Channel 4 has taken over the terrestrial rights to Formula One from the BBC, with a new deal to broadcast live race weekends.
The agreement will see Channel 4 broadcast 10 live Formula 1 races, including practice and qualifying sessions, in each of the three FIA Formula One World Championship seasons from 2016 to 2018. The channel will also show highlights of all 21 Grand Prix and qualifying sessions – including those shown live by Sky Sports F1.
In a bold move intended to show its commitment to the sport Channel 4 has promised that, for the first time ever, it will not take any advertising breaks during the lives races which often last between one-and-a-half and two hours.
In 2012 the BBC agreed a six year deal with Formula One to jointly air races with Sky however it cut short the agreement as part of a plan to drastically cut back its sports rights portfolio in a bid to find £700m in savings.
Director of BBC Sport, Barbara Slater, told the Guardian that the decision to drop its Formula One coverage was “hugely disappointing and taken reluctantly”.
In July BBC director general, Tony Hall, laid down a corporation-wide £150m savings target for next year. BBC Sport has a target of £35 in savings to make and dropping Formula One is understood to make up a significant chunk of the savings.
Formula One chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, said he was “sorry that the BBC could not comply with their contract” but was “happy that we now have a broadcaster that can broadcast Formula 1 events without commercial intervals during the race.”
Ecclestone added that he was “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.”
The new deal reflects Channel 4’s increasing commitment to broadcast live sports and builds on its growing portfolio which includes rights to air the Rio Paralympic Games and 90 days of live racing coverage including the Grand National, Royal Ascot and The Derby.
David Abraham, Channel 4 chief executive said he was “delighted to have agreed this exciting new partnership with Bernie Ecclestone to keep the sport on free-to-air television.”
Chief creative officer at Channel 4, Jay Hunt, highlighted Channel 4’s award-winning coverage of other sports and maintained that it has “the same appetite for innovation and we'll be demonstrating that to fans by becoming the first free-to-air commercial broadcaster to show the races ad free.”
Details of the 2016 races which Channel 4 will broadcast live will be agreed in early 2016. The commercial broadcaster stated that the deal will not affect the level of spend on peak time, UK-originated content.
Channel 4 has won a number of awards for its sport broadcasting including its Bafta-winning coverage of the 2012 Paralympic Games, RTS-award-winning coverage of horse racing; and its BAFTA-winning cricket coverage.