A television channel owned by Red Bull has secured the rights to broadcast Formula 1 in Austria, however has opted to sublet some of the package back to the incumbent rights holder.
ServusTV, a commercial free-to-air station owned by the Red Bull Media House, will share the broadcasting rights with longstanding national public service broadcaster ORF from 2021 until the end of 2023, ORF’s existing agreement ending after this season.
A statement issued by ORF via their media centre confirms that ServusTV acquired the rights exclusively, with ORF acting as their partner in the arrangement.
The situation is like the current UK F1 deal in that respect: Sky acquired the television rights, and Channel 4 then bought an element back off the pay TV broadcaster (although the scenario in Austria concerns two free-to-air broadcasters).
ORF and ServusTV will confirm the exact race split prior to the start of the 2021 season, however both will air the Austrian Grand Prix from the Red Bull Ring live.
ServusTV’s acquisition adds to their existing sports portfolio, which includes live coverage of MotoGP and the World Superbike series. In May, the channel also secured rights to 33 matches per season of the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, and the new UEFA Europa Conference League.
Their Director General Dr Ferdinand Wegscheider noted “The new agreement with the Formula 1 fills us with pride and we will do our utmost to write another success story in Austrian motorsport coverage, parallel to MotoGP,” he said.
“With Formula 1, MotoGP, and the Superbike World Championship, ServusTV will offer the best live motor sport program to viewers from 2021 onward.”
“The cooperation with ORF makes sense economically and guarantees that Formula One fans have access to all races live on free-TV.”
The story so far
The last line by Wegscheider outlines the issues that his counterparts over at ORF are facing, a recurring theme in recent weeks on this site.
Speculation about ORF’s continuation as broadcaster is not new. In 2016, ServusTV was again said to be interested but ORF was able to negotiate a reduction in the fee, which Austrian outlet Kleine Zeitung reported reduced their fee from over €15 million to €10 million a year.
However, ORF says that the “economic challenges” in recent times has resulted in a further change from their perspective.
“These are economically challenging times also for ORF, and with the acquisition of the live broadcasting rights of the current Bundesliga season and the UEFA Europa League, ORF was recently able to secure free-TV rights that are equally important for sports and sports fans,” explained ORF Director General Dr Alexander Wrabetz.
“Although the agreement with shared broadcasting rights is a novelty, this cooperation guarantees that Formula 1 will also remain an integral part of ORF’s TV program in the coming years – while at the same time complying with economic requirements. And that is good news for all motor sports fans in Austria.”
ServusTV has increasingly in recent years tried to raise their profile within Formula 1 by inviting motor sport guests to its popular Monday evening talk show broadcast from an aircraft hangar in Salzburg airport (Sport und Talk aus dem Hangar-7). Just last night, the crew invited Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel onto the show, creating headlines across the F1 spectrum.
Speaking ahead of a potential F1 rights deal back in February, Red Bull’s owner Dieter Mateschitz told the Salzburger Nachrichten that they are not “…fundamentally not a sports broadcaster.”
“But we should think twice with such an opportunity. Formula One rights are always interesting for a broadcaster, but we cannot say anything more now,” he added.
“We must wait to see what ORF decides and what Sky does. It simply depends on the situation in the market. We’ll watch that and it is always very interesting.”
Viewing figures remain healthy in Austria, where the rapport between ORF commentator Ernst Hausleitner and pundit Alexander Wurz is frequently praised.
The news from Austria comes after the decision of RTL in Germany to step away from Formula 1 broadcasting, first announced to English-speaking audiences on this site.
Additional reporting by Edmund Wareham.