The Limit

All politics, the saying goes, is local.  I think that means that we all care most about the things that affect us directly.  That probably explains why the biggest controversy of the 2011 F1 season in Britain was the announcement by the BBC that it would not honour its original commitment to show all Grand Prix on free-to-air TV, but would share coverage with Rupert Murdoch’s pay-to-view SKY satellite station.

For any of you who have been away in Moscow’s Mission to Mars lock-up garage for the past two years, here’s the background.   SKY’s new dedicated F1 channel will show all the races live, whilst the BBC will show half live and half on time delay.  The benefit for the BBC is a £150m saving to free up budget to send a full team to cover the rhythmic gymnastics and quoits at the London Olympics.  The downside is a loss of their public broadcaster image.  For SKY, the benefit is another sport to attract subscription income, balanced against the cost of servicing Ted Kravitz’s buffet bill.  For (some) fans there is the benefit of a dedicated F1 channel, but a reduced service for the majority.

I should say up front, I have no personal axe to grind on the BBC’s semi-detached approach to F1 2012. I am old enough to remember when F1 coverage was squeezed in between the racing from Chepstow and cricket from Headingly.   I don’t have a particular difficulty offering a buck to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.  As our house is located directly below a TV areal, ironically, we can only get a signal via digital satellite.  However, thanks to Lehman Brothers, Royal Bank of Scotland, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the entire Icelandic nation, I won’t be coughing up the additional subscription to access the SKY F1 channel.

Ever since having my children I have accepted that Sunday’s are family days and spending 2-3 hours in front of the TV is not really an option, so I avoid all media and watch most of the races delayed in the evening, once the boys are tucked into bed. I can’t claim to suffer any particular hardship from the change.  I will miss the early morning races from Asia  – now to be showed on delayed time by the BC at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.  I had always viewed it as part of my badge of honour as a true fan to watch the early morning races live.

I do understand the frustration of fans, who previously welcomed the transfer of F1 from ITV to the BBC, now seeing their F1 coverage unceremoniously divided.  The F1 Teams and management have proved yet again that mammon will always outweigh the interests of the fans.  Great Britain is, of course, only a tiny share of the world wide F1 audience, but all but a handful of the teams (and their staff and families) are based in Britain.

Whilst I am sure all the numbers have been crunched and books balanced, I do wonder if the move will serve F1 well commercially.  Unlike football, cricket, boxing or even golf, F1 is not a sport that the majority of viewers will particularly hunt out or be willing to pay for the privilege to see.  From an admittedly limited focus group of work colleagues around the water cooler on a Monday, my impression is that F1 is something to watch in the background if it happens to be on during the Sunday lunchtime dead time between Countryfile and the Eastenders Omnibus.

However, by far my biggest concern is not for the F1 teams’ bank balances but for the quality of the commentary team, or rather teams.  Having struggled for years to get the right combination for a single commentary box pairing – Jonathan Palmer,  James Allen, Jonathan Legard anyone, anyone? – it seems highly dubious that F1 will be able to sustain two quality commentary partnerships.  On the positive side, however, surely Jake Humphreys will be off covering the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012 from Gdansk and the Olympic Dressage from Greenwich throughout much of June, July and August.  Here’s hoping anyway.



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