BBC to yank the chain?
At least at the time of writing, the Twitter rumour mill is running rife over the future of Formula One’s coverage on the BBC. Whilst Twitter is hardly the patron of facts to begin with, it’s an unsettling rumour. Then again Twitter is largely a base to those who enjoy Tweeting their love for coffee, why Justin Bieber is hot and which movies would aptly describe your genitalia.The rumour of BBC F1’s future, however, does raise a valid discussion about the cost of Formula One within media outlets and whether it is completely justifiable.
There is no denying that Formula One revolves around money. Nations like Abu Dhabi, Russia, India, China and the like would not be actively spending millions and/or billions in having the esteemed privilege of hosting a Formula One Grand Prix. The £200 million winning bid for the Formula One media rights in 2008 by the BBC (for the 2009 season and beyond) is, understandably, an extravagant cost. It is understandable that it may be hard to justify why the broadcaster spends an approximate £60 million a year to cover the sport. Particularly as the BBC is, at the core, a public service broadcaster. They have an obligation to serve the best interests of taxpayers. However unlike its predecessor ITV, the BBC is not obliged to appease advertisers.
The BBC are in the business of content creation. They are the benchmark for all broadcasters around the world to follow for good reason. The coverage the BBC boasts is stunningly cinematic and it is clear the creative minds behind it all are as in love with what they do, as they are with Formula One. As opposed to its coverage being a straight analysis of sport, they make Formula One feel more like a gripping film – which to be honest, is an important aspect that a lot of the world’s broadcasters seem to lack.
It is very easy for a television network to justify plonking a panel of two or three motorsport commentators around a table 20, or so, times a year in a small studio. Or even hiring a freelance journalist to be at the race track to give on-track updates, via telephone. Maybe if a network executive is feeling particularly generous one year, they may even send their hosts to cover one international event.
That is production line television. Not effective if you want to capture to hearts and imagination of your viewers. Sure it might appease the bean counters, but would it attract more and more people to tune in to the sport year after year? Above all else, cheaply made television discredits a network’s reputation of being capable of creating cutting edge content that is the envy of all other television networks. Nor will it attract the behind the scenes geniuses who create stimulating television imagery.
That isn’t to say that the BBC is wrong in trying to reduce costs. It is a difficult juggling act to manage, and an unenviable one at that. Nor is it right that Formula One Management should expect to receive such exorbitant payment over the right to cover the series. Formula One is not alone in this. The BBC has also paid over £170 million for the rights to replay highlights over the English Premier League. Sure the world needs football, but £170 million to broadcast BSkyB’s leftovers?
According to figures posted on British media website digitalspy.co.uk, the Canadian Grand Prix gathered millions of viewers across the five hours of coverage. Within the first fifteen minutes of the pre-race show, 3.7 million viewers tuned in to see which visually offensive shirt Eddie Jordan would be wearing for the race. By the time the race was red flagged due to excess water on the track, between five to six million people observed Martin Brundle and David Coulthard having a two hour conversation about the state of Rihanna’s hair in the paddock and discovering that the word ‘racecar’ is a palindrome.
Okay, maybe a bad example in that case. Nonetheless, the high retention of viewers during a period of non-activity and bird watching is a testament to the loyalty of the BBC F1 audience, and the quality of coverage otherwise provided.
Formula One is often picked off as an easy target of glutenous waste and unnecessary extravaganza. Whether it be in the United Kingdom or Australia, Formula One and motor racing in general is still bandied with the stereotype of just being cars going around in circles.
It’s not surprising to find that the 700-odd complaints sent to the BBC over the extended length of the Canadian Grand Prix had to do with Antiques Roadshow being postponed. I’m not sure about you, but I doubt that most people who are as enthusiastic about evaluating household furniture take as much interest in motorsport.
If the BBC, and I emphasise the “if” in that statement with due caution, opt to terminate future coverage of Formula One, it can be certain of more complaints than the 700 regarding the Canadian Grand Prix. After all, Antiques Roadshow is basically a show about how much an old round table cost. Isn’t it?