6 July 2015

Cricket and Terrestrial Television

It's Monday 6 July 2015, and in two days' time, another Ashes series is about to begin. It will be another Ashes series - and another test series - that I am unable to see in full, as it is being broadcast live on Sky Sports. I am not the billpayer in my household and so getting this (legally, at least) is out of my hands. Thankfully, I've timed my holidays by renting out some lovely cottages 'up naaaarth' which do possess this facility.

The final ever ball of live cricket on terrestrial TV.
Not a single ball of live cricket has been broadcast on terrestrial television since 1 June 2014, when the Kolkata Knight Riders defeated the Kings XI Punjab by three wickets in the Indian Premier League final, live on ITV4. As someone who hates the IPL, with its "leg side wides" and the improper shots (show Don Bradman the 'back away and swing' and he'd go absolutely ape), does this really count in any case? The final ball was bowled by a player I've never heard of to a batsman I've never heard of, who hit it for four over backward point.

The final ball of live test cricket was a big anticlimax, and this one I remember distinctly. On Monday 12 September 2005, Steve Harmison bowled a ball in the dark to Justin Langer, which glanced off his pads, beat Geraint Jones, and went for four leg byes. Australia now needed 338 runs to win with 14.2 overs left in the game, and Justin Langer called Matthew Hayden, Rudi Koertzen, and Billy Bowden together, and they all agreed that the light was too bad. The match was drawn, and England regained the Ashes. Unsurprisingly, this has never found its way onto the internet.

The BBC hasn't broadcast a single ball in highlights form (excluding news reports) since the 2006-07 Ashes series, when England were trounced 5-0. The last ball in highlights form was Matthew Hayden hitting the winning runs at Sydney. Their last live ball was in 1998. 

Is there actually an appetite for terrestrial broadcasters to broadcast cricket? The answer is a resounding no. According to a 2015 BBC report, Sky are shelling out £65m (per year, presumably) for the rights to every single ball - live - faced by the England cricket team. Consider the fact that Channel 4, between 2002 and 2005, shelled out £150m, it's very rare for rights costs to go down for any sport. Sky would only have been able to get a reduction if no one else was willing to pay for the rights. Certainly, the furore over the 2013-14 Ashes highlights definitely shows that no one wants to broadcast cricket on terrestrial television. If you're unaware what happened, the BBC and ITV both pulled out at the last minute, causing Sky to take it upon themselves and put highlights on Pick TV, their Free-To-Air channel. It was such a last minute decision that it even ended with "next on Sky Sports 2...", until David Gower provided some "top and tail" to the programmes after Adelaide. 

The BBC are shelling out £60m for the flailing "Match Of The Day", £70m per year for Wimbledon, £15m for shared (and poor) F1 coverage (according to the F1 Broadcasting Blog), and suddenly, it all adds up. Put that money on the table to the ECB, and with the allure, and the inspiration, no doubt, that comes with terrestrial television, and the ECB may just go with the BBC. Consider that the BBC may be paying for the Radio rights as it is (although I doubt it), there's more money that could be saved if the BBC took a Radio + TV deal as one, rather than two deals. 

One of England's best batting performances ever, stuck
behind a £40 paywall.
I don't wish to take away anything from the excellent Sky coverage, which has broadcast every English overseas test live since 1990 (which I don't think had been done before), and continues to go from strength to strength. The trouble is that no one watches cricket any more. Even with pay-per-view TV, cricket is still higher in the ratings than it was for the 2001 Ashes series, live on Channel 4, but it is nowhere near the viewing figures for 2005 (Channel 4) or indeed, 2009 (Sky). 

Even if it was highlights, everyone remembers Kolo
Touré's own goal against Fulham. But how many people
remember Channel 5's commentary of the 2009 Ashes?
But why do so many more people watch - and are interested in - football than they are cricket, when 10 years ago, the opposite was true? Neither have the main event broadcast live on terrestrial television (the Premier League vs English tests). So where does the blame lie for the failure of cricket in the last 10 years? The England team for not doing well enough? No, they were world #1 in 2011. What about the other side of the coin? What has football done right that cricket hasn't? The BBC haven't made a mess of their highlights show in the same way Channel 5 have. "Cricket on Five" is terrible and is ridiculously poor, and is basically the very worst of Channel 4's coverage over the years. Limiting itself to just Mark Nicholas, Geoffrey Boycott, Simon Hughes, Michael Vaughan since 2011, and occasionally a few others, it's nowhere near the better Match Of The Day. So what Channel 5 must do is have a complete rethink. For starters, don't put ODI highlights on at 1am... 

I've just written a lengthy piece and I haven't come to any conclusion. What can be done? The BBC don't want it and ITV gave it all up. It's quite cheap in relation to other sports. Sky is the only reasonable option. Sky really should put the Ashes live on Pick, but that ruins their business model. Until the BBC stump up the courage to dump some of its ENDLESS Wimbledon coverage, we're stuck without cricket for a long time.

No comments:

Post a Comment