BBC plays hardball with Ecclestone

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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.

23 responses to “BBC plays hardball with Ecclestone

  1. I wonder how long it will take Bernie to realize that without free to air broadcast in one of the main F1 countries F1 is not attractive for sponsors anymore. Sponsors were already being driven away but if free to air in the UK disappears I wouldn’t be surprised if some sponsors walk away from teams and the sport.

  2. If F1 is behind pay wall only then I will give up watching F1. I can’t justify the cost of a Sky package that would allow me to view F1.
    It will be a sad day, I have been watching for about 30 years.

  3. To see the country that, for many, is the heartland of F1 (or, at least, the manufacturing base) merely days away from the end of free-to-air broadcasting is shocking.
    There goes the British audience down to, what, half a million?
    I, for one, won’t be putting any money into the hands of Murdoch.
    There goes the advertising revenues, too.
    And the next generation of drivers and engineers are going to be inspired by what? Because they saw what race? When? On what format? No-one’s going to develop a curiosity about these things if they’re just not on, ….in the background, ….that thing your dad watches on a Sunday, ….accidentally discovered whilst channel-hopping.
    And just like that, F1 fades into obscurity and irrelevance.

  4. I started watching F1 on TV at a time when they usually showed the first and last two laps – sandwiching Crown Green Bowls, or something similar. If the currently degenerated F1 drops out of free-to-air completely at least we can still enjoy websites covering the stupid intrigues, corruption and squabbling which are consistently more interesting than the races.

    Successive governments have been chipping away at the BBC for decades now; politicians of every hue loathe its (fast diminishing) independence. People sometimes complain about the licence fee but I’d describe it as a bargain. Now that cable and satellite have come to dominate the industry we have to pay the equivalent of the licence fee every couple of months and even more if we want Sky’s F1 coverage or one of the other “premium” packages; every channel comes with a toxic level of atrociously mindless advertising. Sometimes there’s only four or five minutes of initial programme before the first advertising break of almost equal length. Television advertising is so bad, so stupid, as to defy understanding. How we’ve been persuaded to accept this psychic assault I don’t really understand. I’ve worn out the “mute” button on my remote. Check out the “Everest” double glazing ads which attain a level of infuriating childishness previously equalled only by “Go Compare” (“Go F*ck Yourself”.) The smug Irish prick who stars in these miserable efforts is also one of the anchors of the BT Sport MotoGP coverage; I hope his balls drop off.

    • … I hope his balls drop off.
      Priceless!
      BTW, I completely agree with your post.
      IMHO, things started going rapidly downhill when companies stopped being called ‘Cobblepot & Grimsdale’ and became ‘weramshitdownyourthroat.com’.

    • I bought a video recorder, I spend a few minutes each night checking the tv guide, set it to record the stuff I want and then watch everything later that’s been recorded and skip the commercials. I’ll hold hundreds of hours of HD after a week or so you’ll have all kinds of stuff recorded to watch.
      In North America we have always had commercials, unless they were pay services, but they have increased in insertions and are far more obnoxious. This PVR is the best investment I’ve made in home entertainment in years.

      • Well, here in Belgium they are working on a service so that you can’t skip commercials anymore…

        • The US has that system. It used to be that the DVRs would skip the commercials, now everything is recorded, so we have to FFw through them. It is still far better than suffering through at normal speed.

  5. I assume that the BBC would still keep the British GP as there is a statute that ‘protects’ some sporting event for free to air tv. I think these include Wimbledon finals, FA Cup final, British GP and if I am correct The University Boat Race! Sadly it did not Include British Open Golf which has now been sacrificed in the cause of austerity. I hope there will one day be a full season of F1 back on on terrestrial TV but it will not I fear be while BCE is in charge of the commercial rights.

  6. BBC is paying the price for slaughtering the golden goose (Top Gear) in the name of political correctness.

  7. Why don’t the BBC cut back on match of the day to save money .There is plenty of football on all the other channels .It seems some thing that so much football is covered across all channels ,not everybody likes football ,less soccer would not be missed .
    The BBC could also cut back on the amount of coverage for Wimbedon which gets blanket coverage across all channels including the red button.

    • Or better yet scrap such programs as “bird watch, Great British sewing contest and the contest” and the various other crap they show.

  8. Unfortunately, I don’t think the British GP is on the protected list.
    As for saving money, do we really need, Suzi Perry, Eddie Jordan, James Allen et al? Hell, D.C. Could do all the commentating from the studio, just show the live feeds. Should save a bob or two.

    • Totally agree except for the Coulthard bit – whenever he says “Ferrerrey” I want to pluck out my ears

      • Granted re DC, but at least he knows what he is talking about. Ben Edwards annoys me nearly as much as Muddly Talker did.

        • Yeah you all laugh when massa says for sure, but the bbc feed is always resumably, presumably, presumably resumably, presumably, presumably. He presumably doesn’t know any other words… That word drives me crazy.

  9. The BBC have mismanaged their business interests for years now. I don’t know why they can’t just drop the license fee and run commercials like all the rest do. I mean, hell, you pay sky and still got commercials, so I don’t see the problem with BBC funding themselves in that way. They could drop some of their frankly shit radio stations (local and national) and concentrate on providing quality programs again.

    I follow F1 and also take a keen interest in fishing, BBC provides me with nothing of real interest. I even rang sky and asked for all BBC content to be blocked on my box so I could refuse to pay the license fee on the grounds that I cannot receive their crap, but sky were not helpful, I guess their is legal guff to take into consideration.

    The BBC is not fit for purpose, Ch4 could take up all the public service announcements and BBC could be sold off and run a commercial entity, that way they would appreciate the funds they have available instead of pissing it up the wall.

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