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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Analysis: How F1’s return to action fared around the world

A peak audience of close to four million viewers watched Formula 1’s return to action in the UK, overnight viewing figures suggest.

Highlights of the opening round of the season aired on Channel 4 from 18:30 to 21:00, averaging 1.6 million viewers according to industry expert Liam Hamilton on Twitter, making it the most watched programme outside of BBC One and ITV on Sunday.

The free-to-air offering peaked with 2.3 million viewers. That, combined with an average audience of 1.5 million viewers for Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the race itself from 14:05 to 16:00, meant that a peak audience of near to four million viewers sampled F1’s return on Sunday afternoon.

Both figures are in line with what F1 has broadly averaged during the past few seasons, with Sky’s figures a little higher than expected given the Premier League competition on Sky’s other sports channels.

Down under in Australia, a further 111,000 viewers heard Sky’s Formula 1 commentary via Fox Sports late on Sunday evening, according to Australian website TV Tonight.

Netherlands and Germany shine…
In Netherlands, an average audience of 1.44 million viewers (52.3% audience share) watched from 15:05 to 16:58 across Ziggo Sports and Ziggo Sport Select, according to ratings bureaux SKO.

The ‘Select’ channel, which airs Ziggo Sport’s main attractions, averaged 426,000 viewers (15.5%), with the dedicated F1 channel averaging a further 1.01 million viewers (36.8%).

Interest in Formula 1 has soared in the Netherlands in the past few years, thanks to the rise of Max Verstappen, although the number from this past weekend looks to be slightly higher than in previous years.

Over in Germany, an audience of 4.48 million viewers (28.0%) watched Sebastian Vettel’s poor performance on RTL, as they begin their final year broadcasting F1, before an exclusive deal  between F1 and Sky Deutschland kicks into effect next year. The race peaked with 5.15 million viewers.

Quotenmeter says that RTL’s figure is up slightly on the equivalent 2019 figure of 4.36 million viewers (28.6%).

Suffice to say that, as poor as Vettel has been in the past twelve months, Germany’s interest in F1 has held up remarkably. Time will tell if interest will hold when F1 moves behind a pay wall…

For now, Sky Deutschland and RTL both air F1 live in Germany, however no audience figures for the former for Austria are currently available.

Over the border in Austria, ORF’s live free-to-air coverage of the race itself from 15:05 to 16:55 averaged 609,000 viewers (46.0%), as they head into a shared partnership with ServusTV beginning next season.

ORF says that their coverage from the Red Bull Ring reached 1.91 million viewers across the whole weekend.

Stateside, ESPN’s coverage averaged a strong 752,000 viewers from 09:05, peaking with 890,000 viewers as the race concluded, the highest ever for the event, and an increase of 16 percent year-on-year.

…but a poor showing in Spain
In Italy, audience figures were like that seen in the UK.

Live coverage across Sky Sport F1 and Sky Sport Uno averaged 1.32 million viewers (11.3%) from 15:10, with 1.34 million viewers (10.9%) watching delayed coverage of the Grand Prix on Sky’s free-to-air channel TV8. Both shows peaked with just over two million viewers.

Further down Europe, the picture for Formula 1 in Spain looks bleak.

According to Formula TV, An audience of just 104,000 viewers (0.9%) watched live coverage of the race on Movistar’s F1 channel, a dismal figure for a country that once watched in their millions during Fernando Alonso’s heyday.

F1 has fallen out of the public consciousness in Spain, and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz is not recording on their radar, yet. The announcement that Alonso will return to F1 next season with Renault should give F1’s popularity in Spain a much-needed boost.

To put the Spanish figure into perspective, Polish journalist Mariusz Wójcicki reports that live coverage of the Grand Prix averaged 214,000 viewers in Poland.

Whilst the Polish figure is, understandably, down year-on-year with no Robert Kubica on the grid, it does put into perspective the alarmingly low figure in Spain.

Over in France, 1.06 million viewers watched F1’s return to action on Canal+, which they say is a record for Austria since they first began airing F1.

Days of large audience figures are over
Two figures stand out positively for me.

The first is in Netherlands. The raw audience is nothing to shout above in the grand scheme of things, but when you consider that only 17.5 million people live there, it is important, and shows how much Max Verstappen is cutting through the public eye.

Germany also stands out, because it is the last bastion that falls by the wayside, whenever the 2020 season draws to a close. An average audience of over four million viewers may halve overnight.

Across the above ten territories, an average audience of around 14.5 to 16.5 million viewers watched the Grand Prix on television. I have been generous and rounded that up slightly to account for missing data points.

At its peak, that figure will be higher, and then the reach figures that F1 announces in press even higher than that. There will be additional public data available, it is just a matter of trying to find it in the depths of the internet.

The 2020 average television figure will again be down on yesteryear because of F1’s transition towards pay TV. So, where have the viewers gone?

Some will be watching online via one of the respective broadcasters’ over-the-top platforms, others will have migrated to F1’s over-the-top platform, both of which will take up a larger percentage than in previous years.

We cannot quantify the volumes involved, because the relevant parties choose not to disclose these figures publicly, meaning the picture is incomplete. It is highly unlikely that all the lapsed television fans have migrated, however.

Nevertheless, the above offers a snapshot as to how F1 is performing across Europe. The overriding message is that in many territories around Europe, the days of Formula 1 achieving viewing figures of 4, 5, 6, or even 7 million viewers for its live airing, are over.

Updated on July 8th to account for US audience figures.


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Red Bull channel ServusTV and ORF to share F1 rights in Austria from 2021

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.


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News round-up: The latest from Austria; Sky extends F1 deal in Italy

In the first return to racing round-up, Netflix’s plans with documentary series Drive to Survive become clearer, as does Channel 4’s coverage plans for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Where possible, Motorsport Broadcasting endeavours to link directly to the original source instead of linking to a third-party site that may have misinterpreted the original headline.

The round-up gives a bite sized view of the latest news making the waves, as well as interesting snippets that I have picked up along the way.

All of the round-ups to date can be found here, and as always, all feedback on the site, positive and negative, is more than welcome.

Formula 1 – Austrian Grand Prix

  • Journalists are banned from the paddock for the duration of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, and are instead confined to the media centre.
    • This is not an exhaustive list, but journalists such as Jonathan Noble (Motorsport Network), Adam Cooper (Motorsport Network), Joe Saward, Ben Hunt (The Sun) and Chris Medland (RACER) are amongst those reporting from the on-site media centre.
    • A live stream of today’s press conference was available to journalists inside and outside the track via the FIA portal to access.
    • There is an excellent piece from Noble over on com about his first impressions upon arriving into the circuit – I will not regurgitate it here, other than to say it is well worth reading.
  • Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage is to air from Silverstone’s new attraction, The Silverstone Experience.
    • After this site revealed that the team will remain in the UK, lead commentator Ben Edwards has confirmed the location the team plan to broadcast from in a blog on the BMMC website.
    • Motorsport Broadcasting understands that most of the Whisper production crew will be working remotely, with a small crew based at Timeline Television’s production house in Ealing.
  • In addition, not all of Sky’s on-air personnel are out in Austria this weekend: Anthony Davidson and Karun Chandhok are back at Sky Studios in London, analysing the action on the Sky Pad.
  • Producers of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series are continuing to film footage ready for season three of the documentary series.
    • As in previous years, the Box to Box Films production team conducted some initial filming during testing, whilst more recently drivers, such as George Russell, have been filming themselves on their simulators during
    • Now, RaceFans.net confirms that Netflix will be on-site in Austria this weekend, filming with the McLaren and Red Bull outfits, albeit in a reduced capacity to previous years.
  • Fans watching Formula 1 on television will see some new on-screen graphics this season.
    • Powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) as part of their wider partnership, the Car Performance Scores graphic will analyse the performance of each car through low, medium and high-speed corners, as well as the straight, giving it a score out of ten for each data point, and a rank compared with the rest of the field.
    • Other graphics currently in development include the Ultimate Driver Speed Comparison, High-Speed/Low-Speed Corner Performance, Driver Skills Rating, Car/Team Development & Overall Season Performance, and Qualifying and Race Pace Predictions.
  • Also making their first appearance from the Austrian Grand Prix is the #F1FanCam, with trackside screens of fans beamed to fans worldwide throughout the course of the weekend.
  • Sky in the UK are running some special offers to mark the start of the new season. Similar to their original pre-season offer, fans can add Sky Sports F1 to their basic Sky package for £10.00 a month for 18 monthsbetween now and the end of September.
    • Whilst there is not an F1 Season Ticket offer for Now TV (presumably because no one knows how long the season will last), Now TV are offering access to all sports channels for £25.00 a month for the first three months.

Elsewhere…

  • Hot off the heels of their new rights deal in Germany, Sky have extended their agreement in Italy to broadcast Formula 1, the new deal running until the end of 2022.
    • As part of the announcement, Sky revealed that Carlo Vanzini and Marc Gené will be in a studio setting to begin 2020, with Mara Sangiorgio on site. In addition, the team plan to make extensive use of the Dallara simulator this year, with Matteo Bobbi giving the explanations.
  • Eurosport will remain home of the British Superbikes championship until the end of 2027. As part of the agreement, which begins next season, highlights of every round will air on Quest, with the free-to-air channel also airing several rounds live.
  • Adobe have written a blog on how they have collaborated with MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna during the pandemic, transforming MotoGP’s workflow in just 13 days, helping them to deliver video content to fans worldwide remotely and quicker than ever before.

If you have spotted anything else making the rounds that I have yet to mention on this site, drop a line in the comments section below.


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Sky to air Formula 1 exclusively in Germany in four-year deal

Sky are to air Formula 1 exclusively in Germany for the next four years after agreeing a new deal to cover the sport.

As part of a wider initiative from the broadcaster to “shakeup TV in Germany and take Sky into a new era,” Sky will air every race exclusively live from 2021 to 2024, creating a new channel dedicated to Formula 1 in the process.

In addition, four races will be simulcast free-to-air, with 30-minute highlight shows of every race airing on free-to-air channel Sky Sport News.

F1 says in their press release that this new agreement will introduce “millions of people across Germany to the excitement and thrill of Formula 1.”

Like in the UK, Sky will air every session live, including Formula Two, Formula Three and the Porsche Supercup, equating to around 800 hours of action per season.

It is a big day for the Sky’s Germany arm: the pay TV broadcaster has also announced an extension to their Bundesliga rights deal, taking that partnership to the end of 2025.

Sky replaces free-to-air broadcaster RTL as the main F1 broadcaster in Germany. As reported yesterday, RTL’s press release indicated that another party had bid double the amount RTL were prepared to bid for.

In addition, RaceFans are reporting that Sky’s new contract is in the region of $60 million per year, meaning that the total value of Sky’s contract is around $240 million.

This suggests that RTL are currently paying around $30 million to broadcast F1 per season, which is slightly less than the amount the BBC and ITV were paying from a UK perspective in the mid to late 2000s.

As part of the new deal, access to the premium-tier of F1’s over-the-top platform, F1 TV Pro, will be restricted to Sky Sport subscribers in Germany.

F1 TV Pro will no longer be available to new subscribers who do not subscribe to Sky Sport, however, existing subscribers are unaffected by this change.

What the stakeholders say
F1’s Director of Media Rights, Ian Holmes, said “Formula 1 and Sky have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, working well together to enhance the broadcast offering by providing comprehensive coverage of the sport for our passionate fan base.”

“I am delighted that our work together will continue to build and strengthen the impressive quality of Sky’s programming, as well as their digital reach.”

Devesh Raj, CEO of Sky Germany, added “This will be the best motorsports experience ever.”

“We know motorsport fans love the way we produce F1 and our commentators have fans all of their own, but now with the first channel dedicated to F1 content on German TV ever we’ll give fans more F1 content than has ever been seen on German TV before.”

“With our unique digital content offering and four races free for everyone every year, we will help introduce millions more people to the joy of F1 and help grow the sports across the motorsport country Germany.”

“This exciting new deal shows that Sky is the number one for sports fans in Germany.”

  UK Germany Italy (source)
Contract Length 2019 to 2024 2019 and 2020 2021 to 2024 2018 to 2020
Pay TV All races All races All races All races
Free to Air – Live 1 race All races 4 races 4 races
Free to Air – Highlights Extended highlights n/a 30-minutes Delayed
F1 TV Pro? No Yes Yes [Sky Sports subscribers only] No

The path to exclusivity
Unlike their UK counterparts, the path to exclusivity has not been straightforward for Sky Deutschland.

The pay TV broadcaster walked away from the sport in early 2018, after RTL secured a three-year deal to cover Formula 1, taking their rights agreement through until the end of 2020.

Surprisingly, Sky returned to the fold just four weeks before the 2019 season, getting their foot back in the door.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and now Sky will be airing the sport in Germany, exclusively, for the next four seasons, with RTL eliminated from the picture.

As suggested yesterday on this site, fans should come to expect more pay TV deals initially in the post-COVID-19 era. However, this move does mean that the era of large television audiences in Germany for F1 will come to an end following the 2020 season.

Interestingly, the latest development brings the UK and Germany contracts in-line with one another from a length perspective.

The detail differs underneath the surface as the table above shows: fans in Germany may be able to watch more races live on free-to-air television, but the style of the free-to-air highlights programming between the two markets differs radically.

The next upcoming battleground to keep our eyes on is Italy, where Sky will be looking to extend their current agreement with F1.

Additional context provided by Edmund Wareham.


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