(Guardian) Bernie Ecclestone has signalled that Formula One could drop its free‑to‑air television coverage on the BBC since the exposure it gets through the pay‑per‑view broadcaster Sky is sufficient on its own. It follows the announcement on Thursday that the rights to broadcast live F1 races in Italy have been sold to Sky Italia in a deal which further reduces the sport’s free-to-air coverage.
This year, for the first time in the modern history of F1, not all races are being broadcast in full on free-to-air TV in the UK. At an estimated cost of £25m annually Sky is broadcasting all races, qualifying and practice sessions live while the BBC is paying around £15m to show half of the races live with delayed highlights of the others. “We will never move all countries to pay‑per‑view only though it wouldn’t make any difference here in the UK,” said Ecclestone.
He explained that of the 25m households in the UK, “Sky reaches over 10m. We don’t get 10m on the BBC, normally about 6m or 7m.”
Fans were incensed by the new deal since it costs around £480 every year to subscribe to Sky’s sports package. Splitting the coverage has already dented the BBC’s viewing figures and this could push the F1 rights exclusively into Sky’s hands when the current joint contract expires in 2018.
The Chinese Grand Prix in April was the first race broadcast live by the BBC this year and its viewing figures were down by 1m on 2011 to a peak of 4.21m. Sky’s coverage of the race peaked at 887,000 and averaged at around 1m over the first four races of the year. However, since Sky has a dedicated F1 channel it broadcasts around three times more hours of the sport than the BBC does. The BBC is also hampered by not being able to show all the races live.
“The thing that TV stations want to buy most is live sport. People don’t want to watch delayed stuff because nowadays it’s hard not to know the result if you don’t want to,” said Ecclestone.
He said that “Sky have done a super job”, and added that the live rights slipped through the BBC’s grasp due to its complacency. “The Beeb were sure we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere else,” he said.The BBC was unavailable for comment.
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