Posted on December 17th, 2015 – Broadcast are reporting this evening that the BBC are to exit broadcasting Formula 1 on television with immediate effect, with ITV taking over their coverage from 2016.
This has yet to be confirmed. As soon as we have any news, I will update this blog. My gut instinct though is that the report is true, and that ITV will confirm this officially tomorrow (Friday 18th December). That is my opinion, I’m not privvy to anything that is not currently in the public domain. If the news is true, it marks the end of BBC’s return to covering Formula 1 on television, which started back in 2009. Alongside the various news stories that have been covered recently, the news earlier this week that BBC’s Euro 2016 picks run right through the Canadian Grand Prix window mean that the BBC were not planning to pick the race live. Of course, that is the usual pick process – but now we have a clearer reason why that was probably the case.
Regarding the source: Broadcast is a reputable industry magazine, and not a website that would pluck stories out the air for ‘hits’. The fact they have published it means that it is more likely to be true than false. Tomorrow is likely to be the last day that any deal would be announced (it being the last business day before Christmas, early next week being slow down days), leads me to believe that ITV’s return will be announced tomorrow. If that happens, questions inevitably turn to the personnel. ITV should swoop in for the majority of BBC’s team… but that is a question for later rather than now (although we are only four months away from Melbourne). Another question surrounds the return of adverts during F1 races, and lastly if ITV taking Formula 1 affects their Formula E rights.
Either way, there’s little point speculating until we have official confirmation from BBC or ITV. So, for the moment, we wait patiently, but it looks like The Chain is going to be broken….
Update on December 18th at 18:05 – To my surprise, we have heard no news today. A request for comment from this blog to the BBC resulted in no comment, which is to be expected in the middle of rights negotiations. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year is being held on Sunday, so both parties may have mutually decided to hold off an announcement until Monday. Realistically, if we hear nothing either Monday or Tuesday, then it will be a wait until the New Year. Other media and motor sport outlets have since covered the story, mostly repeating Broadcast’s original story, including Motorsport.com, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. Neither AUTOSPORT or The Guardian have yet covered the story.
In an interview with the Press Association via Motorsport.com in response to the latest story, Bernie Ecclestone said “The bottom line is that they [BBC] are cutting back on all types of sport and if we really, really, really had to, we’d say ‘you have got a contract and you better get on with it.’ They can’t leave the contract early. The Beeb have always done a very, very good job. I have no problem at all with them. It is just they can’t afford to continue with what they have done in the past.” Ecclestone concludes by saying that he does not know what will happen in 2016, which sounds worrying.
Ecclestone’s lines are again expected, he said very similar last month. The situation we are in is bizarre. Party 1 wants to exit contract and Party 2 is interested. Sport 1 wants to stay with Party 1 and appears to be distancing himself from Party 2. The more Ecclestone tries and persuades BBC to stay, the less interested ITV will become. Does Ecclestone really want an uninterested BBC to stay on-board, and potentially limit resources as much as possible? I’m not entirely sure that is the best option. In my opinion: If BBC want to get out of the contract, and ITV want to take over, then let that happen. Don’t hold it up. Yes, ITV may give you fewer viewers, but they are still free to air. They will still bring in between two and three million viewers a weekend. Annoying ITV and prolonging any negotiations will not do F1 any good in the long run.