Saturday, January 10, 2015

Biggest Blow to Canadian Auto Enthusiasts in 2014: Loss of Speed Channel

Looking back to 2014, one event deeply affected me and so many Canadian motorsport fans and car enthusiasts alike. An event so disappointing it convinced me to devote this entire article to highlight losing what used to be a valued connection.

Personally, the annual Rolex 24 at Daytona is a perfect relief from the doldrums of winter. In 2014, my standing appointment for watching the 24-hour sports car race on the Speed channel in Canada was partaken with a news banner traveling at the lower part of the screen. The information contained in the message indicating the Speed channel will be lost to Rogers cable customers as of March. Bell and other television providers in Canada followed eventually followed suit ending what was a great institution for auto enthusiasts.

While I was initially upset at Rogers for dropping Speed, the truth was the cable company did not deserve all the blame. Apparently, Fox thought that the six hours of a day of Dumbest Stuff on Wheels was worth asking the cable and satellite companies in Canada for a hefty increase in fees. The Speed channel delivered to Canadians suffered a diminished level of content as the United States mother channel switched to an all-sports network. While it did not affect the remaining auto racing coverage (largely NASCAR related programming), the weekly Speed schedules consisted mostly of old reality shows in the late months before the channel went dark.

Back in 1997, I remembered how thrilled the teenage version of me was hearing about a channel devoted heavily to automobiles in Canada. Speedvision, as it was originally known, not only featured programs profiling cars and motorsports but also included dedicated nights to motorcycles, airplanes as well as boats. For more than a decade, I spent a good deal of my free time watching the channel. British and Australian Touring Cars as well as racing at Le Mans illustrate a snippet of what I had watched thanks to the Speed. Right from the start, my favorite programs was Inside Winston Cup. Inside Winston Cup was a panel review show of NASCARs top series featuring broadcaster Allen Bestwick alongside drivers Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader and Johnny Benson. Originally operating as a straight panel show, the personality of the drivers eventually emerged resulting in the most entertainment show on the channel. From what I heard on the show, Canadians were a big fan of Inside Winston Cup. NASCAR arranged a new television package in 2001 that briefly put the show on hiatus but it later re-emerged when media company Fox bought the channel. Over the years and particularly when Fox obtained interest in the channel, Speed largely focused on automotive and motorcycle interests.

Perhaps my most fond memory was watching the 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona where Ron Fellows co-drove the #2 Chevrolet Corvette C5-R to overall victory. Co-driving a #3 Corvette in that same race was stock car legend Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. making for what was a once a lifetime spectacle. Thanks to Speeds coverage of the full 24-hour distance, Im left unable to imagine how lost I would have felt in missing that marvellous race.

Many of my precious hours were also spent watching Speeds coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction. Thinking back to that time, I could just hear the voices back in the late 1990s objecting to the idea of devoting live television resources to an auction. Certainly, the opposition to the plan would have said, Why would a television audience be interested in simply watching cars be sold? Persons with that viewpoint were clearly not car enthusiasts. Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction events first at Scottsdale and later elsewhere became some of the most-watched programs on the network. Speed had done a great job gathering experts and an excellent broadcast team each year. The coverage of the auctions also added a game called Hagerty Fantasy Bidding (a game I believe was unfairly bias towards mobile users). One year I dedicated my efforts into winning an online prize during a Scottsdale airing of the Barrett-Jackson auction. For each of the five days of coverage, I had a correct bid estimate on each day. Since about 50 others also guessed correctly and were apparently faster, I left with only my correct bids as satisfaction (even though some of my bid estimates came within seconds after a contest being opened).

After the US Speed network switched to Fox Sports 1, Canadians briefly enjoyed an advantage of not having to flip channels in order to stay tuned into the Barrett-Jackson Auction. (Whatever in the world does the National Geographic channel had to do with a classic car auction is beyond my comprehension). This year, coverage of Barrett-Jackson auctions has switched from Fox to Discovery World and the Velocity channel in the United States. For Canadians, the move for 2015 will prove beneficial (stay tuned to for details).

Now that we have entered 2015, we are being led to assume that on-demand and streaming is providing us with everything we want to see. Speed provided that easy access to the content that was most compelling to me. I’ve been aware for a long time that most major North American networks tend to hold little regard for auto racing coverage (even Canadian sports networks seem oblivious to the demand). The nicest part of Speed was that for a time motorsport and car enthusiasts did not have to jump between channels exhaustively trying to find where each event was being shown (in Canada, its more a matter if a program could be seen at all). Excuse me if I feel like I am back in 1996.

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