Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Double-Secret Probation Cable Sports Network


Blast from the past: This story was originally posted last fall when the first rumblings of big movement within FOX were underway. Today, FOXSports1 is being formally announced at the FOX "upfront" sales meeting out West. Twitter users can stay updated on this big topic by following TheDalyPlanet account. It should be interesting to see what is being added and what motorsports series and shows are going away.

When an athlete does something wrong, they get put on probation. When this action is to be shielded from the media, the term is secret probation. But the top of the heap is when someone does something that is so outrageous it deserves a special penalty. Then, it's double-secret probation time.

The logo above is from the FOX Sports 1 network in Australia. As you may remember, FOX executives Rupert Murdoch and David Hill both came from down under with a long history in sports TV. FOX operates multiple sports channels in that nation. Now, one may be making the trek to the US.

The American version of FOX Sports 1 is the double-secret probation cable TV network. This topic is already causing a big mess and the FOX Sports gang is trying very hard to keep it out of the media at all costs. In this day and age, that is next to impossible.

The hot rumor that has been simmering for months is that FOX Sports is set to end the floundering SPEED channel and rebrand that network into the US version of FOX Sports 1. SPEED has never flourished under the network's various management teams and continues trying to be a racing network on the weekends and a lifestyle/reality network on the weekdays.

The big problem for FOX is that ABC, NBC and CBS all have national cable sports networks up and running right now. FOX is far behind on the new sports TV business model and is playing catch-up. In typical FOX style, throwing money at the issue seems to be the order of the day.

Here is an excerpt from a Thursday Broadcasting & Cable story by John Lafayette on what FOX and parent company News Corp are about to pay to buy high-profile programming for the new network:

News Corp. is stepping up to the plate to take a swing at building a national sports cable network that can take on leader ESPN, sliding past Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

NBCU has already rebranded its Versus network as the NBC Sports Channel and has been hoping to get a boost from a new Major League Baseball deal. But according to published reports, Comcast got left in the on-deck circle because it wasn’t willing to pay as much as News Corp., which will be putting a bigger package of games on both its Fox Network and its Speed auto-racing channel, which will be rebranded as Fox Sports One.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the COO of News Corp was taking questions Thursday from the media after a communications conference in New York City. Sports was very much on the mind of the reporters. Here is Lafayette's round-up on that topic:

News Corp. COO Chase Carey said reports that the company would convert its Speed channel to a national sports network that would compete with ESPN were "rumors and speculation" at this point.

The latest round of stories about a new national network came amid word that News Corp.'s Fox was near a new deal with Major League Baseball that would give it rights to televise more games than its current deal does.

"We obviously haven't announced anything," said Carey, speaking at the Goldman Sachs 21st Annual Communacopia Conference in New York Thursday.

Carey did say, "We do like the sports business," adding that the company's underdeveloped networks like Speed and Fuel "do give us a real opportunity to do some really exciting things."

SPEED is currently on the air riding out existing contracts, including NASCAR. The sanctioning body's deal with the network is up in 2014 and nothing has been said about the continuation of any NASCAR programming on the new network. That is just not a good sign.

The bottom line is that other sports events being acquired for FOX Sports 1 conflict with the large blocks of Friday through Sunday time SPEED now devotes to NASCAR. While FOX does have other cable network outlets like FX and FUEL potentially available for NASCAR shows, it would seem doubtful that the kind of February to November NASCAR programming now carried by SPEED will return.

It will also be very interesting to see if NASCAR returns to the FOX Broadcast Network for Sprint Cup Series races in the new TV contract without the associated programming on a support network like SPEED. Normally, part of the leverage to carry that type of "shoulder" content comes from awarding the same network or media company the big prize of live races.

It was reported this week that on September 14 FOX Sports filed for a trademark on "FOX Sports 1" with the US Patent & Trademark Office. If the lack of original programming on SPEED and the billions about to be spent on Major League Baseball by FOX did not convince you that change was coming, perhaps trademarking the new network nationally will do it.

Working hard to live up to its double-secret probation status, FOX and News Corp have steadfastly denied any change is taking place. No one in the rank-and-file at SPEED has been told anything. If NASCAR has made any determination of future plans with FOX, the sanctioning body is not saying a word.

Change eventually comes to all media properties and in the digital age of new technology this is really no surprise. It's just a shame that NASCAR was never allowed to be the centerpiece of SPEED over the last decade.  It just makes one wonder why these two companies were never able to use that kind of cooperation to grow their own internal brands.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.

34 comments:

Bruce Simmons said...

John, you've been hinting at big changes at or for SPEED for sometime now from some of your insightful observations over the last several weeks.

This, comes as no shock to anyone who follows your info!

Dannyboy said...

The saga of SPEEDVISION since FOX turned it into SPEED has been half brilliance and half "As The Stomach Turns" (apologies to Carol Burnett). And I'm being generous. Having a very close friend work for Liberty Media in Hollywood in the late 90s early 2000s, I was given an insight into how TV works: in short, it's ALL about eyeballs on sets. They absolutely don't give a rat's behind about anything else. This explains a whole lot if you ingrain that into your database.

Things change, and so it goes. We have many, many great memories. Thank you, SPEEDVISION, and SPEED production personnel.

Todd Crane said...

JR, if NA$CAR had a better product to offer, would this even be a subject to talk about?

Anonymous said...

The best thing that could happen is for NASCAR to abolish any relationship with the goobers at Fox. Bart Simpson does racing. Fox RUINED NASCAR. Period.

Colorado said...

Where in the Hell is Brian France in all of this? His product is in danger of becoming the 5th most watched sport behind soccer and poker...

MRM4 said...

What will be interesting when (not if) this all comes to pass is what will happen to the additional NASCAR programming such as qualifying and practice sessions and the other racing events they do show on the weekends such as the World of Outlaws, Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, motorcycle, and off-road racing. Most of those, in effect, buy their time on SPEED. I probably watch more of those than I do NASCAR qualifying and practice.

Anonymous said...

Hours & hours of rich people's car auctions!!! That's premium programming SPEED!! NOT!! I'll be happier than heck to see an end to THAT. And if NASCAR decides to dump FOX altogether, I won't be upset about that either.

Jeff said...

I would be sad to see SPEED go, and not just because of the additional NASCAR programming (most of which would likely find another home in the event that SPEED did go under; hell, some of it might survive the re-branding). But where would fans be able to see F1 races, Roles Series races, Lucas Oil dirt races, and all those other events that are only shown on SPEED? I agree the network has made a lot of...questionable decisions in terms of content lately (seriously, I don't need all these reality shows), but I worry about all the non-NASCAR racing programming.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is the impetus for NASCAR to finally create its own dedicated network, and not worry about what FOX or ESPN do about practice and qualifying. They have good start with 9 months of live programming to fill the time slots, and an entire library of 50 years of races to plug in during the off season.

Just sell the races themselves to national TV.

Joj said...

John, getting old is tough - when I first glanced through the article I read the mans name as Chase Chevy.

NASCAR has done themselves no service in the current TV mess. Lousy COT, Iroc "racing" just hasn't caught on, oldies like myself are rapidly losing interest & voting with our feet & $$$.

I can see it going back to just seeing the races on TV & not anything else. Maybe online will give some of us an option, yet thats not available to all.

I guess the goose ( that gave golden eggs) is gone. Like many fans.

Jojaye

E-Ticket said...

I wonder where the Velocity Channel fits into this. That would make a soft landing place for many of the races and shows. They have plenty of time and a great audience, then again is NASCAR going to go all Online now that they bought the online rights back? JD told us this was coming for years and they did nothing to disprove him, just tried to say pay no attention to the bloggers. JD knows his stuff folks and this proves it once again..

Colorado said...

The one thing I like about the car auctions, is that I get to learn about the history of a particular automobile, etc. Sure it's rich people buying other rich people's cars, but it is at the least, cars on Speed Channel. If I had a choice between poker or cars, I choose cars. The problem I see with this programming change, is like other posters have said: What happens to all of the support series, or the qualifying, Happy Hour,Race Day information? NASCAR has set the precedent for behind the scenes information, all access with drivers, etc. What other sport can you watch where you feel like you know the drivers families? Hell, we all watched the Dillon boys grow up WITH us, watched Chase Elliot grow up, or the fact that we know the wives' names? This is the family aspect that I fear is going to go away. It will be just the race, and even that might be either online, or PPV. As I type that, the thought came to me that we will probably lose the Invocation and Anthem as well...

Anonymous said...

ANyone watch Velocity Network?

Obvious home for all non NASCAR stuff
Its a great channel

KoHoSo said...

I just wonder...would this still be happening no matter what because baseball and such will always bring in more revenue to a television entity than NASCAR or if things might be different had Brian "Flounder" France not thrown away all of the momentum his father and grandfather built when the sport peaked 10 or so years ago.

Dennis said...

Pretty much all my racing is seen on SPEED and TSN. SPEED's demise would end most non-NASCAR race telecasts. Scary to contemplate.

Ir42nate2bhere said...

I still do not see a huge drop off on NASCAR coverage with a changeover to FoxSports 1. As NBCSN is learning, nothing beats live programming, and the NASCAR schedule still offers a lot during the hours where little else happens live. And Fox is heavily invested in F1 around the world, so I still believe nothing will change on coverage there. Now for other forms of racing......

This does make me wonder about the NASCAR TV deal.When ESPN and TNT won their deals, I assume they won all rights for race weekend coverage, so does Speed pay those two to cover the non race stuff,does ESPN and TNT pay Speed to honor agreements in their NASCAR contracts to cover their practices, or is it somewhere in the middle?

Anonymous said...

I don't watch NASCAR programming on Speed, nor any of the reality shows. I'll be disappointed to see their extensive LeMans coverage go away, but there's still LeMans Radio.

I would miss F1 as well, but there's no way that Fox Sports will let that one go. Those viewers have the right demographic and income and they like the current broadcast team. With two US F1 races coming up, Bernie Ecclestone would assassinate anyone who took F1 off US screens.

IMO, Speed hasn't been good since it was Speedvision. Or was that Speed Channel? Whichever one had fewer plane and powerboat races.

Anonymous said...

How can you say SPEED is 'riding out existing contracts'? I'd like to know your source on that.

Also, find it interesting that you say SPEED never made NASCAR it's centerpiece when it seems that is the one racing series that gets the most amount of coverage in any given week and usually bumps all other programs.

Buschseries61 said...

This will be a big hit for motorsports. When USAR lost Hooters and SPEED channel coverage, car counts collapsed from 30 cars to barely 12. What TV network wants ARCA? NBC Sports Net I guess could grab the Trucks. But it would be a shame to lose the amazing work of NASCAR on SPEED.
So much mismanagement by so many.

Brian France needs to step it up or get out of the way before this all crumbles apart. Chase ratings tanked after Richmond yet again this season (And there looks to be no schedule changes for 2013). We had 13 park in the last Nationwide race in Chicago. The Trucks seem to lose 1 competitive truck a week lately. The modifieds didn't even run the traditional qualifying race at Riverhead because only 23 showed up for a 28 car field. Is anyone home in Daytona Beach? There is clearly an industry-wide problem. That requires LEADERS to put their problem solving caps on before motorsports is as popular as professional badminton.

Anonymous said...

I see a lot of FOX bashing from the comments here so I'll just add something from the other point of view. It IS all about viewership. Sure, everyone here (myself included) adored the old Speedvision channel for their diverse motorsports programming. But let's be honest, most people do not want to watch those forms of racing that we enjoy(ed). And that means that Speedvision was not luring the megabuck advertisers that Fox Sports and the other network sports channels enjoy.

What many people don't realize is that it is very expensive to cover many different motorsports series and place them on a network. And that doesn't even include the costs of running said network. You can't honestly expect any network to run a TV series (or in this case cover racing series "X" or "Y") out of the goodness of their hearts. They must, I repeat, MUST make money on every thing that is broadcast. If you ran your household spending more money every month than you take in, you'd be bankrupt.

Why do you think your favorite new TV show gets cancelled? It is because they don't have enough bodies watching the shows to lure advertisers.

I would love to see another network like Speedvision someday, somewhere. But I am not holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

Let me add to my last post about SPEED possibly going away: What we have is baseball has a steady viewership, where NASCAR has lost viewers the last few years.

I think JD stated in the past that NASCAR may start their own network. I think for them this may be the best move. If you look at the Nielsen ratings, NASCAR just doesn't have enough viewers to keep a network like Speed in the $$. Whereas if NASCAR had their own network, they would have complete control of content and have 'skin in the game', and also have the power to 'package' advertising content.

Ken said...

While I understand everyone's concerns, this doesn't mean that Fox Sports 1 will eliminate everything it has on Speed. Given the amount of professional sports out there, and the total number of networks fighting over the sports, keeping much of the programming from Speed might make sense. It could also be a future home to races other than the Daytona 500 for instance. MLB takes a lot of time given the amount of games, but I don't think Fox wants a specialized network just for MLB. This could also be in line with what NASCAR is looking for in the future, with Fox ensuring it's properties last. I wouldn't be surprised if NASCAR has seen the success of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and the NFL network and thought...hmm, what if we launched a NASCAR network?

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to pay for a NASCAR Channel.

Nor, will I up the tier for Fuel and/or Velocity.

Auto racing can live without me watching and I can live without auto racing if I have to.

Frankly NASCAR has treated me with disdain since the COT.

To the comment Fox ruined NASCAR.

No NASCAR ruined NASCAR.

The management and drivers hold the fans in contempt.


Anonymous said...

Oh yes,a NASCAR channel! What will fill up the remaining 22 hours?
The same thing that fills up FOOD,
DISC.,HISTORY, TLC, BRAVO channels.
Scripted content.

Dave Hogg said...

News International - the parent company of FOX - has huge investments worldwide in F1. If anything, I would expect Fox Sports One to have more F1 programming than Speed does now - most of it directly fed from the Sky Sports F1 channel in England.

I also seriously doubt they would dump all NASCAR stuff - they still need programming. I do expect that every other form of motorsport will end up on Fuel or Velocity.

Bobby said...

The other potential is Fox Soccer Plus, because it had carried games from the BBVA League, Serie A, and other major soccer leagues other than the Barclays also. However, Al-Jazeera beat Fox for the rights to those leagues this season, and even World Cup qualifying games including the USA-Jamaica game in Jamaica on its BeIn Sport channel.

With Al-Jazeera now a major player in the global sport broadcast game, Fox will have a hard time determining if Speed or Fox Soccer Plus will be replaced by Fox Sports One. Bernie Ecclestone does not want to be relegated to BeIn.

James said...

For me, looking back ABC introduced me to NASCAR, with CE and KS, then ESPN when it first started aired sprint car racing, they even had a summer series at IRP called Thursday Night Thunder, which was the best produced racing on TV. Then some fool brought in FOX, and the "SHOW" changed, the focus was not on the racing, but the "BOOTH", and the script was followed instead of looking out the window. Then the use of cams became the new way to show the show. All the while, NASCAR cashed the checks, never too concerned about the content. For an organization so obsessed with control I have always wondered why the product took a second tier to the broadcast. The product is so controlled the manufactures demanded they get back to basics and sell cars, like the ones on the track. The broadcast has completely gone as far from the product as one could ever imagine. Brians vision is so far from his fathers I can not find a simple answer to this simple question. How do you take a sport known for its loyalty of its fan base and change its entire focus from racing, at all levels, short tracks at home to the super speedways of today, to the absolute disfunctional disaster that is todays NASCAR? When will the notion that the fan is more interested in the finish and the stories that were to many to develop during the broadcast, be addressed at the conclusion of the race and the importantance of the "in the moment" actions of the featured teams instead of having the "race to the airport" being the most anticipated event of the weekend. They should have a dedicated "show" about leaving the track, for that event seems to have taken the place of the post race activities. The drivers are no longer spending hours signing autographs for the fans and intermingling with supporters of their sport, they are more concerned with the coperate sponsors and the dollars needed to compete. The focus is not on the racing, and the simple truth is, that trend is about to come full circle. When you make a statement that you do not have to refund ticket dollars because you don't want to, don't be shocked when the fans do not buy your tickets.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Hey folks:

Let me respond to a couple of comments. First, to SPEED just riding out the existing contracts.

The sports TV world is very small. SPEED has stopped buying programming, not only from NASCAR but from the other motorsports and "lifestyle" programming producers.

The decline of the NASCAR Media Group is directly tied to SPEED ending the motorsports agenda and letting one specific VP take control of weekday primetime.

In addition, there was never an attempt to develop a morning show block and no cooperation between Sirius, MRN, NASCAR and SPEED on these issues.

Secondly, to the issue of the programming content for a NASCAR Network.

There have been several complete templates developed for the 24 hour cycle of a network launched under the NASCAR banner and focused on motorsports.

Just as MTV launched with music videos and grew into a huge multi-channel distribution company, the entire idea of starting with the NASCAR brand and then expanding out made lots of sense a decade ago.

Now, the weakened NASCAR brand does not stand a chance to spearhead a fulltime network and that is a shame.

Please keep in mind that the ENTIRE reason SPEED was moved from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC was for FOX and NASCAR to jointly launch a fulltime NASCAR cable TV network.

The inability of the two sides to come together and make it work speaks volumes to me about the subsequent mess that both SPEED and NASCAR Productions now find themselves in today.

The bottom line is that you either jump in the deep end of the pool and try to swim or walk away.

Trying to be a racing network on Friday through Sunday and then hawking scripted reality content Monday through Thursday caused the failure of the business and will subsequently affect the lives of many.

I appreciate your comments and questions. We will be continuing this discussion as things develop on this topic.

JD

Anonymous said...

I think they'll shoot themselves in the foot.

It's opinion and rhetoric on my part - but haven't we already hit a ludicrous point of saturation insofar as sports networks?

Think I have what roughly amounts to the "extra" tier. Probably a solid 10 different networks covering sports alone, not including OTA programming.

So - rather than reinvest and revitalize Speed back into something that covers motorsports across the board...let's cover stuff that's being covered by a station covering the station that...

Ended up watching short track racing on Fox Sports, of all places, because Speed opted to cover decidedly non-blue collar, relatively pointless auctioning of cars most people can't afford.

Anyway, to digress from ranting - these networks already spend 3/4 of their time spinning their wheels and talking incessantly until one mega-buck event rolls around.

So - they make the switch; what value will the consumer see? Curling championships? Middle School Baseball from Fox? Waifs with hoops and sticks?

I see a trend towards trying to squeeze even more revenue out of fans; either by shoving coverage on to an even higher cable tier, or by doing something akin to Nascar's current pay-offerings online.

I also see a trend, which apparently flew over their heads, where a lot of people shrug and take up yard work instead of getting bled dry.

GinaV24 said...

I seldom tune into the Speed any more. I record Racehub, but even practice and qualifying is so poorly covered IMO that it simply isn't worth watching. ESPN doesn't have "time" for NASCAR and it shows in their coverage. Fox would rather BE the show than cover the actual racing and that has turned me away from the TV and back to radio coverage and my computer.

IMO unless NASCAR makes a real effort to improve the racing and the coverage, they can't compete against the NFL and other major sports. A choice was made by management, both NASCAR and the networks, on what they wanted to show the fans. Unfortunately, they guessed wrong.

glenc1 said...

actually, I'd have to disagree with Gina, I think for the most part, they do a good job w/ qualifying & practice as long as they stay away from being silly (I would say it is too much at times...). The teams were spread thin today, and I was surprised that Kenny Wallace ended up on Happy hour coverage. It wasn't the same guy from Sunday morning; it was the guy who knows a lot about racing. He actually had some valuable things to say. It was a bit of a shock, I'll admit. But it does make you wonder what the directors are telling them. Anyways, that is what I am most concerned about losing. I watch that & Racehub & the sports car series, truck races and the occasional Wind Tunnel. Oh, and some F1 but I agree with others that they will find a way to show that. As for no new programming...I liked 101 Cars You Must Drive, but when they brought back a 4 year old show, it was clear something was up. If quals moved to Velocity or NBC, I might try upping my tiers (not only because of those channels though.) But to some extent, I agree with anon 3:59...if enough people were watching, it wouldn't be going away.

Anonymous said...

That's a strong statement to imply that SPEED singlehandedly killed NASCAR Media Group. It's like you have it out for them. Did they fire you, or not hire you at some point in your career?

NASCAR's contracts haven't done them any favors. In the past, buying licensed footage for TV spots, even at 'preferred rates' for official sponsors, is outrageous. Even after paying that fee, a separate deal was then required with Turner to use the same licensed footage online.

JD, do you ever think that SPEED stopped renewing contracts on some programming because they underperformed compared to the rights fees that were being asked for? Glad to see some posts above realize that they are running a business and you can't keep doing bad deals to appeal to a select few. Sorry, but there just aren't the 70-90 million fans out there that some of their studies suggest.

NASCAR wouldn't be able to sustain their own channel during the week. Right now RaceHub and NASCAR Now are the only two NASCAR related shows on Monday through Thursday. There is a reason there isn't more on during the week...they simply don't have the viewership to get the return needed after production costs and rights fees.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 10:31PM,

I have never worked for the NASCAR Media Group. Your suggestion of a personal agenda cheapens your remarks. Let me help you with some history.

SPEED departed Stamford, CT and moved to Charlotte, NC for the single purpose of becoming the NASCAR TV network.

When the parties agreed not to make the deal, SPEED became the de facto outlet for NMG programming.

ESPN, FOX and TNT had no NMG shows of any kind. Only SPEED had a combination of coverage from the tracks and the weeknight post-produced shows.

When SPEED's agenda changed and the split of the network into the racing and "I hate racing" groups happened, the results were immediate.

All NMG post-produced programming, which was a major chunk of the production budget for that company, was cancelled.

The only remaining NMG item on SPEED was the support programming from the tracks.

No other networks wanted NASCAR content without getting some of the races and that was not possible until 2015 under the current contract.

NMG could not produce and distribute any online content as NASCAR had given total control of digital content to Turner.

It was a disaster.

Anon, if you could point to a current weeknight show on SPEED that is working, I would appreciate it.

The network departed the motorsports franchise and has slowly killed itself with the kind of scripted reality programming also being offered on at least ten other cable networks.

The end of SPEED is coming with a whimper and whether FOX Sports 1continues with NASCAR programming after 2014 is yet to be seen.

One thing we know for sure is that almost everything the network tried outside of the motorsport programming category over the last decade eventually sunk like a stone.

PS - NASCAR directly controls the rights fees on it's product for SPEED. I have always said, including in earlier comments on this post, that NASCAR itself is a major part of this problem.

JD

Anonymous said...

The prospect of Speed converting to Fox Sports 1 I think is pretty high .

However I believe Fox will keep NASCAR after 2014 including Cup races on Speed or whatever it becomes.

I do think a better job could have been done of developing a true motorsports channel and generally agree that it will be very much a Baseball and me too sports network other than NASCAR . i would look for them to keep just the NASCAR and Barrett Jackson and not be developing anything much beyond that .