Sports and the future of (free to air) television

Channel 10 announced yesterday that their HD channel would be a 24 hour sports channel, to be named ONE. Report in The Australian HERE.

It will feature “less advertising” than TEN.

TEN Head of Sport David White said “Live and exclusive will be a hallmark of the channel”.

Sports on the anti-siphoning list can only be shown on ONE AFTER or SIMULTANEOUSLY with broadcast on TEN

Ten owns rights to swimming, netball, Indian Premier League (20/20) cricket, and jointly owns AFL and Commonwealth Games. ABC reports TEN also owns rights to US NBA basketball and major league baseball matches, the US Open golf and tennis championships, the US Masters golf, and Formula One and Nascar motor racing.

Rivals are keen to say they are not concerned. John Porter (Austar) told analysts and journalists yesterday (reported in The West Australian HERE):

“I don’t consider the Ten sports initiative to have any impact on our commercial business, nor on our core business,” Mr Porter said during a telephone briefing with analysts and journalists.

“It in no way approximates the sports offering that Fox Sports delivers and ESPN, Setanta Sports and Fox Sports News – the six or seven sports channels that we offer.”

Little bit of a worry that he doesn’t know exactly how many sports channels Austar offers…

Fox Sports chief operating officer Jon Marquand was dismissive, quoted in Australian article as saying “I don’t think there’s much new there if you look at the content”. This is slightly disingenuous, given that a large proportion of the ONE content will be live or recorded live (and therefore ‘new’ in the sense of not having happened yet and never seen before).

We can expect to see a lot (more) sport on television as HD comes in.

There are currently 11 sports channels available on subscription television (Fox Sports 1,2,3 and Fox Sports News, ESPN, TVN, Sky Racing, FUEL TV, Setanta, Eurosports, National Geographic Adventure). ABC2 has started broadcasting WNBL matches live on Friday nights. ABC1 screens bowls, the WNBL and the W-League (Women’s football). On Sunday last, various kinds of motor sport were on channels 7, 10 and SBS simultaneously. Sunday afternoons on SBS is motor sport and football (the round ball game).

Given the popularity of their paralympics coverage, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the ABC cover sports like wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball.

Sports are critical programming for the commercial free to air television broadcasters, one of the few guaranteed ‘audience massers’. And if stats from the AFC are anything to go by, this importance has only increased in the last five years:

(All references to FTA)

  • In 2007, the top 6 programs for the year were all sports, 13 of the top 20, and 8 of the 11 drawing over 2 million viewers
  • In 2006, 4 of the top 5 (including no.1), 7 of the top 10, 13 of the top 20
  • In 2005, the top 9 programs for the year were all sports, 11 of the top 20
  • In 2004, highest rating sports program was no.3 for the year, 3 of top 10, 4 of top 20
  • In 2003, 5 of the top 10 (including no.1), 5 of the top 10, 5 of the top 20
  • In 2002, highest rating sports program was no.2, 4 of top 10, 6 of top 20
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