Australian Motorsport fans are the victims as a petulant News Limited continues to throw a gigantic temper tantrum over their long held plan to waltz into the Australian free to air television market.
Effective immediately, all further Formula One races will screen exclusively on Murdoch’s monopoly cable TV network Foxtel.
This means that despite being advertised for this Sunday evening, the Malaysian Grand Prix will not be shown on the TEN network’s ONE digital channel.
In a thinly disguised puff piece in Murdoch’s flagship Australian national newspaper “The Australian” Fox Sports CEO Patrick Delany said “Fox Sports will ensure Formula 1 fans in Australia can continue to watch every practice, qualifying and race live,”
“And from next season, we will be able to deliver even better coverage with no ad-breaks during racing for every race on the F1 calendar including the Australian Grand Prix.
“Fox Sports will be the only place to see the Malaysia Grand Prix live.”
The problem at this stage is that the Australian Grand Prix for both cars and bikes is currently on the Governments anti-siphoning list, a move designed to try and ensure sporting events of National significance would continue to be available to all Australian’s.
However recent changes to the Government’s media regulations, pushed through with the support of South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, will see certain unspecified events removed from the list entirely, generally based on whether the event involves an Australian National team or not.
Although Dan Ricciardo currently competes within F1, Foxtel will argue that he represents himself and indeed an Austrian Soft Drink manufacturer and that F1 is an individual sport not one based on competition between nations.
Of more local interest may be the situation regarding Australian Supercar coverage.
Currently only the Bathurst 1000 is on the anti-siphoning list but several major taxpayer funded events are believed to contain clauses insisting that they be shown on free to air television.
These are said to include Adelaide, Townsville, The Gold Coast, Sandown and the new event at Newcastle.
Certainly for Supercars Australia the loss of FTA TV would have a huge effect on their bottom line and would almost certainly cost teams heavily in loss of sponsors and brand exposure.
With the contining rise of internet based content such as Netflix and YouTube, Foxtel is struggling to push it’s national reach over the 30% line. Indeed in the six months to December 2016, Foxtel lost 100,000 subscribers and saw it’s operating profit fall to Nil, (Although how much of that was via various creative accounting plans to avoid paying tax is anybody’s guess)
With a current national reach of just under three million, sponsors will, at the very least have to look at the amount of money they invest in the sport, if not leave it all together.
The loss of free to air TV would have to be a major influence in Nissan’s upcoming decision regarding it’s future in the sport, while manufacturers currently being courted by Supercars Australia may well be less inclined to get involved with such a limited audience.
Despite the positive spin put on them buy Supercars CEO Jame Warburton, viewer numbers for Supercar live events have fallen dramatically since the days of Channel Seven.
The most recent Sandown 500 attracted a peak audience of 172’000 on Foxtel finishing the day second in the ratings to a weekly Golf show.
The ratings on TEN were more substantial with a peak viewing audience of 291,000 making it the most watched sporting telecast of the day.
But even those figures pale into insignificance when compared with the sort of figures seen back in the days of Seven’s much maligned coverage.
Should TEN and Foxtel have a total fallout, the question is who, if anybody would be willing to pay big dollars for TV rights for Supercars and F1?
Foxtel are in a very vulnerable position here. Live sport is the networks principle driver of subscriptions, indeed a look at the rating clearly show that for most days, programs on Fox Sports dominate the top 20 ratings list.
Dedicated AFL and, now NRL channels remain the most popular, and the creation of the NRL channel is almost wholly credited at arresting the plummeting subscriber numbers in the prime Sydney market.
This of course gives sporting rights owners enormous power, Foxtel needs their content to survive, in fact one tactic that could be used to pretty much shut the service down would be for the three FTA networks to get together and launch a joint bid for major sporting rights. Foxtel would have no choice but to try and beat them and having to pay a ridiculous rights fee in the process.
This is similar to the position the the Nine Network finds itself in over Cricket rights, they have paid so much for them that they now lose money every match they screen.
With the huge success of “The Big Bash” T20 competition that situation is not going to change as Foxtel move heaven and earth to win those rights away from current holder TEN.
It is for this reason that a Foxtel buyout of Supercars from Archer Capital makes perfect sense.
Why get into a semi-regular bidding war with other networks when you can buy the entire competition and schedule it totally to suit your needs.
Either way the main losers in all of this is of course, us. The average motorsport fan who now finds themselves forced to pay ridiculously high subscription costs to continue watching the events they love.
Of course there are many Foxtel/Murdoch apologists out there, more than happy to pay the price.
The coverage of both F1 and Supercars are excellent on the Fox Sports coverage, and with bonuses like Moto GP, Local and International Drag Racing, and the WEC and Le Mans, there’s plenty more than willing to sell their soul to Murdoch.
But for those not as financially comfortable, pensioners, average workers who has seen their pay fall in real terms over the past 4 years, perhaps there are better uses for $60 per month.
Our options are limited. Illegal and unreliable Internet streams, or better still transfer our allegiances to those series that have embraced open and free live-streaming, series like Blancpain GT, Creventic, ELMS and IMSA.
The problem there of course is who pays for it? What some people still don’t seem to understand is that commercial television’s principle business is not making television shows, the shows aren’t the product, you, the viewer are the product.
The business of commercial TV is to sell you and your attention and focus to advertisers, and it just so happens that sport is one hell of a way to do it.
But online things are different. The viewership is fragmented and instead of being one channel among a dozen or so you are now one among over 1 million.
The cost of production doesn’t change, just the distribution. Online provides a far more flexible and far reaching program delivery system and it would appear as if major sports like F1 and Supercars will soon more fully embrace it.
But when it comes it will come at a price, and if you can’t or won’t pay that price, perhaps it may be time to look at some alternatives to a Sunday afternoon spent in front of the telly watching motorsport.
I’m told gardening is quite a lot of fun, might try it myself one day.