MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; ITV’S FORMULA ONE DEAL: What does ITV expect to gain from covering Formula One?

ITV is promising Formula One coverage to rival the BBC’s, Alasdair Reid says

ITV is promising Formula One coverage to rival the BBC’s, Alasdair Reid

says



Sadly, there was no truth to the rumour that ITV intended to halt Grand

Prix races every two laps to fit the ads in. It’s a shame really, it

might have added a surreal chaos to the sport.



This week ITV unveiled its plans for Formula One race coverage and

explained how it would accommodate the commercials. A ‘network monitor’

will be used to slot them in at suitable moments and any lost action

will be replayed afterwards if it is deemed sufficiently gripping.



It’s the only real solution to finding slots for ads in a long,

uninterrupted event, and advertisers can have few quibbles. In fact, as

ITV sources have been cheerfully pointing out in recent weeks, Formula

One is exactly what advertisers have been calling for: live and

exclusive sports coverage with a young, upmarket, affluent, male, light

ITV-viewing audience.



However, some significant questions remain unanswered. As with many TV

sporting coups, it seems we are still left wondering exactly how ‘live

and exclusive’ ITV’s coverage will be.



ITV sources suggest that Eurosport, which has had European satellite

rights to Formula One for several years, will not be given live access

for the 1997 season. Nonsense, counter Eurosport insiders, who say the

contract is still up for grabs and that the channel has built uniquely

close relationships with the sport’s organising bodies and the racing

teams themselves.



The other question is slightly more worrying, at least with regard to

ITV’s ability to develop the sport in the long term - Rupert Murdoch is

waiting in the wings. He has been in talks about acquiring digital pay-

per-view rights in the UK for the 1997 season. DF1, the digital TV joint

venture that Murdoch has formed with the media baron, Leo Kirch, in

Germany, is already committed to offering pay-per-view Grand Prix

coverage this season. If it works, it won’t be long before Murdoch is

doing it in the UK as well.



But ITV is understandably excited about its new property. The network

has promised that its presentation will be vastly better than the BBC’s.

There will be previews, magazine programmes and high-quality analysis,

not just of the race day but the qualifying rounds too. The sales houses

will doubtless be trying to leverage a large premium on the airtime.



‘It promises to deliver a desirable audience, but, in many ways that all

depends on whether the British drivers do well,’ Russell Boyman, the

broadcast director of Mediastar, warns. ‘It was a bit of an anorak sport

before Nigel Mansell came along. ITV also has to tread a fine line

between not devaluing the heritage built up by the BBC and developing a

glossier, slicker approach that might bring a new audience to the

sport.’



Alan James, the broadcast director of the Network, comments: ‘It will be

interesting to see how ITV copes when it does miss an incident - it’s

bound to happen. It is clear, though, that Formula One will deliver a

six million-plus audience that will convert well against ABC1 men. I’m

not sure that it will be a new audience - it will mainly help to replace

the one that the network is losing because it will no longer have the

First Division football.



‘And ITV is also giving itself some scheduling headaches. Some races

from far flung parts of the world won’t start until early evening our

time. Taking the Sunday evening schedules to pieces won’t please

everyone.



‘As for a premium, everything is negotiable, isn’t it? One thing that I

do think is important is that ITV should try to act as one on this. It

would be detrimental to have the sales houses trying to out-manoeuvre

each other. They should encourage clients that support ITV as a whole.’



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