Today March 29 is a red circle day for Sports in Media and for the book “Decoder – Decrypted history of Italian sports Pay-TV“. As reported (thank you!) By my friend Matteo Zaccaria on Twitter, in fact, on March 29, 1992exactly 30 years ago, the history of Italian sports television changed forever. Tele + 2the first paid sports channel in Italy, broadcast the first encrypted sporting event in history: the Suzuka GP of the World Championship.
In the previous months Telepiù had announced that in the spring of 1992 there would be a switch to encrypted broadcasts – Tele + 1, the channel dedicated to films, began to encrypt the signal on 1 June 1991 (first film reserved for subscribers: Blade Runner) – but nevertheless there were many controversies and protests, especially among the insiders. After years of television bulimia, with an unrivaled free-to-air offer around Europe (the cause of all this was the total deregulation of the sector), Pay-TV thus began its path, full of twists, innovations and difficulties.
Also in the first episode of the podcast “In Media (s) res”, with Sandro Bocchio we talked about that turning point for television (and sport) in Italy.
In this excerpt from the book “Decoder – Decrypted history of sports Pay-TV in Italy”(Chapter 3.6), this epochal passage is described in detail. Here it is:
3.6 TELE + 2 AND THE FIRST CRIPTAT SPORTING EVENTSTHE
Telepiù’s energies and attentions are mainly aimed at launching the Tele + 1 programs and promoting subscriptions. At the same time, however, the encrypted launch of Tele + 2 is being prepared, the sports channel that in the plans of the executives should become paid in 1992. In fact, Tele + 2 continues the path undertaken by Telecapodistria, albeit with differences in level of television rights. At the helm of the sports editorial team, on a proposal from Silvio Berlusconi, comes Rino Tommasi who at Canale 5 has been progressively ousted, in the role of “head of sports services”, by Ettore Rognoni and Bruno Bogarelli.
1991 was used by Tele + 2 to fine-tune the organizational and journalistic machine. The peculiar aspect of the new thematic TV is multi-sportsmanship, that is to say a schedule that gives space to different sports disciplines, without the classic football cannibalization. Thus, events of different nature are broadcast, often live: English football championship (not yet Premier League), La Liga, US Open, Australian Open, Wimbledon, European Basketball Cups, NBA, NFL, NHL, Vuelta and Giro of Italy (the latter in summary in the evening), Athletics, Volleyball, Boxing, Rugby, Sailing, Golf, Paris-Dakar, World Championship and Wrestling. Some excellent features are broadcast (some already seen on Telecapodistria) such as Il Grande Tennis, Assist (Luca Corsolini), Supervolley (Lorenzo Dallari), Obiettivo Sci (Mario Cotelli and a young Fabio Guadagnini) Base Camp (Ambrogio Fogar) , as confirmed by the Sportime news bulletin. Tennis is the sport that gets the most consensus in terms of commentary. The team made up of Rino Tommasi, Gianni Clerici, Ubaldo Scanagatta and Roberto Lombardi still represents a model of competence, innovation of the sports-television language and lightness in dealing with the long hours of live broadcast. Moreover, as told several times by Ubaldo Scanagatta, the couple Tommasi & Clerici – considered by many to be the absolute best in the history of sports commentaries – risked dying in the bud because Silvio Berlusconi didn’t like the scribe’s tone of voice too much. Tommasi defends his own commentary companion with the sword and convinces the Knight to confirm Clerici. Thus was born the extraordinary partnership between Compute-Rino and Doctor Divago (nicknames attributed to each other).
In July 1991 Tele + 2 produces and broadcasts the final phase of the Volleyball World League, a tournament born the year before at the behest of the FIVB world president, Ruben Acosta. Semifinals and finals take place at the Assago Forum and Tele + 2 covers the event with eight cameras plus the Sky-Cam, a maneuverable camera placed on the roof of the building (the previous year, at the World Cup in Italy ’90, Rai inaugurated this type of shooting, by placing a camera perpendicular to the circle of midfield of the Delle Alpi stadium in Turin). The statistics are processed by Epson, while the commentaries are entrusted to Lorenzo Dallari. The Italy of the “generation of phenomena” wins the tournament, winning the final 3-0 over Cuba.
The announced transition to encrypted is fast approaching. The executives of Tele + 2 do not indicate a precise date, but speak of “the start of the pay channel in spring”. At the end of March 1992 comes the crucial moment of the first encrypted sporting event broadcast in Italy. In the winter months, the World Championship went through a complicated period due to the turning point in a sport-business key. A transition that practically all sports disciplines faced between the 90s and the early 2000s. In the case of motorcycles, the management of the World Championship passed from the International Federation to a private company, Two Wheels Promotions, led by Bernie Ecclestone, former patron of Formula One. The rights of the 1992 World Championship are acquired by Tele + 2 which decides to encrypt the vision of the first seasonal GP, scheduled in Suzuka (Japan) on March 29, 1992. To soften the transition to Pay-TV, in the Italian morning Tele + 2 offers a clear summary of the three competition classes. For the history of Italian television this is another historical stage.
The novelty, however, is not welcomed with enthusiasm by everyone, quite the contrary. In particular, the Italian motorcycle manufacturers (Aprilia, Cagiva and Gilera) lash out against Telepiù’s decision to encrypt the first races of the World Championship. Oliviero Cruciani, Gilera Team Manager: “The decision by Tele + to broadcast the motorcycling grand prix on pay-TV has created an infinite number of problems for those who need sponsors to race. The financial commitment of these is directly linked to the number of people who receive the advertisement through television broadcasts. (…) It makes no sense for a private network to grab a show of this kind, taking it away on state television and then relegating it to such a restricted area. We therefore ask that Telepiù broadcasts in clear, without electronic filters, at least the world championship races held in Europe, or we will cancel the advertising contracts with its television networks ”. In Cruciani’s words, one of the most controversial aspects of the question of “free-to-air sports vs paid sports” emerges clearly: is it right to pay a subscription to watch a sporting event on television? Are there any sporting events that must be broadcast in the clear? On these questions – still today – two parties with diametrically opposed positions face each other and in the next chapters we will address the issue in detail. One of the proponents of pay-TV sports (mind you, for personal conviction and not for business reasons) is Rino Tommasi, who has always maintained that the television audience is nothing more than an “extension” of the arenas in which the events. In stadiums and halls, the public pays a ticket. The same principle, according to Tommasi, must apply to viewers. Tommasi is even more explicit in an interview with Repubblica in March 1992: “It is only due to the ignorance of sports managers that Italy does not have great sport on Pay-TV. And always for the same reason, football does not anticipate a match on Saturday for live TV, as happens with great success in France or Spain ”.
Here the video of that GP.