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Nine years after it disappeared from cable TV channel lineups, Speedvision is preparing to rev up its engines again.
The cable channel — which catered to automotive enthusiasts and racing fans from its launch in 1995 until Fox shut it down in 2013 — is being revived as a free ad-supported streaming network (the acronym being, appropriately, a FAST platform), with some high-profile backing.
Among the backers of the new Speedvision are Robert Scanlon, a co-founder of the original cable channel who most recently oversaw the Velocity and Motor Trend businesses for Discovery Inc.; Joe Abbruzzese, who was previously the president of advertising sales for Discovery; wrestling superstar Bill Goldberg; and automotive and racing magnate Rick Hendrick.
Scanlon will serve as the company’s president, while Abbruzzese will advise on ad sales and sponsorships. Goldberg is expected to appear as talent in some of the network’s programming.
According to Scanlon, the surprising success of Velocity at Discovery inspired the new venture, and the decision to launch as a free streaming network.
“We focused on FAST because it is ad-supported,” Scanlon tells The Hollywood Reporter. “At Velocity we had a $140 million revenue line that was just advertising, there were no subscription fees for Velocity on linear, so we looked at the vast, closest analogous platform for that.”
“The $140 million in ad dollars were I think passionate dollars,” Abbruzzese added, noting that the niche channel (it was only in about 40 million homes at launch) quickly became the toast of automotive trade show SEMA. “It wasn’t very hard to find the advertising, and once you put the advertisers with the connection to the shows, integrate products within the shows, I think the advertisers find the audience and the viewers find the audience.”
He adds that they fully expect the audience for the network to be 50+, but notes that it is also the age group with the most wealth in the country.
The new Speedvision will debut later this fall, and Scanlon says it will have some 600 hours of content (about 500 licensed and 100 being produced under commission) featuring well-known talent in the space, including Goldberg, Wayne Carini, Mark Worman, Stacey David, Craig Jackson and Ray Evernham.
He adds that the network hopes to add a few hundred hours of content in 2023, and more in subsequent years.
Among the programming in the works is Classic Car Talk (WT), which will see Carini (a classic car hunter) partner with Jay Ward, the creative director from Pixar’s Cars franchise, on a video podcast; AmeriCARna, which will see Evernham tour and explain historic and important cars; as well as series’ like David’s Gearz and Worman’s Graveyard Carz.
At launch Speedvision will be available on FAST platforms including Redbox, Plex, TCL Channel, Hisense Vidaa Smart TVs, Sports.tv and LocalNow, though Scanlon notes that they are “in conversations with everybody” to expand its availability worldwide.
The goal is to serve that car enthusiast audience that was so engaged by Velocity, but on video platforms that are more contemporary than the cable bundle.
“I think there is a great portion of the audience that is underserved by all stretches of the imagination,” Goldberg says. “It seems like over the last few years their wheelhouse has been taken away from them, and it is our job to bring that back.”
Indeed, the auto industry itself is undergoing significant transformation, as major automakers shift their investments toward electric vehicles. Just like the manual transmission, the internal combustion engine is at risk of slowly disappearing.
“With ICE engines, there needs to be proper historical programming put out there before these things go away,” Goldberg says. “We have a responsibility to the space to do it right.”
“We definitely, definitely will focus on internal combustion, but we will not disinvite anyone in terms of where their passion lies in this space,” Scanlon adds. “We are everyman’s in terms of people’s interest, and there is definite interest in electric-powered cars now in the enthusiast space.”
That may be reflected in the advertisers and sponsors as well. While major automakers continue to hold back on their pre-pandemic ad spending levels (the chip shortage means that every car they make is selling quickly), Velocity found that it was the car products for auto enthusiasts, like tire makers, engine oil manufacturers and auto parts stores that were willing to spend big to reach that relatively niche audience.
“The Aaron Judge home run in this one is when you get a client involved in a show and they promote it,” Abbruzzese adds, noting that some sponsors would go out of their way to advertise their involvement with some Velocity programming.
Speedvision originally launched in 1995, and was acquired by News Corp. (which then owned Fox) in 2001. The channel was rebranded as Speed in 2002, and added live NASCAR coverage to the existing lineup of motorsports shows and racing programming.
In 2013, Fox rebranded Speed as Fox Sports 1 and its sister channel Fuel TV as Fox Sports 2, effectively shutting down the channels. Speed’s NASCAR coverage and some of its NASCAR studio shows continued to run on Fox Sports 1.
But Scanlon and his investor team are betting that the Speedvision name still carries with it brand equity.
Goldberg, who is clearly within the network’s core demographic (he notes that he is building out a 58,000 square foot garage for his car collection), says he “smiled from ear-to-ear” when he was approached about participating in Speedvision’s reboot.
“Because I remember what the network brought me, and how I felt when I watched those programs,” he says. “The legacy, the history, the knowledge of how they did it back in the day makes me want it that much more for the present day. It will satiate the people who have been longing for it for some period of time, and I think just those people will be enough to drive the network, not to mention everyone else who is going to jump on board.”
“[Speedvision] is the gold standard for auto passionates, it was the first brand out there for this audience,” Scanlon adds. “Editorial across automotive content players is so scattered right now that they have left this void in the middle for this core audience. Some have gone chasing the YouTube audience, others have gone chasing just racing, C- and D- level racing series. They have left this white space once again. It’s there, and we are claiming it.”
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