14 November 2009

Cricket on terrestrial TV

The news that Ashes cricket will return to terrestrial TV for the next home series is fantastic news for English cricket fans without a Sky subscription (as well as the unwilling, that group includes people in nursing homes, children etc) who have been deprived the chance to watch live cricket on terrestrial in the UK since summer 2005.

It’s a fact that in that time, the UK has been the ONLY major cricket nation to offer its citizens NO free live test match cricket.

But how much of this decision has been driven by Rupert Murdoch/News International’s decision to abandon its support for the Government and back The Conservatives instead? And if the Tories win next years election, will we see this decision quietly dropped?

Channel 4’s viewing figures for 2005 peaked at 10 million for a 2-1 Ashes victory, while this year’s 2-1 win saw a peak of only 2 million tune in. Back in 2005, the England cricket team were sponsored by Vodafone, who used terrestrial TV as a way to reach millions of potential customers. As soon as that reach was diminished, the sponsors left, leaving the ECB totally dependent on the Sky money.

Nobody disputes that Sky’s cricket coverage is excellent – but inaccessibility remains the main problem. The ECB can fund all the “grass roots” initiatives it likes, but if kids don’t see the next Freddie Flintoff on their TV screens they will inevitably bleed away to other sports and distractions. Besides, the ECB’s definition of “grass roots” seems to mostly encompass the major cricket clubs at the top of the club pyramid – quite how much money gets to the roots is disputable.

A workable solution in future could be for Sky to offer some (or all) of its test match portfolio on a free-to-air digital channel – it could launch Sky Sports News 2 and show live cricket there. It would get the same ratings that Channel 4 used to and it would enable Sky and the ECB to sell serious advertising (ie Vodafone) – hell, it might even increase Sky subscriptions as viewers came back to cricket. But my guess is that Sky will be confident of retaining its monopoly on live test match cricket, and the rest of us will have to muddle on with 45-minute doses of Mark Nicholas until the series DVD is released


Anonymous said...

Possible compromise? Sky allow their live England international WEEKEND coverage to be broadcast on BBC with the idea that for most, weekends are the only time they can watch, and that coverage is likely to encourage greater take up of Sky?

Ed said...

An article in The Times today talks about this issue and puts the amount of money at stake at £22 million. I also saw another article which suggested that instead of the grass roots, any lessening of money to the ECB should result in stopping the funds to counties to keep them propped up, and allow some of them to fold.

Whatever the solution, it's not going to be easy unless Sky take a totally abnormal charitable stance and allow terrestrial TV to take their programmes.

Aussie Dave said...

Just to play devil's advocate. I found this article on Cricinfo http://www.cricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/434313.html which was critical of the decision

James M said...

It's fine having the BBC or C4 cherry pick the best test matches, but what about 20/20 and other county games? They can barely bring themselves to cover the complete day of a test without cutting it short for the latest news from Eastenders. And since when have the BBC covered an overseas tour? And do you think they would show a 20/20 from Derbyshire on a Friday evening? For a true cricket fan SKY is just about the best thing that has ever happened to cricket coverage.
Whoever covers it, free or otherwise (and by the way, the BBC isn't free) it needs to be on a dedicated sports channel, along with all the other forms of the game.
And as for people in nursing homes missing out, well if they had put a bit more money aside earlier instead of spending it all on cigarettes then perhaps they would still be able to afford Sky now.
They can listen to TMS along with all the other old fossils.