ABC/ESPN deal will be a boon for F1 in USA

With an audience estimated at 400 million per year, F1 is attractive to the media companies, but some are also becoming wary of doing business with a rights holder that might soon become a rival. Last month, NBC, which had owned the TV rights to F1 in the United States since 2013, chose not to do a new deal because of future plans F1 has to stream its content directly to consumers. The company said that, “We chose not to enter into a new agreement in which the rights holder itself competes with us and our distribution partners."

ESPN and ABC will take over the U.S. broadcast duties in 2018. Sean Bratches, the commercial head of Formula 1, says the ESPN/ABC deal could be a boon for F1.

“ESPN is part of the Disney empire," he says. “So they (also) know a thing or two about the entertainment business."
Ferrari F1

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Bratches says that each Formula 1 race will be broadcast live in the U.S. on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC in 2018 and that all practice and qualifying sessions will be live as well. ESPN won’t, however, have its own crew at races, relying instead on the feed produced by Britain’s Sky Sport.

Parent company Disney is developing ideas related to F1, and Bratches says that added exposure through ESPN’s “SportsCenter" program is another bonus to the new deal.

“‘SportsCenter’ is the most powerful sports platform there is in the United States, but there is also espn.com digital, which has enormous reach," he says. “This linear and digital partnership with ESPN represents a significant step ­forward in achieving Formula 1’s aim of broadening the sport’s appeal."

F1 fans tend to think that the sport is heading toward pay TV, but this might not end up being the case.

“We are not yet sure where it is all going, but what we do know is that F1 is punching under its weight in terms of social media," he says. “There is a general decline in pay-TV numbers, but the higher value of the deals is still competitive with free-to-air rights sales. OTT can personalize the experience for F1 superfans. It can even work out what you want to see, based on your watching habits."

Bratches points to recent dealings in France as possible, looking into the sport’s future.

“We have just signed a new pay-TV deal with Canal+ for considerably more money than we were previously getting," he says. “We have also done a deal with free-to-air TF1 to have a number of races, including the French Grand Prix. And we will also have our OTT service in the French market as well, although we don’t know how that will work."

Bratches, Carey and Brawn shaking things up
Bratches, Carey and Brawn shaking things up

“We live in a world that is changing," Chase Carey, the chairman of the Formula One Group, says. “There are multiple platforms for content delivery, with pay TV, free-to-air, social media and Over the Top (OTT, internet-delivered content). There are endless possibilities for structuring deals with all of the different parties involved. What we want to do is to use all of these different ways to get to as broad an audience as possible. We see OTT as being a way to deliver a lot more things to the fans, which we cannot do on linear TV.

“We have all this data, and we are not using it. So if you want to know about braking distances or you want to listen to a particular driver’s radio or whatever, digital media allows you to do that. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. We have to figure out the best way to get the sport across to the different age groups in different regions." Joe Saward/AutoWeek

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