within the UK at that point in time.
In hindsight it appears as though the BBC paid well over the odds for these rights, and it’s only now, three years into a five year contract, that the public service broadcaster has seen the error of its ways and bowed down to pressure from those who pull the purse strings.
As of next year the BBC will show 10 of the scheduled 20 races live, these include the Monaco and British Grands Prix, as well as the season finale – hopefully the fight for the title won’t be done and dusted before they rock up at the Brazilian Grand Prix in November. Those that they do not broadcast live will be condensed into a highlights package that will be shown on Sunday evening.
The problem here is that the pleasure of any sport is being able to watch it live and seeing the action develop. Watching a highlights package hours after the results have been announced will never be the same, unless you somehow manage to dodge any major spoilers, a near enough impossible feat these days.
That said, it wasn’t that long ago that following Formula One consisted of either receiving lap-by-lap updates via Ceefax or staying up late to watch ‘Grand Prix’. The depth of coverage the BBC has served us these past few years has been nothing short of phenomenal. You could so far as to say we have been well and truly spoilt.
This all costs money of course. On top of the coverage rights there are a vast number of personnel that need to be carted around the world to bring us this tip-top coverage and this all cost vast sums of money. Money that the BBC needs to be saving, and for them cutting back on their Formula One output is a quick and easy way to be seen to be doing the right thing.
It’s all well and good for them to be trimming back their outgoings in what are tough economic times, but then so are the license fee paying public. And do Sky really believe that those of us who are not already a customer with them are going to spend a vast fortune on buying one of their packages for the purpose of just ten races?
By my rough calculations it will cost somewhere in the region of £38.00 per race to watch half of the season through a satellite dish. Comparatively little value for money and, to be honest, I would have preferred it that if the BBC were not able to commit to showing the season as a whole, then they call it quits. At least that way I could justify the costs involved as a non-Sky subscriber. Who knows, I’ll probably get my wish sooner rather than later anyway. History shows us that the move to pay-TV can be a slippery slope, and this is likely to be just the start of how things will pan out in the future.
From a personal point of view, I can scarcely see the motivation in only being able to watch a fragmented season live. I’m not overly enamoured on the idea of being handed leftovers from those that regard me to be someone not worth bothering about because I can’t afford an enormous outlay. And then of course there is the moral issue of lining Rupert Murdoch’s pockets…
Perhaps I’m looking at this too emotionally. I mean, there are much worse things going on in the world, far worse in fact. At the end of the day this is all about watching twenty-odd cars go round in circles on a Sunday afternoon. I mean, it’s not like there are other, more illicit, ways of being able to watch it or, crazy as this may seem to some, other racing categories one could invest their time and energy into.