To read reports and hear interviews you could be excused for thinking that British fans of Formula 1 have won a great victory and have kept their beloved sport long into the future. That is the case, I agree entirely with the various public relations speakers who have applauded the unprecedented coverage of the Formula 1 season that will be available…for SKY subscribers.

For them it is brilliant news, they will be able to watch every practice, every qualifying and every race between 2012 and 2018 under a new deal agreed between Formula One Management and broadcasters. This is brilliant and reflects the fact that viewing figures in Britain are at a ten year high as the sport goes from strength to strength.

…what do they get from this deal …

There are rumours, however, of people in Britain who do not pay for SKY. They pay for the BBC because they have to; it is required in order to get one of these increasingly popular television sets. So what do they get from this deal that carefully crafted BBC headlines are showing to be a triumph of negotiation and enterprise under difficult situations?

Well they get half of the sport. The equivalent of getting 45 minutes of each game of the Premier League. I grant that the BBC has cleverly ensured that they can broadcast the Monaco and British Grand Prix’s as well as the final race of the season, these are the most popular and coveted races on the calendar. Congratulations. But watching the final race of the season is of little use if you don’t know what is going on.

…you would be missing so much of the joy of the sport.

The BBC would no doubt argue that you can catch up with the highlights which they have also cunningly sneaked away from the negotiating table for our delectation. This is not the same, you can see the important parts of a game of football in 10 seconds of footage but you would be missing so much of the joy of the sport.

The rationale behind this decision, on the part of the BBC, is efficiency. It is an expensive sport to cover, the current deal costs £40m per year at a time when the BBC is faced with making a £600m annual saving by 2014. Reports say that the Wimbledon Tennis Championship may also be at risk of the cost-cutting knife.

…the viewing figures will quickly drop away as people lose interest.

This is understandable but raises the question of the reasoning behind the new deal. With full BBC coverage being potentially over a month apart the viewing figures will quickly drop away as people lose interest. Soon the new deal, estimated at £15m, will begin to appear expensive and the coverage will follow cricket and rugby entirely onto SKY. Though it is painful to say it, it seems irrational to keep half of the season and still charge the licence-fee payer for it.

The options remaining to the BBC viewer are dismal. They can either huddle around a radio for two hours every other Sunday if they want to experience it live. They can sit in pubs with SKY at strange times of the day and night. They can be blackmailed into buying a SKY subscription. Or, finally, they can forget about the sport until it becomes to poor to run.

…an insult to those involved in the sport… 

All options are faintly ridiculous and make a mockery of the great work that the BBC has done in producing the coverage since it bought it from ITV in 2008. It is also an insult to those involved in the sport who are going to great lengths to make it cheaper and more environmentally friendly whilst also more exciting. The 2011 season so far has been brilliant, but perhaps it will be the last that many British fans will watch.

Images courtesy of F1


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