It’s safe to say that Formula 1 has never been more popular – and Netflix reportedly wants in on the action.
Having boosted the overseas prestige of the sport with its mega-successful Drive to Survive series, the streaming service has (according to Business Insider (opens in new tab)) joined a bidding war with rival broadcasters NBCUniversal and ESPN for the rights to stream F1 races from 2023.
Disney-owned network ESPN has held the license to broadcast F1 coverage in the US since 2017, while Comcast-owned NBCUniversal did so for five years prior. The latter’s UK arm, Sky, currently holds the rights to broadcast F1 in the UK and Ireland until 2024.
ESPN’s US-only deal expires at the end of 2022, and Business Insider reports that Formula 1 bosses are seeking to strike a new agreement worth in the region of $100 million. The former has supposedly submitted an opening bid of $70 million, while neither Netflix nor NBCUniversal has publicly disclosed the extent of their involvement in the negotiations.
In a statement provided to Business Insider, ESPN executive John Suchenski said: “We are aggressively pursuing a renewal – we feel that we have a distribution package and event presentation that can’t be matched in the industry … It has been a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“Understandably,” he added, “[Formula 1 is] looking at other options.”
Stream if you want to go faster
According to Business Insider sources, Netflix is one of those options. The streaming giant has reportedly been engaged in conversations with Formula 1 bosses for months, and Netflix big-wigs haven’t been shy about their interest in securing exclusive rights to the sport.
In a 2021 interview with Der Spiegel (opens in new tab), company co-CEO Ted Sarandos said: “A few years ago, the rights to Formula 1 were sold. At that time, we were not among the bidders. Today, we would think about it.”
Sarandos did admit, during Netflix’s Q1 2022 earnings call, that he and other executives would “have to see a path to growing a big revenue stream and a big profit stream” from sports coverage, though the company’s recent admission that it’s “exploring” live streaming content suggests a genuine willingness to embrace such a business model shake-up.
Keeping up with the pack
In any case, Netflix’s biggest rivals are already involved in sports broadcasting. Apple, for instance, recently penned a deal to stream Major League Baseball on Apple TV Plus and remains interested in securing the rights to certain NFL shows.
Amazon’s Prime Video service currently streams NFL’s Thursday Night Football series as well as a range of global tennis and Premier League soccer coverage, while Disney maintains a foothold in sports through ESPN and Hulu.
Even NBCUniversal’s Peacock service, which launched as recently as 2020, has the rights to broadcast a handful of MLB games throughout the season.
The point being, sports broadcasting could be an effective (if admittedly dramatic) way for Netflix to plug its subscriber leak.
In the new era of abundant choice and tightening budgets, customers are choosing their subscription packages based on value for money, and the ability to offer F1 coverage – whether in the US exclusively or in every region – would indisputably improve Netflix’s temperamental stock.