Radical plan to overhaul Formula One coverage shows pressure on BBC Sport to save money
The BBC considered a radical overhaul of its Formula One coverage that would have seen the same commentary used across TV and radio in a bid to save money.
The plan, which would have been hugely controversial and unprecedented in the corporation’s long history of live sports coverage, is understood to have been put forward by the BBC in-house sport department.
Management rejected the idea and the contract to produce F1 coverage for BBC Radio 5 Live was re-awarded to independent production company USP, which first produced it in 2006.
But it is a sign of the pressures that BBC Sport is under to save money that the plan was considered at all.
The corporation is having to save £700m as a result of last year’s flat licence fee deal with the government.
The BBC’s chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, said the joint deal had saved the corporation as much money as if it had closed BBC4, and said it had to be “ruthless” in the way it chooses sports rights in the future.
Now the BBC must reinvent the way it covers F1 after the defection of five of its on-air team to Sky, including Martin Brundle and 5 Live commentator David Croft.
The BBC pointed out that three of the mainstays of its TV presenting team were remaining with the corporation.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “We are really pleased to have kept our existing, award-winning presenting team of Jake Humphrey, Eddie Jordan and David Coulthard. We will be making further announcements on our talent in due course.”
But new commentary teams will be required across TV and radio, as well as a new presenter lineup for Radio 5 Live.
Their task will be made more difficult by the sheer scale of Sky Sports’ coverage. The broadcaster is launching a dedicated Formula One channel broadcasting around the clock for the duration of the 10-month season.
Sky Sports F1 HD will be available free to all Sky Sports subscribers, as well as customers who do not pay for any of its sports packages but do subscribe to its high definition services.
“The BBC expected some of their talent to go to Sky, but I think they have been surprised to see so many of them go,” said one industry source.
“They are going to have to raise their game because of the scale of what Sky is doing and the amount of airtime they are dedicating to the sport.
“The danger is that, with just a few hours of TV coverage over a weekend compared to an entire channel, the BBC ends up looking substandard.”
The BBC has one big advantage over its satellite rival – viewers do not have to pay to watch it (beyond the annual TV licence fee) – so when the two broadcasters go head to head the corporation’s ratings are likely to be substantially more.
But as Sky showed with its big-money signings announced on Wednesday, it will be doing everything it can – and splashing the cash – to close that gap.
Radio 5 Live will begin to change the way it covers live football from next season, axing the historic second commentator’s role from some matches, a process that will be complete by 2014.
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