Tyranny of the expert summariser

I wrote something grumpy for last week’s New Statesman about football, the BBC and pun-soaked platitudes. Here’s how it began:

In the early Noughties when broadcasters still bothered to find new uses for the interactive red button, the Beeb began offering viewers of live football three audio options – the TV commentary, the Radio 5 Live commentary or the sound of the crowd. Public service broadcasting at its best and, naturally, I chose the crowd.

Now that there’s no such choice, I press mute instead. Anything to escape the reverse alchemy that invariably results when middle- aged men with lip mics share commentating duties. Tell me I’m not alone.

It’s certainly not this column’s role to do anyone out of a job – especially in these recessionary times – but surely football-watching would remain undiminished if we did away with the odd commentator or co-commentator, sometimes laughably referred to as the “expert summariser”.

Where we crave insight and analysis, we get platitudes and pre-prepared, pun-soaked soliloquies to fill the dead air. (Really, what’s wrong with dead air?)

You can read the full thing here.

 

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Why Ashes 2009 Really Was A Shared National Moment

According to Mark Lawson writing in today’s TV Matters column in the Guardian:

These Ashes felt less like a shared national moment because fewer of the nation shared it.

There’s no doubt the numbers are compelling – Channel 4 averaged three million viewers when it broadcast the 2005 series while this time around Sky Sports had just 850,000.

Even allowing for the two million that tuned into Five’s terrestrial highlights on Sunday night, millions of TV cricket fans have gone missing this summer.

There’s little doubt too that TV does matter, as the column’s title insists, which incidentally is why live events – not just sport but news too – represent the TV industry’s most robust challenge to a time-shifted, platform-shifted, fragmented future.

This aside, England’s 2009 cricketing success was a “shared national moment”, perhaps even a shared international moment.

Witness the spikes in traffic specialist and generalist sports sites enjoyed on Sunday. More importantly, witness the conversations that were happening on the truly social parts of the web – #Ashes was a regular in the Twitter trending topics top 10 throughout July and August.

And most unexpectedly, the BBC’s Test Match Special became the social hub. With some five million listeners sharing the experience.

As Christopher Martin-Jenkins – the TMS veteran who was given the microphone at the game’s denouement – noted in Monday’s Times:

Emails had poured in to Test Match Special from all quarters of the globe yesterday, including Mozambique, Ghana, South Georgia and the base camp at Everest.

Many were describing where they were and what they were doing when Andrew Flintoff threw down Rick Ponting’s stumps. But the one from Ghana demonstrates best how a broadcaster can become a social conduit in the digital age.

Suitably, this story was recorded on the TMS Facebook blog:

We had a text from one listener tuning to TMS via his mobile phone on a beach in Ghana. His message was that his wife had forgotten to pack a phone charger and he was desperately searching for a listener who would just happen to be also on the same beach and could help.

A few seconds later, Josh Grainger contacted the programme to say: “Hello, I heard the e-mail you’ve just read out, and i have got two spare phone chargers, i’m in Halloway beach in Ghana, hope it helps. I’m wearing a fluorescent yellow top, so I’ll be easy to see!”

Welcome to the new shared experience.