Ten’s decision to cut F1 is shocking yet unsurprising

Bayden Westerweller Roar Guru

By , Bayden Westerweller is a Roar Guru

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    News that Network Ten has terminated live Formula One coverage of all but the Australian Grand Prix blindsided many, yet the outcome had been coming for some time.

    Most unsettling was the action’s immediacy, with last weekend’s scheduled Malaysia Grand Prix screening cancelled just two days ahead of the event.

    The pre-existing contract – set to run through 2019 – didn’t even conclude the middle season of its intended duration.

    The embattled station was acquired by American giant CBS last month, concluding years of uncertainty regarding its future, leading many to deduce that high-commodity items such as F1 were secure.

    Alas, the scythe was drawn on coverage, which has featured on Ten rising 15 years, and free-to-air since 1985, with the Nine Network possessing the rights until the former inherited them in 2003.

    Ten CEO Paul Anderson assured viewers, “the Australian Grand Prix is an iconic sporting event and we are delighted it will remain on Ten.” The patronising sentiment, with the ‘consolation’ of Monday evening highlights on secondary station One for all remaining events, further isolates a market which has diminished since its FTA presence was reduced in 2015.

    On that occasion, it was revealed weeks prior to the curtain raiser that Ten – with a season remaining on the agreement in place at that time – had adopted the United Kingdom’s polarising ‘split’ model, which took effect in 2012.

    Half of the calendar was to be screened live on Ten and the balance presented in highlight capacity, while Foxtel would assume exclusive rights to the latter, a direct reflection of British terrestrial broadcasters BBC, and currently, Channel 4, alongside Sky’s satellite coverage.

    Sky’s bombshell in April 2016 that it had acquired exclusive broadcasting rights to the sport from 2019 has left many UK fans to endure an elongated conclusion to their viewership. As we’ve learnt, this is a courtesy which hasn’t been extended to Australians.

    Having beaten the UK to the punch, with the added ignominy of having the tap switched off in the midst of the sport’s most compelling season in some time, readily sourcing legal viewing – $39 monthly at minimum via Foxtel’s streaming service, Now – for remaining events isn’t a viable option for most.

    Notwithstanding its costs, Foxtel can’t be blamed for the result, having provided unprecedented coverage since its arrival onto the scene. The same juncture would have been reached in all likelihood by 2019, concurrent with the UK’s trajectory, had Ten chosen not to act immediately.

    It won’t take long for the effects of the deal to be realised. Trading off a solitary event in the Australian GP – which has doubled as a cross-promotional tool in recent years – as a platform for a season of late Monday nights upon which viewers will be greeted by watered-down coverage won’t wash, and that’s for those who remain beyond this season.

    The only caveat is that Formula One’s new owners, Liberty Media, appears to know what they’re doing, and will possess the good sense to see there is a market out there and negotiate accordingly.

    Until then, in excess of 30 years of viewing for the majority has reached an abrupt yet inevitable conclusion.