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…