Formula 1 and Sky are exploring making the premium tier of their over-the-top platform available to UK fans from 2021, but only to Sky Q subscribers, a survey from F1 reveals.
Since F1 launched their over-the-top platform back in 2018, UK fans have only had access to the basic tier, F1 TV Access. The basic tier allows fans to delve into F1’s rich archive, but crucially prevented fans from watching live content.
The only way to watch live content on F1 TV is by subscribing to the premium tier F1 TV Pro, which is currently geo-blocked to fans in the UK. Sky hold exclusive television rights until the end of 2024, with free-to-air highlights and live coverage of the British Grand Prix sub-let to Channel 4.
What does 2021 hold?
Now, a new survey issued through Formula 1’s official online community for fans, F1 Fan Voice, suggests that UK fans may receive access to F1 TV Pro as early as 2021.
However, F1 has tailored the survey towards fans thoughts towards receiving F1 content exclusively via Sky Q, a statement which encompasses F1 TV Pro.
“F1 TV Pro is F1’s live and on-demand owned and operated direct-to-consumer application which includes every GP live, archive races, original content and support races,” one part of the survey reads.
“If F1 were to make F1 TV Pro available to Sky Q customers only, here are some of the features that would be made available exclusively through Sky Q…,” the survey continues.
Features such as live on-board content, which F1 TV Pro subscribers can access, would require a Sky Q subscription for UK fans to access. The survey asks whether fans would be willing to subscribe to Sky Q, and whether they would pay £25.00 a month to access.
Sky Q is Sky’s newest product, allowing customers to record up to six programmes at once. The product supports 4K and HDR, and integrates with apps such as Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube.
If this comes to fruition, it means fans hoping to ‘cut the cord’ to watch F1 live will have no choice but to subscribe to Sky Q.
F1 TV Pro would sit on top of Sky’s existing F1 offering, as opposed to alongside it. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense for Sky, although it clearly limits F1’s ability to reach new fans in the UK.
How the UK development stacks up versus other territories
Hiding F1 TV Pro behind a pay TV wall, as opposed to a digital wall, is starting to become a trend, and not a trend that is likely to boost Formula 1’s reach in the longer term.
In June, F1 and Sky revealed that F1 TV Pro will only be available to Sky Sport subscribers in Germany from 2021 onwards, Sky having agreed an exclusive partnership in that territory through to the end of 2024, with free-to-air broadcaster RTL exiting the sport after this season.
Speaking to BlackBook Motorsport before the start of the season, F1’s Global Head of Digital and Licencing Frank Arthofer alluded to the possibility of similar deals being struck elsewhere.
“Going forward, there’s clearly a lot more we can do. On F1 TV we have an opportunity to tell more stories now that we have a more stable technical platform that really goes deep inside the sport, and we know that’s an avid fanbase,” he said.
“Equally, as we think about distribution, there’s probably more we can do with F1 TV alongside our core broadcasters. We announced that in the Sky Germany deal we’ll work together on F1 TV, and I think that may serve as a template for additional markets going forward.”
The UK news is not surprising, however as F1 considers more deals such as, the pricing disparity for F1 TV between different territories increases every further.
In America, fans can watch F1 TV Pro for $9.99 per month. Closer to home, residents of France can access F1 TV Pro for €7.99 per month, yet F1 fans in Germany and UK from next year may need to pay substantially more to access the same content.
Why should a fan in Germany or the UK not feel ripped off at paying three times the price (if not more) for an identical offering?
A two-tier fanbase?
I worry that F1 risks creating themselves a two-tier fanbase in countries such as the UK. Person A subscribes to everything because they can afford it, Person B on the other hand watches the free-to-air offering combined with highlights on YouTube, because they are not as fortunate.
Person B is not less passionate, but circumstances (maybe out of their hand) prevent them from joining Person A.
We want F1 to become more diverse, hence #WeRaceAsOne, which Arthofer says F1 coined before the 2020 season started, but COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter accelerated F1’s plans.
In my view, hiding your key digital asset behind a pay TV wall contradicts the overall strategy that F1 is trying to achieve. Some of the demographics F1 wants to attract to become more diverse may live in communities where deprivation is higher than average, and where pay TV is not the norm.
The two natural paths should be free-to-air to F1 TV Pro, or free-to-air to pay TV. Instead, it appears the only path will be free-to-air to pay TV, and onto F1 TV Pro.
Sky are a business, and if this comes to fruition, I do not blame them for this one, they are protecting the asset that they bought for a reported £1 billion over seven years.
However, F1 risks locking a future generation out of the sport – now more than ever considering recent developments. To quote a recent political phrase, albeit the other way around, F1 risks in the UK being a sport that caters for the few, not the many.