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Ecclestone reveals free Sky F1 plan

NEWS STORY
14/04/2013

It is nearly two years since pay-television operator BSkyB announced that it had snatched the exclusive rights to broadcast Formula One from the BBC. Although the initial uproar is a distant memory, it hasn't been forgotten. Sky broadcasts all F1 races live whilst the BBC shows just nine this year with delayed highlights of the ten others. The impact of this has not been hard to notice.

In February Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed that F1's viewing figures in the UK fell by 3.8m to 28.6m in 2012, the first year of Sky's deal. Lotus' team principal Eric Boullier told Sylt that the teams are monitoring the move to pay-TV and admitted that if it becomes global, they may need to review their sponsorship rates. Historically the teams' offering to sponsors has been based on them being seen by as many viewers as possible but Sky presents a hurdle to this as the minimum cost of the package which shows F1 is £318. If F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone gets his way it won't cost viewers a penny.

Writing in the Express newspaper Sylt reveals that Ecclestone advised Sky to distribute free receiver boxes which are restricted to picking up F1 in order to drive conversion rates to its full service and increase viewing figures.

Talking to Sylt Ecclestone said that following the announcement that Sky would broadcast F1 he received letters from fans saying "we aren't going to watch Formula One any more" and in response he "said to Sky why don't you give people free Sky boxes that will only be able to receive Formula One. I said you can guarantee that when you put a Sky box in the house, although it is only for Formula One, people are going to say 'why can't I watch the rest' and they will sign up.

"Kids will say 'my friends at school watch this so why can't we?' Sky are very good with that kind of idea. It would use Formula One to drive their subscriptions."

It is a fascinating scheme which could only have been dreamt up by a master wheeler and dealer like Ecclestone. Although it is nothing more than an idea it would in fact be a natural progression of Sky's strategy to tempt viewers with free or lower-cost access.

In January it launched Sky Thursdays which involves some of its premium entertainment content being broadcast once a week on its free-to-air Freeview channel Pick TV. Last month Sky added Sky Sports to its internet TV service NOW TV which gives access to its F1 broadcasts for £9.99 per day. It could pave the way for using free F1 coverage as a trojan horse to get Sky into viewers' homes.

"The big problem I think is that it is not just a case of getting the Sky box, you have got to get a dish," says Ecclestone. He adds that in order to make F1 free-to-air Sky "are probably waiting for some sort of wireless system to come in where you don't need a dish." If the TV viewing figures continue to decline that may just make its début sooner rather than later.

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