After the BBC announced that they would be not be seeing out the rest of the three years left on their contract giving them the rights to broadcast the Formula One World Championship – there was plenty of speculation as to what would indeed happen with the sport’s ‘free-to-air’ television future.
The television giant announced it as part of the agenda to cut £35 million of costs from the BBC Sport budget.
For the past three years, satellite TV giants Sky Sports have had a dedicated channel to Formula One in order to raise its general profile, primarily in the UK. However, it seems to have had the opposite effect, with viewing numbers falling in their thousands.
There are multiple reasons for this. Interest in Formula One has been dwindling for a little while now; people hold strong opinions in regards to the sport’s reputation – rule changes, the aesthetics and sounds of the cars, the way it’s run and the quality of the racing – which is adjudged to have decreased in the past few years (subjectively, of course).
However, most pertinent is the rapidly rising cost of watching F1. It’s never been a cheap sport, not like a football match where you can purchase a ticket and watch. It’s a three day event, a spectacle and depending where you sit – you may face not finding the battle you want to watch until it finds you – which would take a good 80-110 seconds, track dependant. That can be eradicated by tuning into TV coverage, where you can watch at your own convenience and see almost everything. But people aren’t that bothered by it – don’t feel the need to pay £40 a month, so the interest in F1 and motorsport in general is falling as fewer are watching. Again, that has something to do with the state the sport is currently in – i.e. not the best.
Also, if you turn up wearing a helmet and overalls, you’ll get funny looks if you’re in the grandstands. And definitely if you’re on your own on a hilltop.
So, who is taking over from the BBC? At first, there was talk about ITV returning after initially handing back over to the ‘Beeb’ after the 2008 season.
The general reception to this rumour was positive. For eleven years, between 1997-2008, ITV changed the face of F1 coverage, delivering more coverage and having whole programmes centred around each Qualifying and Race session. A vast change from the BBC’s old ways, shoved in as part of its Sunday ‘Grandstand’ show.
Without ITV, Martin Brundle wouldn’t be frantically searching out drivers, celebrities or the sport’s bigwigs on the grid each race – a feature introduced at the 1997 British Grand Prix and 18 years later is a part and parcel feature of the pre-race show.
They raised the bar, in-depth analysis, in-race interviews, press conferences, and pre-race segments that helped break the sport down into Layman’s terms. And thankfully, they kept Murray Walker until his retirement in 2001….
However, the thorn in ITV’s side came about due to their own wrongdoings. In order to pay Formula One Management for the coverage rights, there had to be more advertisements (nothing new to ITV) – however the skill came in where to place them.
The most notable ‘faux-par’ came during the San Marino Grand Prix in 2005. With five laps to go, Michael Schumacher was hunting down Fernando Alonso, so close to his tail he could almost change gear for him.
It would be foolish to interrupt the race at a point where each lap was becoming ever more climatic than the last. Wouldn’t it?
Not for ITV, who cut to a break with three laps to go, rejoining a mere forty seconds later – a lifetime in F1 terms. After a profound apology from a pleading Jim Rosenthal, ITV were forced into replaying the final stages of the race, where thankfully for them, Schumacher couldn’t pass Alonso.
And it’s not the first time that ITV had scheduled a poorly timed advertisement break. During their coverage of Everton’s fierce FA Cup tie with Liverpool, the broadcasters cut to a break in extra time. Everton scored – cue the hurry up for a trailer of an episode of The Bill…
With this they lost the auction, Bernie’s gang choosing Channel 4. Yes, the Channel 4 that is home to Hollyoaks and Noel Edmonds.
Channel 4 triumphed over ITV by offering break free, live coverage of 10 Formula One World Championship weekends each season for the next three seasons. Highlights of all races will be broadcast as well, and all races, practice and Qualifying sessions will be shown live and in full by the Sky Sports F1 channel as ever.
So there we go, we can continue to watch F1 for free on TV. Let’s just hope we don’t end up with John McCririck commentating.
Have a very Merry Christmas.
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