Why the BBC and Sky joint F1 deal will open the way for augmented broadcasting

Why the BBC and Sky joint F1 deal will open the way for augmented broadcasting

After weeks of rumour that the BBC would be dropping its coverage of F1 in a bid to save costs, a seven-year deal was announced this morning which will see both the BBC and Sky share coverage across their broadcast and digital properties.

“With this new deal not only have we delivered significant savings but we have also ensured that through our live and extended highlights coverage all the action continues to be available to licence-fee payers,” said the BBC’s Head of Sport, Barbara Slater.

The new deal will save the BBC £16.5 million per year, which is not an insignificant sum.

The deal means that the BBC will broadcast half the races and qualifying sessions, along with other key races such as the British Grand Prix, Monaco Grand Prix and the final race of the season, while Sky Sports will broadcast all the races, qualifying and practice sessions on their Sky Go service.

The new Sky Go service from BSkyB

BSkyB recently launched Sky Go combining their web and mobile TV services and this will the be its first major sports rights deal, although not Sky’s first foray into F1. Back in 2002 Sky and Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM organisation launched F1 Digital, commentated on by Ben Edwards and John Watson with studio guests Damon Hill and Perry McCarthy – pit lane reports were provided by Peter Windsor. The service was ahead of its time, offering a multi-camera real-time broadcast for £12 a race, but less than 10,000 viewers subscribed to it, compared with the 6-7 million viewers who now watch F1 on the BBC.

2002 was a challenging time for F1, with Ecclestone floating his holding company SLEC and investor, Kirch Group, over-stretching themselves in their appetite to gain control of motorsport’s crown jewel. With the banks (Bayerische Landesbank, JPMorgan Chase and Lehman Brothers) taking over the 75% stake in SLEC during 2002/2003 it’s of little surprise that the expensive F1 Digital service was closed down, ending Sky’s association with F1 until now.

During the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the man behind F1 Digital and subsequently spoken with a number of teams about F1’s grasp of social media and the internet. Teams and their sponsors are frustrated by their ability to reach F1’s 500+ million audience and deliver better value to their shareholders. Bernie on the other hand distrusts the internet, seeing it as the home of pirated content and is happier charging for a handful of rights agreements which earn him money up front.

But the potential audience for F1’s sponsors are far greater online than on television, with the added opportunity of engaging directly. Television suits the rights holder and broadcasters, due to the control they can maintain over content and the revenues earned from broadcasting, but the brands who invest in F1 get an increasingly poorer deal. The tension has been building for some time with Renault, Williams F1 and McLaren being the most outspoken, so with today’s BBC/Sky announcement, expect to see more fireworks over the forthcoming months.

So this is bad news, right?

Yes and No. Reaction by the fans and pundits to this morning’s news has been predictably negative and teams are seeking clarification this morning on the implications for their sponsors and the business of F1. FOTA’s chairman Martin Whitmarsh has already been quoted as saying “..it may breach the Concorde Agreement”, but the implications are much broader than that. Martin Brundle, lead presenter of the BBC’s F1 coverage had this to say on Twitter..

BBC Commentator Martin Brundle's tweet from this morning

I’ve worked within digital media since the mid-90s and since as long as I can remember we’ve talked about the convergence of web and TV, which initially assumed would see us watching TV programmes through our computers, then more recently that TV’s would become smart devices able to browse the web simultaneously as broadcasts are received. But the pace of technology moves faster than products can innovate, so the industry has already moved on from such a premise.

The Entertainment Industry comes of age

You may already have heard about Augmented Reality, assuming it was some form of web-geekery with little use to those without the nerd gene, but it actually represents the future path of broadcasting – both for live and on-demand transmissions.

Digital broadcasting, just as with digital publishing involves much more than merely producing content on a different platform. It opens up the possibility of combining different types of content and personalising the way a viewer engages with that content.

Augmented reality print advert from Audi

Augmented Reality is one of the ways this is being achieved and is best described as the process of adding layers of digital information or content to a users viewport, thereby enhancing their experience. You’ve already seen it working in the Head-up displays of BMW’s premium models, or in the display of lap countdowns, KERS displays and rev-counters in today’s F1 broadcasts. Information is added from separate sources benefitting the primary viewing purpose.

Whilst the approach has thus far been controlled by whoever initiates the broadcast, that’s not likely to remain so. In fact we’ve been working on a piece of technology that transfers the control of which content gets augmented to the user, thereby enabling an F1 viewer for example to watch the broadcast on Sky, take the audio feed from BBC 5Live and the telemetry/race-data from McLaren. Over time we will see many more of these layered feeds available in an AppStore environment enabling the viewer to customise their experience to suit their preferences.

So what happen’s next?

There will of course be plenty of argument (and discussion) about who should really own the commercial rights to F1 – especially since the boundary to these rights is becoming blurred by the internet. The Concorde Agreement is due for renewal (i.e. renegotiation) in the next few years, so this will become an even more critical focus.

An Augmented reality headset from ABB
An augmented reality headset from ABB, but we’re more likely to see tablet apps leading the way for sports and entertainment such as F1

But with the uptake of Twitter, you can already follow the teams and their drivers in real-time, keep track of each practice session and even catch updates on team strategy before they are broadcast on TV. Nearly every team produces their own pre and post video content and will increasingly invest in this off-broadcast form of media. Perhaps we’ll see the teams eventually licensing their own content to broadcasters as an augmented layer over the main F1 transmission.

As with any sport it’s ultimately the sponsors and advertisers who will win out, so rather than see today’s news as a nail in the coffin of F1’s television experience, consider it as a catalyst that may finally see F1 embrace digital media in today’s social age.

  • Sorry, I don’t see how this is good for F1 fans. Yet another money-orientated sport has ignored the simple fact that less people will be able to watch the full season on tv. More money does not mean a better sport. Not everyone has Sky (who I think have admitted they’ve reached saturation point in the market) but everyone has free-to-air tv. Unless you pay the considerable price of a Sky package that brings all those channels that no-one watches, just to get the few that you do, then you lose out. How is showing a few ‘significant’ races on free-to-air tv beneficial to fans? Oh well, I guess I’ll no longer be watching F1, along with all the other sports that have gone to the highest bidder before them.

    • Kevin

      Lee,

      I can only support your post.  I am saddened that, seemingly dramatically which is unlike me, this is my last year of watching F1.  What’s the point in watching just half a season?  Shame on the BBC – I would rather have had two more full seasons FTA than half a dozen half-seasons.  So that’s football, cricket and now F1 that I don’t watch.  I suppose it will leave time, away from looking at advertisements on the cars, to do something less “commercial”.

      • I guess what I am trying to share with you about the BBC/Sky deal is that the headline news is far worse than its likely to be in reality.  There are a lot of people who have been investing in solutions which will change the dynamics of rights-controlled sports such as F1.  Not in terms of taking anything away from the rights-holder, but more in terms of adding something fresh and worthwhile for audiences. 

        I am guessing we’d all agree that the Twitter activity of F1 teams has changed the way we interact with the sport – teams such as LRGP, McLaren, Team Lotus and Williams have really contributed to the insight and enjoyment we gain from following the sport.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg, they haven’t been investing this time and effort out of the goodness of their hearts (although they do love the sport) – they’ve done so because this is precisely what demonstrates the value they can offer their team sponsors. 

        Whilst the broadcast rights are a significant part of F1, the balance of power is shifting back towards the teams who will be using the evidence of social media and its audiences as justification of where the value lies in the sport (just look at the influence Rubens Barichello has with his 1m+ Twitter followers for a sponsor such as Renault) – this will then become a significant card to hold when renegotiating the Concorde agreement (or sooner). 

        I’ve spoken with several teams and their sponsors and I’ve also worked as a commercial partner of Sky in the past, so I know where their heads are at.  Investment in F1 comes from the teams and their partners – not Bernie and the FOM – and ultimately what drives free-to-air access is its appeal to those who invest.

  • Martin Hamilton

    Money money money.  It’s all very well talking about how advertisers and sponsors will benefit but they only benefit if potential customers are there to see their products.  I won’t subscribe to sky on principle – seeing as how their owners appear to have gone to great lengths to undermine my country and my democratic rights, and how they’ve sought a monopoly position by taking away all of the sports I love.  Monopoly = excessive prices.  As for the BBC, well, what will we see there – more gameshows and more celebs?  Augmented content sounds very “sexy”, but I just want to watch a motor race… No, I think I’ll just get on with fresh air, more exercise and no F1 thanks very much.

    • What we will see with augmented content is the ability to compile your own viewing experience using what’s available – rather like a broadcast version of Tweetdeck.  It’s about empowering the user, which is what the internet does and ultimately the money will follow what users are choosing to do. 

      I don’t have a crystal ball and cannot say what the cost of this would be – we do all pay for the BBC licence fee, although that’s another institution which is being eroded in the basis that it undermines our freedom of choice. 

      We obviously need to pay for the sport we love somehow, but it needs to be affordable and Sky will discover just as before with F1 Digital that people won’t pay over the odds no matter how good the coverage.

      My suggestion is to voice your opinions loudly, there are people involved in this sport who are listening.

      • I don’t think the user needs (or particularly wants) to be empowered. They just want to be able to see the sport they love. The BBC has showed that quality coverage will suffice; a viewer doesn’t necessarily need multiple viewing options when the coverage is spot on in the first place.

        • I remember F1 Digital when it was on Sky nearly a decade ago, I initially paid for it but in the end I found all the additional sources of data (choice of on-board cameras, telemetry data, several choices of commentary) rather overwhelming.  I just wanted to watch the race and listen to my favourite commentators. 

          But I realise some people quite enjoy the simultaneous team tweets and the mclaren.com live timing.  Each to their own.

          The challenge of introducing an augmented layer to our viewing is ensuring it doesn’t detract from the experience.  When telemetry data was first broadcast (revs/gears etc) I found that downright annoying, but I’m used to it now.

          I watch F1 because of the on-track drama and admiration for the drivers, not because I’d like to be a team manager – and for me driving is a pure and single-minded pursuit so my viewing of the sport is enhanced by better camera angles and sound feeds, rather than more information.

          The big issue for me in today’s headline is the message it conveys about how F1 values its fans.  That’s the precious commodity than nobody involved in the sport wants to damage, so hopefully the angry reaction to today’s BBC/Sky news will serve as a wake-up call to those who might be taking our support for granted. 

          You never know, Bernie might well have been testing the water – he has a track-record of doing so..

        • I remember F1 Digital when it was on Sky nearly a decade ago, I initially paid for it but in the end I found all the additional sources of data (choice of on-board cameras, telemetry data, several choices of commentary) rather overwhelming.  I just wanted to watch the race and listen to my favourite commentators. 

          But I realise some people quite enjoy the simultaneous team tweets and the mclaren.com live timing.  Each to their own.

          The challenge of introducing an augmented layer to our viewing is ensuring it doesn’t detract from the experience.  When telemetry data was first broadcast (revs/gears etc) I found that downright annoying, but I’m used to it now.

          I watch F1 because of the on-track drama and admiration for the drivers, not because I’d like to be a team manager – and for me driving is a pure and single-minded pursuit so my viewing of the sport is enhanced by better camera angles and sound feeds, rather than more information.

          The big issue for me in today’s headline is the message it conveys about how F1 values its fans.  That’s the precious commodity than nobody involved in the sport wants to damage, so hopefully the angry reaction to today’s BBC/Sky news will serve as a wake-up call to those who might be taking our support for granted. 

          You never know, Bernie might well have been testing the water – he has a track-record of doing so..

  • It sounds like a bit of confusion has arisen between the BBC and Bernie.  In a blog from Ben Gallop BBC’s Head of F1 – bbc.in/nl53yt – he says that the BBC will broadcast ‘extended highlights’ of the races which it doesn’t cover live.

    An hour later FOTA president Martin Whitmarsh is quoted in Autosport saying that the deal is better than at first expected, and “The BBC will show every grand prix IN FULL, half of them live and half of them deferred, so free-to-air is available to everyone.”

    Did Bernie budge to the uproar from F1 fans or did the BBC just not understand the deal they signed? 😉

  • It sounds like a bit of confusion has arisen between the BBC and Bernie.  In a blog from Ben Gallop BBC’s Head of F1 – bbc.in/nl53yt – he says that the BBC will broadcast ‘extended highlights’ of the races which it doesn’t cover live.

    An hour later FOTA president Martin Whitmarsh is quoted in Autosport saying that the deal is better than at first expected, and “The BBC will show every grand prix IN FULL, half of them live and half of them deferred, so free-to-air is available to everyone.”

    Did Bernie budge to the uproar from F1 fans or did the BBC just not understand the deal they signed? 😉

  • It sounds like a bit of confusion has arisen between the BBC and Bernie.  In a blog from Ben Gallop BBC’s Head of F1 – bbc.in/nl53yt – he says that the BBC will broadcast ‘extended highlights’ of the races which it doesn’t cover live.

    An hour later FOTA president Martin Whitmarsh is quoted in Autosport saying that the deal is better than at first expected, and “The BBC will show every grand prix IN FULL, half of them live and half of them deferred, so free-to-air is available to everyone.”

    Did Bernie budge to the uproar from F1 fans or did the BBC just not understand the deal they signed? 😉

  • Hypothetical.

    • Of course. I’m fortunate to have advised or worked with each of the players in this topic and would actually place my bet on Sky doing a better job in the long-term (not that I retain any affinity with them any more). The FOM are entrenched in their strategy of selling TV rights (and little else), the Beeb are caught between their ability to innovate and their responsibility to the licence payer (and government oversight) whereas Sky have defined the digital TV sector in the UK, but fallen behind Virgin Media and BT when it comes to moving their service from satellite to online. They understand the need to catch up whilst they still hold a dominant position and are investing in the kind of mobile services which should enhance our enjoyment of F1 and make it easier to watch the broadcast at a time which best suits us individually.

      That’s also hypothetical, but at least it’s an informed hypothesis..

  • .Its a sad day when sky buys up every popluar sport thats being broadcats over the airwaves, its another step towards privetised media with no public broadcasting whatsoever. Instead of everyone who owns a licence having a say, only the shareholders will have a say. And most of them dont care about the sport….sad….sad….sad