Is Formula One still popular?

As viewing figures fall, are fans turning their back on the sport?

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Is Formula One still popular?

By Jim Scott

The current season of Formula One is almost coming to an end. With only a handful of races left for the 2018 season, it's been another year of crashes, arguments and distinct winners.

On Sunday, October 7th Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix where he had previously won a number of times previous, giving him his fifth win at the Suzuka race track. But as Hamilton has been racing Formula One for just over a decade and as sport bosses announce it will host a race in Vietnam as part of its 2020 line-up. Is the sport still popular with fans?

Formula One began sixty-eight years ago in 1950 and since then it has gone through many controversies and changes. Strict driving and vehicle rules has meant the sport has become increasingly limited over the years, but this has not spoiled the fun, according to Motorsports which says the Grand Prix still has charm.

Yet questions have been asked over Formula One's long term future. Television coverage of it in the UK has significantly changed over the years. It was on free-to-air channel's BBC and ITV for an extraordinary long time before its rights were sold to subscription-based Sky Sports on its F1 channel. It then made a return to free-to-air TV, in part on Channel 4 simultaneous with Sky.

But viewing figures across the globe were reportedly down this year, despite three different drivers winning the first-four races, making things additionally interesting. It was reported that the rise in subscription-based TV contracts struck with the likes of Sky in other countries, contributed to the drop of 41.3 percent over the past decade, said the Independent.

Formula One is valued to be worth around £5.7 billion, some of which has been raised in premiums paid by broadcaster's in efforts to guarantee customers. Channel 4 was tipped to have pay around £25 million per year in rights whilst its not known how much Sky paid for the rights originally.

But have sport bosses tried to reverse potential alienation of those who do not want to pay for subscription-based channels? Updates from bosses suggest an attempt to do so. In September it was announced the UK’s free-to-air, Channel 4, would continue to show highlights for the 2019 season whilst it would show one live race. For many British Formula One fans this left them "angry" and many of them were ‘considering’ to quit the sport altogether, as the Express reports.

Sport analyst's played down any suggestion that fans were abandoning the sport and confirmed Formula One coverage on Channel 4 drew in double the viewing figures than its Sky Sports counterpart.

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Channel 4 to show F1 in 2019 after partnering with Sky

Another content partnership in the UK will allow commercial broadcaster Channel 4 to show live coverage of the Formula One British Grand Prix in 2019, along with highlights from all races that season.

Pay-television broadcaster Sky and Channel 4 currently both show Formula One, with Channel 4 broadcasting half of the races every year and Sky broadcasting all races: non-exclusive rights to the same races as Channel 4, and exclusive rights to the remaining races.

However from 2019, Sky will become the exclusive rights-holder of Formula One in the UK and Ireland after signing a six-year deal until 2024.

This isn’t the first partnership Sky has signed and is unlikely to be the last, with chief executive officer of Sky UK & ROI Stephen van Rooyen stating: “Today’s partnership is the start of a new era of collaboration between Sky, Channel 4 and, we hope, other British broadcasters.”

In December last year, Sky and rival pay-television broadcaster BT Sport agreed a multi-year deal that made channels available on each other’s platforms. Earlier this year, BT agreed a carriage partnership with Amazon.

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