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Ten’s hairy-chested bid for sport a losing game

Ten’s new idea to get into a bidding war for sports rights will increase the Murdoch family’s control of the network but won’t help it in important demographics.

So Hamish McLennan’s first attempt to revitalise the struggling Ten Network is to get into a bidding war for sports rights such as cricket and tennis and pay wads of money to both sports for entertainment that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and deliver little in the way of prime-time ratings growth? Nine holds some of the cricket rights, while Fox Sports/Foxtel has others (one-day, four-day and Twenty20 competitions). Seven has the main rights for the tennis, and Fox Sports/Foxtel have subsidiary rights.

The only way McLennan and chairman Lachlan Murdoch can win a major TV sports rights contract is with the financial assistance of News Ltd/News Corp via Foxtel and Fox Sports. Ten is already an affiliate of News, and Murdoch is chairman of the board and owns 9% of the company, supported by three other shareholders with more than 30% between them. More importantly, News Corp controls the most important parts of Ten’s prime-time schedule through programs made by Shine and Fox. Getting into a joint bid for sport like cricket or tennis with News/Foxtel/Fox Sports will mean even more of Ten’s programming is being paid for or produced, one way or another, by the Murdoch empire, at least in part.

McLennan’s first thought bubble about sport is a tired, blokey formula that has failed Ten already. How does McLennan think Ten can make money out of tennis and the cricket in summer and deliver prime-time ratings growth? Seven makes money because the tennis occupies two weeks in January. But the network has invested considerable amounts of money in the promotion, production and sports rights. Nine’s cricket does OK, but the big pay-off is the Ashes Tests every four years or so (this summer in Australia).

But Ten isn’t making money and won’t until it can get its prime-time schedule in order and start delivering decent, watchable programming for viewers, especially the target demographics of 16 to 39 and 18 to 49.That’s where McLennan should be looking to invest after his strategic plan, rather than a hairy-chested bid for sports rights (which will deliver mostly male and older viewers, though the tennis does have quite attractive female viewing levels).

And there is another consideration. Talk around TV land is that News Ltd chief executive (and former Foxtel CEO) Kim Williams and Lachlan Murdoch had a major falling out over the NRL TV rights in 2012. Murdoch and Ten made a big play, but the NRL rights remain with Nine, with Foxtel/Fox Sports having the pay TV rights. Murdoch wanted to get into bed with Foxtel/Fox Sports, but the pay TV business has enjoyed a good relationship with Nine in the NRL and the Olympics (though both lost heavily on that adventure), and they share the cricket coverage.

Why would Williams want to antagonise Nine and David Gyngell and abandon them for Ten? That would cruel relations around pay TV’s most important sports rights deal, the NRL. Foxtel/Fox Sports do better out of the NRL than the AFL because rugby league has more followers on pay TV and bigger markets in NSW and Queensland regional and metropolitan. AFL has more states covered, but Foxtel and Fox Sports have failed to boost subscribers with the Fox Footy channel and joint live-to-air rights they won with Seven in the current deal.

What McLennan is really telling us that he wants to use News Ltd’s resources (via Foxtel and Fox Sports), to rebuild Ten’s fortunes by going after older viewers, with an emphasis on males. That’s exactly the formula that Ten has adopted with its strategy for its ONE digital channel, which could easily be converted into a sports channel. That was Lachlan Murdoch’s idea.

Seven won’t let the tennis go cheaply, nor will Nine let the cricket slip from its fingers (it has first and last rights in the cricket, Seven doesn’t have that for the tennis). More thought bubbles from the incoming CEO is not a good look. Ten will need every dollar of cash flow this year merely to keep its hand in the TV game. It is shaping up as a tough year for the country’s third commercial network.

6
  • 1
    drmick
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Old white male stuff again. Everything, and I mean everything the old white man that runs that organisation touches is spoiled, permanently and irreparably tainted or destroyed. He already destroyed rugby league as a game and looks to wreck cricket and any other old white mens sport he can buy.
    The rugby league he created, with its fixed games, crooked referees & players, over-paid simpletons who get into trouble within camera shot of his photographers & newspapers are typical; even the top award in the game regularly goes to wife beaters who he then has to exclude from the following years advertisements.
    Cant wait to see pictures in the limited newspapers of Lawn Bowlers found urinating against Clubhouse walls, visiting known knock shops near retirement villages and photos of players in compromising positions dumping used incontinence equipment; not to mention the drug use.
    The new pay TV, where they will have to pay us to watch it.

  • 2
    Scott
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Good thing about live sport is that it can’t be downloaded earlier from the internet (unlike other tv shows) So you are less likely to get seepage of your viewers
    But sport is only one tent pole of a successful network. Why no Australian network is fast tracking hot US shows like “Girls” and “Game of Thrones” is beyond my understanding. You can’t just rely on endless repeats of “Modern Family” and “The Simpsons”. We have seen them already.

  • 3
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh god, WHY? Why do these execs think that the old white guy demographic is valuable or desirable? Its no wonder that the rest of the population is driven to illegal downloads when there is nothing but wall to wall sport on all the channels.

    On the upside, I got to watch all of the currently screening series of Downton Abbey during the Tennis because Channel 7 is too slow to show it in Australia, cricket is dull and 10 had reruns.

    There are plenty of good TV shows out there that could be accessed by Channel 10, if they just changed their mindset. For goodness sake, for the past 2 years I have paid for the itunes subscription to Game of Thrones, and will do so again this year because no-one is showing it.

  • 4
    archibald
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Good piece Glenn.
    My Uncle’s expression “The fat lamb is closest to the ute” seems appropriate.

  • 5
    Christian Kent
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Glenn, Ten is not an affiliate of News Corp, and it wasn’t Lachlan’s idea to make ONE into a sports channel. It was his idea to turn it FROM a sports channel back into a normal one. So, the opposite of what you said.

  • 6
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    So the circus part of the Panem Et Circeses mob control methods brought over from that other “evil” empire is losing it’s affect. (from the Satires of Juvenal, is this a banned book?)
    Dangerous!
    Take away food security, it is already precarious, given all the financial insecurity and we are ripe for mass insurrection as the “scales fall from the eyes” of the mob.
    Mudorch the inadvertant “Revolutionary”?
    So it is not all bad then?
    Sic semper Tyrannis: Thus always with tyrants?
    They carry within them the fatal flaw leading to their own destruction?
    As happened when Howard gained control of the Senate?
    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Might be why voters won’t give absolute, waLl to wall power to the coalition( and Mudorch) come September.
    A gambling nation knows how to balance the odds even under
    all the chaos of collapsing national “idols” such as sport.
    “Always look on the bright side of Life” Ta dah.

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