BBC chief defends reduced F1 coverage

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson

Dec.22 (Sport Business) BBC director general Mark Thompson believes the arrangement to share coverage of Formula One next season with pay-television service Sky in the UK represents “very good value” to the public-service broadcaster’s licence payers.

Only half of Formula One’s races will be available live on free-to-air television in the UK from next year through to 2018 – the first time that F1 has been aired on pay-television in the country. Sky Sports will show every race, qualifying session and practice session live, while the BBC will air half the races live as well as the qualifying and practice sessions from those events. The public broadcaster will have highlights on TV, online and mobile for any race not shown live, and all grands prix will be carried on BBC Radio 5 live. In a transcript published following a recent hearing in front of MPs at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Thompson defended the arrangement.

“We know that Formula One has only fairly recently come back to the BBC; it has been very popular on the BBC,” said Thompson, who added that the arrangement with Sky would save the BBC more than £150 million, according to Autosport. “Secondly, we know that Formula One fans ideally do not want Formula One to be interrupted by advertising, because of the character of the sport,” he added. “Nor, of course – for the subset of Formula One fans who do not have Sky subscriptions – would they ideally like Formula One to go entirely behind a pay wall.”

Thompson added: “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…Talking about changing the arrangements in the existing contract and the extension of that contract, all I would say…is that what we have done has guaranteed that a very large amount of Formula One 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 One after that, there was a real danger that all of Formula One would have gone behind a pay wall.”

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph that was published on Wednesday, the BBC’s head of sport, Barbara Slater, insisted the broadcaster was still committed to airing the “pinnacle events” but added that some football rights had become too expensive. “Cuts have been hard, make no mistake,” she said. “We have been very clear about what is driving our rights strategy, and it is crown jewel events. The message from audiences is crystal clear. They want the BBC to broadcast the shared national moments, the pinnacle events, because they are standout.”

Slater continued: “We are showing that in practice. We have deals to 2017 with (tennis’) Wimbledon and the (rugby union) Six Nations. We have the World Athletics Championships coming back in 2017. Even in F1 we have been clear that the British grand prix is a critical moment when we need to be live, even if we have fewer races. But the truth is that some live football rights have got out of reach in terms of their value.”

  • Bec

    No other broadcaster showed an interest in the broadcast rights for Wimbledon or the rugby, but the BBC spent an extra 33% on those rights, surely if no one was interested in them the BBC could/should have paid less … And where did the extra money for tennis and rugby come from? Yes that’s right the F1 budget, and the F1 rights were wanted by Sky, the BBC, Channel 4 and even C5 and ITV expressed some interest.

    Odd way the BBC works.