Ecclestone suggests the end is near for BBC F1… or is it?

Yesterday, The Guardian published an article, written by Christian Sylt with the headline “Bernie Ecclestone suggests free-to-air Formula One could end on BBC”.

Interesting headline, I’m sure you will think. Any substance to the article? Not really, if I’m to be brutally honest. The only quotes that come from Ecclestone are as follows:

“We will never move all countries to pay‑per‑view only though it wouldn’t make any difference here in the UK”
“Sky reaches over 10m. We don’t get 10m on the BBC, normally about 6m or 7m.”
“The thing that TV stations want to buy most is live sport. People don’t want to watch delayed stuff because nowadays it’s hard not to know the result if you don’t want to.”
“Sky have done a super job. The Beeb were sure we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere else”

The first point, Sky is not pay-per-view. It is not like with movies, where you have to buy each one individually. You could call Sky pay-per-month but not pay-per-view. A PPV service model would be F1 Digital+ from back in 2002. Moving onto the second point, and I wonder if that is like for like. Does the Sky Sports F1 channel reach over 10 million, or does the race show reach over 10 million? Looking on BARB, the channel has not reached over 10 million viewers once. If you’re to say “Well, Sky reaches 10 million” then you may as well respond by saying BBC reaches five times that number with a reach of over 50 million.

“People don’t want to watch delayed stuff…”, I don’t know about the don’t want part, but if we’re to look at the viewing figures, 3.65 million viewers (or a 20.2% share) watched highlights of the Bahrain Grand Prix on BBC One, whereas only a peak of 1.6 million viewers watched that race on Sky Sports F1. So people not watching delayed stuff as Ecclestone puts it is a factually inaccurate statement. The last statement is odd, because as far as I know, and as far as what was discussed around the time of the announcement, BBC wanted out of the deal because they could not afford to screen all of the races live, therefore went to Sky to get the deal we currently have now (as Channel 4 and ITV1 were tied up with 2012 commitments already). In other words, the four quotes from Ecclestone have either been spun, or are inaccurate.

Looking outside of the Ecclestone quotes, there are several other factual inaccuracies.

“At an estimated cost of £25m annually Sky is broadcasting all races, qualifying and practice sessions live while the BBC is paying around £15m to show half of the races live with delayed highlights of the others.”

If that is true, it means that Formula One Management have not benefited financially from the deal, when you consider that the previous BBC deal from 2009 to 2011 was also in the region of £40 million. The Guardian themselves reported on the day of the deal that the rights were believed to be worth £65 million now, £40 million being paid by Sky with £25 million being paid by BBC. The amounts above are significantly lower than I expected.

Finally, we’re into month six of a seven year deal, so why have we got headlines like this already? I would expect better from The Guardian rather than trying to twist the story. This reminds me of some kind of tabloid sensationalism, something I don’t really associate The Guardian with. As far as I can see, this is a blatant anti-BBC article with little substance, and as thus the article I’m afraid is cobblers.

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