Formula 1 teams seek clarification on new BBC/Sky television deal
|By Jonathan Noble
||Friday, July 29th 2011, 08:31 GMT
Formula 1 teams are to seek clarification from Bernie Ecclestone on the new BBC/Sky television deal amid concerns about the sport moving away from free-to-air television in 2012.
In a shock announcement on Friday morning, the BBC and Sky announced that they would be sharing coverage of F1 in Britain next year - with Sky showing every race on its subscription channels and the BBC showing only half of them.
That move has led to outrage from fans, who are unhappy that they will not be able to follow every race on free-to-air television.
Team principals have also expressed some surprise at not having every race shown on free-to-air television, but they want more details from Ecclestone to find out what the specifics of the deal are.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said that he would seek more information from Ecclestone, especially because he felt it important F1 was not taken off free-to-air.
"As I understand BBC are covering half the grands prix, and Sky are doing every practice session and everything else. It's interesting," he told AUTOSPORT. "I don't think anyone should be immediately reacting to say this is good, bad, or indifferent.
"What we need to understand is whether the large audience we currently enjoy in Formula 1 will be maintained. I think we also need to understand exactly how this is being done."
Whitmarsh said moves to take F1 off free-to-air could be viewed as a breach of the Concorde Agreement, with him claiming that there were clauses in the deal that ties the teams, Ecclestone and the FIA together that guarantees the sport's broadcast platform.
"We've got a range of safeguards within Concorde, and the right thing to do is to explore how the Formula 1 coverage is going to be dealt with in the future, and take a view from there," he said. "I don't know how many homes in the UK have Sky, but it is a pretty high proportion."
Williams chairman Adam Parr said the key was understanding the finer details of the arrangement - because what teams lose in widespread television viewing figures could be gained in an increased revenue from Sky.
"In principle I have no issue with optimising the balance between the revenues that we need, and getting a good reach in the audience," he told AUTOSPORT. "The devil is in the detail.
"I think it is a balance and, without knowing the details, you cannot comment on whether it is good or bad. What I do know is that Bernie is a very passionate believer in getting the broadest audience possible and I think he has almost certainly done this in order to do that. "
When asked what his message would be to disappointed fans, Parr said: "I am sympathetic to them. I understand it is difficult - but English Premier League fans have had that for a while haven't they?
"The one thing I would say, which I have said before, I know that whether you are coming to a race or are watching the sport at home and have to do that on pay TV which seems expensive, people have to bear in mind what it costs to put on this show. It is part of the character of F1.
"For us to design and build the two cars that we will have on the grid on Sunday here, without putting an engine in them, without putting a driver in them, without accounting for the 70 staff that we bring to each race - without all of that those cars cost £2 million. You multiply that by all the cars on the grid and that is £24 million minimum of the costs just to make the parts for one race. That is part of the show.
"It is not a bloke or two blokes with a tennis racket and a pair of plimsolls with zero cost. It is a very, very expensive sport. The best thing we can do for fans, whether they want to come to the races or want to watch it on TV, is to reduce the cost of the sport without spoiling the show."
Parr also pointed out that the Sky/BBC deal was part of a changing media platform – and he drew comparisons between it and the 'freemium' platform of AUTOSPORT.
"I think that media distribution has changed so much, whether you have gone from paper magazines to a combination of magazine and online," he said. "For example, if you are a lover of AUTOSPORT you have a subscription service there as well as a free-to-air element. The whole media landscape is changing so quickly.
"The argument from AUTOSPORT would be: we cannot do this for free. We can get some revenue from advertising on the website, some from selling magazines, but we have to optimise our income – and if you want the really good quality of the coverage that you love it is not free, we have to pay to get people to the events.
"It is a question of degree and balance but also recognising that the way media is distributed is changing. It may well be that the next time around it is not Sky because Google has won the bid and we are all watching it live on the Internet."
BBC commentator and former F1 driver Martin Brundle said on Twitter that he was "not impressed" with the deal.
"BBC/Sky/F1 2012+. Found out last night, no idea how it will work yet I'm out of contract, will calmly work through options. Not impressed," he wrote.
Read more about the history of of pay-per-view television in Formula 1.