The details of FOA’s plans for international coverage of F1 are explained in a submission made to the British government in its review of which sports should be aired on free television.
The F1 rights-holder lays out several explanations for why it is moving more F1 broadcasts to pay-TV (see below for the full document):
With greater pay-TV penetration and digitisation, pay-TV operators are increasingly providing broader coverage available to a greater number of viewers […] the uptake of pay-TV services by UK consumers has been steadily increasing year after year, with 49.5% of UK households subscribed to a pay-TV service.
In other words, moving British F1 broadcasts to pay-TV could mean cutting F1’s audience in Britain from over four million to just two.
And the 49.5% are not all subscribed to the same service: so if F1 was offered on Sky it might not be available on Virgin Media. The same applies in other countries, though pay-TV is generally more popular outside Britain.
In Britain at least, the pay-TV market is not as mature as FOA suggests it is. And it should know this from experience. It moved coverage of GP2 from one subscription service (Eurosport, on Sky) to another – Setanta – at the beginning of this year. Then Setanta went bust halfway through the season.
FOA also said:
Services such as pay-per-view have also become more widely available, which means that consumers do not need to subscribe to an entire package of pay-TV channels should they wish to view individual sporting events.
In Britain it is quite unusual to be able to pay for just the event you want to watch – ordinarily it’s a case of subscribing to a channels package to see the event you want.
It is an equally bad solution for broadcasters as it is fans. The popularity of boxing, for example, suffered after moving from free-to-air TV to pay-per-view.
Finally, even those consumers not subscribed to access pay-TV services can still view major sporting events in local pubs.
Whoever wrote that never tried going into a pub and asking for a football game to be switched over to an F1 race…
FOA’s aim for F1 coverage
The most illuminating part of the document is the explanation of FOA’s goal for how F1 is broadcast:
Formula One’s overall aim is to ensure broad coverage of each of the individual races comprising the championship.
That’s it? Where’s the commitment to quality coverage? Where’s the commitment to uninterrupted coverage?
In short, FOA wants to get as many people to buy the rights as possible and it isn’t concerned about the quality of the end product.
There will probably come a point at which pay-TV saturation or the increased use of internet broadcasting makes a move away from free-to-air TV realistic. For the time being FOA seems to understand that is not the case in Britain yet and won’t be for some time. In a separate submission Sky’s chief executive Jeremy Darroch told the panel:
Bernie Eccleston [sic] has stated that so long as he is in charge he wants free-to-air coverage.
But viewers in other countries where F1 broadcasts have already been moved to pay-TV services are not so fortunate. Here’s two comments from F1 Fanatic readers in Portugal:
Here in Portugal it was on RTP1 (kind of a Portuguese BBC) for free, but since 2007 it is on SportTV, which you have too pay for. It isn’t cheep! I watch F1 on Justin TV ever since.
Here F1 used to be in the state TV (RTP) but since a years back its on a paid sports channel (As much as â‚¬50 per month). And that has hurt the sport’s image here, even though we have drivers with a chance of entering F1 (like Alvaro Parente).
We still don’t hear that much about F1 on public TV. In the mid ’90s there was even programmes on it. The day after Senna’s accident the Portuguese parliament held a minute’s silence.
I followed F1 this year through FilmOn HDI which broadcasts BBC.
I have nothing against the idea of paying for an F1 broadcast – as long as it’s good enough to be worth paying for. FOA should add these criteria to their aims for F1 coverage:
It must be a quality production (e.g. HD coverage, which is years overdue)
It must be live
It must be uninterrupted