SBD/July 29, 2011/Media

BBC, Sky To Share U.K. F1 Rights As Sport Shifts Off Free-To-Air TV

Several F1 teams had been pushing for BBC to retain exclusive U.K. rights
The BBC and Sky have "joined forces to secure live rights to Formula One motor racing" in the U.K. in a "seven-year deal from 2012 until 2018," according to John Plunkett of the GUARDIAN. Sky will "broadcast all the races, qualifying and practice sessions while the BBC will have the rights to half the races and qualifying including 'key races' such as the British Grand Prix, Monaco Grand Prix and the final race of the season." The BBC also "will have 'extensive' highlights of all races and qualifying events it does not cover live." The deal marks the "first time Formula One races have not been available live on free-to-air television." BSkyB CEO Jeremy Darroch said that Sky "became involved in the negotiations for Formula One very late in the process." U.K. network broadcaster Channel 4 "reportedly expressed an interest in buying the rights, while ITV rejected the idea of making a bid." Darroch "would not divulge what the company paid, although given half the races will no longer be free to air it is expected to be at a significant premium." Plunkett notes the deal also "follows speculation that the BBC would drop Formula One as it seeks to make cost savings of 20% of its budget following last year's flat licence fee settlement." The BBC "was the traditional home of Formula One motor racing for many years until the rights were bought by ITV in 1997." The BBC regained the rights in '09 (GUARDIAN, 7/29). MEDIA WEEK's Sara Kimberley reported if there are "an odd number of races in the season, the extra race will be screened exclusively on Sky Sports." BBC Radio 5 Live and Sports Extra "will continue to cover every race live" (MEDIAWEEK.co.uk, 7/29).

LOSING FORMULA
: In London, Kevin Eason notes the deal was "greeted with dismay by hundreds of thousands of fans," who "bombarded social networking sites protesting that the BBC's coverage will be reduced to just ten races." Former F1 driver Stirling Moss wrote on his Twitter feed, "For F1, and more importantly the UK, fans I can not see this being good over the long term. The casual viewing figure will drop significantly. I would not want [to] pay Sky to see the rest of the season." Eason notes F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone is "due to fly into Budapest, where he will be met with a hostile reception from teams, who knew nothing of the deal until they switched on news channels in their motorhomes before this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix." The teams "have been pushing Ecclestone to keep the sport on free-to-air BBC where Formula One has been enjoying huge audiences this season" (LONDON TIMES, 7/29).

BBC DEFENDS MOVE: In Manchester, Gibson & Plunkett report the BBC is defending its decision to renegotiate its F1 deal, claiming it "would have otherwise been forced to ditch the sport altogether." BBC Dir of Sport Barbara Slater said the savings as part of the new deal were "genuinely significant." However, Gibson & Plunkett note the net is saving at least US$40.7M "less a year." Given that Sky will be paying more than US$26.8M per year "for full live rights, which it will exploit across all platforms, the expectation is that Bernie Ecclestone has again negotiated a significant increase of the total flowing into the sport" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 7/29).
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