Friday, December 16, 2011

Why I stopped watching F1

When it was announced that Formula 1 coverage would be shared between BBC and Sky (this corporation will be referred to as S*y in the rest of the article) many fans were outraged to lose part of the previously free-to-air coverage, and even more so when details of the price of S*y Package would cost them. F1 fans would have to pay £45/month for the S*y Sports package or they can get the HD package, which costs an additional £15 a month on top of a basic subscription.

I too am annoyed about this “deal” for two main reasons. Firstly, several Formula 1 fans in the UK already enduring a tough economic crisis, will miss out the coverage from next year due to the relatively high cost of a subscription. Secondly, others who can afford the subscription fee but have a strong dislike of the Murdoch empire, now have no choice on whom to receive the service from.

F1 on TV
I started watching F1 regularly in 2007 on ITV, a terrestrial UK channel. Advertisement-breaks in the middle of exciting races were annoying but one got used to it. Besides, there was no alternative medium and unfortunately no Twitter updates. When BBC took over in 2009, I was pleasantly surprised how much better the coverage was and how the lack of adverts made it a more enjoyable experience.
Pit Lane

After just two years on the BBC, it was announced on 29th of July 2011 that the coverage would be split between the BBC and S*y from 2012 to 2018. I don’t profess to have in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of corporate finance, but I have always disliked Rupert Murdoch and his media empire. This feeling was further compounded by the recent phone hacking enquiry and the resulting closure of News of the World Newspaper.

For those who may not be aware of the link, Murdoch is the founder, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation – the parent company of Fox News, News of the World and it owns 39.1% of BSkyB (which trades as S*y).

Don’t get me wrong, I admire business people and entrepreneurs but I believe that one can thrive in business without resorting to dubious tactics. For instance, I would much rather Richard Branson’s Virgin Media got the rights to broadcast the sport. I like Branson’s enthusiastic and engaging style of business and Virgin Media would be a much better fit to F1 especially since one of its “sister companies” sponsor(ed) a F1 Team (Marussia Virgin – soon to be renamed Marussia).

No doubt S*y will have more resources to keep the sport exciting; with extended coverage, analysis, in-depth discussions and commentary from BBC presenters who have defected. But those are not enough to persuade me to “increase the empire’s revenue”.

So, hard as it may be, I will not be taking out a S*y subscription to watch F1. Nor will I be looking for a pub which has a subscription. Perhaps the experience will be too different without live coverage for entire race calendar and I lose interest in the sport gradually. Or maybe I’ll fall off my “ethical wagon” after a few races and look for S*y footage...... but I would have at least TRIED to stick to my convictions.
Besides the BBC is planning to show highlights of all the races shown on S*y and I’ve got Twitter to keep me updated on the race or better yet, this would be a good reason to get tickets and watch the races live!

Belgian GP, Spa 2009

Hole punch
Those who might miss out on F1 due to affordability of the subscription fee can easily find pubs/sport bars willing to cater to their needs. In fact, @f1inpubs has just been set up to help fans find places showing F1 races, and should encourage fans to meet up regularly to watch and discuss races.

You could punch holes in my decision or stance – you could argue: “why boycott S*y, why not boycott F1 as a whole?” We know it isn’t the fairest or the most ethical sport or business to be engaged in. To that, I’d argue (albeit weakly) that “that ship has sailed” in terms of my love for the sport. Besides, I don’t see anyone else turning their backs on cricket after several “No Balls” allegations or on football for “Diving for Penalties”.

But corruption and phone-hacking is in another league. It is unethical and incredibly voracious of Murdoch’s newspaper journalists to go to such lengths for “exclusive” stories.

This is not meant to be a piece on ethics in F1; but in the near future, it might just explain why I stopped watching F1. I do wonder how many people who were outraged by the News of the World tactics, would happily take out a S*y subscription?