The Tabcorp v TVN stoush explained

17/07/2019 Posted by admin

While the sheer mention of the Tabcorp-TVN dispute has the potential to glaze over the eyes of even the most interested of racegoers, the unrest caused by the breakdown of negotiations could have far wider ramifications than just whether race meetings are broadcast live or not.

Last Thursday Tabcorp on behalf of Sky Racing walked away from the negotiating table in a strategic move leaving TVN to find another buyer for its rights. It had taken two long years to reach this offical stalemate.

The history of the complex deal harks back to 2006 when key racing administrators in Sydney and Melbourne were determined to claw back their rights from Sky Channel and establish their own production network and then onsell those rights to Sky Racing.

However what the industry has learnt is that independence comes at a cost. And that cost has been felt on many levels.

TVN has splurged millions of dollars on consultants and advisers, one of whom received $10,000 a month for six years, with his role being little more than to call in once a month to chat with staff.

Sky Channel are aware they are the only suitor in the market that requires racing vision rights. So they left the table last Thursday without the rights, or digital platforms, content that TVN had nowhere else to sell anyway.

The finger of blame for the lack of live TV coverage from Sydney and Melbourne on Saturday has been pointed at the Victorian clubs that have the rights.

The Melbourne Race Club, the Moonee Valley Racing Club, VRC, and country Racing Victoria are the owners of vision and media rights in this state.

Racing Victoria, meanwhile, are the supposed governing body of racing but in reality control the stewards and little more. It is a ludicrous structure that is completely at odds with other sporting bodies.

AFL, NRL, cricket, swimming, athletics and even harness racing and greyhounds have an overriding body that speaks on behalf of everyone in that sport.

The rights clearly should be held by the governing body but the clubs have given that idea the thumbs down, maintaining that losing the rights would undermine their power.

As things stand, even TVN chief Bruce Mann concedes that there is only one bidder for the rights, with suggestions Channel Seven and Foxtel were interested in stepping in believed to be wide of the mark. That possibility was raised by Fairfax Media last week, but NSW race club, the Australian Turf Club, is fiercely against that plan.

It seems there is as much chance of Seven and Foxtel taking hold of the rights as there is of next year’s Championships being staged on the Crookwell picnic race track.

There are some anti-Tabcorp protagonists in the upper echelons of Victorian racing who believe “the lucky shop” has too much say and too much clout and looms as a bully across Victoria and NSW.

However a lot of the executives who dislike Tabcorp need to realise that Australia’s biggest wagering arm puts food on the table for the industry.

A cheque is deposited for $250 million each season from the TAB to keep racing in the lofty lifestyle it enjoys.

And there are those who maintain TVN should become a small-time production house, because in effect racing in Victoria and NSW are paying $14 million for the privilege of having their own “independent” operation.

There is also the steadily growing debt from the purchase of newpapers Winning Post and Best Bets for $15 million to consider.

Inside Racing, the long-time industry publication in Victoria, also faces an uncertain future after its contract with Slattery Media expires.

In the coming weeks Sky Racing and TVN will no doubt find another short-term solution that papers over the cracks, largely because of pressure from state governments who are watching the situation closely.

And if Racing Victoria fails to wrestle back the rights back from the clubs, RVL will also come under pressure.

RVL currently pays a group of the most astute racing minds in the world to oversee racing in this state but at the end of the day the clubs decide on most facets of horse racing. And there are three of them, all squabbling over their patch.

One interstate observer said these clubs should only make sure the beer is cold and the pies are hot and let those better qualified run racing.

If RVL can take the vision and media rights back, and subsequently could stop NSW Racing from walking away from the TVN deal, they will solve several problems and walk tall and with some authority.

If not, and Racing NSW understandably believes two years is more than enough time to broker a deal and look to Tabcorp for a direct resolution, all bets will be off and so will the gloves. All in the name of so-called independence.

Mug’s guide to the TVN-TABCorp stoush

What are the sticking points? The dispute is broadly over the rights to broadcast NSW and Victorian vision domestically on pay TV and in pubs and clubs, internationally and on digital channels. Tabcorp are willing to pay $30 million a year for the rights on a long-term deal and TVN wants $40 million on a short-term deal.

Who owns Sky and TVN? SKY Racing is owned by Tabcorp and TVN is owned 50 per cent by the Australian Turf Club, which is the NSW racing club, with the other 50 per cent split between the three Melbourne race clubs and Country Racing Victoria

What is the history? Sky’s right to broadcast NSW and Victorian racing expired on December 17, but the standoff has been going on for two years.

What’s been the result for viewers? Since Saturday, Sky has been unable to broadcast NSW and Victorian racing, resulting in TVN having to modify its coverage to incorporate the NSW and Victorian country meetings. In terms of hotels and clubs, TVN facilitated its vision to go into those which have Foxtel. However, many venues, particularly in country areas do not have Foxtel and therefore were not able to access the vision. Sky sought to facilitate a solution using its infrastructure that would get the vision to all venues, however this was blocked by TVN and therefore many country pubs and clubs did not show NSW or VIC racing last Saturday. TVN will again have a wall-to-wall coverage of the NSW and VIC meetings on Boxing Day.

Can this be sorted out? Tabcorp appear to hold most of the aces and the best hope would appear to be Racing Victoria wresting control of the media rights from the three race clubs and dealing directly with the wagering company.

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