Out of the Woods
Bill Woods has been integral to Channel 10's rise in motorsport since they took over the V8 Supercar coverage 10 years ago.
To celebrate the end of the Channel 10 era, Conrod have spoken to Bill to see what lies ahead.
Michael Shaw: How did you first get into the motorsport role at Channel 10?
Bill Woods: Well it's not as exciting as it could have been. I confess I never had a lifelong ambition to be the host of any particular sport really. I liked too many of them to commit, but I was the sports guy and this was to be TEN's new sport, in a big way. They figured it needed a main host to head up all the different categories, including RPM and the live telecasts. They asked me if I wanted to do it. I jumped at it.
MS: What is your favourite moment from the last 10 years?
BW: Tough call…but, as a fan, Mick winning at Phillip Island to take the 1998 title. Personally? Its four-way tie between the Logie wins. That was a credit to our team.
MS: What is next for Bill Woods?
BW: A real mixture…Early News, with little adventures thrown in like the Australian F1 GP and Rugby World Cup. I don't know what shape RPM will take next year, and there are a plenty of adventurous ideas floating around, including some of my own. Outside of TEN, I have another book coming out next year and some radio work I'd like to pursue.
MS: Will you continue to follow V8 Supercars?
BW: Absolutely. I always did, so there's no reason to stop now…unless it gets weird again…I admit I drifted away during the Group A days. The big difference, I guess, is that now that I have made so many friends in so many teams, I won't have any particular biases, as most fans do.
MS: What's the greatest challenge you've had to face in this role?
BW: Winning the trust and support of the fans who, I have to say, can be among the hardest to please of any sport I've ever covered. We could get the gold price wrong in the financial report on the news and not receive one phone call…but mispronounce Felipe Massa's name and there'll be a dozen people who want to cut your guts out, cook them and eat them. The sheer unforgiving savagery of some motor sport fans is incomprehensible to me. They should live in southern Lebanon for a while and learn there are more important issues in life.
MS: What is going to happen to RPM?
BW: I wish I knew. There are many ideas and options. There is still a vast amount of major motor sport on TEN so I doubt we'll run and hide.
MS: What are you most proud of having done for motorsport through your involvement?
BW: Given it a high profile, a respect it hadn't been given for a while by other networks. One thing I've never discussed publicly before is that motor sport, still suffering from lack of mainstream media coverage, was often the subject of derision among my peers in the media. Some would openly say "Woodsy…what are you doing working on that stuff? Do a real sport!" I spent many, many hours campaigning for the credibility of the sport behind the scenes, trying to dig it out of obscurity. I even wrote a book on drivers, shaping it to embrace a wider audience. It's been a tough battle, and I still cannot understand why.
MS: Could I just get a few comments about some of your co-hosts/co-commentators:
BW: For a start, I really don't think most people appreciate how dedicated and passionate these people are. They care so much about motor sport that it hurts me to read or hear anyone criticise them. Fans have a right to have personal taste: whether they want a busy call or a loud call, more or less tech talk, more or less humour etc…you can't please everyone. But no-one has the right to question the commitment of the following people, who have not only my great respect, but friendship.
Neil Crompton: A rare commodity: intellect, experience and articulation in one package. For all his admirers, still under-appreciated. A pleasure to work with.
Leigh Diffey: Another rare commodity: a passionate professional. Stiffy's worked very hard to establish himself as a top broadcaster of any sport, but in motor sport, which he's followed since he was a kid, he rocks. A pleasure to work with.
Greg Rust: One of the most devoted reporters I've ever known. Like Stiffy, Thruster can turn his hand to anything, but he happens to have high grade motor oil running through his veins, and pistons in his chest. He works like a dog and like the other two guys above, he cares…a lot. A pleasure to work with.
Grace McLure: Grace was pitched into one of the toughest jobs in history. As a relatively inexperienced presenter, she was suddenly co-hosting a hi-tech sport (remember those fussy fans?) with an experienced team that had been solid for 10 years. She worked and tried very hard, but with the benefit of hindsight, it just wasn't the right fit so early in her television career. It was a worthwhile shot, and a learning experience. A pleasure to work with. I wish her all the best and know she'll hit the right note soon.
Barry Sheene: What can I say? Maybe some day I'll write a book just on my times with him…he's one of those people who changes your life. It was a privilege to call him a friend.
MS: How well received was the experiment with qualifying from Bahrain?
BW: From what I hear, very well received.
MS: Is it likely to happen next year for all races?
BW: I hope so. There are issues with the use of ITV commentary apparently but I'm not sure what they are. Leigh and Neil could do it though.
MS: Is there potential to make F1 live?
BW: There's potential for anything. Hey…for years a lot of people wanted to watch a bunch of comedians sitting around a table talking! A few million more enjoy watching egotistical celebs dancing!
This whole F1 telecast thing would be funny, if it wasn't for the vitriolic crap that some nerdy whingers peddle on web sites. I know there are people who like to follow the live timing on the web, but I hope they realise that if F1 were live, they would miss about 12 x 3 minute chunks of the race! On delay, they don't miss anything, but they can't follow the live timing. AFL fans in Sydney often have to watch their marquee games at very late hours. It's far worse if you're an NRL fan in Melbourne! Friday night footy is actually Saturday morning footy. Why? Because Channel Nine knows there are too few rugby league fans in that city to make it worthwhile.
For a start…the producers, commentators and hosts want everything they do to be shown at a watchable hour. That's a no-brainer. We're professionals, and we want the biggest audiences we can play to. I'd like RPM to be on 7PM on Monday nights! So, for fans to suggest that this is some kind of conspiracy which is my fault, or Cromley's or Stiffy's, is yet another example of stupid, hurtful ignorance.
The fact is, when the people who really are in the know discover from their vast research that a solid section of viewers want to see F1 live…it'll be on. You can bet on it. All the agencies and sponsors do their own research…don't you think that if it was worthwhile they'd be clamouring for it? They have products to sell, and they want to sell those products in the best possible time-slots.
Think about it the other way…if putting F1 on live pleased a significant majority, why the hell would a TV station ignore the potential revenue? They naturally put their best products on in the best possible timeslots. The audience simply isn't big enough…yet.
What changes are there going to be to the F1 coverage in general now that the V8s are gone from Channel 10?
I have no idea yet, but the potential is certainly there. We've freed up a few dollars which might be spent on broader coverage outside of the current broadcast rights deal, which is locked in for a few years and cannot change.
MS: Was a request made by Channel 10 to bring in reverse grid racing?
BW: Not to my knowledge.
MS: Why did Channel 10 not try to outbid Channel 7?
BW: While I admit that much of the press releases issued by media outlets are mere spin, TEN was telling you the truth all along. We were naturally informed of Seven's offer, and after the shock subsided, we had every bean counter we could muster trying to justify making a higher bid. If beating their offer had been even within the outer reaches of financial viability for us, the passion for V8 Supercars in this network, from the top down, would have retained the rights. However, no-one could reasonably justify the expense. The analogy I've used to a lot of fans is this: we all want to own a Porsche or a Ferrari…but try convincing your wife that it'd be a good investment! Sadly, Pluto is no longer a planet, and we no longer have the rights to V8 Supercars. Things change.
MS: What are some of the improvements that you and Channel 10 have brought to V8 Supercars?
BW: I've done nothing. I'm just having a good time! There are some pretty clever people I work with though…camera angles, fly-cam, certain presentation ideas, Friday telecasts at Bathurst but, you know what? Overall, it's the passion, like I said, from the top down. The place reeks of it. We had a fantastic time and we are a fantastic team, off the screen, whatever you think of us on the screen. Great mates. Great fun. I think that translates to the telecast. That will be the hardest thing for anyone to replace.
MS: How much did you enjoy commentating on the 500s/MotoGP?
BW: It's the most fun I've had in commentary, especially with the dry humour of Sheene and Beattie…much of it off camera I must admit. I don't miss the late nights and tiny audiences but the bikes are awesome TV and still my favourite form of motor racing. Wish I could ride!