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.