I first had a vague suspicion that somthing was afoot in last Friday's Australian:
Ten has only retained the rights to the Australian Grand Prix, which will be simulcast by Foxtel as an ad-free broadcast. Iconic races on the F1 calendar — including the Monaco Grand Prix and British Grand Prix at Silverstone — will only be available to watch on Foxtel. A new deal will take effect this weekend with the Malaysian Grand Prix immediately switching to the pay-TV platform. Industry sources said an announcement will be made tonight.
- The Australian, 29th Sep 2017
This is a News Corp newspaper basically laying down the line to Channel 10, who at this stage were still optimistic.
Only this week a News Corp article tipped TEN’s motorsport agreements for Formula One and V8 Supercars as not being renewed. TEN described that as “just plain wrong.”
- TV Tonight, 30th Sep 2017
"Just plain wrong", eh? The proof that The Australian were just plain right, came on that Sunday night. Futhermore, Foxtel was crowing over the dead corpse of Australian free to air motorsport fans as though they were thoughroughly righteous and justified in their actions:
From next season, Foxtel will be the only place to watch every Formula 1™ race LIVE or streamed on Foxtel Now. Viewers wanting to watch this week's Japanese Grand Prix can access it immediately on Foxtel Now with a two-week free trial for new subscribers.
- Foxtel, 3rd Oct 2017
This is of course perfectly in keeping with News Corp's usual modus operandii, having destroyed free to air coverage in the United Kingdom as well:
Live free-to-air coverage of Formula One in the UK will almost completely end in 2019 as Sky has announced a new deal to broadcast the sport exclusively.
The British Grand Prix will continue to be shown live on a free-to-air channel, a Sky spokesperson told F1 Fanatic, along with highlights of the races and qualifying sessions from the other rounds.
- F1 Fanatic, 23rd Mar 2016
On Channel 10's website, that change that they have already lost Formula One Coverage has already been made on their website.
Given that they previously described the suggestion that the motorsport agreements for Formula One and Supercars as not being renewed as being “just plain wrong” is now completely untrustworthy, what does this say for the rest of the schedule?
I have sent emails to both Network Ten and Supercars management but neither of them have replied. It is now the 5th of October and so I am only left to draw my own conclusions.
Supercars management have refused to confirm my suspicions, most probably because their customer service is in the toilet and because their customers are Foxtel management and Pay TV subscribers, so the only logical conclusion that I can draw is that the 2018 Supercars season will have only the Bathurst 1000 shown live on free to air television and nothing else.
The reason for my suspicion is the announcement that only the Australian Formula One Grand Prix will be shown live on free to air television and all other Formula One races will be exclusively on Foxtel. For its part, Foxtel is acting like a pigeon who has just won a game of chess by crapping all over the board and knocking over all the pieces. Lots of factors have come together for this general state of affairs and all of them have worked in concert to play in an awful symphony of the damned for free to air television.
Channel 10 became a pawn in the game of Lachlan Murdoch to buy a free to air television licence in Australia. Having purchased 17.88% of Network Ten Holdings Ltd in 2010 in a co-ownership arrangement with James Packer, Lachlan Murdoch effectively bought himself a seat on the board and helped to gradually drive the company into the ground. I can only assume that the plan was to create a Network Ten so degraded that the Federal Government would simply be forced to change the media ownership rules to ensure the viability of the company.
Say what you like but it has to be about the biggest coincidence in the history of Australian television that after Lachlan Murdoch acquired a seat on the board of Network Ten Holdings Ltd, that mysteriously the rights to both Formula One and Supercars went to Foxtel. It is also a massive coincidence that as the share price of Network Ten Holdings Ltd fell, that Network Ten lost the rights to show all of the races for both Formula One and Supercars, live. It is also a mysterious coincidence that Network Ten Holdings Ltd also bought back MasterChef from Foxtel at roughly three times the price that they had sold it to them in the first place, in an act that must've absolutely pained the management at Foxtel.
In any other context, this would probably be seen as insider trading with various rights assets like Formula One and the Supercars being transferred from Network Ten Holdings Ltd, not to Foxtel but to Fox Sports which is a direct subsidiary of News Corp. Having done so, Lachlan Murdoch retired as a Director of Network Ten Holdings Ltd to join News Corp and 21st Century Fox as Non-Executive Co-Chairman; wherein he tried to buy a 15% share in the company and tried to get his friends in parliament to repeal the cross media ownership rules.
The malaise doesn't end there with just Network Ten though. Oh this story is far more complex than that. For you see, the curious thing about going motor racing is that you need cars to go motor racing in. Let's not forget the part that the Federal Government played. On the 13th of December 2013, the then Treasurer Joe Hockey thundered from the floor of the parliament that if the motor manufacturers didn't like the idea that there would be a reduction in the amount of subsidy payments made to them (which by that stage hadn't been announced as government policy) then they should leave. By Friday the 20th, all three of the motor manufacturers announced that they were going to end building cars in Australia. As of today, both Ford and Toyota have already ceased building cars here and the last Holden to leave the factory will do so on a fortnight tomorrow.
Quite apart from the end of thousands of jobs in Australia, the viability of the city of Elizabeth which might look as much of derelict ghost as Detroit does in a few years time, the ramifications for motor racing are obvious. You can not go motor racing in a car that does not exist.
A few years ago there were five brands of car represented in a Supercars grid. Holden, Ford, Nissan, Volvo, an Mercedes-Benz. Erebus Motorsport never really got any support from Mercedes at all and they ended their program in favour of reverting to running Holden Commodores. Garry Rogers Motorsport had a very public dust up with Volvo of Sweden and in an act of what looks like prudence on the part of Volvo, they took back the chassis and Garry Rogers Motorsport now runs Holden Commodores. Ford withdrew their official support in 2015, stopped producing the Falcon in 2016 and have made no announcement that there will be a replacement in Supercars for the teams currently running Falcons as legacy pieces. Nissan haven't publicly commited to their continued participation in the sport, have already withdrawn the Altima from sale in Australia, so I wouldn't be surprised if they just let the clock run out on their contract and simply not bother in future. That only leaves Holden who abandoned their own Holden Racing Team, are leaving the engineering of the turbocharged 3.6L V6 to Triple Eight Engineering and have no contingency plan for teams converting existing chassis from VF to ZB models; and are expecting the teams themselves to wear the costs of doing so at about $40,000 per car.
If I was in the marketing department for a very large firm, I would seriously question what the actual value is putting advertising on the side of cars that fewer people in 2018 will see than would have seen them in 2013. If I was a member of the general public who wasn't a hard core motorsport fan, then my consciousness about Supercars is going to be practically non existent unless I am already a Foxtel subscriber who also has paid for the additional sports channels. Without the sport being shown live on free to air television, it may as well be on the dark side of the moon.
If I was head of the marketing department of Nissan or Ford, I would scarcely see the point in providing motor cars to go racing with, for precisely the same reason as above. The old adage of "race on Sunday; sell on Monday" only works if anyone actually knows about it. Ford's current investment in the sport is nil, and Nissan are probably already internally peeved at the fact that they are prevented from advertising their own products on their own platformssuch as Nismo TV. I wouldn't be surprised if at the end of 2018 with falling crowds, Holden are left all alone in a category that no other manufacturers care about any more.
Supercars haven't confirmed it but it's kind of obvious that their customers are no longer the public who watched motorsport in Australia for the best part of fifty and a bit years but the subscribers and management of Foxtel. Almost certainly the management of Supercars will have run the numbers to see what the damage of destroying the free to air television audience is and Foxtel is a willing and able partner in that; so I suspect that they're fine with it. There is however a series of tombstones to Australian sport which might prove instructive: Channel 7 and the Super Tourers at Bathurst, Foxtel's own failed Super League project, and the Rugby Championship experiment, all show that if you treat the viewing public with sufficient contempt, they will respect that in kind by abandoning your product.
If there simply isn't the customer base on Foxtel, then the whole viability of Supercars as a thing might not last beyond the end of 2019. At that point, Nissan might have already gone and not replaced the Altima, Ford already haven't showed any inkling about replacing the Falcon, and with the ZB Commodores being the only cars produced in the past three years by that point, I don't even see what if any cars are even viable in 2020. The 2020 Supercars Championship looks like it will be 26 Commodores running around, at this point in time. Are the public going to want to pay for that?
Free to air fans of motorsport in Australia? Channel 10 can do nothing any more; Foxtel hates you. Please go away.