THE DEATH OF OPTUS Vision's Sports AFL late last season was mourned by
footy nuts. To steal a quote from Roy and H.G., too much football was barely
But the truth was that despite our obsession with footy, particularly in
Victoria, a dedicated football channel was a commercial disaster. And when
Channel 7 announced the formation of a new dedicated sports channel on pay-TV to
replace the ailing Sports Vision, the days of wall-to-wall football on our TV
screens seemed destined to be over.
C7 was formally launched on 1 March, and moves into full swing later this
month when the new AFL home-and-away season starts. The new station's
programming won't entirely satisfy football desperates - rugby league and union,
basketball and soccer also get a look in - but it should cater more than
adequately for those of us who care about little else than AFL between late
March and the end of September.
Steve Crawley, the executive producer of C7 knows well enough not to meddle
with a winning formula. To that end, there will be at least 30 live and
exclusive games to the station this year, including one game each Saturday
afternoon beamed into Melbourne, up to three replays of every match played the
previous weekend and the continuation of the popular panel shows of the past
three years - Monday evening's Footy Feedback and Thursday evening's Footy
``I grew up with rugby league and I hate to use the word `religion', but
Australian football really is a religion," said Crawley last week. ``No other
sport in the world will get as much coverage during its season than will AFL
footy on free-to-air and pay-TV this year."
The major change since last season is the live Saturday afternoon games,
played out of, and beamed back to, Melbourne. The AFL has long discouraged live
football in Melbourne, to protect both its gate and the myriad of suburban and
country football leagues that play their matches at that time. But this tests
the boundaries like never before, and it will be interesting to see whether a
steady diet of Collingwood, Carlton and the other Melbourne-based clubs finally
gives Optus Vision's subscriber numbers the kickalong they apparently need.
The AFL has another reason to be pleased with C7. The station recently won
the right to provide content to Austar, the pay-TV service that is particularly
strong in rural New South Wales and Queensland, which gives the AFL a formidable
weapon at its disposal as it seeks to spread the gospel into the heartland of
``The game will be getting to a hell of a lot more people," Crawley says.
``Optus hasn't been available to a lot of people in regional areas, so football
hasn't been able to go head to head with rugby league. But all country areas
will now get to see the AFL."
There will be subtle differences in C7's footy coverage when compared to that
of Sports Vision. The exclusive pay-TV games will revert to being produced by
Seven, rather than Vuecast, the production house headed by David Barham. But
Vuecast will still be responsible for the Monday and Thursday panel shows,
although Footy Feedback has undergone a few changes, with Tim Lane vacating the
host's chair for Talking Footy, and Dermott Brereton and Gary Lyon forced to
stand aside because of their arrangements with Channel Nine. Robert Walls is the
new host and Stan Alves and Stephen Silvagni new panellists along with Age
football writer Rohan Connolly, who has been retained. Like Brereton and Lyon,
Walls and Silvagni are also linked to the Nine footy stable, although perhaps
they are being allowed to straddle the two networks because of their lower
But no matter who fronts them, Crawley is keen for them to remain the sort of
shows that diehard football fans won't want to miss, and discussions are well
under way for further club and fan-based shows. ``That's going to be the beauty
of C7. We don't have to be all things to all people like network TV. If
something doesn't appeal to them at a particular time because it's not about
their club, they know that if they tune in later, they will find a show that
they do like.
``I don't think TV needs more spic-and-span productions hosted by your
regular TV types. We can take more risks here - our words and our ideas are what
will give us our credibility."