Reaction to the announcement from hardy F1 fans has been as outraged as it has been immediate. But unless there is some sort of complicated legal reason as to why the Beeb can't renegotiate their contract midway through their five-year run, all the Facebook groups in the world won't save F1's exclusive free-to-air deal.
So, are there any positives to the deal? Well far be it from me to be a contrary old so-and-so, but there are a few.
1) It is better than the alternatives.
Approaching the announcement from the point of view of 'The BBC have lost half of F1' is really the wrong way to look at the deal. For months now there have been credible rumours that the Beeb was considering dropping the coverage entirely, as the pincer-like squeeze of frozen license fee payments from one side and Bernie's exorbitant costs for the TV rights from the other increasingly made dropping F1 wholesale a no-brainer for the Beeb's anxious cost-cutting needs.
Instead, we should be looking at it from the point of view of 'THe BBC have saved half of F1'. While the idea of the sport moving entirely onto pay TV never seemed a realistic option, the idea of it moving either back to ITV and their jingoistic Team GB mentality, or even to the untried likes of Channels 4 or 5, seemed to be a distinct possibility. At least with the deal the way it is now, F1 fans get half a season unintruded on by advert breaks, tedious fanboyism broadcasting, or Steve Rider's massive hand.
It's a poor deal for F1 fans, but it appears to have been the best of a bad bunch.
2) The BBC appear to have first dibs.
The initial reports confirmed that the Monaco GP, the British GP and the season finale at least would remain on free-to-air broadcasts at least, and presumably we'll have more confirmation as to which races the Beeb will be able to get thier hands on in the future. If they were being particularly clever about it, they'd let Sky have all the flyaway races and then show highlights at the normal race time, minimising the impact of the split coverage for the average viewer.
Whether or not they can do that remains to be seen, but certainly in other deals where Sky share the rights to a sporting event with a free-to-air broadcaster, the free channel can pick and choose what they show, with Sky just absorbing the rest. So hopefully the classic, unmissable races (the season opener, Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, etc) will remain unmissable, and fans will just have to find some way of watching Sky for the likes of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
3) Sky aren't actually bad at showing sport.
Among all of the anger, it has to be grudgingly pointed out that when Sky Sports get their grubby mitts on a sport, the coverage they offer is usually unparalleled. They won't simply be bunging some brief race coverage in between random football and rugby games. The evil empire of Sky has four dedicated sports channels, an a wealth of interactive streams, so the extent of the coverage shouldn't be affected, even if the number of people who can watch it will be. Yes, there will be the tedious self-congratulatory hype, the endless COMING SOON promos, the need to stop talking about F1 every five minutes to remind everyone that Norwich v Bolton is on Sky Sports 1 in 3D right now, but the core coverage will probably be fine.
The best comparison to how they might handle F1 would be their recent coverage of A1GP, in which they showed full qualifying sessions live (despite the A1GP championship having one of the most needlessly long and baffling qualifying formats in the history of motorsport) and the races live as well, all with studio analysts (they only went and got Tony ruddy Jardine), a token hot female presenter borrowed from Sky Sports News, and most excitingly of all, Ben Edwards in the commentary box.
According to scurrilous rumours, the BBC failed to poach Edwards for their own coverage because he didn't like the idea of signing an exclusive deal and dropping his other motorsport commentary commitments. Sky don't seem to need any sort of exclusive deal with their commentators, so maybe - just maybe - the Edwards/F1 dream team is on.
4) The BBC coverage shouldn't be too badly affected.
As for the Beeb's coverage, there seems little evidence that they will be torn apart. Jake Humphrey has a range of presenting duties for the corporation aside from F1, and will probably be somewhere near the forefront of the channel's in depth coverage of [s]Tom Daley[/s] the London Olympics next year, so he should be fine. And there's likely not much chance of Sky breaking the bank to secure the services of EJ or Tedward Kravitz.
As for the rest, in the past Sky have tended to try and recruit their own teams to cover new sports, rather than just steal someone else's en masse. Martin Brundle has appeared non-committal over his future on the Beeb, but even if he and DC are tempted away by Sky's megabucks offers, the BBC has their current radio duo of David Croft and Anthony Davidson, which some still see as providing a better standard of commentary than their occasionally overly-smug TV counterparts, to parachute into the role.
Added to that, there is no evidence that, for the races the BBC will get in 2012, they won't be offering their all-singing, all-dancing current level of coverage, with practice sessions, red button fun and post-race forums a-go-go. Perhaps their cost-cutting options were to keep the full season but pare away each weekend's coverage to the bare minimum, or deliver as full a set of coverage as possible for a select amount of races. In which case, I for one would prefer quality over quantity.
5) We need to hear more details first.
Aside from anything else, the early flutterings of reaction to this announcement is nothing more than a whole shedload of speculation. The bare facts of the deal aside, nobody really knows anything about the make-up of the coverage in 2012, the presenting teams, the extent of the live weekend action, how and where Sky will prioritise the sport, whether we'll suddenly get thousands of drunk F1 fans in the pub on a Sunday afternoon, chanting for Hamilton and smashing beer bottles over each other's heads a la Sky's football coverage, or what.
There are also mutterings from the teams, and apparently from Mr Ecclestone, that the deal itself may not be fully kosher, so who knows how the headlines will play out between now and the start of the 2012 season. But overall, the loss of F1 from free-to-air television is very sad, but in many ways it was inevitable that it would happen at some point. And there's enough possible good points to the new deal that means that we should be looking ahead with hopeful intrigue, at least to a certain extent.
Having said all that, if Sky go back to their F1 Digital coverage era and stick Matt Lorenzo in the host's seat, I'll be signing those Facebook petitions before you can say 'EXCLUSIVELY LIVE IN SKY HD QUALITY'.
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