Channel 4 strikes deal with Sky to air F1 season finale live in UK

This weekend’s Formula 1 championship decider will air live on free-to-air television in the UK after Channel 4 struck a deal with Sky Sports, Motorsport Broadcasting has learnt.

Live coverage of the season finale from Abu Dhabi was set to air exclusively live on Sky Sports, however, the move to air the race on Channel 4 means that millions more fans in the UK will see Max Verstappen go head-to-head with Lewis Hamilton.

Channel 4’s usual Formula 1 partner Whisper will produce wrap-around content, while race commentary will be provided by Sky Sports F1’s David Croft and Martin Brundle.

The move to allow Channel 4 to air some of their own bespoke pre and post-race content, whilst taking Sky commentary is a sensible compromise between the two broadcasters, off the heels of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

A formal press release has yet to be issued by Channel 4, Sky or F1 themselves.

This is not the first time that Channel 4 and Sky have collaborated on bringing sporting events to a wider audience.

In 2019, the free-to-air broadcaster shared live coverage of the Cricket World Cup final between England and New Zealand with Sky, airing a simulcast of Sky’s broadcast.

Earlier this year, Channel 4 also aired coverage of Emma Raducanu’s victory in the US Open final after striking a late deal with Amazon Prime. Both events peaked with an excess of 8 million viewers.

The last time F1 reached such highs was in 2014, when the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix aired live across BBC One and Sky Sports.

Back then, a peak of 7.9 million viewers, or a 50% audience share, watched Lewis Hamilton win his second championship, fending off competition from Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg. F1 will be looking to repeat such highs this weekend.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Ziggo have announced that their coverage will be available on a free-to-view basis for the whole weekend.

It means that Formula 1 has a chance of attracting new fans from across the UK and Netherlands with the title showdown this Sunday.

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F1 audiences surge in UK and Netherlands as championship race heats up in Jeddah

A dramatic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix saw Formula 1’s viewing figures in the UK and the Netherlands surge, audience data from both countries reveal.

According to a press release issued by Sky, an audience of 2.23 million viewers watched the Grand Prix itself across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event in the UK, excluding the build-up and post-race analysis.

The race peaked with 2.66 million viewers at 19:19 on Sunday as title rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton went head-to-head.

Both figures are Sky’s highest ever for Formula 1 in the UK, beating the season opener in Bahrain by around 400,000 viewers. It is only the second time in Sky F1’s ten-year history that their coverage has broken the 2 million viewers mark.

Sources indicate that Sky’s coverage reached 3.7 million viewers overall across the F1 channel and Main Event.

While Channel 4’s figures are unknown as of writing, it is likely a combined audience of 4.5 million viewers watched the action unfold on Sunday.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, a peak audience of 3.71 million viewers watched across Ziggo Sport and Ziggo Sport Select, in their penultimate race covering the sport, according to data released via KijKonderzoek.

An average of 2.75 million viewers watched the action unfold across the two channels, with an audience share of 44.44% (you read that right).

Ziggo’s figure is marginally below the Dutch Grand Prix from September, a race available on a free-to-view basis.

Pressure grows on Sky to make season finale available on free-to-air basis in UK

Back home, pressure is growing on Sky Sports to make the season finale this weekend in Abu Dhabi available on a free-to-air basis.

Both The Times and The Telegraph report that negotiations are underway between Sky and Channel 4 over sharing the live rights to Sunday’s race, however, a decision may not be known until the weekend itself.

Additionally, The Telegraph notes that the likelihood of the race playing out on one of Sky’s own free-to-air channels is declining.

Speaking to this site, a Channel 4 spokesperson said “We are looking forward to showing the highlights of what is set to be a gripping finale to the F1 season.”

Motorsport Broadcasting understands that discussions are also ongoing between Sky and F1, with Sky hoping to air their race day build-up live on YouTube as well as their linear F1 channel.

There is precedence for Channel 4 airing major events live in collaboration with Sky. In 2019, the free-to-air broadcaster shared live coverage of the Cricket World Cup final between England and New Zealand with Sky, airing a simulcast of Sky’s broadcast.

Earlier this year, Channel 4 also aired coverage of Emma Raducanu’s victory in the US Open final after striking a late deal with Amazon Prime.

Both events peaked with an excess of 8 million viewers, a mouth-watering figure which shows what could be on offer here for F1, if Sky and Channel 4 agree to suitable terms.

What are the sticking points?

The first sticking point in any deal between Sky and Channel 4 is cost. Currently, Sky pays F1 around £166 million for a season of F1 which, in 2021 terms, equates to £7.6 million per race.

It is unclear how much Sky recoup from Channel 4 for their highlights package, but it is likely to be a relatively small figure in comparison.

If one F1 race is worth £7.6 million to Sky, they will likely be looking for Channel 4 to provide them with a multi-million-pound payment to air season finale.

Although the exact terms remained undisclosed, media reports at the time noted that Channel 4’s deal with Amazon went into seven figures.

The Raducanu deal came together less than 24 hours before the event. If the same happens here, it is plausible we will not know whether Channel 4 will cover Sunday’s race live until after qualifying on Saturday afternoon.

Assuming the two parties agree financial terms, the next question to answer is what will Channel 4 air?

When Channel 4 aired live coverage of the Cricket World Cup, the broadcaster took Sky’s broadcast as part of the deal, including graphics and commentary team.

This presents an interesting conundrum for Channel 4, given that Whisper produces Channel 4’s F1 coverage, and is independent from Sky’s own production.

If Channel 4’s only option is to air simulcast Sky’s live offering – do they take it, or walk away? And if they take it, does that negatively impact Channel 4’s relationship with Whisper?

Presenting that scenario to Channel 4 would be an ideal way for Sky to argue that they gave Channel 4 the option to air F1 live, but they failed to take up the offer.

I hope it does not come down to that, but Sky may consider simulcast of their coverage a ‘red line’ in negotiations with Channel 4.

It is all to play for over the next few days, both on and off the circuit.

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Scheduling: The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

This post will be updated on Thursday with details of Channel 4’s live broadcast (info here).

Verstappen versus Hamilton. 21 races down. 1 to go. The 2021 championship fight is going down to the wire, in one of the most intense Formula 1 seasons in years, as both drivers go into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix level on 369.5 points.

If Lewis Hamilton beats Max Verstappen, he will become an eight-time Drivers’ Champion, breaking the record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004.

If Verstappen wins, he will win his first Drivers’ Championship, becoming the 34th person to win the championship, and the first from the Netherlands.

As of writing, the season finale will air exclusively live on pay-TV across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting last week, a Sky spokesperson said it was “unlikely” that the season finale would be made available on a free-to-air basis.

Sky will air special programming throughout the weekend, with specials on Friday and Saturday, and an extended race day broadcast on Sunday.

Highlights of the race will air on Channel 4 in an early evening time slot, with qualifying airing at 18:55 on Saturday, with race at 17:30 on Sunday, three hours after the chequered flag has fallen.

Radio coverage airs across BBC’s online platform, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, with updates also during the race itself on BBC Radio 5 Live.

The weekend could be BBC’s last for covering F1 on radio, with no formal announcement yet on who will be covering F1 from 2022 onwards.

All F1 sessions are available to listen live via BBC’s F1 website

Thursday 9th December
15:00 to 16:00 – The F1 Show (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
16:00 to 17:30 – F1: Drivers’ Press Conference (Sky Sports F1)
20:00 to 21:00 – F1: Preview (BBC Radio 5 Live)

Friday 10th December
07:35 to 08:20 – F2: Practice (Sky Sports F1)
09:00 to 10:45 – F1: Practice 1 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
12:45 to 14:25 – F1: Practice 2 (Sky Sports F1)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:55 to 14:05
14:25 to 15:05 – F2: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1)

15:05 to 15:35 – Countdown to Abu Dhabi (Sky Sports F1)

Saturday 11th December
08:10 to 09:15 – F2: Sprint Race 1 (Sky Sports F1)
09:45 to 11:10 – F1: Practice 3 (Sky Sports F1)
12:00 to 14:40 – F1: Qualifying (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:55 to 14:05
14:40 to 15:40 – F2: Sprint Race 2 (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
15:40 to 16:40 – F1: Champions Special (Sky Sports F1)
16:40 to 17:10 – Ted’s Qualifying Notebook (Sky Sports F1)
18:55 to 20:25 – F1: Qualifying Highlights (Channel 4)

20:30 to 21:30 – IndyCar Season Review (Sky Sports F1)

Sunday 12th December
08:50 to 10:10 – F2: Feature Race (Sky Sports F1)
11:30 to 17:00 – F1: Race (Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event)
=> 11:30 – Grand Prix Sunday
=> 12:55 – Race
=> also BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from 12:45 to 15:00
=> 15:00 – Chequered Flag
=> 16:30 – Ted’s Notebook
17:30 to 20:00 – F1: Race Highlights (Channel 4)

Full scheduling details for the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Scheduling details correct as of Tuesday 7th December and are subject to change.

If scheduling details do change, this article will be updated.

Updated on Tuesday 7th December at 17:50.

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Sky “unlikely” to make potential F1 title deciding season finale available on a free-to-air basis

Sky Sports are “unlikely” to make coverage of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix available on a free-to-air basis if the F1 championship battle goes down to the wire, current plans from the broadcaster indicate.

8 points separate Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, with two races remaining.

If Verstappen does not clinch the championship at the next round in Saudi Arabia, it will be the first time since 2016 that the championship has gone to the final race of the season.

In 2016, the season finale aired live across Channel 4 and Sky Sports as part of the UK F1 TV rights agreement that was in place at that time.

Now, apart from the British Grand Prix, every race airs exclusively live on Sky Sports, with highlights on Channel 4.

The Abu Dhabi race could be the first F1 race in around 40 years where the Drivers’ Championship has gone down to the wire, without live coverage airing on free-to-air television in the UK.

Speaking to Motorsport Broadcasting, Sky said “The race is unlikely to be free to air on December 12th. Highlights will be available on Channel 4 as always.”

Current Channel 4 schedules show that highlights of qualifying will air at 18:55 on Saturday 11th December, with race highlights airing at 17:30.

Sky’s schedules show that the broadcaster will simulcast their race day offering across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, but not via Sky Showcase, as they did last month for coverage of the US Grand Prix qualifying session.

The 2021 season continues on Friday 3rd December with coverage of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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Sky Sports secures IndyCar rights in key European territories, including UK, until 2024 season

Sky Sports will continue to air the IndyCar Series in the UK until the end of the 2024 season, the broadcaster has announced.

The broadcaster made the announcement on Friday 29th October via their German arm Sky Sport. Sky have yet to make a formal announcement via their UK outlet.

Sky’s new exclusive deal also covers Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Italy. It is the first time that Sky has covered IndyCar in Germany, the series currently airing on Sport1+.

Sky says that the deal covers live coverage and highlights of IndyCar, as well as “extensive exploitation rights for numerous other content, such as highlight clips or archive material,” although it is unclear whether this element of the statement covers all territories or just Germany.

Charly Classen, Executive Vice President of Sport for Sky Deutschland said, “With the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, we have secured the exclusive rights to the largest motorsport series in the USA, which also has a large fan base in Europe.”

“The racing series is a perfect addition to our strong motorsport range.”

The 2021 season finished in September at Laguna Seca, with Alex Palou crowned Drivers’ Champion. Next year’s season is set to begin on February 27th from St Petersburg, the earliest start to an IndyCar season since 2000.

IndyCar continues to support strong Sky F1 portfolio outside of core content

2022 marks a decade since Sky Sports F1 first hit the airwaves in the UK, and the shape of the channel outside of F1 race weekends has changed somewhat in that time.

The most noticeable change is the increase in supplementary content to the core F1 action. In recent years, Sky have aired, in either live or highlights form, the British GT Championship, the Ferrari Challenge, GT World Challenge, with IndyCar also joining the fray since 2019.

Sky goes beyond the basics, the broadcaster opting to air IndyCar qualifying and practice live (yes, practice) where possible.

The partnership between Sky and IndyCar makes logical sense, considering Comcast owns both Sky and NBC in the US.

Earlier this year, NBC and IndyCar announced a multiple year extension to their rights deal, making the Sky arrangement in Europe more of a formality than originally anticipated.

Sky have promoted IndyCar more in the UK this season through their F1 programming, with viewing figures benefiting as a result.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 averaged 125,000 viewers across Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event according to consolidated data from BARB. The impressive figure takes into account Sky’s marathon two-hour build-up, with the race itself likely equalling 2019’s record figure for the 500.

Later in the season, IndyCar’s debut outing at Nashville on Sunday 8th August brought 66,000 viewers to Sky’s F1 channel, with 62,000 tuning in a week later to watch an IndyCar race round the Indianapolis Road Course.

While these figures are lower than Formula Two, IndyCar has built a loyal following over the past few years, a statement supported by IndyCar’s UK audience figures this year on Sky.

However, longstanding problems with IndyCar’s broadcast remain, including the lack of a consistent English-language commentary feed for the duration of the race which, in this writer’s view, prevents the series from growing further outside of America.

In addition, Sky have begun to air limited commercials following a sponsorship deal with Arrow, title sponsors of McLaren’s IndyCar outfit. It remains unknown if Sky intend to air commercials next season during their IndyCar coverage.

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