I love sport, it is as simple as that. When you add the fact that I have an argumentative streak and am opinionated then it is obvious that much of this blog will look at sport and include my rants about it from time to time. Aside from the conduct of players and respect for match officials, the one issue in sport that sees me get the red mist behind the eyes more than any other is the broadcast of live sport on free to air television.
We are blessed in Australia with a multitude of free to air television stations (both analog and digital) along with an excellent pay television service both of which do play more than their fair share of sport during the week for sports nuts like me who get up at 4:30am to watch, for example, darts. I have, I concede, no cavil, with the amount of sport that is shown on our television sets in Australia. Where my cavil lies is in the broadcast of sport on television, free to air television, on delay.
I probably should be clear here about what I mean by “delay”. I am not talking about Channel 9 showing the cricket on a 3 second delay (by the way is this just the Ian Chappell swear factor or do they just want to screw up fans wanting to sync up with ABC Grandstand?). I am talking about a free to air channel having the rights to telecasting a sport and starting the telecast of it later, in some cases, significantly than its starting time.
The farcical nature of Channel 10’s coverage of the Hopman Cup into Brisbane is a stark case in point. Last night, the fixture between Barty and Schiavone was into the second game of the first set on my television set when I scrolled through my twitter feed and saw the score update showing that Barty had won in straight sets. The previous evening a similar irritation arose when I realised that the Djokavic and Tomic match was being shown on a delay of about 45 minutes into Brisbane, again thanks to my twitter feed.
Now I am aware that I live in Queensland, a state without daylight saving, and that, historically, daylight saving is a well trotted out excuse for showing sport on delay. The usual line put forward by the networks is “it is a ratings period and our regular line up takes precedence”. With a massive grain of salt I am prepared to accept the commercial reality of ratings and the effect that messing a regular line up can have on the viewership of a station. That said I also firmly believe that if a station does not wish to show a particular sporting event live for commercial reasons or because it can not be fit neatly into their schedule then they should not be seeking the rights in the first place.
The concession above with respect to commercial reality and ratings does not apply in the case of Channel 10 and the Hopman Cup however. Why? Because it is not a ratings period. It does not matter what Channel 10 shows. What I don’t understand about Channel 10’s decision to show the tennis on delay into Queensland is this: surely, in a year when you are keen to show your credentials in the telecast of live sport given the upcoming negotiations for the rights to show the holy grail of Australian sport: test match cricket, you would actually show some sport live wouldn’t you? Perhaps I am being too simplistic about this and, in fact, showing two episodes of Jamie Oliver torturing the English language and cooking meals that allegedly take 15 minutes is more commercially important to Channel 10 than showing live sport but I would have thought that would be deceptively obvious.
Those of you saying to yourselves, “this has been happening for years though: look at Sunday afternoon football”. This is certainly a valid point: Channel 9 has steadfastly refused to play its Sunday afternoon football fixture before 4pm during the NRL season for at least as long as I can remember and despite ongoing and consistent howls of derision from most quarters. It would seem that, at least until a couple of years ago, rugby league fans had accepted this method of delivery of their favourite sport because they had no other way to watch it.
If rugby league fans can be so accepting of delayed telecasts, why then can’t I just shut up and accept the commercial realities of showing “live” sport on television? The answer to this lies in the changes we are have seen in society over the last 5 years. Most people have a smart phone, a lot of people have a tablet and more people than not have a social media account of some description. Information about all aspects of life including sport is now available at the swipe of a finger across the screen of a phone. Live score websites predominate the favourites toolbars of sports fans on their PCs / Macs and apps on tablets make it all the more easy to find out the score.
The change in the ability of fans to get the score at their finger tips leads, of course, to the personal choice of a sports fan to check a score despite knowing that the telecast of said sport is on delay. In the context of it being a personal choice of the fan to get a score for a game another way, what then is the problem with showing a fixture on delay?
Setting aside the fact all of those people who do not have access to a live score service and the general disrespect shown to fans by showing a match on delay (and still spruiking that it is “live), funnily enough the problem may be one commercially for the networks with the rights more than anything else. With the increase in available means to check a score and to stream vision of a game is there not a real risk to the free to air networks that fans, such as me, are going to turn off their televisions because: a. they already know the result of the contest being shown or b. they have another means of viewing it? It strikes me that what, in fact, has happened is that the networks have not moved with the times and with that comes the risk that free to air channels may jettison the rights that they hold, at some point in the future, because fans have turned away from their telecasts. This of itself would be a tragedy: my childhood would have been very different without sport on my television and the next generation of sports people let alone fans could be left without the sporting education we had as kids.
The answer is obvious: in order to get back with the times the free to air channels need to show sport for which they hold the rights live. If not to show some respect to the fans who love the sports the networks are showing, then to protect their own commercial imperatives in the future. Until they do, fans will continue to turn off their televisions and look for other sources for their sporting “fix”.