Cricket’s bold leap into the unknown

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Australia celebrate a wicket. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

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    Cricket Australia’s new TV broadcast deal provides a double-edged sword – more of the game being shown but a considerable amount of it behind a paywall.

    The deal ends a near four-decade monopoly by FTA’s Channel Nine.

    It also represents the first time in the history of the sport in this country that the fan will have to pay a premium to watch the Australian team, in its entirety, on home soil.

    What impact that will have is currently an unknown factor, but safe to say it will have one.

    What we do know is, despite the fact that the likes of the AFL and NRL have games exclusively aired on subscription TV, the uptake of Foxtel is only around 30 per cent. It remains to be seen what impact cricket will have on that percentage.

    The sport in this country has taken a hammering as a result of the recent ball-tampering scandal. In the immediate wake of the incident, many fans on social media were saying their disenchantment would see them turn their back on the sport.

    Steve Smith

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    The broadcasters – who between them are shelling out $1.2bn over six years – will be hoping that time heals those wounds, none more so than Foxtel where the punter will have to be wooed back and then asked to pay for the opportunity to watch many of the matches Australia plays.

    The quarantining of one-day internationals and international T20s behind a paywall means both forms will have a greatly diminished audience.

    That creates an interesting scenario for ODIs in particular. Many see that format as the least attractive of the three on offer and the fact that Seven has not expressed an interest in covering them has allowed Foxtel to get around the anti-siphoning legislation.

    With it appearing exclusively on pay-TV from now on, the television audience will be diluted significantly.

    This summer’s home schedule will feature five ODIs against South Africa and three against Sri Lanka. Those matches will be used as key warm-up fixtures ahead of next June’s 50-over World Cup in England where Australia will be looking to defend its title.

    That World Cup will be shown on Channel Nine as part of an existing contract with the ICC.

    But, unless you have a pay-TV subscription, you will not see Australia in that format again until it plays its first match in England in the middle of next year.

    What that will do to the profile and interest in the one-day game remains to be seen. While all Test matches over the duration of the new deal will be simulcast on both Seven and Foxtel, the latter will have exclusivity on 16 of the 59 BBL matches.

    In terms of what the fans were able to watch over the 2017-18 summer, the number remains the same with the BBL expanding from its existing 43-game fixture to a total of 59, inclusive of two semi-finals and the final.

    The big winner out of the new arrangement is the women’s game. Every home international played by the Australian team will be shown on FTA television, a first for the sport.

    Both Seven and Foxtel will simulcast every Test, ODI and Twenty20over the lifespan of the six-year deal.

    Twenty-three of the scheduled 59 WBBL matches will be shown on Seven with the remainder being carried on CA’s Live App.

    The volume of women’s matches being shown on FTA television is a massive coup for the sport. The number of girls taking up the game has grown exponentially in recent years on the back of matches being shown on FTA television.

    Had the new deal taken women’s fixtures behind a paywall it would have greatly diminished the continued growth of the female game. The new deal is also likely to see an increase in women in the commentary boxes.

    Hurricanes batter Emma Thompson plays a shot during the Women's Big Bash League (WBBL) T20 semi-final match between the Sydney Sixers and Hobart Hurricanes at the Gabba in Brisbane, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    As participation rates continue to swell, it would be remiss of the broadcasters not to include female voices in their coverage of the male game.

    The likes of former Australian players such as Mel Jones and Lisa Sthalekar, who have both transitioned from the field to the commentary box in recent times, are prime candidates to be involved in the new look commentary teams.

    Just who both networks choose to be behind the microphone has already lit up social media.

    By dint of its AFL coverage, Seven has numerous commentators on its books with the likes of Bruce McAvaney, Hamish McLachlan, Basil Zempilas and Brian Taylor all front and centre.

    None of them have a background in cricket broadcasting and none have played the sport to any significant level.

    From a personal perspective, and having been a sports broadcaster for nearly 30 years, I have always maintained that sports like cricket and tennis are best served by former players or coaches when it comes to actually commentating the sport.

    In the various football codes and other sports like basketball and hockey, the commentator describes the action as it happens.

    In tennis, commentators are silent while the ball is in motion, and simply add analysis once the point has ended. Hence, from a commentary perspective, the sport is best suited to those with a strong background in it as a participant.

    Cricket is quite similar in the way it is called.

    Due to the desire for clean ‘ins’ when it comes to cutting highlights, there is no real commentary as the broadcasters are actually silent when the ball is delivered and generally only make comments in a past tense when the play has concluded.

    Most of the commentary work in television cricket is about analysis rather than description.

    Globally, there are very few commentators who have not played the game to a high level. As long as those chosen are articulate and fluent in their delivery, I believe that is the way to go.

    The Nine commentary team has been pretty much exclusively made up of former international or first-class players over the past four decades.

    That is likely to be the way both Seven and Foxtel approach it as well.

    The odd commentator may make the move from Channel Nine to one of the new broadcasters but, in the main, I doubt we will see many of them again in the summers ahead.

    The likes of Mel McLaughlin – who was a host on Ten’s BBL coverage before moving to Ten – may well be used in some kind of capacity but the commentators are most likely to be former players, both male and female.

    One thing is guaranteed: whoever the networks choose, they will all have their critics as it is an area where total consensus is a non-event.

    We are entering a whole new era with respect to the coverage of the sport in this country and it is very much a case of watch this space in the months ahead.

    By this time next year, fans will have made their assessment on just how both networks have fared.

    And, by then, we will also know just what sort of audiences both Seven and Foxtel have garnered for their coverage.

    Cricket Australia, in particular, will keenly await those figures.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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    The Crowd Says (36)

    • April 15th 2018 @ 8:19am
      Linphoma said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      I cannot see this move popularising the sport Glenn if that is one of the goals of the exercise. As you rightly point out, the womens game will be predicted big winners because of the FTA exposure. Secularising mens coverage will do nothing to bring over the great unwashed.
      Shameful. I guess the old state-based model was untenable but did we have to totally about face and embrace the corporate suits running a sport?

    • Roar Guru

      April 15th 2018 @ 8:36am
      Wayne said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      I would watch the 6pm to 10:30pm part of ODI and T20 after work. Now I won’t watch it. Pretty easy decision.

      Catering to the diehards is fine, if the diehards pay the bills. But its the “filthy casuals” that buy the new merchandise every season, who’s favourite player is whoever is going well who will switch off.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 8:36am
      qwetzen said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      Hey Glenn,

      Have you sent your CV off to Fox? Perhaps a joint offer with Skully?

      I’d be interested in seeing a representative *national* poll of the most/least wanted commentators.

      Most Wanted: BJ, Punter, Flem, Skull, Isa Guha, Roy and of course G Mitchell.

      Least Wanted: MA Taylor, MA Taylor (just to make sure), Slater, Brayshaw, Clarke, Warne, ME Waugh & MA Taylor.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 9:03am
        jamesb said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        In the least wanted list, Brayshaw is already at seven with the AFL. Mark Waugh always has a gig at Fox. And I would be very surprised if Warne wasn’t snapped up.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 8:37am
      bazza200 said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      It’s sad channel 7 sneakily didn’t bid for Australian odis n T20s would of thought that the T20s they could of bid for at least as only less than 5 a yr and all the big guns playing in them.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 9:05am
      Paul said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      The annoying thing about this whole episode is CA and to a degree Foxtel and Channel 7 are dictating what cricket people will and won’t watch into the future which, in turn, will dictate what cricket CA will support moving forward.

      The bulk of comments since this announcement highlight various issues or reasons why people won’t use pay TV, and this will only change slightly when cricket moves later this year, if the English experience is repeated over here/ That will start to kill off ODI viewing/interest which makes zero sense given the upcoming World Cup, unless of course Channel 7 wants it that way to hurt the ratings for 9, which has the broadcast rights.

      I cannot see how either the game or the public who pays for cricket in Australia, benefits from this broadcast rights decision. To me it us yet another reason to get rid of Sutherland and Peever. They care little about the game and only about the money.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 9:26am
        jamesb said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:26am | ! Report

        What i am gobsmacked is that the T20 world cup is held in Australia in 2020. And yet there will not be any T20 internationals on free to air towards the lead up of that tournament.

        That is a giant stuff up from CA. Not the best way to promote a tournament that will be held at home.

        • April 15th 2018 @ 9:50am
          Paul said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:50am | ! Report

          Under the anti-syphoning rules, can’t Channel 7 decide it wants to broadcast these FTA, then make a bid to do so? You’re right, it’s plain stupid not to have these games in free to air.

          • April 15th 2018 @ 10:19am
            jamesb said | April 15th 2018 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            That’s correct. It’s up to Seven if they want to bid for the T20 internationals. CA could’ve made it more enticing for Seven by making the price lower.

          • Roar Guru

            April 15th 2018 @ 8:48pm
            JamesH said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

            They had a chance and they elected not to. That ship has sailed.

      • Roar Guru

        April 16th 2018 @ 7:15pm
        Cadfael said | April 16th 2018 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

        I thought the ODIs and international T20s were still up iun the air as far as FTA goes. I didn’t think the government had made a decision yet on whether the T20 and ODI would have to be shown on FTA or not.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 10:19am
      Ken said | April 15th 2018 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      The cheats have already soured my opinion of cricket and now this decision ensures that I will not be watching much cricket in the future. Even though I have a Foxtel subscription I will not pay extra to watch cricket. The only upside is possibly that Clarke and Warne might disappear from the screen, but I hear that Foxtel might hire the cheat (S. Smith) as a commentator. Now that would be the final nail in the coffin.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 11:08am
        Rock said | April 15th 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        On ya bike then.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 5:28pm
        Nudge said | April 15th 2018 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

        With a broadcast deal as big as this, channel 7 and Foxtel are pretty confident old Ken is in the minority. Onya bike mate.👋

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