Live sports could be coming to Netflix as streaming giant battles for F1 rights

Monaco F1 GP Auto Racing
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico, left, celebrates with his teammate third placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen on the podium as Team chief Christian Horner of Red Bull Racing sprays champagne on his head after winning the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

Netflix could finally be getting into the live sports game as reports surfaced this week that the subscription streaming service has entered the bidding for live streaming rights for F1 races. 

The connection between F1 and Netflix has grown over the years thanks to the docuseries “F1: Drive to Survive.” The show, which takes viewers behind the scenes into the season-long battle for the Formula One championship, has been a massive hit for the streaming service since debuting in 2019. 

Netflix could now be the home to live F1 races
(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, file)

Earlier this year, Formula One saw its highest U.S. audience ever during the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, which received 2.6 million viewers on ABC. The sport will be adding a third U.S. race in 2023 with Las Vegas joining the circuit, so the time seems right to continue a big push into the larger U.S. market. 

As a result, Liberty Media, which owns Formula One, is reportedly looking for $100 million for the live streaming rights. ESPN/Disney, which currently airs the live practices, qualifying, and races pays just $20 million for those rights for the 2022 season. 

ESPN/Disney reportedly bid $70 million earlier in the year for the ability to continue showing the live races, so there is some ground to make up if they want to retain the rights. 

The massive increase in price has called into question just which network – or service – will air the races next season, with NBCUniversal and Amazon Studios also reportedly in the mix with Netflix and ESPN/Disney. 

At a time when the popularity of F1 is growing in the U.S., a drastic change to the live streaming of the races could have a colossal impact on the sport. 

ESPN has taken some criticism for its lack of marketing when it comes to Formula One, but would a move to Netflix be better? ESPN has the history and pedigree of covering live sports, so one would have to wonder how coverage of the sport might change if it was on another network.

Would Netflix use their live coverage as a link to their current hit show? Could that change the types of camera access available in the sport? It’s a possibility with intriguing potential but also troubling uncertainty. 

While the company has avoided streaming live sports in years past, their recent loss of subscribers could see the company shifting gears

As the subscription service has gone global, there has been a noticeable shift in content strategy, opting to push out bigger budget content with more mass appeal, as opposed to some of the darker or more niche shows that have done so well for them in the past. In fact, many of Netflix’s biggest shows (Stranger Things, Ozark, Peaky Blinders, etc.) are longer-running shows that debuted prior to the shift in content strategy.

With so much competition in the streaming market now, many users are canceling Netflix subscriptions mid-year, likely after watching whatever show they’ve specifically paid to watch. It’s a problem known to many other streaming services, but one that the streaming giants has not had to face before. 

We’ve already seen Netflix make some big changes in response to this poor Q1, announcing that they would be cracking down on password sharing. In an effort to bring back customers and perhaps secure newer ones, Netflix could now turn to live sports in the same way AppleTV has with baseball and Peacock has with baseball, soccer, and football. 

However, even if Netflix does win the rights, many questions will still remain. How will users be able to enjoy live sports on the streaming platform? Will it require an additional premium fee? 

With a move this big, the future of the streaming service, and also Formula One, could be drastically impacted by the answers to those questions.

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Red Bull racing at F1 in Monaco
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico leads Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz of Spain, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix, at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)