It is official – Channel 4 are to broadcast Formula 1 from the 2016 season. The BBC have exited their portion of the contract three years early. Channel 4 will broadcast races advert free, with 10 races live and all 21 races broadcast again in highlights form. Their deal also covers practice and qualifying, so like-for-like with the current BBC F1 contract. Their deal will expire at the end of the 2018 season, whilst Sky Sports’ portion of the contract remains unaffected.
Bernie Ecclestone said: “I am sorry that the BBC could not comply with their contract but I am happy that we now have a broadcaster that can broadcast Formula 1 events without commercial intervals during the race. I am confident that Channel 4 will achieve not only how the BBC carried out the broadcast in the past but also with a new approach as the World and Formula 1® have moved on.”
David Abraham, Channel 4 Chief Executive said: “Formula One is one of the world’s biggest sporting events with huge appeal to British audiences. I’m delighted to have agreed this exciting new partnership with Bernie Ecclestone to keep the sport on free-to-air television.”
Jay Hunt, Channel 4 Chief Creative Officer said: “Channel 4 and Formula One are the perfect partnership. We’ve the same appetite for innovation and we’ll be demonstrating that to fans by becoming the first free-to-air commercial broadcaster to show the races ad free.”
The major surprise is that it is Channel 4 replacing BBC’s TV coverage and not ITV, as was reported last week. On his BBC Radio breakfast show on November 24th, Chris Evans noted that Channel 4 were likely to take over, so Evans was spot on the money.
Before we get into what Channel 4 could and could not do, first we need to investigate why not ITV. I have reached out to them to find out if they were approached at all, and will update the site when I get a response. ITV were odds on favourite, so either the broadsheets last week were wrong, or the deal fell through at the eleventh hour. The Euro 2016 picks last Monday left the door open for ITV to broadcast Formula 1. Channel 4’s release states that races will be shown commercial free. Were ITV unwilling to comply with that, and therefore lost out? ITV announced a Top Gear rival last week called Driven, which looks odd now given that they failed to secure the F1.
There could be a bigger game for ITV with the horse racing rights. If ITV believe horse racing is a better prospect than Formula 1, that’s a thoroughly depressing thought, although the cost of horse racing rights would be lower than Formula 1. From a reach perspective, ITV wins out, but Channel 4 skews younger than ITV. Formula 1 has notoriously struggled to reach younger viewers in the past few years (some through its own doing, admittedly). On Channel 4, you can guarantee crossover with some of their younger skewing shows, notably Gogglebox and TFI Friday. A crossover involving the former is bound to happen and I’d be stunned if it did not materialise.
Is Channel 4 guaranteed to get less viewers than ITV for Formula 1? I would say it is likely, but I do not think the difference is as big as some may expect. I should probably whisper this, but the good news I feel about a Channel 4 deal is that they will bring something different to the table. I say whisper it, that is a reference to Whisper Films. For those of you unfamiliar, Whisper Films was set up in 2010 by Jake Humphrey, David Coulthard and Sunil Patel. And who owns an equity stake in Whisper Films? Channel 4. I think you can connect the dots. One thing that probably won’t jump ship is The Chain. Channel 4 will want to create their own identity and I simply do not see that happening.
From a scheduling stand-point, Channel 4’s ten point plan from 2011, located above, gives us a great idea about the potential that they could have going forward. I am sure we can all get behind more historical coverage from FOM’s archive and a greater range of programming on the station. Some of the points are no longer relevant, given that Channel 4 are now in a shared deal with Sky Sports, but it is food for thought. My final point would be: don’t judge Channel 4 on what they do or don’t deliver at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, but judge them on what they do in the latter half of 2016 and 2017. It will already be a logistical squeeze getting everything in place for March 2016, but I am confident Channel 4 can do it.
I’ll write up a piece concerning who I think will slot in where over the Christmas break, as one era ends, and another begins…