British Formula 1 fans will not be able to watch any Grands Prix live on free-to-air television from 2019.
The announcement comes shortly after the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association published an open letter calling for an overhaul of the sport’s ‘obsolete’ and ‘ill-structured’ governance.
The timing of the announcement has been greeted with fury and suspicion among fans and the media respectively, with many in the latter group likening it to another attempt by Formula One Management to muzzle its critics. What is equally curious is that the announcement was made just one race into free-to-air broadcaster Channel 4’s shared hosting rights deal with Sky Sports, which it took over from the BBC.
From 2019, Sky Sports will have exclusive broadcasting rights of Formula 1 in the United Kingdom from 2019 until 2024. The sole exception will be the British Grand Prix, which – for as long as it remains on the calendar – is protected under Britain’s anti-siphoning broadcast laws that stipulate that a free-to-air telecast must be made available.
“I am delighted that we will continue to work together,” said Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. “Sky’s commitment to the sport and standard of coverage is second to none.”
Under the new arrangement, Sky has committed to providing a free-of-charge highlights package of qualifying and the race at each Grand Prix.
The news is a hammer blow for the country’s millions of F1 fans who are not yet enrolled in Sky’s subscription package, which currently costs £556 (AU$1,046) a year on top of the annual TV license fees each household is charged.
As Formula One Management continues to charges the sort of broadcasting fees that only the pay-TV networks can afford, so the television landscape has shifted and F1’s global TV audiences have fallen over the past two years.
Image via XPB Images