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Channel 5 on pole position to pick up F1 from BBC

NEWS STORY
17/07/2011

Bernie Ecclestone says he will contact Richard Desmond's TV station Channel 5 about broadcasting Formula One in the UK if the BBC doesn't renew its contract which expires at the end of 2013. The news follows Channel 5's recent decision to broadcast in September Tamara's World, a fly on the wall documentary about Ecclestone's daughter Tamara.

It costs the BBC an estimated £30m annually to broadcast F1 and there has been speculation of late that it will not renew its contract, or could even break it early, because of a budget squeeze. However, Ecclestone has told Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, "I can't see how the BBC could cancel [its contract early]. We could probably sue them."

Writing in today's edition of the Telegraph newspaper Sylt quotes Ecclestone saying that if the BBC does not renew "I would talk to Richard obviously."

Desmond's Northern & Shell media business, which also owns The Daily Express and The Daily Star newspapers, bought Channel 5 from European media group RTL for £103.5m in July last year. It is best known for broadcasting daytime soaps, such as Neighbours, and US crime drama CSI but Desmond is looking to raise its profile. Earlier this year it bought the rights to reality show Big Brother which is high profile if not high quality. F1 would give the channel's image a further boost.

Pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB is also believed to be interested in F1's UK broadcasting rights and its beleaguered parent News Corp said in May that it is considering whether to make a bid to buy F1. Ecclestone pours cold water on both ideas. "It isn't possible that F1 could go on to Pay-TV. We wouldn't want to do that," he told Sylt. Ecclestone adds that as a result of the recent hacking scandal engulfing News Corp "if they were to bid for F1 they might find that people would object to it."

F1's twelve teams are currently negotiating a new contract to race in the sport from 2013 and have threatened to leave if their terms are not improved. If they object to a change in ownership and refuse to sign a new contract it would make F1 a risky bet for News Corp since the teams could pull out at any time.

Any takeover of F1 also has to be approved by the senate of the FIA. One of its 10 members is former FIA president Max Mosley who was the subject of an exposé in 2008 by News Corp's now-defunct newspaper the News of the World and, as Pitpass has already reported, he thinks that the company "would not satisfy a fit and proper person test."

Likewise, ITV is unlikely to be in the running since it broke its previous contract with F1 two years early in order to save money which it used to retain the rights to broadcast Champions League football matches.

Ecclestone says that Channel 4 has already opened talks about buying the F1 rights and it is flush from saving around £40m annually after axing Big Brother. It has also shown a liking for high-profile sport with the world athletics championships and the Paralympics in its portfolio.

Channel 5 may have the head start since Desmond is one of Ecclestone's close friends. Both tycoons are supporters of the Anglo-Jewish Norwood charity which supports adults and children with learning disabilities. However, Ecclestone says "I haven't spoken to Richard yet," and he adds that the preferred solution is F1 remaining on the BBC. "We have got no problem with the Beeb," he adds.

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