Netflix has always taken a fairly strong stance that live sports streaming doesn’t fit with their business model.
Obviously things change, though, and according to CEO Reed Hastings, Netflix might be more open to joining Amazon in the world of live sports in the near future, at least with one specific sport: Formula 1. Between the wildly successful (and very good) Drive to Survive docuseries and the recent (also very good) Schumacher documentary, F1 has sort of become a niche for Netflix. The success of Drive to Survive specifically, has been cited as a main factor in the massive viewership increase in the United States this season, for example.
So it’s maybe not a surprise that Formula 1 is a possible entry point for Netflix, should they decide to take this step. What would be a surprise: Netflix deciding to take that step in the first place; their stance has never really wavered. Here’s the full quote from Reed Hastings, from German outlet Der Spiegel:
“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.”
Obviously two sentences don’t necessarily reveal a massive corporate strategy overhaul. But there’s also another point from the same interview on why, say, soccer rights aren’t appealing for a company like Netflix:
“We don’t own the Bundesliga, they can make deals with whoever they want. But that kind of control would be a prerequisite for us to be able to offer our customers a safe deal.”
Formula 1 is much more self-contained from a broadcasting standpoint, and along with the earned synergy from Drive to Survive, it’s easy to see why Hastings wouldn’t rule it out. As for the rights themselves, it’s not really obvious whether Hastings means global streaming or on a country-by-country basis. If he just meant in the United States, ESPN has a deal that runs through 2022, and it’s currently very favorable to the network, especially with the strong uptick in viewership. That means American rights could be up for bid again soon.
If Netflix really is interested in jumping in to the American Formula 1 market they helped build, we could find out in the very near future.