Mercedes's Toto Wolff has warned Liberty Media there could be potential 'consequences' if it perseveres with a wide-scale shift towards a pay-per-view model for TV audiences, suggesting more research needs to be done into its benefits and drawbacks.

Originally instigated by erstwhile F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, the sport has come in for criticism in the last decade over the decision to prioritise pay-per-view television companies and move away from a more widely available free-to-air model.

With UK coverage of F1 set to be shown exclusively on Sky from 2019, a number of fans - including readers - have indicated they won't be willing to pay the monthly fees associated with watching the races.

Audience figures for F1 have been in decline for several years now, a dip blamed on the sport's limited TV availability. Indeed, despite the drama of the previous Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the F1 Broadcasting website is reporting only 588,000 tuned in to watch the Austrian Grand Prix on Sky, with an audience of 1.75m tuning into the watch highlights on free-to-air Channel 4 later in the day.

As a comparison, the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix - the most watched race during the BBC's final year of showing F1 exclusively on its channel for free - was viewed by 6.2m people.

Though the rise of multi-channel television on multiple devices and services such as 'catch up' have contributed to skewing audience figures, it is a decline that is reportedly causing concerns amongst teams and sponsors that the sport is risking the reach of the sport in favour of revenue.

As such, Wolff is calling on Liberty Media to potentially rethink plans that Ecclestone put in place to ensure fans aren't forced to switch off permanently and it will still be able to reach new audiences.

"We are not the experts. I think Liberty and its management understand TV inside out and the response to that very important topic was that we need a study for each of the countries that are important for Formula One to evaluate how large the penetration of pay TV really is.

"There will be markets where pay TV penetration is tiny, a couple of percentage, and it's clear that if you were to move behind the pay wall you would lose a large part of the audiences and I think the way they tackle it is in a very diligent way, an analytical way and they will decide on each of the territories, they will balance reach versus income.

"Formula One is not the only sport that needs to ask that question. We have seen that the Champions League had moved behind the pay wall and the consequence is that you are losing reach. It is a very difficult topic."

Sky has shown F1 since 2012, albeit as part of a deal that ensured half of the season continued to be shown live on free-to-air TV, initially alongside the BBC but more recently Channel 4. This deal ends at the end of 2018, with Sky F1 set to become the sole broadcaster in the UK.


What do you make of Sky's coverage - do you watch Channel 4 as well?

Will you be willing to pay monthly fees when F1 in the UK is shown exclusively on Sky?



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