With testing over, the cars lined up on the grid, and the world’s eyes descended on Melbourne for the first race of the 2012 Formula 1 season. Glitz and glamour have become synonymous with one of the most expensive and lucrative sports on the planet.
This year’s added dose of sensationalism comes from Sky’s dedicated yet controversial Formula 1 channel which launched in March. Sky have promised to revolutionise broadcasting of the sport, although the only revolution they look set to spark is an uprising of negative feelings from grass roots fans, who can no longer watch every race on free to air television for the first time ever.
The channel has caused uproar among angry fans who began a petition last year to keep coverage on the BBC. As part of the decision to share its coverage with Sky until 2018, the corporation will screen only ten of this seasons races live, whilst every race will be available through Sky.
The style of presentation on the channel is very much a continuation of the theme that runs throughout Sky Sports. Slick graphics, endless promotional videos with pounding mood music and 90 minutes of pre-race build-up to really crank up the hype.
Georgie Thompson and Anthony Davidson head up the interactive “Sky Pad,” whilst the headhunters have raided the BBC’s award-winning team. Davidson, Martin Brundle, David Croft, Ted Kravitz and Natalie Pinkham have all been poached, and the capture of Brundle represents a real coup for Sky.
The satellite channel gained an early advantage as they screened both the Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix live, with the BBC audience shown highlights later in the day.
In 2009, the BBC was celebrating retaining the rights from ITV. Fast forward three years and the corporation are mourning the loss of one of the final bastions of top level sport available to terrestrial viewers.
A cooperative between the BBC and Channel 4 was briefly mooted to keep coverage free to air. However, the BBC decided that Sky were the most viable partner.
The BBC recently screened the conclusion of the RBS Six Nations, but how long will it be before this or Wimbledon is whisked away onto pay-TV, or perhaps even the ‘Crown Jewels’, the World Cup and Olympic Games?
When the deal was announced last summer, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh stated that the teams believed the BBC would screen full re-runs. However, they are only showing extended highlights of Sky’s exclusive races, further reducing ordinary fans exposure to the sport.
Sky’s pivotal role in launch of the Premier League in 1992 was the first step towards the monopoly that they now hold over live sport.
They continued this process by creating Super League in 1996 and quickly branded both with their trademark gaudiness. One of their key tools in this procedure is discussing stats from the inception of those two leagues.
Any live sport that moves to Sky is treated to a bump in coverage. A look at the Sky Sports website reveals that this is already underway with Formula 1. A flashy new page is home to all this season’s team lineups and statistics, and stories from race weekends now sit proudly on the homepage.
Formula 1 suffered in the early in the noughties due to Ferrari’s dominance, resulting in a lack of entertainment. However, gradual changes in the rules have steadily re-increased the role of the driver and improved the excitement of races.
Sky’s involvement will certainly give the sport an additional publicity boost, perhaps further increasing the entertainment, as well as creating more jobs in the media.
Furthermore, the creation of a dedicated channel gives fans the kind of exposure they could once only dream of. Sky are able to screen every practice session, as well as making their expert analysis available six days a week on race weeks.
Daniel Stevens was left salivating at the prospect of six days of coverage stating, ‘BBC’s coverage was excellent, and has been since the days of Murray Walker, but I was always disappointed by the overall exposure it offered. Being able to watch every practice live, the increased amount of time Sky can dedicate to the issues, as well as the overall exposure to new fans adds up to a fantastic package.’
Unfortunately, this has come at a cost to fans who cannot afford their services. With test cricket, half of the FA Cup and now Formula 1 moving to pay-TV, terrestrial viewers are being left with an ever increasing amount of highlights packages to satisfy their sporting appetites. This has left viewers with a straight choice between missing out, or forking out for subscription.
It is a sad sign of the times that some life-long fans are no longer able to watch the sport they love because they cannot afford the subscription fees. Matthew Parry added, ‘Although I’m sure that Sky offer a fantastic package, the everyday fans of the sport are being told, if you can’t pay, you can’t watch. Every sport is gradually moving away from grass roots fans and I think that is a real shame.’
This season began well for British fans, with Lewis Hamilton pipping team mate Jenson Button to pole in Australia, with Button scoring his third victory in Melbourne, the cream of a field containing a record breaking six World Champions. Hamilton has scored consecutive podiums and is well placed to mount another title challenge this year.
For those who have been able to tune in, there are signs that Sky’s excellent coverage will be seamlessly transferred to their latest addition. However, whilst events on the track have been a cause for celebration for British fans, for many of the viewers at home it has been a cause for commiseration as they saw another of the jewels of live terrestrial sport begin to slip away.
Do you subscribe to Sky F1? Are you one of the thousands who signed the epetition to keep the sport exclusively on the BBC? Have your say below.