From 2012 and for the following six years, British coverage of Formula 1 will be split between the free-to-air BBC and the Sky pay-TV network, an announcement that marks one of the biggest changes in the sport’s broadcasting history.
For decades, it has been argued that the sport should remain on free-to-air TV, but it would seem that it cannot always compete with the bigger bucks on offer from the subscription channels, particularly when the Formula One group is looking at ways of sustaining its income.
The deal means that the BBC will be allowed to broadcast up to half of the races live on free-to-air TV, while Sky will take the remainder to broadcast to its paying customers.
The deal sees “all races, qualifying and practice sessions being shown live on Sky Sports across TV, online and mobile and tablet devices, while half the races and qualifying sessions will remain live on BBC TV, online and mobile including key races such at the British Grand Prix, Monaco Grand Prix and the final race of the season.”
The BBC will continue to offer “extensive highlights on TV, online and mobile, of all races and qualifying sessions that [it] is not covering live.”
Given the sport’s growing popularity in the UK, this announcement will not go down well with many fans who will be forced to shell out subscription fees to still be allowed to watch the sport they love. Ultimately, the move will massively benefit Sky, which will enjoy an increase in subscribers.
Fans will certainly be protesting over the decision, particularly given the announcement comes days after F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone offered his assurances that “it isn’t possible that F1 could go on to pay-TV. We wouldn’t want to do that.”
There had been speculation bubbling along for the last few months suggesting that the BBC – which took over the broadcasting rights from ITV at the end of the 2008 season at considerable expense – was struggling to justify its ongoing financial commitment to broadcasting Formula 1.
With it like to cost plenty of money to terminate its agreement early, the accountants at the BBC have obviously deemed it more prudent to commit to a shared broadcast arrangement with Sky.
Quite how this will affect countries – including Australia – that leverage their F1 broadcasts off the BBC feed is not completely confirmed. We have contacted representatives from Australia’s Network Ten and One for comment.