The solid ratings yesterday on Ten’s sports channel One for the Formula One race from South Korea expose the nonsense at the heart of James Packer’s arguments that One should be closed and something cheaper broadcast.

One got a ratings share of 3.4%, second to Nine’s Go!, which won with 4.6% in prime time last night among the free-to-air channels. With pay TV included, One had a share of 2.8% (Go! 3.8%), far more than any channel on pay TV last night (Foxtel is 25% owned by Packer), including Fox Sports one, two and three, 50% owned by Packer.

About 326,000 people watched the delayed race on One from about 5pm until after 7pm. That’s more people than were watching SBS’ main channel at the time and ABC 1 up until the 7pm news. Now is Packer (and his mouthpieces) actually arguing that Ten should abandon the more-than 300,000, and the ad revenues that accompany them on F1 races and put something less attractive and less remunerative on?

The broadcast is low-tech and hosted by a Sydney studio hosting that takes a live feed and commentary from the BBC. How cheap is that?

The F1 rights are part of a package Ten has with the group organising the series for the Australian GP. If Packer has his way, would that mean that Ten would show the F1 races on Ten alone, and upset viewers who don’t like it? That’s what happened in the past before One appeared. And, perhaps Fox Sports could pop up with an offer to show them live if Ten couldn’t show them and improve its audience?

This silly idea should certainly be looked at by the ACCC in its review and Packer forced  to either rule it in or out, instead of seeding the audience through “informed sources” whose briefings can be denied if the argument goes against him.

This is the first real example of where a comparison can be made between what are claimed to be Packer’s ideas for Ten (or objections) and reality. Packer seems, on the basis of One’s performance last night, not to be well anchored in reality.

That he is suggesting this happen when the free-to-air networks will get more freedom to show sport on their digital channels, should make you suspect his motives. A relaxed anti-siphoning list and rules is good news for Ten and One (and for Seven and 7Mate and Nine and Gem). It will increase flexibility and ad revenues if programmed well. That Packer and his camp should suggest it now can only add to suggestions that he is trying to restrict Ten and One in sport to the advantage of Fox Sports and Foxtel.

It came after a weekend of more speculation about his interest in Ten that left us none the wiser.

Some of those commenting ought to know better, such as media buyer, Harold Mitchell, who on the ABC’s Offsiders yesterday was a one-man PR machine for Packer. But when challenged by Gideon Haigh, an Offsiders panellist, to name one innovation James Packer had brought to TV, Mitchell fell back on the father.

Here’s part of the exchange:

GIDEON HAIGH: But Harold, on what basis are investors backing Packer’s nous? What television innovation or concept or program has he been responsible for? Is this simply a bet on heredity? Does he plan to put the Simpsons on MasterChef or something like that?

HAROLD MITCHELL: Well, that’s a good idea. Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that.

HAIGH: You heard it here first.

MITCHELL: Yeah, that would be something, Gideon. What television’s about, it’s like the media generally: it’s about the ordinary person. Now the ordinary person is a wonderful person out there, probably eight out of 10 might be described as that, and Kerry was amazing in that he knew the ordinary person, what they wanted. I don’t think he actually knew one of them. Well James is the same, you know, it’s very down to Earth in what it is. And so, you don’t have to get too far ahead of the game here. Sometimes people do; they make it too complicated …

James Packer would never have started 60 Minutes, Today (to take on the more established Good Morning Australia on Ten, which is now gone), or World Series Cricket because he doesn’t understand TV, or sport or why people watch, and couldn’t stand the costs and chance of failure.

That’s why some of Ten’s ideas for new TV programs will horrify him because they involve unquantifiable risk, the probability of failure, and success in roughly equal parts, and backing your judgement.

Peter Fray

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