O Opinions & Commentary

Race Fans suffer from television blackouts

For many race fans in Canada who rely being able to watch their favourite races on television, this has been a year of frustration.

In recent years, Formula One fans in Canada have had the luxury of choosing between the broadcasts produced by SPEED in the United States with a team of US-based commentators or the TSN version which relied on the United Kingdom broadcast with a panel of Brits doing the commentary from the race track. Some preferred the US version, others the UK version.

This year, the TSN formula continued with the UK feed – only now the BBC has the rights, replacing ITV who were the rights holders for the past several years. Also, TSN dropped it local production of the qualifying broadcasts and the pre-race half-hour shows. Now both qualifying and race shows start at five minutes to hour with qualifying running 65 minutes and the race broadcast 125 minutes.

Another glitch was that the BBC runs no commercials, so TSN decided to show the race on a delay basis, stopping the ‘tape’ each time they showed a commercial. This soon put the TV broadcast out of sync with the live scoring available via the internet and made their race run overtime. It looks like now, they are running the BBC broadcast in real time, using a split screen to continue to show the broadcast picture while the commercial runs in the other half of the screen.

So far, so good. However on the weekend of the first race (Australia) when Canadian F1 fans tuned in SPEED to watch the practice broadcast, they either got nothing or a message telling them that the SPEED F1 broadcasts would not be available. The explanation? TSN is the rights holder to F1 broadcasts in Canada and they invoked their right to force SPEED to black out all their F1 broadcasts – practice, qualifying, race and reruns – in Canada. So that’s the end of being able to choose between the Americans or the Brits, at least for this year. (Except that the plug seems to be pulled at the offices of the local TSP and they don’t always do it correctly. I’ve seen some SPEED broadcasts this year despite the supposed blackout. It’s worth checking out both the SPEED standard definition channel and the SPEED-HD channel to see if the broadcast has leaked through despite the blackout order.)

There’s another topic that is frustrating many race fans and that’s their inability to get TSN’s alternate channel, TSN2. Why is this important? Many live race broadcasts, especially those involving NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup and the IRL’s IndyCar Series are available only on TSN2 in Canada. So, if your television service provider (TSP) does not include TSN2 in their channel lineup, you are out of luck.

Actually it seems like nearly all the TSPs offer TSN2 with one major exception – Rogers Cable. Rogers is the only cable service in Toronto and some nearby areas like Mississauga – and in other parts of the country. For some reason, they are one of the last holdouts on not coming to an agreement with TSN to add TSN2 to their cable lineup.

I have to wonder if this isn’t the result of some kind of conflict of interest on Rogers part. Rogers is a sports channel broadcaster (Rogers Sportsnet)– and a cable service provider of all channels (well, almost all) as Rogers Cable. Perhaps Rogers feels it gains some kind of competitive advantage by holding its customers hostage and freezing out TSN’s alternate channel.

I think that race fans who are Rogers Cable customers should revolt! The first step is an easy one: complain like hell to Rogers. (I’m told that people who complain about the lack of TSN2 get discounts on their subscription rates). Second: Check out the competition. Most of you can opt for one of the satellite services (Star Choice or Bell TV) which provide pretty much the same channel lineup – but with the addition of TSN2 – at about the same rates.

Finally, my usual pitch for the value of high-definition television for sports in general and racing specifically. The wide screen HD picture is just so much better. Both TSN and SPEED offer most of their race broadcasts in HD, so my advice is that you choose a TSP that will give you both these channels (TSN-HD and SPEED-HD) – and, of course, get yourself a good HD television. The prices have come down to much more affordable levels this year.

And a pitch for Race Fan TV (racefantv.ca) which is the only service I know of which provides comprehensive television listings specifically edited for the Canadian race fan (Disclosure: Race Fan TV is my website.).

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