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Rugby union's TV problem isn't viewers - it's the viewing

Technology has changed the way sport is covered. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Roar Rookie
18th July, 2016
40
1980 Reads

Television coverage of rugby is a billion dollar industry yet the game is suffering from poor television coverage.

Why do I say that? It’s a matter of feeling. Of rhythm. Of understanding and comprehension.

As the money in rugby has increased so has the number of TV cameras at each match. But increased number of TV cameras has not improved the quality of coverage. Quite the opposite.

Increasing the number of TV cameras has reduced the quality of coverage because more cameras has resulted in a constant chopping and changing of camera angles which is disorientating to TV viewers. Rugby union’s TV coverage does not have a feeling for the rhythm of the game.

Rugby union is different to league. I don’t want to start a battle of the codes here, both games are great. Lets uneasily agree that union is slightly different to league.

Yet the TV coverage of both rugby codes is exactly the same.

There is a rhythm to the TV cameras and it’s the same in both codes. When the ball is being passed or kicked there is a wide view showing backlines. When there is a tackle the camera zooms in tight. This is perfect for league but it’s a terrible rhythm for union.

Why? Rugby is like chess and it doesn’t stop at the tackle. It matters where both backlines are. When the camera zooms in on a tackle both backlines are lost to the viewer. Continuity is lost.

In the 20 years since rugby went professional, the size of TV screens has increased dramatically. Yet the TV broadcasters still can’t manage to fit more than a three letter abbreviation of team names on our enormous screens and still feel a need to zoom in all the time, as if we need it. We don’t! We need a view of both backlines.

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Both backlines should be visible at all times during live play because it matters how quickly attacking and defending lines reform after a tackle. Play doesn’t stop at the tackle like it does in league. Likewise it matters how quickly defensive and attacking lines reconfigure because of kicks. It matters a lot.

And when the camera zooms in on the tackle or the kick receiver that structural information is lost to the viewer. Context and continuity are lost.

When the ball is in play there is enough action on a rugby pitch without chopping and changing the cameras too. It’s disorientating when the camera angle changes with every pass.

TV coverage of rugby union needs to respect the play. Give us a constant wide angle view while the ball is live and in play.

Rugby has plenty of stoppages. That’s the time to show us the close up camera angles – replays. But for live play keep it still.

One or two cameras can cover the entire field.

The rhythm of rugby’s TV coverage should go like this:

  • Ball in play – wide view. Hold. Resist changing cameras. Resist zooming in.
  • Break in play – replay of other camera angles. Chop and change. Zoom in.
  • In long breaks of play, which happen regularly in rugby union, all try scoring and spectacular line break movements should be replayed.
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With all the money that’s invested in rugby’s TV coverage it’s time to give a little more thought to the quality of the TV coverage.

Rugby is confusing enough without changing cameras every few seconds and zooming in and out during live play. Please. Keep a wide angle view of live play. Less is more.

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