• TV rights

Ecclestone wants F1 to stay on BBC

ESPNF1 Staff
June 20, 2011 « Report says BBC will drop F1 in 2013 | »
Bernie Ecclestone: "I will do my best to keep Formula One on the BBC" © Getty Images
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Bernie Ecclestone has said he will do his best to keep Formula One on the BBC amid reports that the broadcaster will not be able to afford to renew its contract in 2013.

A story in the Sunday Times cited a senior source in the BBC saying the broadcaster is considering cutting its F1 coverage in order to continue to fund its digital channels, such as BBC4. However, Ecclestone, who works on behalf of CVC Capital Partners to manage F1's commercial rights, has since told the Times that he is committed to keeping the sport on free-to-air TV.

"We want Formula One to stay free to viewers," Ecclestone said. "That is 100%. The BBC have done a great job for us and we like their shows and the people obviously like it because so many are watching.

"They did warn me that they were facing problems but, so far, nothing more has been said. I hope they want to keep us because it is such a success and I will do my best to keep Formula One on the BBC."

The Sunday Times report said "F1 costs £1 a head for every viewer", but the statistics it based that on appear to be at odds with those from inside the sport. Formula One Teams Association chairman and McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said the story undersold the value of F1 to the BBC.

"Formula One insiders have been surprised by the recent newspaper reports, since they contain significant statistical inaccuracies," he told the Daily Telegraph. "The reality is that the Formula One viewing figures in the UK are high and getting higher.

"In terms of average viewership, peak viewership and average share of viewership - the three key indices for TV executives - more people are watching Formula One this year than last year or indeed than in recent previous years. For example, the average share of viewership for the BBC's coverage of the recent Chinese Grand Prix, which' Lewis Hamilton won, was more than 50%.

"In other words, as many people were watching Formula One in the UK that Sunday morning as were watching every other channel combined - including all terrestrial channels and all satellite channels - a staggeringly impressive statistic. And the TV viewing figures for other recent grands prix have been massively impressive too.

For as long as it has been broadcast in the UK, F1 has been on free-to-air and many of the team's sponsorship deals depend on the extra exposure that brings to the sport. Whitmarsh said it would hit the teams hard if the rights were bought by a subscription channel.

"It's crucial to the commercial model of Formula One that TV coverage should remain free-to-air, and therefore universally accessible, and therefore widely consumed and enjoyed by large numbers of viewers - and the BBC delivers that in the UK," he said. "Moreover, besides the quantity of viewership, the quality of the BBC's coverage is consistently high too - which is just as important. Also important is the demographic data - which shows that F1 is now attracting an increasing number of younger and female viewers, which is also very positive.

"Formula One is the pinnacle of world motorsport - always has been, always will be. As such, it's appropriate that the BBC should continue to cover it. I think it would be very sad, and most unwise, if the BBC were to disappoint so many millions of British sports fans by axeing it, and that's why I don't believe for a moment that they'd seriously consider doing such a thing."

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