Channel 4 to continue to air F1 in “multi-year” deal with Sky

Channel 4 are to continue broadcasting Formula 1 after agreeing a new multi-year deal with Sky, the broadcaster has confirmed.

The free-to-air broadcaster first started airing the sport in 2016, taking over the BBC’s legacy contract. From 2016 to 2018, Channel 4 aired half the races live, and the other half in highlights form.

This year, Channel 4 have aired the free-to-air element of Sky’s exclusive deal with Formula 1, that being live coverage of the British Grand Prix and highlights of every race.

That arrangement will continue into next year, in what Motorsport Broadcasting understands to be a new three-year deal until the end of the 2022 season.

I also understand that the contract to produce Channel 4’s coverage will soon be put out to tender, meaning that it is not guaranteed Whisper will continue to cover the sport. Nevertheless, the fact that the contract is going out to tender implies that Channel 4 have retained editorial control.

As was the case last year, the F1 agreement forms part of a wider package between Channel 4 and Sky, which the two are billing as a “new, broader, strategic partnership spanning content, technology and innovation.”

Channel 4’s CEO Alex Mahon said “Channel 4 has established itself as the go-to channel for free to air television coverage of Formula 1 and we’re thrilled that motorsport fans will be able to continue to enjoy the excitement of F1 through our highlights of all the races and live coverage of the British Grand Prix.”

Analysis: Little surprise as Channel 4 retains F1 highlights
The news that Channel 4 have retained their F1 highlights package is actually not a major surprise as some may think.

Earlier in the Summer, Channel 4 and Sky partnered to bring cricket fans coverage of the Cricket World Cup final featuring England to a much wider audience, with live coverage airing across Channel 4 and More4.

Whilst the British Grand Prix did not exactly benefit on that day, it showed that the partnership between Channel 4 and Sky was strong, admittedly there was public pressure involved as well.

Speaking at the Black Book Motorsport Forum last month, Sky’s Head of F1 Scott Young explained the importance of free-to-air to Sky in relation to their F1 contract.

“It was very important for Sky to transition into this new exclusive role and to have a component of this broadcast on free to air television. Our executive group is very focussed on making sure that in some way that continues beyond one year,” Young said prior to today’s announcement.

“There’s not a closed shop mentality about how we work with free-to-air.”

“It’s about how that ecosystem works where we can still create subscriber base television, where we can grow the revenue to give to the federations, and that a broader consumer can actually start to see what we produce and then want to consume more of our platforms.”

Although Channel 4 remains the biggest F1 broadcaster from an audience perspective in the UK, their audience figures have dropped year-on-year.

In depth, deep dive analysis from Motorsport Broadcasting at the halfway stage of the season showed that their F1 audience has dropped by around 15 percent, some of that heading over to Sky.

On the production front, I would be extremely surprised if Whisper did not retain control, and if the on-air team did not stay broadly the same. But hey, stranger things have happened.

Overall, this is good news for F1 in the UK, and provides some stability on the broadcasting front, with both TV and radio contracts now locked in until at least the end of the 2021 season.


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9 thoughts on “Channel 4 to continue to air F1 in “multi-year” deal with Sky

  1. Thank goodness 😅That is excellent news, also means that the awesome podcast On The Marbles will continue too. Despite extra restrictions… Channel 4 & Whisper have done a bang job and I’m so pleased it’s going to continue 👍🏁

      • My understanding is there’s a strong limit on the amount of paddock interviews C4/Whisper can do from this year. Hence their suspicious number of interviews in random wine fields, and their “guest presenters” which are not extended interviews swear-on-my-mother’s-life. They also cannot do the press pen part and must use Sky’s interviews for those post-race interviews.

        The amount of on-track action allowed per programme has reduced compared to previous years as well.

        (I’m sure I read this on this site but I cannot find it to link to it.)

        So despite all the limitations that Sky have placed on them… Channel 4 and Whisper have done a bang up job.

  2. It will be interesting to see to what degree Sky decide to promote the NowTV season pass in the run up to 2020, or if they offer it at all for 2020, in order to make people more aware of their live F1 options I unfortunately became aware of it too late for this season

  3. “Out to tender”, argh, Sky already have a race high light show that airs before Ch4’s coverage, they could easily undercut Whisper if they wanted to. They’d expect me to suffer the jibbering idiot Croft.

    This quote from Scott Young is rubbish
    “..“It’s about how that ecosystem works where we can still create subscriber base television, where we can grow the revenue to give to the federations, and that a broader consumer can actually start to see what we produce and then want to consume more of our platforms.”

    Sky don’t give money to the federations, they buy content from FOM. I don’t see what they produce, because I don’t watch Sky F1, and I’ve certainly no interest in football, although it’s an absolute bargain comparing cost/airtime with F1.

  4. Let’s face it, with viewing figures in the what, 600k range on SKY, if this deal wasn’t done F1 would become a niche sport hardly anyone would watch in probably THE most F1 friendly country in the world! As it is having to wait until around 7pm every GP to watch the ‘highlights’ without hearing or seeing the result is almost too much even for me, someone who has been a fan since the 60’s and the Raymond Baxter era (I was of course very young!). It wouldn’t take much even for me to drop it. Lewis raised his concerns about this situation earlier in the year but by and large the teams don’t appear to have done the simple arithmetic on just how little exposure their sport is achieving. In France, which I often visit, NO ONE talks about F1 anymore since FTA was replaced by Canal+ (the SKY equivalent). F1 should be worried.

  5. Oh dear! I was hoping for an improvement, in what Channel 4 are allowed to do.
    The delay in transmission is so great now that it is almost impossible to avoid both the result and any major incidents.
    One live race is a very poor deal for us in the UK without the means to afford Sky (whose production layout and presenters I am not keen on anyway)
    The Whisper films outfit do an excellent job within the tight parameters they are restricted to. It would be a great pity if the do not continue to produce our coverage.

    Meanwhile the director/producer at Biggin Hill who selects the shots needs to re-consider his vocation. The overall quality of the coverage has fallen considerably in the last few years. We have far too many shots of empty track and crowd scenes cut away at vital moment from the action. Our reduced coverage is precious, we do not need it wasted on crowds.

  6. Well said Our Nige and rpaco. Pay TV is killing Formula 1 and they don’t even realise it because they are counting the $’s. Thats what you get when a man who looks like Mr Monopoly minus the hat is in charge and comes out with statements which suggest Pay TV is here to stay. I do pay for Sky and I hate myself for doing it sometimes. Its only the good races we have had this year that has made me happy I have it so I can see the whole thing as I struggle to follow the highlights as they are seamless edits so I lose track easily. The problem is that its costing me nearly 4 times the price of Netflix to watch this sport and in a household of streamers its difficult to justify.

    There is another option I am considering when out of contract with Sky next year. F1TV Access has all the races in full in their archive the following year. I could wait until they are available and binge watch them. It would only cost £20 for the whole year to subscribe so it might be worth waiting to save that kind of money and it would hit the ratings for C4 and Sky Sports F1 which might help the cause of getting F1 back to FTA or getting F1TV Pro to be made available in the UK.

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