SMOTHERED in the announcement of a new five-year extension of the deal to show the Australian Grand Prix live on the Ten Network is the brutal truth that F1 coverage on free-to-air TV here will be immediately limited to only 10 world championship races this year.
While a “partnership” with Fox Sports boasts of “more Formula 1 coverage than ever before on Australian TV”, the bad news is that fans will be forced to pay for this privilege.
Channel Ten will show only half of the 20 grands prix on the 2015 calendar, those 10 races simulcast with Fox.
Stand by for a huge blow-up by local F1 enthusiasts accustomed to watching qualifying and races live on a free-to-air channel.
Minimum cost to get access to Foxtel’s coverage of the races missing from free-to-air broadcasts is $750 for customers new to the pay TV service. There are many fans in Australia who can’t afford pay TV, or who don’t want pay TV, or don’t have access to pay TV.
They won’t give a stuff that for the first time Australian viewers can watch all F1 practice sessions as well as qualifying and races (provided they have a Foxtel sports package).
Network Ten today announced it had extended its long-term partnership of more than a decade with Formula One Management to broadcast the FIA F1 World Championship until the end of the 2019 season.
The devil is in the detail.
Clearly the junior (and fiscally inferior) partner in the relationship with Fox Sports, Ten has sub-licensed its pay TV buddy the rights to show all F1 practice, qualifying and races live across the duration of the deal.
Weighting the F1 coverage heavily in favour of pay TV mirrors the deal V8 Supercars has entered this year, swapping eyeballs (on free-to-air) for dollars (thanks to Fox).
The heavy pay TV component of the coverage of F1 in Australia is a savage blow to passionate F1 followers, but not such a surprise as it follows recent trends in other countries, Britain for example.
In that market only a select number of GPs are now shown free-to-air on the BBC, with only pay-channel Sky having the exclusive live rights.
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s vow of years ago that grand prix racing would always be shown live and free on television now seems very empty.
The TV landscape has changed rapidly, though, along with Bernie’s mind.
Shedding 25 million viewers last year hasn’t shaken Ecclestone’s push to pay TV.
The magnetic appeal of pay TV to Ecclestone is its preparedness to stump up way more money than free-to-air organisations such as Ten and the BBC because big and popular sports events like F1 drive subscriber numbers.
Network Ten proudly boasts that it will show the Australian round of the FIA Formula One World Championship for the next five years, covering practice sessions, qualifying and the race, at Melbourne’s Albert Park, with Mark Webber commentating at the AGP in 2015 and 2016.