Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC
has defended the decision to split the broadcasting rights for F1 in the UK with Sky
from 2012 onwards.
The surprise deal announced earlier this year came after the BBC
was forced to cut costs, with the decision set to save the corporation more than £150 million over the remainder of the contract that is in place.
Appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in a meeting to discuss the BBC
Annual Report and Accounts, Thompson was quizzed on the controversial plans that have angered many F1 fans – arguing that it was the best deal possible to ensure that the sport remained on free-to-air TV in some capacity.
“The idea of sharing the rights under the remainder of the current contract and of potentially extending that contract was our idea,” he said. “There was a negotiation that led to all the parties involved in the conversation being happy with the idea. The effect will be to save the BBC well over £150 million between now and the end of the contract-money that obviously means that only half of Grand Prix will be live on the BBC, but it has enabled us to keep a very good position in Formula 1, and to make savings that otherwise might have meant deeper cuts in other services.
“As for the considerations for us, we know that Formula 1 has only fairly recently come back to the BBC; it has been very popular on the BBC. Secondly, we know that Formula 1 fans ideally do not want Formula 1 to be interrupted by advertising, because of the character of the sport. Nor, of course-for the subset of Formula 1 fans who do not have Sky subscriptions-would they, ideally, like Formula 1 to go entirely behind a paywall. I believe that the arrangements that we have reached offer very good value to the licence payer, and the experience of Formula 1 on the BBC will still be very rich. The first Grand Prix next season, when this new arrangement starts-the Australian Grand Prix-will be live on Sky in the very early hours of the morning. There will be a 75-minute highlights package in peak time on the BBC, which we would expect to reach many more people than the live coverage.
“Talking about changing the arrangements in the existing contract and the extension of that contract, all I would say-and I have of course heard the arguments that perhaps this could have been picked up by another free-to-air broadcaster-is that what we have done has guaranteed that a very large amount of Formula 1 will still to be free-to-air to the British public for many years to come. Had we simply stopped the contract and decided to walk away from Formula 1 after that, there was a real danger that all of Formula 1 would have gone behind a paywall.”
Quizzed about why the BBC
took the decision to speak to Sky
rather than approach another terrestrial broadcaster like Channel 4
, Thompson insisted that a pay partner was the only way to make a deal work.
“We were quite clear that, to get the economics to work for us, it was going to have to be a pay partner,” he said, “and this was the only pay partner, credibly, whom we thought we could involve in it-indeed, a pay partner who had expressed interest in this very topic of conversation previously.
“It was an example of a free-to-air pay partnership, which is not by any means unknown in the market.”