Formula One will all but disappear on free-to-air television in Italy this year. If you don’t live there and think that does not impact you, think again. It could be a vision of the sport’s future in many more countries than that. It is, for example, similar to the situation the UK will face from 2019. Italy is important as a general marker of the way things are going under Formula 1’s new owners because it is the second biggest TV market in Europe.
It is also the home of F1’s most famous participant, Ferrari, which is effectively an Italian national team.
National public broadcaster Rai has carried F1 since 1953. Not so long ago, it showed the whole season live. But the number of live races had reduced in recent years. It showed nine last year, about the same number as on free-to-air TV in the UK since 2012 under the split contract between Sky and first the BBC and now Channel 4.
Rai was not mentioned in F1’s announcement of its new three-year deal in Italy on Thursday. Four races will be shown live on Sky Italia’s free-to-air channel TV8, which does not attract anything like the same audience as Rai. The other 17 will be behind a pay wall on Sky. Italian sources say they believe the Monza race will end up being shown on that channel, but this is unconfirmed.
Are things changing on TV for this year?
US group Liberty Media bought F1 last January and spent a year finding their feet. In 2018, the new owners have their first chance to begin to show the direction the sport is heading in the future. Or to quote one senior figure: “This is the year we get to see whether what they’re doing works.”
In TV terms, a number of changes are being contemplated. These were presented to broadcasters as unconfirmed plans at a meeting this week.
Among the ideas were:
- making the start time of European races an hour later in the hope of attracting a bigger audience – so a typical start would be 2pm in the UK, rather than 1pm
- races to start at 10-past the hour rather than on it
- Bahrain to become a full night race rather than start at twilight
- improved engine sound from repositioned on-board microphones
- make the cars look faster with different camera angles and static cameras
- playing a soundtrack of music at occasional parts of the race
- a highlights reel to play at regular intervals during the live broadcast
- a potential deal with Netflix for behind-the-scenes footage
Some of these are easy wins. Others are less likely to be universally welcomed.
The changes to TV are just the beginning of a wide-ranging review of the sport being conducted by Liberty with the aim of making it look very different on many levels by 2021.
Right now, though, no one yet knows the shape it will take, or how successful the changes will be.