Nine snubs Wimbledon for Smith, Warner bonanza
Channel 9 may be the new home of tennis but it still believes two Wimbledons are not as precious as the Ashes.
In an intriguing twist to last year's sensational transformation of the summer TV rights landscape, Channel 7 has failed in a bid to trade with rivals Nine for the expected ratings bonanza that will be Steve Smith and David Warner's return to Test cricket on August 1 from Edgbaston.
It's understood that Seven offered Nine the 2019 and 2020 Wimbledon Championships in exchange for the right to broadcast the Ashes exclusively, but the attempted swap deal was flatly rejected.
Despite a bitter falling out with Cricket Australia and the end of their historic 40-year association as the home of the international summer, Nine was never going to flick the game altogether, particularly with Smith and Warner still arguably the biggest ongoing story in Australian sport.
Nine have the exclusive rights to the Ashes, with sessions starting in the juicy prime time spot of 8pm. They are also committed to broadcasting all Australian matches at the World Cup (also in the UK) starting on June 1, which they will host in association with Fox Cricket.
That package makes for more than 40 nights of prime time cricket documenting the ongoing drama of Smith and Warner's comeback trail through the winter months.
The reality of last year's TV rights negotiations was that Nine decided early on that they wanted to prioritise winning the tennis rights for the Australian Open over cricket.
It's fair to say Nine executives feel vindicated in that bold strategy after the strong showings by Australian players this January and the drama created by the Lleyton Hewitt and Bernie Tomic sideshow, although Seven are also happy with their decision to hitch their wagon to the Big Bash and Test cricket.
Nine won't send their own commentary team to England for the World Cup and Ashes and will instead take the international feed from Star Sports for the World Cup and Sky for the Ashes.
They may try and insert one of their own commentators into the international pool, but at this stage Mark Taylor and Ian Healy are the only two members of the former commentary team that hold active contracts with Nine.
The main contribution for the Nine talent will come back in the studio for analysis between play, and the network is currently on the hunt for new faces to help Taylor and Healy head-up the coverage.
Former Test captain Michael Clarke and Mark Nicholas no longer have contracts with Nine and are unlikely to return.
Nine is likely to have a female voice part of the team with current Australian star Elyse Villani and former internationals Lisa Sthalekar and Mel Jones all impressive fresh talents on the landscape.
With the NRL and State of Origin seasons in full swing, Nine's cricket coverage will likely alternate between the main channel and GEM.
Channel 7 were keen to go all-in on cricket after securing the free-to-air rights for the next six home summers, but Nine didn't feel Wimbledon held enough value.
Nine will also broadcast next year's World Twenty20 tournament to be staged on Australian soil.