Formula One: TV Blackouts Need To Be Lifted

Near the end of the 2010 season, the Canadian broadcaster, TSN, became the only F1 coverage available to Canadian viewers for qualifying and the race. Previous to that, the race was also available on the standard definition feed of Speed Channel, the US broadcast rights holder. This was a result of TSN exercising its right to blackout the feed of other broadcasters to protect its rights to the local market. While that’s entirely fair under the contracts both broadcasters signed, it’s unfair to Canadian viewers who are being force-fed sub-par coverage.

The problem with TSN’s coverage started in 2009 when, citing a need to cut expenses, TSN cancelled its coverage of qualifying hosted by its broadcasters and its pre- and post-race shows. Vic Rauter would host the coverage from TSN’s studio in Toronto while Gerry Donaldson would literally phone in his analysis from the media centre at the track. The race commentary itself would come from the British broadcasting crew (ITV or BBC, whomever held the British broadcasting rights). In 2009, coverage became solely coverage from the British (the BBC, in this instance) with that broadcaster’s audio played over the FOM-produced world broadcast feed instead of the BBC’s video feed. Qualifying and race coverage started five minutes before the begin of the sessions (usually 7:55 AM Eastern time in Canada) and ending immediately after the cars reached Parc Ferme in qualifying and after the press conference for the race.

The new policy got off to a bad start on TSN. The first race of 2009 (the Australian Grand Prix) saw ad breaks randomly dropped into coverage. The race would cut away for three-minute commercial breaks and usually leave and come back in the middle of a broadcaster’s sentence. The next race (Malaysia) saw split-screen ad breaks so the race was on screen in a small box (smaller than the ads) but skipping audio into and out of break. There was also an occasional flickering of the commercial break graphics on screen. TSN also played a break over the red flag being waved that race so we were left guessing piecing the clues together as to what was going on. TSN was also prone to cutting out the BBC audio following the chequered flag and using the ambient world feed audio from the end of the race until the top of the next hour (usually 10:00 AM Eastern) when they would resume regular programming.

The issues eventually resolved themselves. TSN stopped having graphics problems and instituted regular seeming commercial breaks every 15 minutes or so. They carried BBC audio from until the podium ceremony and then switching to the world feed. Their broadcasts would end after the English language portion

All of TSN’s issues seemed to come to a head for the Italian Grand Prix. Commercial breaks in the first hour were on lap 4 (immediately following the end of a safety car period), lap 8 (in the middle of a close battle between Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher and Hamilton for the lead), lap 14, lap 24 and lap 33. That’s was five ad breaks in about 45 minutes in real-time or an average of one break every nine minutes in that stretch. From lights to flag, I counted a total of six commercial breaks over the course of the 80 minute race thanks to the last ad break coming on lap 44 and none until the finish.

It has become painfully obvious to Canadian viewers that TSN does not care about its race fans. As an aside, if you’re a fan of Formula One, you’ve at least got it better than IndyCar fans whose races are routinely shuffled to TSN2 or put on tape-delay until late at night (usually after 11:00 PM). By enforcing a blackout of the Speed Channel feed, TSN has removed any competition it has. In other words, they realize that there is no benefit to spending the money to improve coverage because everyone who wants to watch F1 in Canada has no choice but to watch on TSN. Spending money to improve the broadcast will not increase viewership among casual fans because only F1 fans, church goers and insomniacs are up at 8:00 AM Eastern.

So what is there left for we Canadian Formula One fans to do? The best thing we can do is to stop watching TSN. They’ll notice if viewership drops long before any mass complaint campaign gets their attention. Maybe dramatically reduced viewership will get them to either step up their game or get out entirely. If you’re scared of bailing on TSN and not being able to watch the races, remember that the internet is a magical place. I would try two of my favourite sports streaming sites, First Row Sports and MyP2P (watch the MyP2P address because it seems to change every few weeks).

If you do want to file a complaint against TSN, we have an email address and phone number. I’m not sure who, if anyone, monitors these but it’s better than nothing. You can email audiencerelations@tsn.ca or call 416-384-7660. Tell them that you’re ashamed and disappointed with their obvious lack of interest in providing adequate coverage of Formula One. Tell them that it’s obvious they’re only showing F1 to keep the Canadian Grand Prix away from the competition and not because they’re interested in showing the whole season. But most importantly, tell them that if they don’t shape up, tell them that you’re shipping out.

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2 thoughts on “Formula One: TV Blackouts Need To Be Lifted

  1. F1 Blackout can only happen in North America, because the media is very much controlled. Not only sports, but also news and everything else – basically, they feed us with whatever they want us to see and to behave they want us to behave. Welcome to America / Canada – “The Promised Lands and the Greatest Democracies in the world”. I am ashamed that I live in N. America.

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