Network Ten is the FTA home of Australian rugby test matches with the Bledisloe Cup under way this weekend. As Nine announces its NBL deal this week, Mediaweek speaks with Network Ten about its plans to rebuild its sporting portfolio.
“I wear a few hats at the moment,” Network Ten’s newish head of sport Matt White told Mediaweek. He now runs the sports department in addition to his onscreen duties with the new Sports Tonight revival and his work on Supercars. White replaced David Barham, who jumped ship to Seven after it won the FTA cricket rights.
There’s not much White hasn’t tackled onscreen, but this is the first time he’s also had a major management role. “I have always had a hand in the off-air side of what I have done.
“At this stage of my career, after 30 years in the business I have ticked most of the boxes I wanted to tick. I still get a big buzz from live television and being a presenter or commentator. The added responsibility of management of the sports department was appealing when it was offered to me, particularly at Ten because I love it here and my history is here.”
Although the sports cupboard isn’t overflowing with major rights at present, Network Ten competed pretty hard to keep cricket on air. “Although I wasn’t at the forefront of the cricket talks, I was very aware of what was going on,” said White. “We are disappointed with the way it played out after having a huge crack at it. It underlines the commitment of this place to sport. When I say a huge crack I mean we laid everything on the table. We made the play and cricket made their decision.
“We have now moved on and Ten Sport is definitely now open for business. We have a big FTA platform and that accounts for a lot in the sporting world. Although the way sport is being consumed has changed, having sport into 100% of people’s lounge rooms is very important.”
Although the major sports are all currently “off the table”, White and Network Ten have a long-term strategy. “There is no rush and we do have a significant sport portfolio even without cricket, which everybody has been focusing on.
“We have a very strong motorsport portfolio, which has been part of Ten’s DNA for years – Supercars, Bathurst 1000, Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix and every round of MotoGP. We still have Rugby Union Test matches including Bledisloe Cup.”
The biggest recent move though is the relaunch of Sports Tonight as a weekly program on Sunday evenings.
“It has only been running five weeks, but we are committed to the format and it gives us a sporting presence every week.”
White was at Network Ten when Sports Tonight first launched in 1993 and he even remembers the pilot they made. “It was a big part of my life for 10 years before I went to Seven.”
After seven years off-air, White and his team have re-imagined the show to reflect the way sports news is delivered across various platforms.
“We kept the name and kept the brand and the fabric of the show. We have changed the format and introduced panellists – Laurie Daley and Josh Gibson – and we have feature stories.
“I am super proud of the product so far as we worked super hard to get the product up and running. Everyone from CEO Paul Anderson and everyone under him were right behind it. Hopefully it will find its feet with the audience.”
White has a long history with Supercars, and White said the business has a great relationship with the organisation. “A direct relationship with the sport is crucial in any business.”
Network Ten received a TV Week Logie for its Bathurst 1000 coverage last year.
The broadcaster has the six big Supercars events live – Adelaide, Townsville, Sandown, Bathurst, Gold Coast and then the season finale in Newcastle. “We also cover the Supercars in Melbourne during the Formula 1 weekend, which gives us live coverage of seven championship rounds. There are a couple of years left on that deal.”
TEN screens highlights on Saturday afternoon and Sundays from the others rounds. Supporting the race coverage is the weekly RPM program that runs Sundays for 32 weeks of the year.
Although White’s career has been built around sport, he has had a couple of successful challenges away from the arena.
He was a contestant on Seven’s Dancing With The Stars – something that he should have won. “I got three 10s in the grand final and still came second,” he laughed. “It was fun.”
White also hosted Today Tonight on Seven for four years when it was still a national brand.
He also worked on an Adam Boland late-night experiment at Seven called The Night Cap. White remembered that he worked with Paul Murray too on that project before Murray became a Sky News star. The two became great mates from that experiment. “I remind him I taught him everything he knows.”
Top Photo: Matt White