Nine days after the deal was first announced, we have our first public comments from Bernie Ecclestone on Sky’s new Formula 1 deal in the UK.
The deal, which comes into effect from the 2019 season, means that viewers will only be able to watch the British Grand Prix live on a ‘free to air’ basis, with the remaining 20 races behind a pay wall. What that exactly means with relation to the free to air aspect, as discussed previously, is unclear.
Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula One Management was speaking to AUTOSPORT’s Ian Parkes ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. It was the first time Ecclestone had spoken about the new deal outside of the press release issued by Sky.
“[Sky are] going to get to more people than you would believe. They’re going to get to 25 million people with the type of broadcast they are planning. Honestly, it was nothing to do with the money, it was to do with the fact this is the way we have to move forward.” – Bernie Ecclestone speaking to AUTOSPORT
I have read this quote multiple times and still do not understand what is being said. Overnight viewing figures last year showed that BBC F1 averaged 3.11 million viewers compared with Sky’s 638k for their race day programming. What Ecclestone, and a lot of other people within Formula 1 who do this deal making need to understand and digest, is that just because Sky may reach 25 million people, that does not mean you are going to get 25 million viewers. Far, far from it. One of my pet hates is seeing figures of this nature bandied around (unfortunately this kind of thing is common place, sadly), when it really could not be any further than the truth. If you’re going to throw figures around, let us have some context behind it, what does the figure represent?
The last sentence and a half of Ecclestone’s quote may lean towards something new and radical for 2019, if not earlier, such as over the top broadcasting, it may imply that FOM and Sky have already had discussions about new media ideas. As for the money, I’m sure the teams will be thrilled to hear that the deal was nothing to do with money, and more to the point why does Formula 1 need to move forward this way? Why does F1 need to move forward with pay TV deals that restrict the casual Joe, or the less financially stable fan, from watching?
Ecclestone was also asked about the future direction of the sport, following the qualifying debacle, which was ridiculed on social media during the Australian Grand Prix weekend.
“We’ll have to have a good look now and see which way we want to go. We’ve lost a television audience, like all sports have, including football. So while we’ve lost an audience one way, actually more people are viewing F1 now than ever before on their phones and tablets. So there is more interest than there was before, which is what we have to take advantage of, and which is what we are doing.” – Bernie Ecclestone speaking to AUTOSPORT
Unfortunately, the loss in television audience will not offset the increase of viewing on phones and tablets come 2019, which is a problem that needs to be addressed. I agree that F1 needs to move forward, one way they could do that is by giving drivers’ more freedom. Maybe allow the world champion to film in the paddock on Snapchat or a midfield runner to do some live videos during testing on Facebook. Oh. Wait…