Death of SPEED? Say what? Let’s start with a brief history. In 1996 a new cable channel called Speedvision was launched to the great happiness and enjoyment of motorsports nuts across the country. That first year, Speedvision picked up Formula 1 broadcast rights for the US beginning with replays. By 1998, Speedvision had exclusive Formula 1 broadcast rights in the US. The network grew its audience rapidly, especially among males, with innovative programming – remember Victory By Design and the SCCA World Challenge Series - and access to live events that just didn’t exist before on broadcast television. I think of it as a whole channel dedicated to the motorsports programs of the old ABC Wide World of Sports. Speedvision was awesome.
Along Came Fox
In 2001 News Corp invested in Speedvision and then bought out other investors to have a controlling share. As Fox Sports had recently acquired NASCAR broadcast rights, Speedvision began including more and more NASCAR programming to complement Fox’s coverage. During the 2002 Daytona 500, Speedvision was relaunched as Speed Channel, and over the next several years NASCAR and NASCAR-related programming took an even greater share of the broadcasts including the Craftsman Truck Series from 2003 along with NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions. Throughout the mid to late naughties, SPEED also included plenty of other motorsports coverage including ALMS, Grand-Am, 24 Hours of Daytona, and Le Mans. 2008 brought High Definition broadcasting to Speed, launched as SPEED HD. So far, so good.
SPEED – The Salad Years
With the launch of HD broadcasting, viewers were treated to some great coverage on SPEED. NASCAR was still going strong, ALMS had some great years with epic battles in both prototype and GT classes, and in 2011 Formula 1 added HD broadcasting. The SPEED 24 Hours of Le Mans coverage was truly fantastic, continuing with interesting and innovative programming even when the French feed was down to a bare minimum of cameras during the night. However, some cracks were starting to show. ALMS coverage was lost to ESPN. Reality based programs began replacing true motorsports programming. UFC showed up. What’s happening to the neighborhood here? Then SPEED2 showed up with a glimmer of hope and lots of true motorsports action. But alas it’s still just a glimmer. Hopefully it expands and maybe someday becomes a broadcast network of its own.
Death of SPEED
In the Spring, we started to hear that by 2014, SPEED would likely morph into Fox Sports 1, a national general sports channel somewhat similar to ESPN (like we need another one of those to add to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN News, ESPN Classic, and on and on). NASCAR coverage would probably be reduced. Things seem to be going in that direction with many of Speed’s broadcasts featuring a Fox logo along with the SPEED logo. Supposedly much of the motorsports programming would move to Fuel TV. Last month, Formula 1 announced that they had secured a four year contract with NBC beginning in 2013. Wow! Another kick in the gut. The team that brought us Formula 1 since the early days of Speedvision would be no more.
To me, the symbolic, emotional death of SPEED as we know it comes this very weekend, with the last Formula 1 broadcast and a week after the end of the NASCAR season. If rumors/stories are true, and Fox Sports 1 takes the place of Speed in 2014, presumably 2013 will be a transition year, but to me, we already have the death of SPEED – at least in spirit and in its original incarnation – even if the life support machine stays plugged in a little longer.