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BBC Formula 1 free UK TV contract switches to Channel 4 for 2016

Formula 1 MSABBC Sport has ended its Formula 1 free-to-air TV contract three years early as part of corporation-wide cost savings – and Channel 4 will now be the terrestrial home of F1 on UK TV.

Sky F1 continues to air all Formula races live as part of its subscription package deal.

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Channel 4 has agreed a three-year deal for the 2016-2018 seasons: this compromises 10 live races and “comprehensive highlights” of all 21 Grand Prix, including qualifying.

In a positive move for F1 fans, the broadcaster has promised there will be no advertising breaks throughout the duration of live races.

Recognising the significance of this promise, Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of the Formula One group, said: “I am sorry that the BBC could not comply with their contract but I am happy that we now have a broadcaster that can broadcast Formula 1 events without commercial intervals during the race.”

Previous advertiser-funded broadcaster, ITV, was often criticised for switching to advert breaks during key moments of F1 races – it was even criticised by advertising regulator OFCOM over the timing of an advert break late into the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix.

“I am confident that Channel 4 will achieve not only how the BBC carried out the broadcast in the past but also with a new approach as the World and Formula 1 have moved on,” added Ecclestone.

Details of which 10 races Channel 4 will air live will be confirmed early in 2016, added the broadcaster.

‘No easy solutions’

BBC director of sport Barbara Slater said: “The current financial position of the BBC means some tough and unwanted choices have to be made.”

BBC Sport has been asked to deliver £35 million of savings and “a significant chunk of BBC Sport’s savings target will be delivered through the immediate termination of our TV rights agreement for Formula 1,” said Slater.

“There are no easy solutions; all of the options available would be unpopular with audiences.”

The BBC initially regained broadcasting rights for F1 in 2009 – but in 2012, again as a costs-saving measure, agreed to share rights with Sky Sports; this led to the current deal to halve the number of live F1 races it covers.

It’s not all bad news for BBC F1 fans, however: the corporation has extended its commentary rights on Radio 5 Live until 2021.

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