Fox announced the passing of Speed last week.
In some ways I feel like I’m losing a friend, one who has been slipping away the past few years. In many respects, Speed was a like a friend, providing many hours of enjoyment and entertainment. I’ll mourn its passing when it becomes Fox Sports 1 on August 17.
I was an early adaptor to Speedvision when it was launched in the mid-'90s, paying the cable provider an added fee for the “premium” sports channel. I wondered how a station devoted to racing could be successful, but it quickly become the fastest growing cable station of the day, with the highest per household male viewing audience of any cable network. I was one of them. When the TV was turned on Thursday-Sunday, chances are it was on Speedvision. I stayed with the station when Fox bought it and changed the name to the Speed Channel and as it eventually became Speed. Along the way it began showing NASCAR races and practice and seemingly endless talk shows devoted to stock car racing. I even watched the NASCAR banquet.
Still, it was more than just NASCAR. I watched a surprisingly large amount of the 24 hours races at Daytona and LeMans and virtually all of at least one 12-Hour Sebring event. I watched endless hours of Barrett-Jackson and other car auctions. And then there was Formula One. Bernie and his band of bank robbers may have forsaken America, but Speed didn’t. Before there was a DVR, there was early Sunday morning viewing parties for the F1 broadcast on Speed. Ah, the good old days.
Now I’m afraid those days may be gone for good. Fox has been building an impressive portfolio of sports properties including NFL and MLB, college football and basketball and soccer. FS1 also will be able to tap into the 22 regional Fox networks for content.
The handwriting has been on the wall for some time now regarding Speed’s demise. First the channel allowed the NBC sports channel to obtain IndyCar coverage without putting up much of a fight and then Formula One moved there too. Thats when the rumors started about Fox wanting to challenge ESPN/ABC and compete with the sports networks being started by NBC and CBS. Fox needed an outlet and Speed was it. Speed is currently available in 80 million of the 100 million homes with cable or satellite connections and FS1 will bump that up slightly to 90 million for the August launch. Fox, which charged cable and satellite operators an estimated 25-30 cents per household for Speed, is hoping to get more than a $1 for FS1. ESPN gets about $5, the highest rate in the industry.
Buried in the announcement was the fact Fox will shift at least some of its Sprint Cup coverage to FS1 beginning in 2015, which can't be good news for the sport's sagging TV ratings. The Daytona 500 will remain on the flagship Fox network as part of the contract with NASCAR running through 2022, but it appears all of the other races are fair game.
Fox says there will be an emphasis on live programing and there’s every indication the Ultimate Fighting Championships and international soccer will play significant roles on the new network. Live soccer matches from Europe and elsewhere are slated to eat up big junks of midday action, timeslots often filled in the past on Speed by NASCAR practice sessions of all sorts and an array of NASCAR talking head shows.
So what happens to all the automotive/racing oriented programing I watched for seemingly endless hours? Fox says much of the programming will remain, although it’s vague on just where everything will fit. Race Hub already is being bumped from its 6 p.m. time slot to a yet unnamed midday slot by Fox Football Daily. That show will be preceded by Rush Hour, a sports talk show hosted by Regis Philbin. Yup, that Regis Philbin. A nightly sports news show will hold down the 9 p.m. time slot.
No word on the fate of Dave Despain and WindTunnel. At its peak, WindTunnel was on for an hour at least four nights a week. It was a place where race fans could gather and discuss the happenings of the previous weekend and take a look at the coming weekend. But it’s been scaled back in recent years to where now it’s on for just 30 minutes on Sunday night a 9 p.m. Despain has been seen on some of the NASCAR shows as a late and is a nice addition. Let's hope there's a role for him.
There’s been a lot of talk in the past week about the need for a 24-hour NASCAR network to replace Speed. No thanks. There needs to be at least a semblance of credibility for me to watch a news show and after the events of the past couple weeks – the attempted censorship of the YouTube footage from the Nationwide wreck at Daytona and then Denny Hamlin’s fine for stating the obvious – I don’t’ think I could handle watching a NASCAR controlled network.
No, there will never be another Speed. I’m happy just to have known it.