BT Sport look likely to continue broadcasting live coverage of MotoGP beyond their existing contract, this site can exclusively reveal.
There have been rumours in recent months that BT Sport may be embroiled in a battle with Sky Sports to continue showing the championship beyond 2018, with Dorna apparently looking elsewhere. But Dorna, who are MotoGP’s commercial rights holder, have told this site that they are “very happy” with BT’s coverage. BT won the UK television rights to MotoGP in 2013, ending the BBC’s free-to-air coverage. Since then, live action has aired on pay television in the UK, with free-to-air highlights switching from ITV4 to Channel 5 more recently.
According to overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv, BT Sport’s live coverage has averaged 117k (1.3%) on race-day for the first half of 2017, 186k (1.8%) for the MotoGP race itself, regularly peaking with around 250,000 viewers. Channel 5’s highlights have averaged 446k (2.5%) at the half way stage of the season. BT’s television audiences are marginally down year-on-year, whilst Channel 5 is up by 40 percent on ITV4’s numbers from one year ago.
Speaking to me during the British Grand Prix weekend, Manel Arroyo, Dorna’s Managing Director for Media said “We are talking with BT, to extend the relationship. We are comfortable and happy with the work that has been delivered by BT. We’re very happy with the evolution of live coverage on BT compared with the BBC previously. The existing format, where we have full live coverage on BT Sport, with highlights on free-to-air, can continue in the future. We’re talking to BT at the moment.”
Perhaps an indirect worry is that the attendance for the British round of the championship was the lowest for many years, with 56,008 showing up on Sunday compared with 73,000 for the past two years. Arroyo defended the direction taken by the championship in recent years to switch from a free-to-air model to pay in various territories, noting that it is the wider industry trend and it brings opportunities for future expansion. “For me, it is not just about the money. The pay TV platforms have tools that allow fans to have a better, more expansive experience than on linear TV.”
“Pay TV gives you the possibility to have multiscreen, more data. It is a path that we started many years ago, it is the new world and the new way that fans can watch races. We still play some of our content on free-to-air, but clearly there is a switch to digital platforms. What Dorna is doing is trying to be aware of what is going on in the market and preparing for everything,” Arroyo noted.
Beyond the next television deal in the UK, there is the much wider question of whether exclusive MotoGP programming may play out on the likes of Amazon Prime or Netflix in the future. “We are aware of these services,” Arroyo said. “We haven’t been talking to Netflix, as they have said that they are not going to invest in sports, but Amazon and other social networks for sure. The live content must be paid, as it costs a lot of money to produce the quality that we offer to our fans. It is something that we need to work on seriously moving forward.”
There will be further quotes from Arroyo on this site in the next week.