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F1 on BBC and Sky: Who am I? A license-fee payer?

I, like so many other UK-based F1 fans, am not overly impressed with the decision that will see the 2012 Formula 1 season – and beyond – shared between Sky TV and the BBC. There are plenty of quality rants available around the ‘net on the subject already so I’m trying to take a different angle on this and ask who the BBC’s looking out for in this scenario, and whether I – as a long-term fan of Formula 1 – am in that group.

On the day of the announcement back in July, the following statement was made:

“…we believe this new deal offers the best outcome for licence-fee payers.”
Ben Gallop, Head of F1 and Interactive, BBC Sport, 29th of July 2011

The number of TV licenses issued in 2009/10 was 24,963,799 (I can’t get more up to date figures than that), so that makes me a very special one in 24,963,799 people. However, I am a license-fee payer nonetheless. I’m not going to try and figure out how many license-fee payers are also avid F1 fans because it’s not a simple percentage game and any stats would be open to argument, but I’m quite certain that I’m not the only one. Equally there will be plenty of license-fee payers who don’t watch F1, and you then have a large spectrum of consumers in-between the two extremes including what appear to be called ‘casual’ fans that tune in if a race is on and they have nothing else to do.

What interests me in Ben Gallop’s statement is who ‘the license-fee payers’ are that he’s referring to. The BBC, a corporation that I’m a huge fan of, can obviously not please everyone who pays for their service. Not everyone watches every program that the BBC broadcasts and you would expect to see a diverse range of interests from nearly 25 million people so it’s a very general term that they use. However, the BBC is subject to a certain amount of scrutiny in the UK, namely from:

  • Themselves (their Board Of Governors, the BBC Trust, etc.)
  • Ofcom, the communication regulator
  • The UK government, as the provider of their license fee
  • Media pressure (usually The Daily Mail), albeit less-so

When they talk about ‘the license-fee payers’ I suspect that they are thinking about mainly these bodies, because it is these that they actually have to respond to when under fire. In addition to Ben Gallop’s statement in July the Director of BBC Sport also gave her opinion.

“We are absolutely delighted that F1 will remain on the BBC. The sport has never been more popular with TV audiences at a 10-year high and the BBC has always stated its commitment to the big national sporting moments.”
Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, 29th of July 2011

There is no doubt that the BBC’s F1 viewing figures will plummet next year as the die-hard fans either give up on the sport or, if they’re in a fortunate enough position, shell  out for Sky TV. Casual fans, who watch a race when they have nothing else on, will be in fewer numbers as there will be less races to watch on terrestrial television. Non-fans, you would expect, will continue to not watch.

So the BBC get to say that they have a “commitment to the big national sporting moments”, including the British Grand Prix, because F1 remains in its portfolio of ‘license-fee payer’ offerings. They can claim that “this new deal offers the best outcome for licence-fee payers” because they are affirming to those that they are accountable for, that their funding through the license-fee is good value for money while they continue to show top-flight sports at a time when two of the top F1 drivers are British.

In conclusion, going on these two statements alone, and it isn’t as though there has been a huge amount of information coming out of the BBC on this subject since the original announcement, the BBC doesn’t actually see any license-fee payers as license-fee payers. In the case of Formula 1, they’ve done a deal with Sky to satisfy the people they actually refer to as ‘license-fee payers’ in order to make themselves look good.

It’s just a pity that actual ‘license-fee payers’ – those that pay the license-fee – have to lose out for them to achieve this. The BBC is making cuts to save money by pushing the cost of the sport onto the people that make their viewing figures look good, and justify Formula 1 as a top-flight sport that they can keep in their portfolio.

This entry was posted in Formula 1.

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