Analysis: Ecclestone on F1's TV future

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has promised fans that there are no plans to take the sport fully off free-to-air television, despite the financial boost offered by recent pay-TV deals.

There was a time when F1 teams demanded that all coverage remained wholly live on free networks, as this maximised the audience and made the sport more attractive for sponsors.

But increasing competition in the entertainment market, and the bigger bucks offered by successful subscription channels like Sky, has led to a shift of tactics.

Now a new model has become the norm, where coverage is split between a pay TV channel that broadcasts all races live, and a free-to-air broadcaster that offers highlights and some live coverage.

A subscription push

One fear prompted by the arrival of networks like Sky is that Ecclestone could ultimately favour an exclusive shift towards exclusive pay TV only.

That would leave fans with the simple choice of either paying up to watch coverage live, or go and follow another sport.

But after announcing a new two-year deal with free-to-air German broadcaster RTL on Friday, Ecclestone made clear afterwards that the way things work at the moment was good.

This means that, for British fans for example, a continuation of shared coverage between BBC and Sky is likely on the cards for when their current deals ends in 2018.

However, perhaps there will be more on-demand offers.

"I said a long time ago to Mr. [Juan Antonio] Samaranch, when he was president of the Olympics, that they should be doing not just subscription but also pay-on-demand," Ecclestone told

"There are all sorts of countries that want to watch different things. That is what will happen for sure. I am sure there will always be a mixture – there will always be free TV but there will be a mixture.

"And I think probably people will want to watch both. It is not a case that they watch one but not the other. When we can, we do."

Television model still works

Ecclestone's creation of a global F1 empire was initially based on his successful commercial exploitation of television rights.

And although the best days of record television audiences may be over, Ecclestone is convinced that there is still interest to keep pulling off good deals.

"We have got a lot of interest everywhere, we have got a lot of countries that want races," he said. "The criticism comes from the fact obviously that the ratings are down.

"But the ratings are down on all television – everything. The only thing I think is up is the English premier league, but even then it is not all the matches – only the good big matches."

Social media questions

Ecclestone's desire to protect the value of television rights has prompted his scepticism about giving away good content on social media.

His negativity towards platforms like Twitter and Facebook has earned him a fare share of criticism, but there has been a subtle shift in attitude from Formula One Management this year.

It has ramped up efforts on its official website, and has even started posting video highlights on YouTube and Twitter to try to improve fan engagement.

When asked whether he was softening his approach to social media now that fans had welcomed the recent increased effort, Ecclestone said: "I'd like to know, as we are doing this, has it been successful or not?

"I am told it is. So we will wait and see. Unfortunately we cannot get any figures. We just don't know."

For someone as demanding as Ecclestone, finding the ultimate benefit from social media activity may not be easy to prove – so the war to win him over on on this front clearly isn't over yet.

"I am sure it is doing good things," he added about social media's impact. "If not, we will stop it..."

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis
Tags ecclestone