The new path of F1 may be underway now, until its official unveiling in 2021. Race calendar has been increased to 22 races, new mission of “conquering” again Far East has begun with the Vietnamese Grand Prix scheduled, contacts for a second US round nave been officialised and a wave of Pay TV rights is beginning to strike.
But alarms started ringing on Old Continent. Forbes reported that free-to-ait Channel 4 has lost a cumulative number of nearly 6 million viewers during the season so far completed; for the home of the championship, of the first ever Grand Prix ever held and of seven out of ten teams, it’s more than a eyebrows’ raising. Last German Grand Prix, for example, has seen the lowest attendance from 2012, when Tour De France win of Bradley Wiggins and the British Open of golf distracted many Brits from watching the same event.
On the other side of Ocean, at the same time, nearly 700.000 Americans were watching the thrilling Hockenheim race, helping ESPN achieving a 19% growth of share compared to 2018 figures; Chase Carey had never hidden the ambition of enlarging the figures of F1 percentages in his own country, helped sometime in future with a Yankee top team (“we have Haas as a US team. We would love to add to that with a high-profile US team”).
F1’s CEO, made clear statements about the new route he and his team want to drive the championship into: “We will continue to move towards pay platforms because that is where the world is going” stated. Reducing the basin of fans towards a monetisation of rights seems to be a financially attractions for Liberty Media: less people watching but paying a fee for seeing the show; that’s why he wasn’t scared after seeing last November where “television viewing on race day year-on-year is down 5%” and that was “largely due to our move from free to Pay TV in Italy”.
The Italian situation may see a return of Grand Prixes to the free-to-air RAI channels after two years of absence: rumours are predicting that due to the change of Sky’s property from Rupert Murdoch to Comcast, the broadcaster could save around 20 million euros from re-selling the rights to the government television. Moreover, doing so, RAI could have a good package to offer to Italian viewers, with 10 races live, offering a sport historically included on the its show schedule.
The price that the move is causing is huge (around 20% audience loss in the last 11 years). Time will tell if the strategy will pay dividends or if it’s going the mercy killing of the most ancient discipline of Motorsport.