Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Olympics and TV for Sport Lovers

I have never enjoyed the Winter Olympics as much as I have the Games going on at the moment in Vancouver. Sure there are still far too many events with judging, and far too few like the snowboarding cross where the winner is the first person over the line, but it has been great watching. In fact I’ll go so far as to say I have enjoyed these Winter Olympics more than the last Summer Olympics in Beijing.

There is only one reason I can say this: Foxtel.skating

Foxtel’s coverage (get ready what follows will sound like an advert) has been nothing short of amazing. They have had four channels dedicated to 24 hour coverage of the Games – four channels, one for each of the venues, to ensure every event is shown live and in full. I’ll repeat that for those of you who have had to endure Channel 9’s coverage, or for those who remember Channel 7’s work during the Beijing Olympics – LIVE and IN FULL.

Every morning the events are shown live, and at night they are replayed IN FULL. Central commentary position? What’s that? At most you’ll see of the central people is occasional quick bridging work between events, and a regular bit at 7:30 that recaps a few things, but doesn't ever give anything away. Heck the other day one of the channels had the two talking heads chatting and one of them even told the audience to switch over to the live events!

This cost me $65 (it should have been $50 but I didn’t get around to buying it until after the early bird special had closed). That is of course $65 over my monthly subscription for Foxtel.

Now I know you’ll say that’s ok for rich people like me, but what about the honest battler. And sure there was a time I would have thought that; now I think, if the honest battler wants to see great coverage of sport then I’m sorry you gotta pay for it. Free TV just isn’t up to the task of showing sport the way sport should be shown – live and in full. And the fact is they don’t really want to do it. 

Think back to the Beijing Olympics and remember how Matt White in the central commentary box lied to the Australian public when he said Steve Hooker had yet to jump in the pole vault final. (for those who missed, here’s part of my running blog post from the night):

Steve%20Hooker%20GOLD%202_w430 11:07pm: Pole vault update, Hooker clears 5.60m on his first attempt, and thereby goes into the lead as the only vaulter to have not had any misses. (Kinda time to start showing it wouldn't you think?)...
11:21pm: Oh geez, give me a break, Hooker is in the lead in the pole vault final, and instead we go to a qualifying session of the diving? Disgraceful. (And even better is that the diving is delayed... I wish this was a one off mistake, but as we all know, Channel 7 have done this over and over this week). In protest I shall continue to not watch Dancing with the Stars and instead watch Australian Idol. (Apparently they're going head to head).

Matt White tells us the men's pole vault is coming up soon. lol. No doubt next White will let us know that up soon Carl Lewis will be going for gold in the 100m.

11:31pm: Matt White tells us the bar is at 5.60m and Hooker is yet to jump. So that's just a blatant lie.

Steve Hooker's "first jump" at 5.60m ...oooh will he make it??!

Channel 7, 9 and 10 pretty much don’t give a stuff about sports fans – they care about viewers, and they know there are actually more people who watch TV who are not sports nuts; people who like montages and highlights packages rather than having to sit through the entire event.

Just look at how Channel 7 telecast the recent Australian Open. The cut to the news and bloody Home and Away during a match involving Samantha Stosur and also during the quarter final between Roger Federer and Nikolai Davydenko. In all states not on Eastern Daylight Savings Time, the night sessions were all shown on delay.

The cold hard facts are that free TV stations don’t give a stuff about sports fans, they give a stuff about eyeballs – and if more people want to watch Home and Away, then so be it – they’ll cut the tennis, or cricket, or golf off dead.

The reason for this state of affairs is the
anti-siphoning legislation. This is legislation which lists a number of sporting events which:

Pay TV licensees are prevented from acquiring a right to televise a listed event until a right is acquired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) or the Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) or by commercial free-to-air broadcasters reaching more than 50 per cent of the Australian population. The scheme aims to give free-to-air broadcasters priority over pay TV licensees in acquiring rights to listed events.

Here is the list of sporting events:
, but there is no way in hell Rudd and Co will ever get rid of it. They are far too scared of the TV stations. And it’s a pity. Because the real losers are the ones they’re supposed to be protecting. We’ll keep sport on Free TV, and we’ll keep seeing as much as the Home and Away viewers will let us.
1 Olympic Games
1.1 Each event held as part of the Olympic Games.
2 Commonwealth Games
2.1 Each event held as part of the Commonwealth Games.
3 Horse Racing
3.1 Each running of the Melbourne Cup organised by the Victoria Racing Club.
4 Australian Rules Football
4.1 Each match in the Australian Football League Premiership competition, including the Finals Series.
5 Rugby League Football
5.1 Each match in the National Rugby League Premiership competition, including the Finals Series.
5.2 Each match in the National Rugby League State of Origin Series.
5.3 Each international rugby league test match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by the Australian Rugby League, whether played in Australia or overseas.

6 Rugby Union Football
6.1 Each international test match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by the Australian Rugby Union, whether played in Australia or overseas.
6.2 Each match in the Rugby World Cup tournament.

7 Cricket
7.1 Each test match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by Cricket Australia played in either Australia or the United Kingdom.
7.2 Each one day cricket match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by Cricket Australia played in Australia or the United Kingdom.
7.3 Each one day cricket match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by Cricket Australia played as part of a series in which at least one match of the series is played in Australia.
7.4 Each World Cup one day cricket match.

8 Soccer
8.1 The English Football Association Cup final.
8.2 Each match in the Fdration Internationale de Football Association World Cup tournament held in 2006.
8.3 Each match in the Fdration Internationale de Football Association World Cup tournament held in 2010.

9 Tennis
9.1 Each match in the Australian Open tennis tournament.
9.2 Each match in the Wimbledon (the Lawn Tennis Championships) tournament.
9.3 Each match in the mens and womens singles quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of the French Open tennis tournament.
9.4 Each match in the mens and womens singles quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of the United States Open tennis tournament.
9.5 Each match in each tie in the Davis Cup tennis tournament when an Australian representative team is involved.

10 Netball
10.1 Each international netball match involving the senior Australian representative team selected by the All Australian Netball Association, whether played in Australia or overseas.
11 Golf
11.1 Each round of the Australian Masters tournament.
11.2 Each round of the Australian Open tournament.
11.3 Each round of the United States Masters tournament.
11.4 Each round of the British Open tournament.

12 Motor Sports
12.1 Each race in the Fdration Internationale de lAutomobile Formula 1 World Championship (Grand Prix) held in Australia.
12.2 Each race in the Moto GP held in Australia.
12.3 Each race in the V8 Supercar Championship Series (including the Bathurst 1000).
12.4 Each race in the Champ Car World Series (IndyCar) held in Australia.

It is an incredibly dumb list. The FA Cup? Give me a break. Go down to any pub and ask 10 people who won the FA Cup last year. If you find more than one person I’ll say you have just run into a group of English backpackers. The Ashes Tests, but not tests against India (which have actually been more interesting of late). All of Wimbledon, but not the US or French Opens. The US Masters, but not the US PGA. The British Open but not the US Open Golf.

It is a quaint list that still believes the country is in 1950 and we all think of the damn mother country as dear old England.

The problem as well is the actual policy is a crock. It is meant to ensure all these events are shown on Free TV. Ask yourself if you felt the benefit of this legislation when during Wimbledon you had to wait till 11:30pm (2 hours after the start of the day’s play) to see the first ball hit over a net? Yes this legislation meant that you had to wait while watching the Footy Show or some damn repeat of CSI before getting to see tennis.

You see Free TV stations don’t like sports viewers; but they sure as hell don’t want the Pay TV stations to get it – because they know they’ll show the actual sport and thus Channel 7, 9 or 10 will lose those viewers who want to watch sport but who would otherwise have sat through the news while waiting for it (and grumbling). The primary reason the Free TV stations get sporting events is to stop Pay TV from getting them. It’s purely done to hinder their competitors. Remember as well in this fight 7, 9, 10 ABC and SBS are on the same side – they even have a little club called “FreeTV” which does their dirty work for them. The were quite successful of late, scoring a $250m gift from the government in
terms of reduced licence fees.

The great irony of the anti-siphoning legislation is it actually hurts sport’s fans. The FreeTV stations acquire the rights, and then show as little as possible to ensure they don’t breach the anti-hording provisions. And so they delay things, they wrap it all up in montages for people who like Home and Away and wouldn’t know Usain Bolt from Roger Federer (remember there are more Home and Away lovers than sport nuts).

The best situation should be like the Winter Olympics – Nine has the rights to the free TV – it shows what it wants (very little) when it wants (hardly at all), and Foxtel can show everything. Had this happened with the summer Games I would have been a pile quivering joy – I would also have taken two weeks off work to glue myself to the couch and soak up every joyous minute of it. The good thing is
it will happen for the London Games in 2012.
wimbledon-1 The irony of the anti-siphoning legislation is that Wimbledon, which is on the list gets worse coverage than the US and French Opens which aren’t. Foxtel shows all of the main tennis matches of the French and US Opens, but for Wimbledon it is reduced to showing matches on Court 14 while over on Channel 9 Fatty and guys are yucking it up over some dumb thing.

The Olympic Games, tennis Grand Slams, World Cup events, AFL and NRL rounds are too big to be able to be covered by one channel – it’s why the AFL has worked so well with 7 and 10 sharing the rights. But you know what works even better? Having Foxtel so you can again be treated with respect. As I don’t live in Victoria, WA or SA I see every Friday night game LIVE! Imagine that – seeing a match live and not after Better Homes and Gardens (remember there are more fans of Better Homes and Gardens than there are AFL nuts).

Now the FreeTV stations would say they would love to show AFL, the Olympics etc on more than one channel – after all they all have 3 channels each now, but they can’t as the anti-siphoning legislation prohibits them from showing the sporting event on just one of the digital channels. The argument being we haven’t switched over to Digital TV yet. To which I say boohoo, go out and buy a bloody set top box and get in the 21st Century. Of course the stations should be allowed to show events just on the non-main station – Imagine if 7Two had on only tennis throughout the Australian Open. Ah bliss. The problem is of course, they most likely wouldn’t do this – why not? Well have a look at the ratings of 7Two and Go! compared to OneHD – people prefer to watch reruns of The Nanny or Bewitched than they do say the NBA. Sport is actually not as popular as you think it is. Sure the big events – the AFL Grand Final and Rugby League State of Origin matches rate big time; but they’re not sporting contests, they’re events.

And so I say yeah allow the stations to show sport events on any channel they want, but scrap the anti-siphoning legislation for all but the events; which I’ll say there are only four of: the AFL Grand Final; the Rugby League Grand Final, the State of Origin matches, and the Melbourne Cup. Let the Free TV stations have first dibs at broadcasting them (they rate so well, they actually will show them). But the rest? They’re up for grabs to all and sundry.

And here’s the reason why. The items on the list are there because supposedly they’re crucial to our way of life – we as Australians apparently love them so much the country would be up in arms without them. Well here’s the test. TV stations never turn down a chance to get good ratings, if a sport is so essential and popular no Free TV station is going to want to let it go. I guarantee you if the AFL and NRL were taken off the list, there would be next to no change. They rate good enough for the stations to make enough advertising revenue, and they’d go in with Foxtel to let them show all the matches they think no one wants to watch. The cricket? I’d also say they’d be no change. If Cricket Australia thinks it is vital for the test matches to be on FreeTV then they do not have to sell them to Foxtel. And the fact is Foxtel have done a much better coverage of the domestic Twenty20 competition than Channel 9 has done of the international Twenty20 matches (for a start Foxtel realises it is a sport).

I am an Adelaide Crows fan who hasn’t lived in South Australia for 15 years. If I didn’t have Foxtel I would see them play about 3 times a year on average. So don’t come crying to me about how it’s not fair you can’t watch your footy team on Free TV. I pay for the privilege of knowing I’ll see my team play every single week. And guess what – the coverage is better – there are no adverts in between goals.

The fact is you get what you pay for. Sport on Free TV is not really free. You pay for it by having to pander to the wishes of Home and Away fans. You pay for it with adverts between every change of end or after every goal. You pay for it by the station deciding to show another dodgy mechanic getting chased down the street by some bloke on A Current Affair instead of the cricket. You pay for it through having every Friday night and Saturday night footy match delayed. You pay through it by seeing Steve Hooker win his Gold Medal an hour after it actually happened. You pay for it by seeing everything repackaged made into a montage with music by Puccini instead of live. You pay for it by having to see sport the way people who don’t actually like sport want to see it.

All of that you have to pay as a sports fan instead of paying actual money.

I love sport. If I’m watching the tennis, or the Olympics, or the golf, or the footy, no one but now is allowed to take the remote and just switch the channel. And yet that in reality is what happens at the moment to all sports fans, because of a dumb piece of legislation that does nothing but give the Free TV stations a leg up that they don’t need (and for which they certainly don’t repay the viewers).

The Government is currently
reviewing the anti-siphoning legislation


Anonymous said...

So true, I'm an Adelaide Crows fan too living out of SA and I would rarely see them play if I just had FreeTV. Foxtel is on the sport's fans side.

Anonymous said...

Get ready for the Delhi Commonwealth Games on FOXTEL too!

big cuz said...

fair point, although you could never accuse the free to air networks of not being able to flog something to death - fantastic effort by Torah Bright - but my conservative count would be of at least a dozen replays of her winning run. plus the flogging of upcoming programs by Eddie is getting too much