Broadcasters the next big challenge for F1


In the days leading up to the Italian Grand Prix, Formula One Management, following months of talks, confirmed that a deal had been agreed that will see F1 continue at the legendary track until at least 2024. This follows the new multi-year deals agreed with Silverstone and Mexico City, while Barcelona currently only has a one-year deal.

Nonetheless, heading into the busiest schedule in the sport's history, FOM appears to have the foundations on which it can further expand the calendar.

However, there is no time to rest on its laurels, for while the various circuits are now on board, there remains the little matter of broadcasters.

Next year the contracts in five of the sport's biggest markets come to an end, and F1 bosses face a tough decision.

Between them, the contracts with the broadcasters in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil are worth an estimated 283m ($350m), more than half the total TV revenue that F1 receives.

However, does FOM seek to renew these deals or does it push ahead with its free-to-air gamble?

Despite not having a representative on the F1 grid, Brazil remains the sport's biggest single market, with 77.5 million viewers watching the sport, courtesy of TV Globo, in 2016.

"Globo provides the largest audience worldwide," a source tells Forbes, "not surprisingly given the 210 million population of Brazil and Globo's complete domination of free on air television. There is no viable alternative."

However, last month, in a financial call with analysts, F1 boss, Chase Carey admitted: "We will continue to move towards pay platforms because that is where the world is going."

Yet, while the initial deals see money flowing into the F1 coffers form cash rich pay-per-view broadcasters keen to increase their content and thereby sign-up new subscribers, many fans used to getting their F1 fix for 'free' are unwilling to pay for the privilege.

In 2018, F1 signed an exclusive contract with Sky Italia, which had previously shared coverage with free-to-air rival RAI. Later that year, Carey admitted that "television viewing on race day year-on-year is down 5%, however that is largely due to our move from free to Pay TV in Italy".

Likewise the UK, where viewer numbers for Channel 4, which provides delayed race highlights for 20 of this year's 21 races, continue to plummet, while Sky, quick to crow about viewing figures for the season opening Australian Grand Prix, has gone surprisingly quiet since.

As previously reported, the twelve races that comprised the first half of the season have seen Sky and Channel 4's cumulative F1 audience shed 3.7 million viewers, which no doubt accounts for Carey's recent admission that the global TV audience is "down a few percentage points."

"F1's global television audience has declined from 600 million viewers in 2008 to 390 million in 2016," revealed investment bank J.P. Morgan in a report last month. "Part of this was driven by a move to exclusive Pay-TV as well as (Chinese broadcaster) CCTV dropping F1 in 2013. However, we believe some of the decrease is due to waning fan interest, exacerbated by a lack of on-track competition. Further declines in TV audiences would lower the value of F1 to broadcasters and sponsors and could slow revenue growth."


However, while FOM ponders the future of F1 broadcasting in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil, whose contracts end next year, this year sees the current contracts for Austria, Canada and the United States come to an end.

The situation in the United States is particularly difficult, ironic when one considers that this is the sport's owner's backyard.

Last year F1 launched its infamous streaming service, F1 TV, and understandably broadcasters were unwilling to compete with it. As a result NBC Sports withdrew its 32m ($40m) bid to screen F1 for the next seven years, leaving FOM to agree a deal with ESPN, which has agreed to the sport providing its own streaming service and in return effectively gets its F1 for free.

Meanwhile, despite the ongoing issues with F1 TV, which race after race sees the @F1Help(line) fielding tweets from frustrated and angry fans around the world, and has seen the service issue refunds on a number of occasions, let's not forget how much money FOM - and thereby the teams in terms of the prize money - has been poured into developing the service, which Carey admits is still "a work in progress".

In January 2018, Morgan Stanley issued a Price Target (PT) for F1 - which is listed on the Nasdaq with the ticker FWONK - of $47 by January this year. Predicting huge growth in broadcasting, it said "we raise our estimates as we believe '18/'19 will see the bulk of F1's major markets step up with new TV contracts, and raise our PT to $47".

Indeed, Morgan Stanley forecast that fees from broadcasters would increase by 31.1% to hit 635m ($785m) last year, whereas the reality was that they were actually 146m ($181.1m) lower and only rose by 0.4% to 488m ($603.9m).

This, combined with the reduced fees that the sport has had to negotiate with race promoters, not to mention the lack of significant new sponsors, and the loss of UBS and Allianz, no doubt accounts for the fact that FWONK's stock price was 31.5% lower than the Price Target in January this year and has never been within $4 of it.

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Published: 10/09/2019
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