Sky to launch German F1 channel as exclusive deal brings end to RTL coverage
By Simon Ward
Sky Deutschland, the German pay-television operator, is stepping up its coverage of Formula 1 from 2021 having agreed a “long-term” deal to become the exclusive home of the sport in the country.
Today’s announcement was expected after RTL, the free-to-air commercial broadcaster, announced it was ending its long-running involvement at the end of the 2020 season.
Sky will offer full live high-definition coverage of all races (as now commercial-free) and qualifying and practice sessions, facilitated by the launch of a dedicated 24/7 Formula 1 channel, a first for the German market (there is already a Sky Sports F1 channel in the UK).
In all, there will be 30 hours of action on each grand prix weekend and 800 hours of programming across the year, with F1 TV Pro, the sport’s premium OTT service, being offered to Sky subscribers as part of the offering.
In addition, Sky will show four races per season for free in Germany, plus a 30-minute highlights programme after each race on free-to-air channel Sky Sports News HD, which will also offer a variety of other Formula 1 content, and there will be an increase in digital and social media content across the broadcaster’s platforms.
These moves will help to appease fans disappointed at the loss of live racing on RTL, with Germany presently one of the few remaining major markets where pay-TV is not the norm.
Sky ended its coverage of Formula 1 in Germany, after an unbroken 22 years, ahead of the 2018 campaign, leaving the sport to RTL after the commercial broadcaster extended its deal by three years to the end of 2020.
However, Sky returned with an agreement for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, with rights in Germany and Austria and German-language rights in Switzerland, saying at the time it was responding to the demands of subscribers “who missed our way of broadcasting Formula 1.”
The value of the new deal, which comes on the same day that Sky won the main packages of Bundesliga soccer rights for four years from 2021-22 onwards, has not been disclosed but follows Manfred Loppe, RTL’s head of sport, admitting his network was not able to compete financially for Formula 1 going forward.
It also shows there is still significant interest in the sport in Germany despite the delayed start to the 2020 season, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the forthcoming departure of home driver and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel from Ferrari.
Devesh Raj, the chief executive of Sky Deutschland, said on Monday: “This will be the best motorsports experience ever. We know motorsports fans love the way we produce F1 and our commentators have fans all of their own, but now the first channel dedicated to F1 content on Germany TV ever, we’ll give fans more F1 content than has ever been seen on German TV before.”
Ian Holmes, director of media rights at Formula 1, added: “Formula 1 and Sky have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, working well together to enhance the broadcast offering by providing comprehensive coverage of the sport for our passionate fan base. I am delighted that our work together will continue to build and strengthen the impressive quality of Sky’s programming, as well as their digital reach.”
RTL has shown Formula 1 since 1991 but claims to have been priced out on this occasion.
In February, the broadcaster said it was “in talks” around renewing its deal but the situation has changed since, in part because of the pandemic, with Loppe saying yesterday: “When you have competitors in the game who are prepared to offer double as much as you can then you are forced into a position of having to withdraw.”
He added that RTL “still obviously wants to try in the future to present attractive sporting events to our viewers. But it is clear that economic limits will play a role, as well as the changing competitive environment. We have broadcast Formula 1 for over three decades with great love and passion, as well as with a plucky readiness for innovation and investment.”
RTL averaged just over 4 million viewers for Formula 1 in 2019, with a high of 5.26 million, a 32.3 per cent audience share, for the Italian Grand Prix (a further 450,000, a 2.8 per cent share, watched on Sky).
The established German Grand Prix was initially left off this year’s schedule but there have been reports Hockenheim could host up to two rounds as the sport looks to fill the gap left by races cancelled due to Covid-19. The season finally gets under way, albeit behind closed doors, with the first of two grands prix in Austria on 5 July.
RTL now intends to focus on soccer, having acquired exclusive rights to the Uefa Europa League and new Europa Conference League for three years starting in 2021-22.
These will complement its live coverage of German national team qualifying and friendly matches in a deal that runs to the end of the 2021-22 season.
Jörg Graf, the managing director of RTL, said of the split with Formula 1: “Competition for TV rights has changed and the market has in part overheated. As such it has extended beyond our ambitious, but at the same time economically justifiable, limits.
“We will now with our power, passion and joy concentrate on football as our number one sport.”