Are the nails being readied for F1’s UK coffin or is the sport ready to step into a bold new era?
On Wednesday night, Sky announced that it is to be the exclusive broadcaster of Formula One in the UK from 2019. Below we consider what the deal means for F1, for F1 fans and what other options may be available to viewers by 2019.
What does the deal mean?
The deal means that from 2019 onwards the only place you’ll be able to watch live F1 on TV in the UK will be on the Sky Sports network. There’s no confirmation that the ‘Sky Sports F1’ channel will still be around by then. Furthermore, Sky will produce highlights and show the British Grand Prix as ‘free-to-air’, although again there is no confirmation of what exactly their definition of ‘free-to-air’ means. It means that Formula One’s UK audience will decline. I ran a poll on twitter and almost three quarters of you said that you will not be paying to watch F1 on Sky Sports from 2019 onwards.
— Lights Out ●●●●● (@LightsOutF1Blog) March 23, 2016
What’s the issue?
The problem with Sky is that, obviously, it is a subscription service and Formula 1 will sit fully behind a pay-wall from 2019, as opposed to the 50/50 live/highlights deal that the UK has with Channel 4 and Sky. The subscription isn’t exactly cheap either. According to F1 Fanatic (http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2015/01/27/fans-worldwide-reveal-cost-watching-f1-2015/) to watch the 2015 season on Sky Sports F1 HD cost £763. That’s over £40 per race. Of course, you get plenty of other Sky channels too but that’s unlikely to be a convincing argument for fans who just want to see their favourite sport live. And what about the casual viewer? F1’s viewership will undoubtedly radically decline in 2019. Sky’s viewing figures aren’t great at the moment either- according to F1 Broadcasting Blog, the figures for the Australian Grand Prix were down by 30% to the previous year. From 2019, less people watching means less people seeing sponsors on cars and at tracks, less people seeing sponsors means less sponsors will be interested in promoting themselves via Formula 1. In return that means less money in the sport, less money for the teams and an overall worse Formula. You can’t help but feel that this deal has been done for short-term financial gain for the involved parties without a second thought for the longevity of the sport.
Another problem is that Sky’s output isn’t, in my opinion, the best it could be. There are some redeeming factors- Ted’s Notebook is probably the best thing about Sky’s coverage and I’ve always preferred watching Sky’s coverage of practice sessions as I found them more informative than their former-BBC counterparts- but the rest of their approach is something that I’ve never really warmed to. It all feels a little disjointed to me. Furthermore, the F1 channel has already made cuts this year- The F1 Show has been scrapped at non-race weekends- and if Sky are the exclusive broadcaster then they’ll have no competition, hence no reason to improve and adapt their coverage. It’s very possible that complacency will kick in and Sky F1 viewers will be left wanting more. It is ironic that on the same day of this announcement the GPDA released a letter berating Formula 1’s governance, saying that it is “obsolete and ill-structured”:
— Grand Prix Drivers (@GPDA_) March 23, 2016
The key part to this is: “Formula 1 is currently challenged by a difficult global economic environment, a swift change in fan and consumer behaviour, and a decisive shift in the TV and media landscape. This makes it fundamental that the sport’s leaders make smart and well considered adjustments.” The accessibility of Formula 1 in the UK will be compromised by the new Sky deal, therefore this adjustment is neither smart nor well considered.
An alternative to Sky?
There’s no mention of the online rights in Sky’s announcement. This is a suspicious omission. Some sources, including James Allen, have commented on the development of a streaming service direct from FOM (Formula One Management). It would be a bold new era for Formula 1, a sport which failed to consider the power of the internet for many years. This could be Formula One’s saving grace. An app or online hub where fans can watch all the sessions live and catch up on anything they’ve missed. Obviously this would still be behind a pay-wall but you’d be paying for just Formula One. If this were around £100 per season then I doubt there’d be too many fans complaining. In fact, this may be the reasoning behind the early announcement of the new Sky deal, it will make paying a figure around £100 for a full season of F1 seem very reasonable. If it included support races too then all the better.
Undoubtedly, this is a story that will run for the next three years. Given how long there is until the deal starts, you can’t help but feel that something will change, or new information and options will come to light at some point over the next 36 months.
What do you think to the new deal? Do you think Sky will really be the only place to watch F1 in 2019? Let me know in the comments!