During the last round of negotiations over the BBC’s universal license fee, the government presented a plan that means the broadcasting company must find £750m savings – and urgently. This is the contribution made by the over 75 years of age members of the UK population, who no longer now must pay a license fee to the BBC. There has been little public outrage over the net cut in BBC funding, possibly because the broadcaster has recently been accused of abandoning its founding principles and purpose, straying more and more into the kind of programming the commercial TV stations do better and can afford more readily.
So cuts have been coming for many months and already the BBC has trimmed some long standing traditionally aired live sport from its schedule. Formula One is the biggie left in terms of cost. Estimates put this at between £15-£25m per annum. When the fee paid to FOM plus the employment of the production crew and presenters, travel, equipment deployed and satellite fees are taken into consideration, the latter number is more likely representative of the BBC’s annual spend on F1 programming.
There has been a flurry of news in the British media this week about the BBC’s future role in broadcasting Formula One. This is the result of a fruitless attempt for months by the BBC to renegotiate a new deal with Ecclestone. Prior to the Belgium GP, there were rumours circulating that Bernie Ecclestone was considering giving the BBC a cut price broadcasting fee. The reason? Because Bernie wishes to retain live F1 in part for the UK on free to air TV.
Since August, the BBC have presented various options to Ecclestone for a revised deal, all to no avail.
This week’s round of stories appears to emanate from Ecclestone, given the detailed quotes he gave to a number of sources. Meanwhile there was no official comment from the BBC. The following is typical of Bernie’s message across the UK media as he spoke with the Telegraph on Wednesday. “We had a chat with them [BBC] today. What they would like to do is not spend as much money. They want to know if they can schedule it different ways or pay a bit less now.
“They don’t have a lot of choice because they’ve got a contract with us. They’re there for another three years.”
Of note was the fact that a new deal was recently agreed in Germany between FOM and RTL – who deliver free to air F1 TV content. The German media claimed post the deal that the renewed FOM broadcasting fee had been halved to save F1 for the German mass audience. The BBC though are not in the same position, because their contract – as Ecclestone stresses – runs for three more years.
However, Bernie may have misjudged the mood at the BBC, who after failed negotiation attempts, wish to now merely broadcast an F1 highlights package from 2016 onwards. This is necessary for BBC sport to find a significant portion of its £35m of cuts, so Formula One live will have to go.
Ecclestone also on Wednesday piled on the pressure, stating he has had no expression of interest from any other UK broadcaster to fill the gap the BBC have been looking to create. This indicates that any ‘sub-contract out’ clauses the BBC may have, would be worthless. However, TJ13 has learned the BBC is looking to save around £12m on F1 in total, and by running just a highlights show would mean they are not in breach of the ‘use it or be in breach’ clauses within the contract they have with FOM. The problem is, this in no way mitigates the current total £25m spend.
Yet in bi-lateral and independent discussions between the BBC and SKY, it appears SKY could pay the BBC £15m not to broadcast F1 live in 2016, thus paving the way for exclusive live F1 racing in the UK on the SKY channels alone. This deal gives rise to the possibility that Abu Dhabi will be the last BBC live race, as claimed by the Daily Mail.
The ball is now in Ecclestone’s court – but he may be left with Hobson’s choice. Bernie is after all more used to the scenario where people stand in line awaiting their turn to pay truckloads of cash to host and broadcast F1 races.