Bernie Ecclestone hints at end of F1 on free-to-air TV
Published Jun 8 2012, 10:52 BST | By Andrew Laughlin
© Rex Features / The World of Sports SC
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone
has suggested that coverage of the world's premium motorsport could end on the BBC following Sky's successful debut as broadcaster of the sport.
Yesterday, it was announced that the rights to air live F1 races in Italy have been sold to Sky Italia, the pay-TV giant owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation
Many commentators are viewing this as a sign that the days of free-to-air (FTA) coverage of Formula One in Europe are numbered.
In Britain, this year marked the first time that not all Grand Prix are available live on FTA television, after the BBC agreed to share the rights with Sky, the satellite broadcaster 39.1%-owned by Murdoch.
Sky is showing every practice, qualifying and race session live on its new Sky Sports F1 channel, while the BBC has rights to show half the races live, with delayed highlights of the others.
Formula One fans reacted with anger to the deal, as many faced the prospect of stumping up nearly £500 a year to get the Sky Sports package to watch all the live coverage.
Ecclestone reassured fans in other regions that the sport will remain on FTA, in part at least, but refused to give the same assurances for UK viewers.
"We will never move all countries to pay‑per‑view only, though it wouldn't make any difference here in the UK," he told The Guardian
Ecclestone praised Sky for doing a "super job", and noted that the BBC showed complacency in letting the live rights slip through its grasp.
"The Beeb were sure we wouldn't be able to go anywhere else," he said.
Ecclestone said that Sky is able to reach 10m UK homes, which the sport doesn't get with the BBC.
"Sky reaches over 10 million households," Ecclestone said. "We don't get 10 million on the BBC, normally about six or seven million".
The BBC's viewing figures have also suffered from the arrival of Sky's coverage, as the corporation's opening live race, the Chinese Grand Prix in April, was down around 1m on the 2011 audience.
Grand Prix coverage on Sky Sports F1, Sky's first channel dedicated to just one sport, has averaged 1m viewers over the first four races of the 2012 season, noted The Guardian
Sky is also more able to flex its financial muscles in picking up live rights to sport, as the BBC recently suffered a 15% cut in its budget for sports rights bidding.
"The thing that TV stations want to buy most is live sport," said Ecclestone. "People don't want to watch delayed stuff because nowadays it's hard not to know the result if you don't want to."
The BBC has not commented on the report.