The BBC and Sky Sports have struck a deal that will see the two broadcasters jointly transmit F1 from next season onwards – although only one of the two will show all of the grands prix live.
There has been much debate in recent months over the future of the sport on the BBC, with the corporation forced to make sweeping 20 per cent spending cuts across the board over the next five years. That had called into question the Beeb's commitment to F1, especially in the light of the annual £40 million fee it pays to Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management (FOM) organisation for the privilege. Today, there has been an answer.
Although the BBC's current exclusive contract with Ecclestone is not due to expire until the end of 2013, it has been announced that as of next year and until at least 2018, a new rights agreement has been reached that will see Sky Sports show every race, qualifying and practice session live and BBC Sport broadcast half of the grands prix live, in addition to those races' qualifying and practice sessions. Both will cover the sport in high-definition (HD).
Included in the BBC's live races will be the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo and the season finale – in 2012, set to take place at Interlagos in Brazil. The non-live races will be covered by a highlights package on television and mobile, whilst every grand prix will continue to be broadcast on BBC Radio 5 live.
“We are absolutely delighted that F1 will remain on the BBC,” revealed BBC Sport Director, Barbara Slater. “The sport has never been more popular – with TV audiences at a ten-year high – and the BBC has always stated its commitment to the big national sporting moments. With this new deal, not only have we delivered significant savings, but we have also ensured that through our live and extended highlights coverage, all the action continues to be available to licence fee-payers.”
“This is fantastic news for F1 fans,” concurred Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis, “and Sky Sports will be the only place to follow every race live and in HD. We will give F1 the full Sky Sports treatment, with a commitment to each race never seen before on UK television.”
Whether fans will perceive the shift from free-to-air to pay-per-view coverage as 'fantastic' remains to be seen – and F1 teams and sponsors, too, for that matter – and you can have your say in our poll on the topic right here
. Prior to today's announcement, both Channel 4 and Channel 5 had similarly been linked with taking over the sport's broadcasting rights in the UK.
Ecclestone told the BBC today: “It's super for F1. It will mean a lot more coverage for the sport; we get the best of both worlds.”