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