F1 and Sky exploring F1 TV Pro options for UK fans from 2021

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.

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22 thoughts on “F1 and Sky exploring F1 TV Pro options for UK fans from 2021

  1. This proposal seems to be completely missing the point that the reason a lot of us want to get F1 TV in the UK is that we don’t want to be locked in to a full Sky subscription (or Virgin Media plus Sky Sports subscription) just to watch F1 live on TV.

    1. Have you considered NowTV? Cancel anytime, no penalty. Assuming it’s offered again in 2021, the F1 season ticket is, I would imagine, going to be the cheapest option for live F1. You don’t just get F1 either, but support races (at rounds where there are support races), plus Ferrari Challenge, Indycar, and GT World Challenge. As was mentioned on the blog a few months ago, Sky are expanding their motorsport offering, so who knows what contracts are up at the end of 2020 that they might pick up for 2021 and beyond.

      1. Thanks Sean, yes I did try Now TV when they hadm a special offer available but I was disappointed to find that is no catch-up facility so it didn’t always fit in well with my needs. For example whilst I would normally try to see the race itself live, I would often want to catch up on some of the pre/post race features at a later date.l

        When compared with the nominal cost of F1 TV in other countries, I also think the Now TV sports pass is relatively expensive (around £34 per month when introductory discounts have expired).

        My dream would obviously be to get F1 back free to air (ideally on the BBC – without adverts) but, as Liberty further develop their plans, I fear that free to air TV for F1 in the UK is looking more and more like a lost cause.

        For what it’s worth, my current approach is to follow the live BBC radio commentary for the race and practise/qualifying sessions together with the F1 timing app (£19.99 per year) and then watch TV highlights on Ch4 in the evening.

        I found that the radio coverage provides some unexpected benefits in that
        a) I can receive it at home, in my garage, in my car or out and about via my phone (via both the BBC Sport app and the F1 Timing app) so I am no longer tied to the TV and can get on with other things while still getting my F1 fix.
        b) The radio commentary is not so restricted by the TV picture chosen by the TV directors so I find that (helped by the F1 timing app) I get a much better ‘story’ of the whole race from the BBCF1 team than I get with some of the TV commentators.

  2. If you’ll pardon the language, they can fuck right off. My only hope of watching live F1 again was them opening up F1 TV Pro to the UK 😦

  3. Just to be different, I quite like F1 being on Sky. If it went FTA you’d never get 90 mins build up and another 90 mins analysis, let alone all the other benefits like Indycar etc. Regarding F1TV Pro via Sky, then sure but would it be live or delayed? Currently F1TV is delayed by 2-3 mins which sucks. I’d like to see it baked into the already live SkyQ feed in some way. Like a layer of extra data shown over the the main channel I can toggle on/off.

    1. Although the subscription-based Sky is regarded as the “gold standard” of F1 broadcasting, their successful format can be largely credited to the bar raised by ITV when they got the F1 rights back in 1997. The BBC improved on that, as did Sky. Both ITV and BBC were FTA, so it can be done. Maybe not 90 minutes before and after, but a substantial amount.

  4. 100% this…

    My understanding [before today] was for F1 TV Pro availability in the UK. Not Sky-exclusive…

    Guess the usual April price hike will be even greater next year 🙁

  5. So did I read that right? Are they wanting us to pay an extra £25 on top of Sky Signature and Sky Sports F1? If thats the case I don’t see the point.

  6. Unfortunately, I don’t think F1 will ever be back on the Beeb. They have the rights to Formula E yes, but see how they move that around the schedules! I think they’ve fallen out of love with motorsport a bit!

    1. No, I don’t expect F1 to return to the BBC. I’ve spoken to various people involved in sport and they don’t expect the BBC to renew any existing televised sport contracts. The 5 live formula 1 contract is of course up at the end of next season, so will be interesting to see what happens there.

    2. Channel 4 should have taken up Formula E and run with it. They’re really good at hyping up sports. Look what they did with the Paralympics – their marketing was so good and successful.

      They could have done the same with Formula E.

  7. Yeah it wasnt great yesterday. iPlayer was delayed until nearly 6, Eurosport showed commercials during the race and I didnt know it was live on Youtube until afterwards (its usually geoblocked) and there was a lack of replays as well.

  8. I had basic Sky TV + broadband & phone and it was costing me £70 a month. So I’ve binned Sky TV and saved almost £50 a month, sod ’em. I for one can’t keep on coughing up more money every month for extras, the list is becoming endless. I’ve compiled a list of those ‘necessary’ extras some families appear to be signed up to – BTSport, Prime, Netflix, Britbox, Disney, MotoGP, World Supersport, Eurosport, Ratuten,a VPN & YouTube Premium. Some YouTube channels are moving to Patroen.
    And to believe some complain about paying £3 a week for a TV licence.
    I’ve got a fast broadband, Freesat and an Android box. Let’s see what I can get for ‘free’..

  9. The article is spot on. I don’t subscribe to Sky any longer and I know people will rave about how great it is, but I don’t feel it is as good as what ITV and the BBC did with it. Forced cringe humour at times and a very expensive way to watch the sport. Sure they have the extended coverage and fancy graphics but thats about it. I used to attend the British GP most years and had a large group of friends who did the same and followed the sport avidly. That has faded due to pay TV as most F1 fans now have to make do with highlights and YouTube videos. Many have stopped watching at all! Sky have decimated the viewerbase in the UK with their higher costs and the article is absolutely correct when it says this strategy is preventing F1 from being viewed by all demographics.

    The effect of this will be felt in the next 20 years as the sport continues to fail in attracting sponsors due to minimal audiences. Those of us making do with FTA coverage will continue to dwindle in our viewership. Very sad to see F1 get to this.

  10. It is very sad to see a monopoly based TV company like Sky use their position to destroy anything that could help F1. My own experience is that I used to have a paid F1 subscription and watched the timings and location app on both my tablet and phone and then watch the live TV as well, so I could follow every step of the race. I used to look forward to this but since the F1 app have gone to TV that we could not get here in the UK – I’ve not renewed my subscription. Nowadays I follow the race on German RTL Free-to-air open and listen to BBC 5 commentary at the same time.
    My days with F1 are numbered and the importance to me is lost now – I will still follow it – don’t get me wrong – but it is up to them how they want to entice me back.
    Currently there is only in the last 6 – 7 year only Mercedes that is giving us a boring procession of victories that has allowed the lucky Hamilton to become 7 time champion. I just do hope that Max Verstappen will not do the same and in the next 8 to 10 years become so dominant that it gets again boring to watch – just like his last race in Abu Dhabi.
    In all I see the future of F1 very bleak and not sure how they can continue the sport with fuel based propulsion – unless they change to Hydrogen – we already have Formula E.
    So, I’ve been a very lucky person to have been around when BBC and Murray Walker made it all so very good and interesting to watch F1 – but the sport is already in trouble with the way they are handling their supporters and not only making is a very expensive and elite sport for themselves but also for viewers like me. I’m not prepared to every follow or buy anything that is hosted by Sky – they’re greedy and have a monopoly and I do not and never have liked it.

  11. much of the younger generations do not /will not be watching f1 as it is just to expensive so the fan base will slowly diminish. Lewis Hamilton has often said that he has shown that anybody can achieve in the sport but not everybody can afford to watch it even.

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