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Bernie doubts 'suicidal' pay TV move

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F1 oligarch Bernie Ecclestone has said that he doubts that the sport should ever consider a "suicidal" move to pay TV in the future, despite the obvious potential switch involved in the new NewsCorp bid for control of the sport.

The news that Rupert Murdoch's media empire is planning a bid for the commercial rights of the sport, coupled with the current efforts by the same group to gain full control of the Sky pay TV platform in the UK has led to concerns that the sport may move away from free-to-air TV in the future.

Suggestions that the BBC may be forced to ditch their deal to show Formula One in the UK at the end of their current contract in order to cut costs has fuelled those concerns.

But Ecclestone has suggested that it is crucial for the sport to remain available to the widest audience possible, simply in order to remain credible to the sponsors who help fund the teams.

"Murdoch hasn't got anything really big to drive their TV audiences and Formula 1 would be good for that," Ecclestone mused in an interview with the official Formula One website over the weekend.

"They have been trying to buy the TV rights from us for a long time, but we won't because they are not free-to-air television broadcasters. They are a subscription service."

He went on: "Very recently they wanted to do something in Germany, in the UK and in Italy, where they are, but we couldn't do it.

"Sky is doing an incredible job but if you look at their audience they are nowhere. With these figures it would be almost impossible for teams to find sponsors. That would be suicidal."

Such comments might seem slightly disingenuous given Ecclestone's own efforts some ten years ago to set up his F2 Digital pay-per-view service, though Ecclestone only ever offered the digital package in countries alongside existing free-to-air broadcasts.

The FOM boss also took the time to reaffirm his belief that the current owners of the sports commercial rights, CVC Capital Partners, have no plans to sell.

"CVC has given the answer," he grumbled, "They are the major shareholders and they do not want to sell. That is 100 per cent for sure."

He added that: "Somebody might say that they want to do it, but it doesn't mean that when somebody wants to buy something the owner wants to sell. And CVC made it very clear that they don't want to sell.

"If people don't want to sell, others have to accept that fact. It's as simple as that."

With representatives from Formula One's teams set to meet with NewsCorp chiefs next week for exploratory talks, after the teams suggested that they would be interested in a stake in the sport's commercial side in future, rumours are again surfacing of a possible breakaway threat.

But Ecclestone said that team bosses should "come to their senses" over the issue, and remain happy with the current commercial setup in the sport.

"I hope these people come to their senses," Ecclestone griped regarding the team owners.

"The teams should be happy to have somebody like CVC not selling to the wrong people, trying to maintain a good level for them and supporting me so that I can go to work and earn some money for the teams."