In the last few days it has been rumoured that the BBC will be terminating its Formula One contract early as part of further large scale cutbacks for the public broadcaster. After claims ITV were to pick up where the BBC left off, yesterday it was announced that F1 to Channel 4 would be taking over from BBC F1 with immediate effect.
This was met with mixed reviews with the BBC having done an excellent job since taking over from ITV from the 2009 season, showing live coverage and never before seen footage, bringing fans closer to the action. Then, in 2012, a new rights deal was put in place that saw Sky Sports launch a dedicated F1 channel and broadcast all races live, leaving the BBC with 10 races live and the rest covered with extended highlights. However, their programming was still top class.
BBC Losing F1 to Channel 4 in the UK: Good or Bad?
Most recently, respected publisher ‘Broadcast’ stated that ITV were to secure the rights from the BBC. This proved incorrect, although they were in negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone. What was certain was that F1 on the BBC was in a fragile state, with the corporation having to cut £150 million and £35 million of that was to come from BBC Sport alone. With live coverage of the Australian Open having been dropped by the BBC in early December, things were not looking hopeful, especially as it cost the BBC £500,000 to broadcast just one race.
Then the news was broken, in a slight twist to proceedings, Channel 4 had secured the rights to broadcast 10 Formula One races live, with extensive highlights of the remaining races up until the end of 2018. Formula One on the BBC was no more.
Channel 4 in the UK is a popular free-to-air broadcaster, renowned for its excellent news coverage, entertainment and sport programming. It is faced with a tough task to get everything together for when the season starts in just over three month’s time in March. However, do not judge Channel 4 just yet, they have a good track record when it comes to motorsport programming and could do an even better job than the BBC has done, and even Sky.
In previous years Channel 4 has broadcast the World Rally Championship and currently show British GT, the VW Racing Cup, Ginetta and Caterham Motorsport action as well as the Superbike World Championship.
They are most notable for their horse racing coverage, which has come on in; forgive the pun, leaps and bounds with popular presenters such as Claire Balding taking it from strength to strength.
Channel 4 like to break away from the normal realms of TV broadcasting and this could be exactly what F1 needs to make it popular with mass audiences again. In 2011, Channel 4 put forward a ten-step plan for F1 in its pitch to pry the F1 rights away from the BBC. In it they pledged:
- More extensive coverage across our networks than ever before (C4, E4, More 4, 4Seven)
- More live hours of racing free-to-air. No pay wall.
- More prime-time exposure, more re-runs and no ‘red button’ hideaways.
- More commercial opportunities for teams through sponsorship and ad-funded content. Free from BBC constraints.
- Unparalleled marketing and cross-promotion.
- A greater range of original programmes from documentary to entertainment.
- More historical coverage of F1 with extended use of archive.
- High impact factual programmes focussing on engineering and mechanics.
- More cross-platform content and converged innovation.
- Major educational outreach with F1 academy projects.
Of course these were all pledged in 2011 and things will certainly change. However, Channel 4 Press has said that they will not run adverts during races. Something ITV was seemingly never forgiven for.
If this ten-point plan is anything to go by, we are in store for good quality Formula One programming, across the Channel 4 network, making it a good thing the BBC has lost F1 to Channel 4. The BBC in recent months were moving F1 from channel to channel without a proper home, making it appear a low priority. With this deal, F1 fans have a new Free-to-air stable home and the BBC save a lot of money.
Channel 4 has said they will be making production and presentation team announcements in the New Year.