Speed TV to disappear?

The curveball in a new FOX deal is the impact the network's change of SPEED into Fox Sports One, a new all sports channel that will carry Major League Baseball, college football and basketball and other sports in addition to NASCAR programming. Hoping to keep up with the likes of the ABC/ESPN, NBC/NBC Sports Network as well as CBS/CBS Sports Network pairings, FOX plans to flip the current motorsports and automotive channel into its own general sports cable network.

As of now ancillary NASCAR programming such as practice, qualifying and support events like the Camping World Truck Series would be mixed into the revamped channel's content line-up. There is word FOX will also stream NASCAR programming beginning next season, ala the "Watch ESPN" initiative that will allow mobile device access for thousands of viewers. Assuming FOX comes to terms, the remainder of the new NASCAR television package is a bit fuzzier.

While it appears ABC/ESPN and TNT will return to the negotiating table, the NBC's interest is a wild card. Desperate for content to help build its fledging sports net, the Peacock folks are eyeballing a return to the business of stock car racing. The Nationwide Series, currently an ABC/ESPN property, could be in play for NBC as well as the Truck Series should FOX decide to back off the amount of NASCAR programming for its cable sports network or the "World Wide Leader" scale back its stock car investment. CBS or perhaps niche outlets like "The History Channel" might also dip their toes into the negotiations. CBS Sports

10/03/12 The word is on the street that FOX Sports is back in the driver's seat with NASCAR. The Sports Business Journal suggests that FOX is about to announce a new TV contract with the sanctioning body. The current agreement expires at the end of 2014.

It's pretty easy to understand why FOX wants to get this deal done. The company is about to kill the cable network we now know as SPEED. FOX uses words like "rebranding" to explain this change, but the bottom line is that the only TV network originally dedicated to motorsports has failed.

Once NASCAR allows FOX to sign on the dotted line for Sprint Cup Series races, SPEED will become the FOX Sports 1 cable network and carry sports of all types. The implied promise by FOX to NASCAR is that there will still be NASCAR programming on the new network. Unfortunately, history tells a different tale.

The very reason SPEED moved from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC years ago was to become the official NASCAR cable TV network. Prior to that transition, SpeedVision carried a variety of programming related to cars, boats, planes and motorcycles. The new company buying the network made no bones about the fact their agenda was NASCAR. That company was FOX.

FOX was so committed to NASCAR that it became a partner in the official TV production arm of the sport, then called NASCAR Images. It was all going to be so perfect. FOX would continue to carry live Sprint Cup Series races, be a partner with NASCAR in TV production and open a 24 hour cable TV network to show those programs.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to NASCAR nirvana. Things quickly fell apart. FOX and NASCAR quietly parted company in the ownership of NASCAR Images. SPEED's management parade then saw an eroding of the commitment to motorsports and the rise of reality/lifestyle programming.

Ultimately, SPEED became a two-headed monster that made no sense. Motorsports on Friday through Sunday and some of the worst reality and lifestyle programming ever produced for American television on Monday through Thursday. All the while, the SPEED management never saw the big picture.

Now, it's NASCAR's turn to either remember the past or get burned by it. Once FOX has a signed deal for the Sprint Cup Series events, there is absolutely no incentive for the company to make NASCAR programming a priority for the new FOX Sports 1 network. As veteran fans know, this type of support or shoulder programming is vital to the sport.

From January through November, SPEED is the official TV network of NASCAR. Even without a Sprint Cup Series points race or any Nationwide Series events, SPEED is NASCAR's most important TV partner. Whether it is practice, qualifying or pre and post-race programming no network comes close to SPEED.

The network has single-handedly kept the Camping World Truck Series alive with sparkling old school coverage aimed directly at the TV viewer. Free from agendas and full of characters, SPEED makes the rag-tag series come to life with hardcore coverage of just plain racing.

The new agenda of FOX Sports is to use the millions of homes already subscribed to SPEED as a platform to chase the ESPN franchise and revenue stream by developing the FOX Sports 1 network. Broadening the agenda of the new network by adding mainstream sports like Major League Baseball, college football and news will deeply affect motorsports in general.

In the current TV deal, NASCAR went for the dollars and the results were not good. The sanctioning body was forced to buy back it's own digital (online) rights from TV partner Turner. ESPN has buried the Nationwide Series every year once college football begins and the network's Chase coverage has been panned.

FOX comes in with a splash at Daytona, makes a lot of noise about itself and then goes away. The only broadcast TV network left in the entire TV contract, this season FOX featured the Waltrip brothers and their self-promoting agendas. It's not hard to imagine that Darrell and Michael may be in the TV booth together in the new deal.

A NASCAR on FOX announcer hinted months ago on Twitter that FOX may be expanding the amount of Sprint Cup Series races the network covers in the new contract. It is no secret that there is no love lost between NASCAR and TNT after years of digital tension between the two companies that ultimately cost NASCAR tens of millions of dollars. Those 6 TNT races may be on the negotiating table.

The bottom line is that making a new deal for Sprint Cup Series races on FOX without locking in a full season of support programming on FOX Sports 1 would be a huge mistake. You can't sell the bacon without the sizzle and losing the practice, qualifying and news programs that now air on SPEED would be a disaster.

Many TDP columns were written asking SPEED to expand NASCAR programming to weeknights. The answer was no. The concept of a weekday morning NASCAR news and interview show, perhaps in cooperation with MRN/Sirius radio, was panned. The idea of a nightly NASCAR news show was openly mocked for years. Now, these issues have come full circle.

FOX is simply a company chasing higher profit margins through the conversion of an existing specialized cable TV network to a general sports network. The company is not partners with NASCAR. FOX wants Sprint Cup Series races for its broadcast network until other sports can fill Sunday afternoons.

When the news of this new FOX deal with NASCAR emerges, keep an eye on what else is included other than the races. That should be a clear-cut sign of just how well NASCAR negotiated and also what real agenda of FOX emerges after the money changes hands. The DalyPlanet

09/22/12 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."

But he added that "people have said we're going after ESPN. ESPN is in a different game. I think for us the real opportunity is to build intelligent businesses."

The cost of sports rights has exploded, but that's a reality that must be managed because must-see programming is becoming a more important part of the television business.

"I think in this world, hits are just going to continue to get more important in every area, whether it's hits in news, hits in entertainment, or hits in sports," Carey said. "And probably there are no stronger hits than sports. I think the value of that unique content will continue to really drive a lot of things around it and as all these platforms evolve, it is that unique content where I think disproportionately the value will accrue."

On the other hand, less distinguished content will suffer. "I think the world will get more competitive. I think this is a great industry with real growth, but I think that competition is going to have winners and losers and I think the winners will be those that have breadth and strength and unique hit content."

05/13/12 It appears that Speed Channel is already converting to a multi sports channel. It's 11:30 AM on the east coast and "English Premier League Soccer" is playing on Speed Channel right now.

04/08/12 A reader responds to this rumor, Dear AR1.com, I am shocked at the strong rumor about Speed TV converting to a combined sports network. Even though it's NASCAR based, I really like Grand AM, what about F1?, what about V-8 Supercars?, what about Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge? I'm sure you don't have answers to these questions but if Speed does go away, it will be a terrible hit to the sponsors that pay to get the exposure they get on Speed. One might say the ratings aren't that great for the series' I just mentioned but there's something for them to justify sponsoring these cars. The sponsors don't spend X$$$ to have the few thousand people that show up for the Grand AM races, except for the Rolex 24. They like the coverage they get on Speed.

This is horrible news if it really does happen. Not just because I'm a bit of a slut when it comes to road racing but, the fact that there is some exposure on the Grand Am product keeps the sponsors interested. Bernie Ecclestone has made it clear he doesn't care about the US market but the sponsors differ from Bernie's arrogant opinion. Without Speed, we are left with an amateur attempt by NBC, ABC or CBS showing portions of these races. No matter how you cut it, this is just bad news!!! Say it isn't so! Bruce Guthrie

Dear Bruce, Rest assured that if it does happen the channel will still have fairly extensive coverage of motorsports. It just won't be 100% motorsports showing umpteen repeats of the same program. By having other sports on the network, the ratings for the motorsports shows may actually increase because it will attract sports fans of all interests and the channel will end up in a lot more households. Think positive. Mark C.

04/04/12 Now that NBC has created NBC Sports Network to compete with ABC's ESPN and the CBS Sports Network, word is that Fox Sports executives want to create a 24-hour Fox Sports Network channel and the talk is that of all their cable channels, Speed TV is in the most homes (70 million) so there is a good chance that is the channel they will rename to the FOX Sports Network.

At first Fox was going to flip Fuel TV or Fox soccer, but they are only in 37 and 41 million homes respectively.

NASCAR and Grand-Am (also owned by NASCAR) stand to lose more than anyone if FOX converts Speed to a multisport network. Speed currently broadcasts the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and shows about 25 hours of NASCAR shoulder programming a week – a significant number. Likewise, Speed broadcasts all the Grand-Am races. If Fox goes with a wide variety of sports content they may want to cut NASCAR's hours back to fit everything in. In part from SportsBusiness Journal

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