Well that was a surprise, wasn’t it… for about 30 seconds at least.
Last Friday’s not-so-shocking news that the BBC have backed out of their commitment to screen live coverage of every Formula 1 Grand Prix really wasn’t so unexpected, was it?
Rumours have been rife for a fair few months that the cash-strapped corporation was busily looking for an exit strategy. The announcement that the Sky television channel would have sole UK live broadcasting rights for all the races was merely the result of that – and of course some typically opportune wheeling and dealing by F1’s commercial rights holder; Bernie Ecclestone.
The fact that public enemy number one Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is a major Sky shareholder, and therefore one of the new deal’s chief beneficiaries, is the bitter-tasting cherry on an unpalatable cake now being served to the good British folk who – until season’s end at least – have enjoyed ‘free’ F1 on TV.
Media moguls don’t look gift horses in the mouth, so while Murdoch was forced by the phone hacking scandal to place his plans to buy a majority stake in Sky on hiatus, he will see that as a minor irritation now that the broadcaster he covets has another high-value sport in its portfolio.
As with all multi-million-pound media deals there are winners and losers, but surely this is simply a commercial decision - and since F1 is the ultimate embodiment of a capitalist sport, it’s the way of the world.
Bernie Ecclestone is, if nothing else, all about control. For better or worse he’s made ‘his’ sport the billionaires’ playground by executing deals that suit F1 and F1 alone. When reports of BBC chiefs introducing him to Sky’s big cheeses emerged at this year’s British Grand Prix, a change of channel was all but inevitable.
Personally I find the most baffling element to all this is the BBC’s attitude. It buys the live broadcasting rights, it spends millions on production, presenters and crew, it puts on a great show, gets massive audiences, wins awards, and then in effect hands it all to Sky. And then after doing so it trumpets the move as a great victory for the BBC, the sport and the fans. A great victory if you’re a middle manager who has successfully ironclad their backside by being seen to save a lot of money, perhaps!
I’m a firm believer in the mantra ‘all or nothing’ so it strikes me as a misguided decision for the BBC to commit to a mish-mash of 10 live races and 10 recorded ones. Viewers surely want continuity and consistency. Pre-season picking and choosing which races to cover isn’t going to work: we’ve just had a barnstorming Hungarian Grand Prix so are we to believe that BBC Sport bosses will choose 2012’s Hungaroring race over the far more appealing glamour-fests in Melbourne, Monaco, Montreal, Silverstone, Singapore and Sao Paolo? I think not.
As BBC ‘talent’ queue up down at Sky HQ and the corporation spends £900 million on moving to Manchester I’d imagine pay-per-view TV subscription revenue will be rising.
Now where’s the remote?!