The day which many knew inevitable has arrived, with Formula One joining the Australian pay-television family. It’s just that nobody anticipated it as soon as this season.
Until recently, the understanding had been that race coverage of each event would continue on free-to-air, with the perks of high definition coverage, advertisement free, practice & qualifying coverage on the table for those willing to cross the divide, as it were.
Thus it was a curveball when news broke earlier this week that incumbent broadcasters, Network Ten, will be screening just half the events live, with the remainder presented as a highlights package, a la the United Kingdom’s BBC.
An even bigger surprise was delivered on Friday, with Ten abandoning the final year of their current contract, precipitating an immediate shift to Foxtel by sub-licensing the rights.
Those believing they had twelve months to budget for a Foxtel package – $50 monthly or $60 for the modern necessity that is high definition, have been caught on the hop, with the first event exclusive to the provider in six weeks’ time.
Others who had consoled themselves with a final season containing the full complement of coverage, are now coming to terms with the reality these days are numbered.
An hour-long highlights package on Monday nights at every other event – lest in HD on Ten’s secondary station – One, represents the new routine.
The carrot of the new arrangement is confirmation that Fox will simulcast UK broadcaster Sky Sports’ unprecedented coverage. To the fanatics, it is this component which could ultimately justify the investment.
Analysing Ten’s diminished offerings – Britain & Italy are conspicuous by their absence, with viewers instead treated to the Russian GP, whilst the German GP, wherever that might take place this season – might not take place this season, potentially reducing to nine the number of live events.
An argument could be made that their Monaco coverage is expendable owing to the procession this event has represented in recent years.
With the latest addition to their portfolio, the Foxtel sports’ monopoly is just about complete. AFL, NRL, MotoGP, V8 Supercars and now arguably the jewel in the crown – Formula One, are now at its’ disposal.
A staple of the Australian summer since effectively the beginning of time – cricket looms as the final piece of the jigsaw. As unfathomable a thought Test cricket disappearing from our screens represents, almost nothing can be discounted from reaching the pay TV domain.
The final consideration is Ten’s simultaneous announcement that Mark Webber will commentate the Australian Grand Prix, rather than taking Sky Sports’ Croft-Brundle feed. It will be intriguing to see what insight can be gleaned from a recently retired driver.
Back to the news of the day, and the entrance of a mourning phase or frenzied tapping at the calculator to establish whether making the jump is feasible.
It has come at a cost which for many is too great to bear, and much sooner than anybody could have imagined, but to those who have been longing for wall to wall coverage of a Grand Prix weekend, it is now a reality.