Cricket on TV
The surest sign that the times have a-changed: the cricket is no longer on Channel Nine. No more Wide World of Sports theme, no more “It’s all happening”, the 12th Man albums becoming an artefact. The association that Kerry Packer forged 40 years ago gives way to the new package of Foxtel and Seven, who will deliver Cricket Australia’s much-desired $1b for the next six years of broadcast rights, double what Nine was paying. It’s not just Nine – viewers of the Big Bash League will no longer flick over to Ten, as the T20 comp also moves over in the deal.
In one respect, it’s an inversion of the classic summer sporting roles for the free-to-air networks: cricket on Seven, tennis on
Nine. Nine had previously scooped the Australian
Open for $300m, a move that signalled it was unlikely to hold onto its schedule of Tests, ODIs and T20 internationals.
Seven is paying a lot more for bats than it did for racquets, but as network boss Tim
Worner noted, they get a lot more for it
– some 70 days and nights of programming compared to 14 for the
This new arrangement, however, has greater implications for Fox Sports, which has started up a dedicated channel, Fox Cricket, along the lines of its Footy and League offerings. Cricket effectively becomes the pay-TV network’s new identity over the summer months (with apologies to those dedicated viewers of the A-League). It’s also something of a course correction for Fox Sports – it had the rights to the BBL in its first year, before Ten took over in what was recognised as a mutual boost for both the network and the league.
As always, when a sport hops networks, we’ve been promised a host of innovations that will change the way we see the game. (You know what that means: more drone footage!) On the Fox Cricket front, there’s also a flood of extra programming coming down the pipe to fill the hours between matches: extension of its 360 studio show brand, more of Robert Craddock’s Legends interviews, and shows from resident merry-makers Gus Worland ( The Cricket
Tragic) and James “The Professor” Rochford ( The Night Watchman).
Most importantly, who will be calling the action? We witnessed the most vigorous free agent market for commentators, with Fox and Seven going back and forth with big-name announcements. Fox has added Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist as prominent faces to their line-up of Mark Waugh, Allan Border and Brendon Julian. It will also have Mitchell Johnson, Michael Hussey, Bre Lee, former England captain Michael Vaughan and everyone’s favourite radio eccentric, Kerry O’Keeffe. Meanwhile, Seven has assembled the likes of Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming and Michael Slater, among others.
But the most intriguing move in the comm-box – and the symbol of a real shi in cricket coverage – is Seven’s choice of Alison Mitchell to be one of their lead ball-by-ball callers. The Englishwoman is highly regarded for her work with the BBC, and is already known to cricket audiences here from stints with ABC Radio. As Seven’s cricket chief David Barham noted, Mitchell was offered the job because she’s “in the best two or three” cricket callers in the world. By contrast to Nine’s ex-player-heavy rotation, Seven will mark itself out with media pros such as Mitchell, Tim Lane and studio host Mel McLaughlin. And, yes, Bruce McAvaney will have a role. Can’t wait until the first “special” cricket moment of the summer arrives.
The big talking point to emerge out of the new deal was the matches that were going exclusively to Fox – and thus behind the paywall. Fox Cricket will have coverage of the Australian men’s ODIs and T20Is, as well as 16 Big Bash matches, that Seven will not. Passionate cricket fans, who were less passionate about paying to watch cricket on TV, wondered why the anti-siphoning law that keeps certain sporting events on free-TV didn’t apply. But as we came to learn (golf and tennis fans have known for a while), the legislation doesn’t mandate free-TV stations air these events – if it refuses to acquire the rights, or is happy to pass them along, they can sit exclusively on pay-TV.
While the valedictories for Nine’s coverage came pouring out, it should be noted that it still has some cricket to broadcast over the next couple of years. It will broadcast both the one-day World Cup from England next June, and flow right into the Ashes tour a er that; it also has the rights to the ICC World T20 in Australia in late 2020. It’s enough material that Nine kept Mark Taylor under contract, although we’d personally love to see more Tubby on NRL.
The carousel of sports rights is in full spin (Ten takes over the Melbourne Cup from Seven next year), pushing the price tags ever higher. More than a few observers have noted that such increases point to sports rights being overvalued, but the old-line networks are clinging to one of the last few televised properties that still works. The interesting development is what happens on the digital side – Foxtel gained streaming rights as part of its package, but will share it with Cricket Australia’s own digital platform. How the dri of viewers away from TV will affect the old model will be something to watch, as will the move that media types are hanging out for – how long until the tech companies enter the bidding war for sport?
As taught us, where TV goes, cricket will follow. The massive returns the game is currently pulling in – the rights to India’s non-IPL, non-ICC cricket went for $1.3b last April – would seem to reinforce the cricketing status quo. And yet, the persistent questions over the shape of the sport’s future – the relevance of the Test format, the growth of T20, the share of money that goes to the players versus the grassroots – still sit precariously in a time of abundance. What happens when the money doesn’t roll in?
CA boss James Sutherland switches on to Foxtel and Seven. ¡¢£¤¥ BJ and Mitch on Fox, live. Alison Mitchell brings a new voice to the comm-box. Howzat