The battle for Top Gear had two networks waiting with bated breath all last week.
After word had slipped out on Monday that Nine was close to clinching a deal, SBS was doing its best to defend its turf -understandable given it had picked up the title when nobody else wanted to touch it.
SBS had built the brand in Australia and made two local series in order to retain the rights to the UK original.
All week the public broadcaster was hoping its loyalty would see it triumph, but Nine had been chasing it for months. PBL Media already had the rights to the Top Gear Australia magazine through ACP Magazines, as well as the Top Gear Australia website.
Even as late as Friday morning SBS still didn’t know whether it had been successful or not. But it was privately fearing the worst.
BBC Worldwide Australia eventually handed over its prize possession to the more lucrative Nine Network, which had leant on media during the week to help seal the deal.
By early Friday afternoon, SBS had received the bad news and Nine instantly hit “send” on its Press Release.
SBS Managing Director Shaun Brown sought to keep up spirits with staff.
“Clearly this is disappointing news for SBS, but it is important to recognise that we are a lot bigger than just one program, however, successful it has been,” he wrote in an email.
His Press Release expressed both disappointment and pride in establishing the brand in Australia.
GTV9 General Manager Jeffrey Browne told TV Tonight the deal includes both the past and future of the motoring hit.
“As well as a series of the Australian version of that –and I won’t tell you who will be involved in that, but you’ll be spinning your wheels– it is a really big event for us,” he said.
“As well as the next UK series we bought the back catalogue. So you’ll be able to see Top Gear almost every week of the year.
“The only series not available is Series One. So it’s Series Two to Thirteen inclusive, which is a real coup for us.
“You can see the numbers it’s doing on SBS, nearly a million viewers, so we will add substantially to that. But we haven’t confirmed who’s hosting the Australian series.”
Shane Warne’s name has been speculated. Others are hoping Nine might secure Top Gear fanatic Eric Bana.
The Australian version is expected to continue with Freehand Productions, which is part-owned by BBC.
Top Gear Live returns to Sydney’s Acer Arena, also owned by PBL Media, next February.