Liberty Media is “to honour and respect” Sky’s deal to cover Formula 1 exclusively in the United Kingdom from 2019 to 2024.
Speaking to The Guardian amongst other media at the FIA Sport Conference, F1’s Managing Director for Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches said “Free to air is critically important to us. My vision as it relates to media rights is a hybrid of free to air and pay. Our plan is to balance the two but have a prominent, over the year, free-to-air voice.”
The exclusive deal between Formula One Management (FOM) and Sky Sports was announced following the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, three months after BBC television announced their exit from the sport and just after Channel 4’s first race covering Formula 1. Overnight viewing figures supplied by Overnights.tv showed that Channel 4’s race day coverage averaged 1.96 million viewers in 2016, with Sky bringing in a further 669,000 viewers.
“There is the cauldron full of cash on the pay side and on the other side of the scale you have brand and reach. My view is a 30-70 model of free-to-air to pay, where you have a number of grands prix to be on free to air and then we can play and toil with the pay side to generate revenue that we can reinvest back into the sport,” Bratches continued.
As Bratches alludes to, Formula 1’s outfits should benefit financially from the Sky contract, helping to offset the loss of viewers and sponsors, which was a concern when the deal was first announced. Estimates produced by this site suggested that each team could gain around £6 million per season depending on how the revenue generated is distributed, and assuming the teams see every single penny.
Based on a 20-race calendar and a ’30-70 model’, the ideal situation would see around six of the 20 races live on free-to-air television. This would likely entail the season opener and closure, along with the ‘home race’ and three other rounds of the championship. However, this scenario is impossible in the UK now until 2025, by which point the landscape may be fundamentally different again.
“That deal is an agreement that we inherited. They are done between adult parties at an arm’s length and my suspicion is that Sky is very happy and we are going to honour and respect the deals that were in place when we arrived,” Bratches said.
The comments made by Bratches are not surprising, you cannot tear up a legally binding broadcasting contract unless one side violates the agreement or activates a get-out clause. It is also unlikely that highlights will find a home elsewhere, other than Sky Sports Mix as announced previously.
Elsewhere at the FIA Sport Conference, it was revealed that regionalised graphics will be introduced for the 2018 season. Depending on location, some countries will see miles per hour (mph) in their graphics set, whilst others will see kilometers per hour (kph). Personally, I have no issue seeing both kph and mph, but I assume that FOM are planning on making other graphical changes, otherwise introducing a regionalised version feels like an unnecessary overhead.