Australian formula one driver Daniel Ricciardo has gone through his first laps for Renault after crossing over from Red Bull Racing. The 29-year-old put the new R.S.19 model through its paces in Montmelo, Catalonia.
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Sky F1 has been awarded exclusive Formula One rights in the United Kingdom from 2019 until 2024. But what does that mean for Aussie motorsport fans?
Under the new deal inked by Formula One, Sky will broadcast each Grand Prix exclusively on their platforms. Highlights of all races will be made available on free-to-air television, with three races, including the British Grand Prix, to be broadcast live. Two of those races will be broadcast on Sky Sports Mix, a free-to-air ‘demo’ channel. Channel 4 have not confirmed their involvement in the sport after 2018.
The news comes after a letter from the Grand Prix Driver’s Association calling for fundamental changes in the governing structure of Formula One describing it as ‘obsolete and ill-structured.’ The letter mentioned the shift in the TV and media landscape, seemingly referring to the falling television audiences and the growth of live streaming.
It’s possible that something similar may happen in Australia. With Channel 4 unlikely to produce the coverage from 2019 and Fox Sports maintaining a monopoly of Sky Sports coverage since 2015, it seems unlikely that the cash-strapped Network Ten will continue their live coverage beyond the terms of their current coverage.
We could be headed towards a situation where Formula One is broadcast exclusively live on Fox Sports, with the exception of the Australian Grand Prix.
This would be a disastrous move for the sport. Sky Sport struggles to pick up over one million viewers per race, and sponsors will notice these figures. Unlike other series like V8 Supercars, Formula One does not directly reimburse teams with television money, offering it as part of the prize money deal. Formula One teams have been struggling to attract new sponsors since the move to pay TV in the UK in 2012, and this trend seems likely to worsen under this deal.
The consequences of being exclusive to Pay TV are visible with the decline of English cricket. Sky took exclusive broadcast rights of one day cricket in the late 1990s and exclusive broadcast rights of Test cricket in 2006.
Since then, viewing figures have plummeted and the ECB has struggled to attract sponsors. England have also struggled to grow the game in the UK since the 1990s, leading to a weakening of their international side which was most evident in the period from 2013 to 2015.
Still, this deal only takes affect in three years time, and plenty could change in the meantime.