BBC Director General Defends Shared F1 Coverage with Sky

December 22, 2011

British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) director general Mark Thompson has backed the corporations decision to share its coverage of Formula 1 with Sky Sports from next season.

The deal, which was announced mid-way through the 2011 season, sees the BBC cut short its exclusive contract to broadcast F1 in the United Kingdom, and instead show only half the races live, whilst the remaining ten would be shown as a highlights package a few hours after the race had finished.

Sky were chosen by the BBC as a broadcasting partner, which will see the subscription based service show all 20 races live on a dedicated channel.

Thompson, who was probed on the deal by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee during a meeting for the BBC Annual Report and Accounts, says the shared deal would save the publicly financed corporation upwards of £150 million over the course of the deal.

“The idea of sharing the rights under the remainder of the current contract and of potentially extending that contract was our idea,” he said. “There was a negotiation that led to all the parties involved in the conversation being happy with the idea.

“The effect will be to save the BBC well over £150 million between now and the end of the contract-money that obviously means that only half of grand prix will be live on the BBC, but it has enabled us to keep a very good position in Formula One, and to make savings that otherwise might have meant deeper cuts in other services.”

Thompson described the deal as a good one for fans who didn’t have, or can’t afford a Sky package, as half the races remain free-to-air, rather than all 20 being behind a paywall.

“We know that Formula One has only fairly recently come back to the BBC; it has been very popular on the BBC. 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. 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 paywall. I believe that the arrangements that we have reached offer very good value to the licence payer, and the experience of Formula One 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.”

When asked why the BBC hadn’t approached another free-to-air broadcaster to share the rights’ with, such as Channel 4 – who are believed to have been keen on such a deal, he responded: “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. It was an example of a free-to-air pay partnership, which is not by any means unknown in the market.

“It seems to me that it was not required of us [to approach another free-to-air broadcaster], 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.”