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SBD Global/November 1, 2013/Media

Predictable Finish Leaves F1 Scrambling For Ways To Increase Viewers, Rights Fees

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The F1 season "has come to resemble a car at the back of the grid: fast-moving but prone to technical problems and in need of something new and exciting," according to Blitz & Allen of the FINANCIAL TIMES. Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s victory at last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix "sealed a fourth consecutive drivers’ championship for the German." Yet "the much-predicted outcome also means the final three races of the season, in Abu Dhabi this weekend, and the U.S. and Brazil later in the month, will be processional" -- of interest "only as historical footnotes and likely to hit audience ratings." In terms of sustained sporting interest, '13 "has been a write-off in F1." Is F1 "sleepwalking into stagnation?" F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone "has been acutely aware of the risk of 'sameness' damaging public interest in the sport." Yet Ecclestone "has also talked up Vettel’s achievements, describing him as probably better than Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian driver." While '14 "promises further uncertainty at the top of the sport, the new season will bring the opportunity to inject some much needed competition." The cars "will have to cover the same 300km race distance but using one-third less fuel." While this has posed a stiff challenge for the teams, Mercedes in particular has "been working hard to prepare for the change and have been making confident noises about next season." The new approach "has helped entice Honda, the world’s largest engine builder, back into the sport." Will the "viewing public notice the difference?" F1 "will certainly hope so, given that this a crucial time for its relations with broadcasters." F1’s global TV audience "fell last year," down 34% in China alone. The sport "is at a crossroads regarding media rights distribution, with traditional mass-market broadcasters such as the U.K.’s BBC, RAI in Italy and TF1 in France no longer able to afford the rights fees." Ecclestone "has been pushed into doing exclusive or semi-exclusive deals with pay channels such as Sky and Canal Plus." In the U.K. and Italy -- two of F1’s largest TV audiences -- "viewers are able to see only half the races live on free-to-air channels." F1 "continues to push into new markets, particularly in Asia and the Americas, but the television audience has remained stubbornly eurocentric" (FT, 10/31).
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