Mark Thompson BBC Director General shielded the conclusion for F1 television coverage to be shared with Sky from 2012 – claiming any other contract would have been worse for fans.
“We know that Formula 1 has only fairly recently come back to the BBC; it has been very popular on the BBC,” Thompson told Autosport. Secondly, we know that Formula 1 fans ideally do not want Formula 1 to be interrupted by advertising, because of the character of the sport. Nor, of course-for the subset of Formula 1 fans who do not have Sky subscriptions-would they, ideally, like Formula 1 to go entirely behind a pay wall.
“I believe that the arrangements that we have reached offer very good value to the licence payer, and the experience of Formula 1 on the BBC will still be very rich. The first grand prix next season, when this new arrangement starts – the Australian Grand Prix – will be live on Sky in the very early hours of the morning. There will be a 75-minute highlights package in peak time on the BBC, which we would expect to reach many more people than the live coverage.”
“Talking about changing the arrangements in the existing contract and the extension of that contract, all I would say – and I have of course heard the arguments that perhaps this could have been picked up by another free-to-air broadcaster – is that what we have done has guaranteed that a very large amount of Formula 1 will still to be free-to-air to the British public for many years to come. Had we simply stopped the contract and decided to walk away from Formula 1 after that, there was a real danger that all of Formula 1 would have gone behind a pay wall.” He added.
“We were quite clear that, to get the economics to work for us, it was going to have to be a pay partner, and this was the only pay partner, credibly, whom we thought we could involve in it – indeed, a pay partner who had expressed interest in this very topic of conversation previously,” he said. “It was an example of a free-to-air pay partnership, which is not by any means unknown in the market.
When pushed further on why there was not even a single conversation with Channel 4, Thompson said: “It seems to me that it was not required of us, and given that, in a sense, what we were trying to achieve on behalf of the licence fee payer was a significant saving, actually keeping the confidentiality of the process until it was clear whether the thing was viable and whether all parties to it – including, of course, the rights-holder – were happy, militated in terms of doing it the way we did it.”
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