Channel 4 to air Formula 1 highlights in 2019

Channel 4 will continue to broadcast Formula 1 in 2019, it has been confirmed today.

The broadcaster will air the free-to-air element of the contract signed between Sky Sports and Formula One Management (FOM) in 2016, covering live coverage of the British Grand Prix, along with highlights of every other race.

As mooted back in July, the move is part of a wider ranging content deal between Sky and Channel 4. Series one of original Sky drama Tin Star will air on Channel 4 this Autumn before it returns on Sky Atlantic, whilst a select of dramas that have aired on Channel 4 will be available via Sky’s platforms as box sets.

In addition, Channel 4 have confirmed to this site that the F1 contract is for 2019 only, meaning that there is a possibility that this contract will not be in place for 2020 onwards; in other words, we will be having the same conversation this time next year. The likely reason behind this is that the future of the British Grand Prix is unknown beyond 2019.

Coverage details, including the structure of Channel 4’s highlights programming, and the presentation line-up, are to be announced. However, Channel 4 have ruled out using Sky’s presentation team. The likelihood is that Whisper Films will continue to produce Channel 4’s programming, but this is yet to be officially confirmed.

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive Officer of Channel 4, said, “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to establish such an exciting and innovative partnership with Sky which will ensure that the British Grand Prix and highlights of the 2019 Formula 1 Championship remain available on free-to-air television for UK viewers.”

Analysis: Good news for Channel 4, in the short-term at least
On the face of it, today’s news is good news for Formula 1 fans in the UK. The agreement between Channel 4 and Sky means that Formula 1 will remain on a major free-to-air platform in the UK next season, allowing the sport to continue to reach millions of viewers.

Inevitably, many will think “good news, how?” when compared to the current contract. We should remember that the 2019 to 2024 contract between Sky and FOM was confirmed in March 2016, when Bernie Ecclestone was still at the helm. Liberty Media walked into this problem, the 2019 agreement was not of their doing.

From Formula 1’s perspective, having races air in some form on Channel 4 is a significantly better proposition that highlights airing on one of Sky’s free-to-air channels, such as Pick TV.

Given the added extras exchanged between the two networks, it is difficult to place a specific price on how much Channel 4 have spent on this contract, but I suspect you are looking at between £5 million and £10 million, possibly the lower end of the spectrum as a compromise between the two.

Technical details about highlights, such as the length of each qualifying and race programme are unknown. There is a major difference between a two-hour highlights show in primetime on Sunday evenings, and a one-hour programme on Monday evenings. I cannot imagine it is the latter, as the value of it would decrease significantly.

The length of the highlights naturally dictates the level of resource involved: a one-hour programme gives you time for a quick introduction, the race edit, and wrap-up. At most, such a show requires four on-air talent (presenter, two commentators and a reporter). The longer the programme is, the more reason to add a further analyst.

Channel 4 have ruled out using Sky’s line-up, meaning that their programming will continue to have a distinctive feel to it, which is great news. There was a major risk that UK F1 fans were going to lose several excellent voices, such as Ben Edwards and David Coulthard. Assuming the line-up remains largely static, I am pleased that is not going to happen… for now at least.

We could spend a lot of time wondering why Channel 4 did not want to take Sky’s presentation team, or why the added extras came into play, but that would be veering into extreme speculation. Only those privy to the discussions at the negotiation table will know what order the events occurred in, and how we arrived at this position.

The loser in all of this could well be Formula E. There was (and still is) a possibility of Channel 4 airing Formula E live from the 2018-19 season, but that was under the assumption that Channel 4’s F1 coverage was no more. Now that we know Channel 4 have locked themselves into F1 for at least another year, the chances of the electric championship airing on Channel 4 reduces significantly. The money now should be with Formula E either staying at Channel 5, or returning to ITV.

As for 2020, time will tell as to whether the 2019 agreement between Channel 4 and Sky continues all the way through until 2024. Is it as simple as to whether the British Grand Prix is on the calendar, or are there many other factors, such as viewing figures, on-demand figures, and so on, at play? Next year, we will find out…


23 thoughts on “Channel 4 to air Formula 1 highlights in 2019

  1. I don’t want to moan because at least it’s on there, but it’ll never be the same without free to air live races.

    I’m glad they’ve seen sense though, at last.

  2. So so glad we now have some offical confirmation! While this is great news, I’m also slightly worried of how it’ll be presented now. Obviously the statement said that subsequent questions regarding presenting team and commentators will be announced in due course but I’ve got a strong feeling that it’ll go down the route that Moto GP has with Channel 5, That it’ll be just 1 hour on the following Monday night ! Let’s hope their allowed to keep DC, Ben, Mark and Steve and have the current run time for its current extended highlight shows 🏁

  3. I’m with you X24RIDER: The MotoGP highlights are dreadful, worse than useless in fact & do nothing to promote what is still a great sport, albeit visible only to a tiny fraction of its previous free-to-air audience.
    If Liberty Media & SKY reduce CH4’s package to that extent, they can wave goodbye to their current audience & forget all possibility of attracting new viewers.

    1. If team money is going to be capped next year. Great. Heres another idea…each team races same engine changing makes each race so driver car and skill becomes more relevent due 2 skill A.Cassie Aberdeen . What do u think of that idea?

  4. The deal stinks. SKY is a greedy organisation but it is fueled by idiots who buy their overpriced subs.
    F1 is only in the state it is because ‘fans’ allowed it go that way.

  5. Have Liberty Media no idea that they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg? Surely a lot of funds are generated by advertising, whether it’s sponsors’ names on cars, adverts round the circuits or other numerous sources of revenue. By not allowing BBC or ITV to transmit the races live, it is doing a disservice to the vast number of F1 fans who much prefer to see the races that way. The figures show how many viewers watch Channel 4’s transmissions rather than Sky Sports, up to ten times more I believe. Quite a number of those viewers won’t be ardent fans, therefore won’t bother watching highlights. Even ardent fans may decide to give up watching the racing on TV. All this means loss of advertising coverage for the sponsors etc.
    England is the bed rock of Formula One racing, most of the constructors are based in this country, some not very far from Silverstone, yet Liberty Media charge the Silverstone Circuit an exorbitant amount to run the Grand Prix, which as a private company is always struggling to meet the charge, whereas other countries’ races are supported by their governments in order to attract tourists and businesses. If Silverstone can’t afford to run the Grand Prix, Britain will be the looser and eventually so will Liberty Media.
    Liberty Media must call a halt to looking after its shareholders and start looking after its customers. Forty pounds a month to watch the only sport most grand prix fans are interested in, is a very expensive luxury.

    1. You make some really good points here Richard.
      I suspect that Liberty has inherited deals with Silverstone made by Ecclestone, who always hated the BRDC, and who always chased money rather than the good of the sport.
      It’s up to Liberty to change that deal, to allow the BRDC to continue to run the British GP without going bankrupt.
      It’s also up to the F1 sponsors to step forward and tell Liberty that their advertising becomes worthless if the tiny Pay TV audience is all they get. Being a so-called Media Company, you’d think Liberty would know this, but thus far there’s very little sign of awareness from them.

    2. Firstly, the BBC don’t want F1 and it was they who asked Sky to help get them out of their contract. ITV don’t want it either. I’m not sure why you think C4 get ‘up to ten times more’ viewers than Sky, it’s nothing like that from what I’ve seen and Skys’ figures are under reported, by a considerable amount I would suggest.
      I agree about Silverstone but they signed the contract with Bernie. What annoys me is that Monaco don’t pay a penny and in terms of racing, it’s the worst race on the calendar.

      I find it laughable that people actually think Liberty Media would want to take F1 from Sky and put it on the BBC or ITV, that’s assuming they even wanted it. One of the first things that Liberty did was to create the F1 TV app so that they can get the subscription fee direct from the viewer and cut out the TV companies. Liberty are in it for the money, just as CVC were.

  6. Considering it was vanishing this is ok and we hope c4 have done a good deal. Can only think that its temporary as sky see how the uptake for the live service goes.
    No doubt we will see crocodile tears from the teams and liberty but they are really all just loving the huge multi year bundle of cash bernie arranged before he left.

  7. Sorry David but why on earth would Formula E return to ITV when they parted on such awful terms? (ITV broke contract early, and ITV’s figures were atrocious even compared to Channel 5’s; not surprising given the lack of effort ITV put in during the second season especially) Also, I don’t see how this news affects C4’s negotiations with FE at all; how does broadcasting F1 highlights (And the British GP live, which rarely ever clashes with an FE race) preclude them from broadcasting Formula E also? If anything I believe it’s a good sign as it shows C4’s continued commitment to Motorsport in general; something FE could really do with right now as C5, ITV are never going to show the commitment that FE needs to thrive in this country.

  8. What I have to question actually is will Sky Sports actually gain any subscribers from the new deal. Surely most F1 fans who didn’t want to miss live coverage would be subscribing anyway for the 10-12 weekends a year they’re not live FTA. I can’t see many more FTA viewers choosing to subscribe because Sky has exclusivity – they’ll just say bye to F1.

  9. The dirty deal with Sky was one of the last acts of Ecclestone who has now thankfully gone. Formula 1’s new boss, Chase Carey, has gone on record that the sport “needs a fresh start”.

    From the various comments he’s made, he doesn’t like the Sky deal and he recognises that there needs to be a greater live free to air component and that the balance must change so that the sport retains its large following in the UK.

    He said something along the lines of that at least a third of the F1 races ought to be live, free to air ones (source = Radio 4’s Media Show) so there is hope for the future once the existing Sky deal is over although I hope he’s able to persuade them to change their existing contract, e.g. if you don’t play ball with us over this matter then just watch us award the F1 races to Amazon Prime next time around.

    1. The ‘fresh start’ that Liberty Media have brought has been solely to dumb everything down and introduce intrusive advertising. Live Timing on the F1 App that I subscribe to has been rendered useless, a lot of the features have been removed and instead of being able to see the whole grid, you now get just the top 7 cars.
      Don’t forget that Carey is also on the Board at Sky, what Liberty say in public and what they actually do about FTA, will be two different things.
      Bernie’s big mistake was giving the teams too much say in the way the sport is run, he had the skill to get that back but Liberty don’t.

  10. As long as the highlights show are similar to the ones we have already I’m OK with that. It must be shown on Sunday too and I hope we still get the quali.
    Happy with DC but not sure about Steve Jones. He acts as if he is part of the whole F1 set up but in reality he is just another presenter and I’d be happy to see him replaced.

  11. A tricky balance to strike. F1 fans have had the majority of the sport covered live on FTA for decades, while the vast other major sports have been behind a paywall of sorts. It’s that last of the truly major sports to go that way, so in a way this is long overdue.

    What’s especially interesting is how much of a role FTA plays in all of this. You hear a lot about how everything is changing (it isn’t,) and that people don’t watch telly like they used to (they do.) Given the desperation to hang on to a FTA option it’s clear that mainstream TV is still vital, despite what you may hear. Other sports have done experiments with broadcast on social platforms and the reach is dismal.

    TO take another example, Top Gear was one of the UK’s biggest TV exports. Sidestepping that fact that it was probably a bit tired when Jezza landed that right hook, it has lost any kind of clout (no pun intended) with the general public due to it not being on FTA at all. Most people don’t watch it, nor do they care what the three musketeers are up to these days. FTA remains a key component of reach.

    Ultimately Liberty (rightly or wrongly) believe in their own OTT service in 2025 and beyond. They clearly believe that people will sign up in enough numbers, and I do wish them well with that. My own view is that only a minority of fans will sign up, unless it is easy to put on the big telly in the front room. That means walking a tightrope between the current TV providers (who may be needed to front that service) while allowing a certain amount of that coverage to draw fans in via FTA. It’ll be interesting to see how the next few years play out.

  12. I’m now finding myself checking out FreeSports far more often now for their good coverage of motorsports such as the fantastic DTM, V8 Supercars, Rally Cross and NASCAR to name but a few.

    Add to those Formula E and the fantastic British touring cars, I believe I may be able to happily live without F1 after 2019 should C4 decides not to show F1 highlights in 2020.

    Mmmm I wonder if I can persuade a fellow F1 fan and good neighbour of mine to dub his live Sky coverage of F1 for me in the coming years. I can supply an excellent VCR and tapes. Delayed live coverage will be better than not watching it!

    Sky HD boxes do have a Scart connection, after all.

    Better start working my magic on him and lovely his wife ASAP!!! 😉

  13. I much prefer the channel 4 coverage. It is more relaxed and you get all the info you need. Sky seems disjointed and too technical. When they try to make it lighthearted it doesnt feel right. I like the line up of presenters on 4 they gel really well. If it remains the same as now there will be no problem, if they put it on monday then whats the point when you know the result..

  14. Saw the announcement during qualifying. DC’s face was a picture. F1 viewers are being short changed so that channel 4 can nab some Sky tv shows on the cheap. I remember Ecclestone saying that F1 would always be broadcast free to air because it was more exposure for the sponsors.
    The only crumb of comfort is that the highlights shows this year have been pretty good and they seem to show quite a bit of the race.
    The problem with Channel 4’s coverage is that it goes on for so long. Yesterday’s race had over 4 hours total coverage. The race itself was boring and there’s too much build up and reaction. I like the presenter’s apart from Steve Jones who I think would eat himself if he could. When they show the British GP next year I expect it will be on all day.

    1. Sky’s race day coverage is four hours at a minimum. The build-up is 90 minutes long including the track parade, and the post-race is between an 60 to 90.

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