Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

A year without pay-to-view F1 coverage - Enjoying the best season at the least expense

Published by Mr. C

Christine and I live in the future, or at least the future in comparison to the consumption habits of the average person, anyhow.

Living in the future means we get to download books and magazines without leaving the house, purchase an individual music track or an entire artists back catalogue unrestricted from the constraints imposed by physical media, and watch a seemingly endless choice of movies or television shows from the comfort of our armchair.

The future is clearly a fantastic place to be, however the BBC's decision in 2011 to share rights to its Formula One coverage for this season left us in a difficult position. In the UK right now, the BBC are a broadcaster at the forefront of content distribution innovation. Sadly the company chosen to share the F1 coverage, Sky, are one of the more backward.

Dish of the day

Have you met Ted?
Have you met Ted?Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty

It wasn't always this way of course, in the early 90's Sky completely revolutionised British television, taking us from a meagre four channels to more than forty, introduced pay-per-view live events and reinvented sports coverage along the way. These days, that same company have become a tired and outdated shadow of its former self, proving slow to adapt to technology that doesn't gel with their antiquated business models.

While the BBC spent the past summer streaming 24 channels of high definition Olympic coverage direct from their website, Sky launched the frankly dreadful NowTV service who's pay and play system had to be taken offline just three months after it debuted in order for the company to work on 'improvements'.

Without question Sky's attention is focused on a dish affixed to a wall and they do not appear keen (or able) to change that. In an age of 4G mobile bandwidth where you can start watching a programme on the sofa and finish watching it in the pub, the restrictions imposed by such legacy technology simply do not fit into our futuristic world.

All the small things

All of this gave us a headache when the changes to 2012 coverage were announced, we live in the future remember. Ultimately we opted to skip the ten races that Sky had exclusive rights to broadcast, watching only free-to-air highlights after the fact. This entailed some changes to the site, significantly the loss of the post-race podcast F1 Debrief. We received a bit of flak for making that choice, while others offered to help us cover the expense of the subscription, but this wasn't a cost problem as much as one of principle.

The first race of the year is of course essential viewing, with new drivers, new cars and a whole set of unknowns. Being a highlights-only option on terrestrial TV in the UK we needed a solution.

Having sourced the only commitment-free, online streaming solution Sky Sports offered in the shape of an iPhone app, we paid £5 for a month's access and watched the season opener on a 3.5" screen. It was as bad an experience as could be imagined, but it was live F1 without signing our life away and crucially sans anything hanging from the wall.

Video quality was terrible, more than a minute behind live timing and every 10 minutes the app would quit for no reason.

Aside from the problems with screen size, video quality was terrible, more than a minute behind live timing and every 10 minutes the app would quit for no reason. Some kind followers of Sidepodcast lent us their online details to try the desktop equivalent (longer term commitment required), but that was barely any better and we soon gave up.

That point might be worth reiterating. Sky's streaming solution was so bad, even the offer of watching live Formula One for free couldn't make up for how incomprehensibly terrible their technology was. Delayed highlights from a broadcaster with a clue was far, far more appealing.

For the remainder of the season, until the penultimate race, that is how we watched alternating Grand Prix. While we did miss the enjoyment of the shared live experience that commenting on Sidepodcast brings, it is hard to pretend we missed out. The inaugural Grand Prix in Austin, and one that may well have been a championship decider led us to fork out a second £5 for a final month's access on the tiny phone screen, but the situation had not improved in the slightest.

The net total of our entire expenditure on F1 coverage this year totalled just £10. Signing up to the full Sky package would have cost us an order of magnitude more and the enjoyment would have likely been exactly the same.

Sky Sports' F1 coverage of is out of date, poorly packaged and vastly overpriced. It's hard to imagine anyone signing up for a second season.

Where we're going, we don't need channels

Each and every fan follows this sport for different reasons. Each person has their own preferences and likely watches racing in a different way. That said, I encourage everyone who signed up to an expensive sports package this year to question whether that investment was worth while. After all we ran an entire website dedicated to the sport, just as well as previous years, all the while saving ourselves a pretty penny.

MBL on Apple TV

The internet is of course the great democratiser, cutting out superfluous middle-men at every twist and turn and in this case, the future of live sports holds much promise.

We have a relatively cheap cube situated beneath our television that allows us to purchase live sports coverage directly from Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Additionally that same cube can stream content from a National Football League (NFL) app directly to our TV. We are able to have a direct relationship with three major US sporting leagues and that is without doubt Sky's worst nightmare come to life.

The key players involved in the sale of F1 rights are currently too old or too out of touch to appreciate the benefit of selling directly to fans, but there is a feeling of inevitability surrounding the means by which we will all one day consume live sports.

It is still some way off in our future, and therefore an even longer way off in the future of many more, but the idea of a broadcaster creating a dedicated 'F1 channel' then trying to sell it as a package to fans for an annual fee already seems utterly absurd.