Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

The price is rights // Selling F1 by the pound

Published by Mr. C

Selling F1 by the pound

Do you know what television will look like in 2024? Could you say for certain how the general populous will choose to consume their media eight long years from now? Can you predict the path of live streaming technology or media trends nearly a decade away?

Taking such a lengthy view, during a period of fundamental social and economic change such as that which we are experiencing right now, would be beyond foolish. Ludicrous even.

Some may claim they have the answers, and in signing away the UK broadcast rights to F1 until 2024, you have to assume Bernie Ecclestone and those at Formula One Management (FOM) are convinced that they do. Maybe they are right, maybe pay-per-view is the proper fit for motorsport coverage and maybe historians will look back on this deal as a watershed moment in F1's history. Other countries will likely follow suit, if they haven't already, and Formula 1's future will be assured. Probably.

Risk sky business

The immediate aftermath of yesterday's announcement that Sky Sports would become the exclusive home of F1 in the UK, spawned much public outrage. However, the bigger concern must surely be that FOM are comfortable relinquishing rights to their crown jewels for an extended period of time.

Perhaps there are unmentioned legal clauses that allow FOM to offer direct-to-consumer streaming in tandem with Sky's coverage, but previous experience suggests this won't be the case. The folks there lack the vision and talent to forge a future where they directly influence how Formula 1 is broadcast. Signing over the rights to someone who might have some clue (in return for a massive payday), seems to be their only course of action.

Beyond the world of F1, the National Football League are currently negotiating a massively important deal, likely with Facebook, to stream football direct-to-consumers online. Facebook are looking to reinvent the entire social experience surrounding the game, specifically fan engagement beyond linear streaming. If the potential of such a deal can be realised, traditional television might suddenly start to feel terribly outdated. This single arrangement has the potential to change televised sport as we know it and that is just one company and one body. Yahoo, Amazon, Google and Apple have all shown a keen interest in a variety of live sports streaming recently, while Major League Baseball teams are experimenting with daily live broadcasts on, who else, but Facebook's platform. Expect concepts such as these to snowball in the coming years.

Right now happens to be a brilliantly, frenetic time for live sport and sports broadcasting. Fans are playing witness to a vast amount of innovation, unprecedented in TV history - more choice, more content, more availability than ever before. It is a time for rights owners to make smart and perceptive choices. Right now is absolutely not the time to sign away anything important, especially to a third party modelled on an outdated perception of what television is.

Pay it forward

Of course it's unlikely that either the current owners or Bernie will still be involved in F1 come 2024, and that is ultimately the point and the problem. Long term secure deals please investors and if those same deals happen to paint the sport into an impossible corner in the process, then so be it.

I don't know what the future of TV holds in store, but I am damn sure that the now 85-year-old Ecclestone doesn't either. For the sake of F1 fans, drivers, teams and circuit owners everywhere I sincerely hope this bewildering gamble pays off.