You Can Always Break The Chain
I was on holiday when I heard the news. And in Italy, it was an oddly rainy morning. I say oddly, to be fair, there was a surprising amount of rain in that week. The rain gave me an excuse to check my phone, twinned with trying to watch NCIS in Italian, and see Twitter full of fury and rage.
And it wasn’t about the Greek’s failing to pay up (again), or Harry Redknapp trying to pursue Phil Neville (again), but the fact that the coverage of Formula 1 would be shared between its current providers, the BBC, and the pay per view service, Sky.
I’m sure everyone who gives a damn about this knows about the deal inside out. Sky get coverage of all twenty races from next year, from Australia through to Brazil, and covering the new race in Austin, Texas. The BBC only get to show ten races, these including the season opener and finale, as well as the British Grand Prix. They will also show either full race re-runs or extended highlights several hours after the chequered flag on the ten races exclusive to Sky.
To those outside it should seem fine, however to watch content on Sky, you have to pay. And this on top of the enforced BBC license fee. For some, Sky isn’t an option, it just costs too much. And you can’t really argue about that, there is no alternative for what is a sizeable chunk of viewers of the current BBC audience.
But that isn’t my argument. I’m not here to discuss the inside and outside of the deal, I’m not here to defend the decision, I’m not even here to feel sympathy. All I’m saying is thank God F1 is going to Sky.
One of the first feelings I had when reading the reactions of people, is what right did Formula 1 have to be on terrestrial television? I’ll answer that for you, none. It isn’t part of the listed rights Group A sports mentioned in the 1996 Broadcasting Act. The Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, and of course, the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, all have to be aired on either the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or 5. Formula 1 isn’t even mentioned in Group B, which forces highlights to be aired on the five channels (this list includes the Commonwealth Games and the Six Nations). Formula 1 is given no divine right to be on terrestrial television, it isn’t special, or any better than any other sport at the end of the day. Should Sky want to, they could easily just take it all away from the BBC. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the BBC happily accept.
I’d be glad to. For me, the BBC coverage, something which started so fresh and promising after years of dire we were subjected to from ITV, has become stale and repetitive. It is fraught by smug, poor, and downright annoying people glaring into the camera each week.
The coverage has few redeeming features. Martin Brundle stepped up this year to replace the ever unpopular Jonathan Legard, and has fitted into the role superbly alongside David Coulthard. Part of me is disappointed, if the rumours are true, that the duo won’t be able to continue and develop into their respective roles. There are few genuinely good commentary partnerships in the UK, this could have been one of them. Should David Croft and Brundle go off to Sky like reported, then I remain to be convinced. Both are fine individual commentators, but together I don’t feel convinced about it just yet.
I can’t yet believe how Eddie Jordan is still employed. Between reminding us how he discovered half of the current F1 field (that includes Narain Karthikeyan people), he offers up far too many cringeworthy moments that litter the coverage. Lee McKenzie has also failed to add to her one standard question in her interviews. I feel bitterly disappointed for her. (Cheap and poor, I know.)
Jake Humphrey has provided to be no better, especially after the announcement. His loyalty to the cause is admirable, but each little mention of the viewing figures and clear moments where he wants Formula 1 to have all 2012 races on the BBC have made him virtually unfollowable for me, at least.
And realistically the only thing saving the BBC right now is the fact there is no ad breaks. Something which Sky promise to deliver when they air their first race. The BBC could have developed their coverage into something spectacular, something worth keeping. And while it is still much better than ITV ever achieved, it lacks the ambition of going further. Since 2009, very little has changed in terms of coverage and personnel, and I’m equally tired of hearing the tiresome voice of Christian Horner every race. In some regards the quality has gone down. At the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix, I remember Peter Sauber, who speaks poor English, doing a rare interview in the English language. I feel you wouldn’t get close to that now. I can’t pull myself to watch the coverage anymore, it isn’t worth it. Although this could be well down to my current view of Formula 1 at the moment, or at least qualifying. On purpose, instead of watching the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, you could find me lying in bed dreaming about scoring the winning goal in the Europa League Final. Sort of.
With the BBC only getting ten races from next year, the coverage will only go downhill even further. The lack of drive, and the ‘talented’ Humphrey no doubt becoming one of the faces of the highly anticipated Olympic Games, and potentially other things, the last shred of decency is fading. The potential new commentators to replace Martin Brundle don’t sound so exciting. I’ve yet to see a favourable review of Leigh Diffey, who just sounds like a foreign Jonathan Legard.
I’m not going to say Sky is going to be perfect. It does cost to get the coverage to start off, and expected anchors and pundits are so far less than inspiring. But the potential is there, the same potential that the BBC had. If they do something similar to their shows in terms of rugby, an extra show to discuss events in more detail, then it will only be an improvement.
Yet Sky will throw money and effort into their coverage, something similar to what they do for the football, both codes of rugby, the cricket. Assumptions based on their over motorsport events are unfair, IndyCars and Speedway don’t attract the same audience, they don’t get the same money that F1 will get.
The BBC could have done so much with Formula 1, but it didn’t, and for me, it has left me very disillusioned with the coverage. Roll on Sky, I can’t wait to see what you can do.