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Oct 07th
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Reasons why the Sky F1 deal isn't all bad

So, the deal is apparently done. From the start of next season, F1 fans wanting to follow every minute of the Formula One season live will have to utilise Sky Sports, and all the monthly bills that go with it.

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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Comments (7)

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It'll be like the 80's/90's all over again
Like many others I was outraged too....a bit.

But I'm also old enough:

a) to have some perspective on what is, after all only a sport - and a pretty ridiculous one at that
b) have prior knowledge of what F1 coverage used to be like

I know everything now is shiny and modern; full of i-Pods, microwave ovens, time travel and jetpacks to get to work but back in the *old* days - and we're only talking about 15 years ago or so - I had to await highlights several hours after the event to see e.g. Senna ploughing into the back of Prost (or vice-versa), Schumacher starting his first ever Brazilian Grand Prix or Mansell boring the s**t out of everyone again from some other far away time zone.

And you could forget about qualifying, let alone free practice. That stuff was on Eurospoff; commentary beamed live from a shed in Holland or something - judging by the sound quality. No exposition, no expert analysis, no weekend round-up or a man walking up and down a pitlane trying to find Dolph Lundgren or the Prince of Persia to genuflect in front of: just Collins and Wattie pointing at the screen and saying Senna was fastest again whilst the director once again failed to cut back from a static shot of a gravel trap as the great man crossed the line.

So, whilst I'm not exactly over the moon, it's not the end of the world and I get less Eddie Jordan too so...every cloud.
pitflaps , July 29, 2011 | url
Well thats all well and good for some...
I genuinely enjoy the writings on this site and follow it but in your above analysis you forget one thing...

Some people simply can't afford the Sky package necessary just to watch F1.

The joy of sport is to watch the action unfold. F1 is, as Martin Brundle often says, about the application and reception of pressure. Those laps where the 10ths tick down are critical to the sport. Highlights packages do not catpure that.

I couldn't care less about the bells and whistles of extended coverage, pre/post race analysis etc. I can live without that. I just want to watch the race (and quali) live.

Because I cannot afford to, for the first time in over 20 years I will not be able to do that.

Sorry but for me its a crummy deal. There is no other way to look at it.
Phil , July 29, 2011
The Head
@pitflaps True. It's only since the Beeb got the coverage back that it has been so incredible. Also, another minor positive might be that if they're going head-to-head with Sky on the 10 races they have, they might make it even more super-awesome. Maybe.

@Phil I completely agree with you. This hurriedly-written article shouldn't be taken as me liking the decision, just searching for positives. We'll have to wait to see if Sky make any more concessions to F1 fans as a whole beyond dropping ad breaks (some sort of discounted F1-only rate for their online player or something), but I doubt there'll be much of that. In an ideal world, the BBC would have kept it forever, but sadly that never looked like being an option.
The Head , July 29, 2011
Thanks for the reply. Now excuse me while I ramble on a bit...
Cheers mate. You know this is probably the first article you have ever written that hasn't had me laughing out loud (and I really mean that) - a very sad day.

For me this deal is wrong on all sorts of levels. Unhappily I have to agree that it was not reasonable to expect the BBC to justify the cost of their currently excellent coverage ad infinatum. But there are some parts of this deal that nag be as being... well... a bit daft.

I suspect that anyone who wants Sky/Sky Sports already has it. These are not times when UK households have large amounts of disposable cash for luxury items. For a non-subscriber to be enticed to Sky by F1 alone they will be looking at paying about £40 per race - are Sky honestly expecting an increased subscription rate of more than a few 10's of thousands of people? If they get an extra hundred thousand subscribers, let alone a million, out of this I would be astonished. Especially at a time when the British public are by and large revolted by News Corp and Murdoch in general. Even if I could afford the subscription, I'm not sure I would choose to pay it.

To those that already have Sky Sports I'm sure they will enjoy good coverage. But I do not believe that Sky will come out of this deal with anything other than an expensive minority sport. Sadly I doubt the teams or the sponsors will give two hoots about losing a few million British fans, globally we are as relevant as a termite on an iceberg. But surely there must be some concern amongst sponsors to be getting in to bed with Murdoch now, when the global media (who are his direct competitors) are surely going to do everything they can to remind us that his company hacks into the phones of dead children for money? The police investigations and trials will be global news for months. Do Vodafone really want this association now?

The other point that really baffles me about this whole affair is why the most technologically advanced sport in the world is so wedded to the outdated media that is scheduled TV programming. In much the same way that the record industry failed to recognise that CDs were doomed from about 1999, so TV content providers are completely ignoring the fact that content can now be sold directly to consumers via the internet. I would very gladly pay £5 per race, say, to CVC/FOM direct to receive a good quality steam of quali and the race. £100 a year for my F1 would be palatable. £500 is not. I'm sure a greater overall revenue stream could be generated by simply selling me the content I specifically want. I'm not going to pay for 4 channels of extraneous Bolivian basketball on top of my 10 races a year.

As I don't have that option I shall probably be reduced to watching a cruddy illegal feed. Please Bernie, take my money, I want to give it directly to you with no middle man involved!!! Surely 2 million or so UK fans giving you £5 a race would be better for you and the sponsors than the £60 million of so you'll be getting from having say half a million people watching your product on Sky?

Sorry for the rambling and rather unfocused comment on your article. Days off work and left over beer are a dangerous, dangerous combination. I guess what I'm getting at is that although I accept the BBC could not justify retaining expensive broadcast rights, the resultant fudge is both unsatisfactory and unnecessary, and I don't think any of the parties involved will benefit as much as they think they will.
Phil , July 29, 2011
am i rite n thinkng it'll still be free every where else in the world?
chris , July 29, 2011
The Head
@Phil Apologies for not raising a smile this time. I guess I'll have to try harder on the next one. smilies/wink.gif And that's a good rant, which is always nice.

I'm not sure quite how tarred with the Murdoch brush Sky have been. Obviously NewsCorp is being battered right now, but that helped to collapse the full takeover. But yeah, as for how many subscribers they'll pick up for this, I doubt it'll be too many. I should probably have a root around to see if there's any figures for the increase in subscribers they got after they snatched the cricket rights, or something.

As far as cost, I still think we need to wait and see what Sky do about that. They've been looking to get F1 for a while, so they must have some sort of plan. Alas, no matter how good any offer might be, it will still obviously be too expensive for many. Possibly even for me, I have no idea how I'm going to be watching races next year now!

@chris I'm not sure, but I assume the deals with the world feed will stay the same. This is just UK-based.
The Head , July 29, 2011
@chris In my country, India F1 is not free and has never been as it is broadcast on StarSports and one needs cable TV for this channel but it is quite affordable. For less than £5 per month one can have all the channels(sports, entertainment, music, movies etc) there is to offer.
YH , July 29, 2011

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