Has UK F1 Coverage Taken a Step Backwards?

March 15, 2012 12:34 am

Over the last three years, the BBC F1 presenting team have unquestionably breathed a much needed breath of fresh air into the coverage of sport in the UK. ITV, who had previously held the coverage rights, lacked the dynamism now shown in abundance by the BBC. The broadcast frequently began with half an hour of preamble by long standing presenters going through the motions, then moving on to the repeatedly interrupted race and finally finished with a ten minute summing up. Not exactly entertaining stuff!

Since the F1 was brought back to BBC One in 2009 after an absence of twelve years, the ratings have been at an all time high. The presenting team, led by the in touch and gadget savvy Jake Humphrey has revolutionised how the sport is presented before and after the race itself. Gone are the days of Steve Rider or Jim Rosenthal standing motionless in the paddock before and after the race. The BBC team make a habit of wandering up and down the space available to the press and not being afraid of changing the plan of the show because they have just come across someone in the know. The addition of former driver David Coulthard and former team owner Eddie Jordan has brought a greater in depth knowledge of the sport, even if Jordan’s chosen shirts are frequently the greater talking point! The impact of the larger presenting team as a whole and the exploitation of the internet to get content out to the public is one of the main reasons why the BBC coverage is so popular in the UK today. The F1 Forum is one of the stand out additions, allowing the presenters another hour or more to wander around the pit lane and paddock, talking to key members of each team. It has to be said that the range and depth of the BBC F1 coverage far out strips its ITV predecessors and has changed the game when it comes to long sporting broadcasts. The fans have certainly reacted positively to the absence of advert brakes with higher ratings than ever before. The F1 watching UK public has definitely stamped their seal of approval on this BBC F1 product.

Many UK F1 fans, therefore, raised both eyebrows in July 2011 when Sky Sports announced that they had acquired the exclusive rights to broadcast the sport from 2012 to 2018. Whilst the coverage will be shared with the Beeb, who will be able to televise ten of the races live and show extended highlights of the remaining ten, the announcement remains considerably controversial amongst fans.  After a few years of enjoying to the full the uninterrupted coverage provided by the BBC, fans will now have to settle for the possibility of more advert breaks in the seasons to come. Sky’s claims that the races will be without breaks have done little to avert these fears. The UK F1 public will now be forced to subscribe to the new Sky Sports F1 channel that was launched in March this year in order to watch all of the races live. They will now have to decide whether they are prepared to pay increasingly high prices or if they are content to settle for service now left on the BBC. At the end of the 2010 season, few people were calling for the coverage in the UK to change. The new Sky F1 team will have to significantly impress with their performance and range of coverage in order to win over the hearts of the fans.

The composition of the new principal Sky Sports F1 team has recently been announced and unsurprisingly, it includes a few familiar faces. Simon Lazenby will front the coverage on the recently launched channel. Regular Sky Sports viewers will recognise him as the face of Premiership and international rugby for the broadcaster. He is widely seen as a safe bet as the lead presenter and will no doubt rival Humphrey over the coming season. Sky Sports have also taken to persuading numerous members of the BBC team to join the channel and add to their line up. Former driver and F1 TV favourite Martin Brundle has joined as commentator and pundit and Ted Kravitz will also carry on his role as a pit lane reporter. It is hoped that the pair will add a sense of continuity to proceedings which is aimed at reassuring fans. Sky have also set up a new magazine show which adds a brand new feature to F1 coverage in the UK. Kravitz and Sky Sports News presenter Georgie Thompson will present the programme which takes full advantage of Sky having their own dedicated channel, something which the BBC can’t match up to. The BBC has done well with the limited resources available to them. Without a dedicated channel at their disposal, they have had to think up other ways to increase their coverage range. Sky do not have this problem since they have the ability to create a new channel for their needs and can fill it with as much content as they wish. The new channel was undoubtedly the corner stone of their rights bid last year. Time will tell if people tune in to begin with, and then if Sky can keep them coming back for more.

In the space of a few months, the UK coverage of F1 has gone from popular full BBC coverage that was head and shoulders above anything before to a completely new team and channel which requires subscriptions to view. It is questionable whether this is the way to go. Fans will ask whether this move was solely about the money for Bernie Ecclestone instead of the quality of broadcasting to the viewing public. Certainly, the fact that the BBC have started to scale back on their sports budget, interestingly in the same year as the biggest sporting event hits London in the Summer, would have increased the likelihood that Sky would enter the race for the rights. Doubts remain over whether the new coverage will provide the same level of quality broadcasting that fans have been so used to over the last few years. The new presenting team will have little time to prove that they are worth the extra money. Whilst the BBC will still be covering ten live races, the upcoming season is bound to have an unwelcome edge to it. At the end of it all, the fans will just want a high quality of broadcast for race weekends. Only time will tell if Sky will improve the viewing experience but one can’t help wonder if the coverage in the UK has taken a backwards step.



%d bloggers like this: