December 02, 2015

Horse 2032 - Channel Ten Confirms Nothing

On Sunday night/Monday morning Sydney time, the last round of this year's Formula One season and was held in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi (the world's favourite destination for mailing kittens to).
It was also the last time that a Formula One race will be shown on the BBC for the conceivable future. The BBC has no immediate plans to broadcast the 2016 season and unless ITV pick it up, the amount of Grands Prix that will be shown on free-to-air TV in the UK next year, will be zero.

It doesn't get much better in Australia either. This year, only half of the Grands Prix were shown on Channel 10 or One live and given that Ten Network Holdings which is 15% owned by Foxtel Management Pty Limited and had as its one time CEO, Lachlan Murdoch, I fully expect that Network Ten will dump free-to-air broadcasts of Formula One and consequently the viewership like a plate of cold sick.
Foxtel Management Pty Limited is mostly a puppet of the Rupert Murdoch who controls Sky in the UK and his modus operandii is identical. If Rupert had his way, Aunty Beeb would be murdered, as would our own Aunty ABC and those prime television jewels, would be tucked behind paywalls where only those who have the means and are prepared to pay handsomely to see them, will do so.

Ten Network Holdings which has shown as much spine as a jellyfish, has been a willing partner and I bet that most of the meetings between CEO David Gordon and the "establishment of strategic arrangements" with Foxtel have basically amounted to Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein, shouting "Shut up. You're not important." to Mr Gordon, before stripping Ten Network Holdings of all of their television jewels.
As yet, Ten Network Holdings has not announced that there will even be live Formula One races (or V8Supercar races, for that matter) on free-to-air television in 2016. Apart from the Australian Grand Prix and the Bathurst 1000 which are currently protected by anti-siphoning legislation, there is no legislative protection for a free-to-air audience at all.

Formula One isn't necessarily a unique thing in the world of sport. I suspect that the only reason that sport even became as big a business as it is, is because it got an audience on free-to-air television.

In Australia, there isn't even a single example where Pay TV has grown the size of the pie. Australian Rules football became as big as it is purely because of HSV-7 in Melbourne and Rugby League did likewise because of TCN-9 in Sydney.
In the case of Rugby League,  Pay TV actively damaged the game in the publicly acrimonious Super League war and in the case of Australian Rules football, although Fox Footy is the most watched Pay-TV network in Australia, Fox has actively added nothing at all to the AFL.
The thing we know as V8Supercars only exists because of the efforts of firstly the ABC and then Channel 7 to bring motor racing into peoples homes. Few remember this but it was the ABC who first broadcast the Australian Touring Car Championship and it was Channel 7 who brought innovation to motor racing broadcasts with things like Racecam and use of the helicopter. So far, Fox has actively added nothing at all to V8Supercars.
It was Kerry Packer who single handedly brought about a cricket revolution because he could show cricket on the Nine Network. The first supertests and then the widespread broadcast of One Day Internationals with World Series Cricket were all things thought up by Nine. Mind you, the ABC had already brought us summer after summer of cricket on the radio and has been doing so for 83 years. Even the Big Bash which is on Channel 10, has achieved a modicum of success.
As for football, SBS has been covering it since its inception and arguably it is the single greatest supporter of football in this country. Fox Sports might like to boast that they helped bring about the A-League but really it was Fox Sports belligerence and fighting through the courts which killed off rival Pay-TV network C7 Sport and with it the old National Soccer League.
The ABC, Seven, Nine and Ten - are all free-to-air television stations.

Football in the UK although was always massive, was built by the BBC and that story with state TV broadcasters bringing football into people's homes is repeated across Europe.
Baseball became "America's Game" purely because it was first broadcast on NBC Radio and then NBC Radio, with games being picked up for television. The NFL which was practically made for television is kind of as a result of a war between CBS, NBC and ABC.
Again, all are free-to-air television stations.

I honestly can not think of even a single example where Pay-TV has made sport better. Some might argue that the English Premier League benefited from Pay-TV but it was free-to-air ITV company London Weekend Television who brokered the deal with the "big five" clubs in England for national broadcasting rights. If anything, BSkyB stole football off free-to-air television and with it has priced out fans whose family would have been going to matches for more than a hundred years.

Now of course I know I'm having a whinge but this all says that the market has decreed that televised sport is increasingly something which is for those who have the ability to pay. Formula One might very well learn the lesson that without free-to-air television, sponsors are going to find it harder to justify spending their money. Already there are clouds hanging over the Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Marussia, Lotus and Sauber teams. Perhaps whoever is in charge of V8Supercars might like to ponder that when they wonder why in 2017, sponsors will not commit to spending as much money because thanks to Pay-TV, the whole series will be behind a paywall and therefore seen by fewer eyeballs.

One of the reasons why televised sport became so lucrative in the first place was because of a mass audience. Already it's obvious that hiding it away where fewer people can see it, is kind of like asking a snake to eat its own tale. The most visible demonstration of that is the Twenty20 cricket competition in India. In theory, televised cricket in India should be worth billions but because the Indian Premier League cricket competition has been safely hidden away by Pay-TV, I don't think that it's much of a leap to suggest that that's the prime reason why 3 out of the 11 teams founded have gone defunct. The A-League soccer completion in Australia has arguably come along in leaps and bounds since SBS started showing one match per week. Prior to 2012, the A-League could only be seen by a pathetic 7% of households in Australia.

If you want proof that free-to-air television works, look not further than Formula One itself. It was state broadcasters who turned it into worldwide phenomenon; with none other than the BBC at the centre of English language broadcasts.
The British Touring Car Championship has learnt this lesson as well and this year's season was an absolute cracker, with Gordon Shedden only winning the 2015 Championship in the very last race of the season. The BTCC realises that it needs eyeballs and so quite sensibly, the chairman of the British Motor Sports Association, Alan Gow, has kept the BTCC on the free-to-air network ITV (on ITV4).
V8Supercars on the other hand has effectively been white anted and has taken the management decision to kick its free-to-air audience in the guts; by taking the bigger pot of money on offer from Foxtel.
We could see 16 of 16 Formula One Races and 7 of 7 ATCC rounds and 5 of 5 rounds of the Australian Endurance Championship (12 of 12) live on free-to-air television in 1984 but in 2015, we got royally shafted by Channel 10 who only gave us every other race of both live. That might be worth remembering as V8Supercars slowly fades from the public gaze and drives off into the sunset; whilst leaving their free-to-air television viewers in the dust.

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