F1's Bratches: Pay-TV coverage right for some markets but not all
Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s commercial chief, has defended the gravitation towards pay-television coverage in many markets, while stressing that fans of the sport will benefit from a new two-tier internet service.
In countries such as Australia, France and Spain, live rights are now largely the preserve of subscription broadcasters, and the UK is set to go the same way from next year when Sky enjoys enhanced exclusivity in an extended six-year deal.
It was reported last week that Sky Italia, the Italian pay-TV broadcaster will have similar exclusivity from this year as a new deal has not been agreed with public-service broadcaster Rai.
The trend has led to complaints from Formula 1 enthusiasts used to widespread free-to-air coverage.
However, Bratches (pictured) believes in a flexible strategy, telling Germany's Auto Motor und Sport: “Free TV means reach, but the money is on pay TV. Ideally, 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the races should be on free TV and the rest behind a paywall. It works in France and other countries, but there are countries where we should not move to this model yet.”
Formula 1 has been more receptive to digital solutions since its $4.4-billion acquisition by US media giant Liberty Media last January and is planning to launch an international over-the-top service offering a combination of free and subscription content for the 2018 season, which starts in Australia in late-March.
Bratches said: “The relaunch of our digital platform is planned. Today it only costs us money. Fans cannot download exclusive content.
“That’s going to change. We will introduce direct streaming offer to the fans for both live content and non-live content. The fans will then get access to data directly from the cars. One will be freely available, while the other for serious fans is behind a payment barrier.”
Ex-Formula 1 promoter Bernie Ecclestone was reluctant to develop the sport online as he feared undermining lucrative broadcasting rights deals.
However, Liberty has a different viewpoint, with Bratches saying: “The market has proved that both can be done simultaneously. Other sports are already much further ahead.
“It’s not like we’re leaving our TV partners behind. This year, we will be offering a new TV graphics platform that presents content in a much more consumer friendly way.”
Bratches added that there are plans for more demonstration events in major cities in 2018, claiming they can help attract new audiences and commercial partners.
Last year, more than 100,000 fans joined teams, drivers and cars at an F1 Live event in Trafalgar Square in central London ahead of the British Grand Prix.
Bratches said: “They are very important. The next events of this kind will not be quite that big. We’re planning something similar in Marseille, Berlin, Milan, Shanghai and Miami, but not with so many cars.
“But we do believe that this contact with the audience outside the race track is important. It carries our message to people we would not otherwise reach.
“Formula 1 has been so exclusive over the years that it was only accessible to interested people. The same applies to sponsors. There is a lot of interest from companies that are not yet in F1.”
Meanwhile, Liberty Media has announced the launch of a process to refinance the $3.3-billion first lien loan of certain subsidiaries of Delta Topco, the subsidiary that holds all of its interests in Formula 1.
Alongside the refinancing, relevant subsidiaries of Delta Topco intend to repay up to $400 million of the loan using a combination of excess cash on the balance sheet and loans under the first lien revolving credit facility, subject to obtaining necessary consents and the funding of the relevant loans.