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The New Sky Thinking

Thursday 11th August 2011

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The New Sky Thinking

The New Sky Thinking

The announcement that the BBC will be sharing F1 coverage with Sky in 2012 came like a bolt from the blue. Instead of ending their coverage in 2013, the BBC can now carry on showing it till 2018.

The deal, as everyone probably knows by now, is that the corporation gets to show 10 races live during the course of the season including the Monaco GP, the British GP and the last race of the year. Sky will show all of them. The BBC gets highlights for all of them.

The bit they haven't been so clear on, and for which there's been no formal announcement, is the prospect of the BBC showing 'live' deferred broadcasts. Martin Whitmarsh came out of a teams' meeting with Bernie saying that all the races would be shown by the BBC, only some of them would be delayed transmissions.

So it'll be a bit like the current Sunday afternoon re-run of the Malaysian or Chinese GPs. As long as you can turn all the news bulletins off until the appointed hour you can pretend it's happening live. If that IS the case, then it will be a massive result for British F1 fans.

The current race coverage from the BBC is the best it's ever been with expert punditry, commentary, behind-the-scenes features and brilliant access to F1's movers and shakers. Apart from offering a lot more channels to vary the choice of cameras (and the ability to lay the race commentary on top of whatever channel you choose - something that wasn't available in the 2002 Sky digital package) it could hardly be much better.

In the current economic climate, with the BBC selling off television centre and cutting much-loved institutions like the World Service, there was not a snowball's chance in hell of them continuing this coverage beyond 2013. There was every possibility it might have been ended a year early (The BAFTA would surely have preserved it in 2012).

So to know that the coverage has survived almost intact until 2018 is one hell of a result.

But there is another problem. Having just announced a set of fantastic financial results - BSkyB's annual profits rose to £1.07 billion in 2011 - the BBC's rivals have a lot of cash to spend. There's already been speculation in the press that Martin Brundle could be lured to Sky for £1m a year and he would be the obvious No.1 choice for any rival broadcaster.

Given that Sky are likely to invest a lot of money in the technology side to give themselves a distinct profile above that of the BBC, then if they can employ Messrs Brundle, Coulthard and Jordan as well, they can make themselves an irresistible package.

Sky's major shareholder, the Murdoch-led News Corp. may have a few problems on its hands right now, but it has already mooted the idea of buying the commercial rights to the sport from CVC Capital Partners. Bernie has said in his usual equivocal style, "It's not for sale, of course it's not for sale - well, it might be, you never know."

And he's been pretty keen to push the Sky deal through.

Whether it's a prelude to a serious bid from News Corp a couple of years down the line it's hard to tell, but one thing is for sure. Given their obvious interest in the sport they are not going to under-invest in their new F1 asset. If they can create a successful package that British sports fans will want to buy, then that can be rolled out across many markets. The teams are cautiously enthusiastic, too.

It is great and reassuring news that the BBC service will continue till 2018, but 'who goes where in 2012' will be a game not confined to the driver market in the months ahead.

FH

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