Channel 4 has become the new home of free-to-air Formula 1, as the BBC continues to plug a hole in its finances caused by the so-called iPlayer loophole.
With legislation designed to stop people freeloading iPlayer content without a licence fee not due until later in 2016, the BBC has to plug a £150million shortfall in income. £35million of the shortfall is coming out of the BBC's sports rights budget.
As part of the savings drive, Channel 4 will now take over free-to-air coverage of Formula 1, and will show a selection of live races during 2016, 2017 and 2018 without ad breaks. Sky Sports F1 will continue to show the complete set of races each season. The BBC will retain the radio rights for Formula 1 in an extension of previous rights until 2021.
The decision has prompted a furious reaction from viewers, despite all free-to-air F1 fans via Freeview, Freeview HD, YouView, Freesat and Freesat HD still being able to watch ad-free coverage on their usual TV platform. Sky Sports F1 will continue to bring full coverage of the sport when it returns on-air in early 2016.
The BBC has already announced that it will be sharing Six Nations Rugby coverage and will only show extended highlights of the The Open Golf from 2016, as part of its costs savings drive. Major events such as Wimbledon and the Olympics are safe for a few more years, although Discovery has bought the Europe-wide rights for summer and winter Olympics, meaning the BBC isn't guaranteed to show them from the 2022 Winter Olympics onward - Discovery is discussing sub-licencing Olympics rights to free-to-air broadcasters for 2022 and 2024. In the entertainment genre, the BBC is giving up The Voice to ITV from 2017.
But the BBC has already warned these £150million savings are just the beginning: next spring it is due to announce how it will cut another £550million from its budget by 2021, caused by the additional financial cost of paying for TV licences for the over 75s. The combined £700million is the equivalant of the 2014-15 content budget for BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC Alba, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News Channel, BBC Parliament, BBC 1Xtra and BBC 6 Music combined. BBC Three is already being removed from linear TV, with the BBC Director General reportedly threatening to merge BBC Two and Four together. The BBC News Channel, saved from the current round of cuts, may have to be merged with BBC World News in future cuts.