Uncharted Territory

April 4, 2010

BBC Muppets in Malaysia

Filed under: BBC, F1, Media, Sky, Sport — Tim Joslin @ 7:03 pm

I wonder how many other F1 fans missed the last 19 laps of this morning’s Malaysian GP? Yeap, the BBC switched coverage from BBC 1 to BBC 2 part way through the race, on lap 37 of 56, to be exact. Totally unnecessary. Apparently they needed to make way for some religious event. But they could have shown the Easter Service on BBC 2 instead of BBC 1, or, if that wasn’t acceptable, the entire race on BBC 2. In fact, I’ve just bashed off a complaint.

I’ll let you know how much of my licence fee is refunded for cutting short a race I was thoroughly enjoying ( I was watching maybe an hour behind real-time on a PVR, having paused at various stages of breakfast, so, by the time I found out the end of the race was on the other side, it was way too late).

I couldn’t help reflecting on how poor the BBC’s sports coverage can be. And how little competition there is in general in the sports broadcasting market.

A while back I had an idea as to how to sort the mess out. Maybe if I keep saying it people will take some notice.

To recap, my suggestion was to sell rights to sporting events to multiple bidders. If the highest bid is, say, £100m (for exclusivity), then the rules would allow one of the other bidders to obtain the rights for £55m, the first bidder also paying £55m (joint exclusivity). If another bidder comes in then all three would pay, say, £40m. This prevents one organisation achieving a monopoly, but, aside from that, leaves everyone better off – fans get a choice of channel (or delivery mechanism if one is an internet broadcast); the winning bidder saves some money (so can afford to buy some more content); the second and subsequent bidders get access to content they wouldn’t have obtained otherwise; the sport gets more money (£110m with two bidders, £120m with three, rather than £100m with a single bidder, in this example) and more coverage.

One problem with Ofcom’s current plan to regulate the sports broadcasting market is that it only generates competition between platforms: Sky, Virgin, BT and so on will all effectively pay the same price for Sky Sports channels.

It does nothing to encourage new, perhaps cheaper sports channels, and in my judgement makes channel competition even less likely.

Platform providers should never have been allowed to run channels in the first place. This should have been addressed when Sky first came along. Maybe Murdoch’s outrageous interference with our democratic processes has muddied the waters. A little clarity of thought would surely have led regulators to nip such a dysfunctional monopoly in the bud.

The current measure – to regulate the wholesale price for Sky Sports bundles – is not sensible, as some commentators seem to think. Immediate suspicion is always justified whenever very specific regulatory measures are proposed. If anything, this one will cement the position of Sky Sports. There are “two sides” in this, but they’re not Sky and the competition. They’re the customer and the sports themselves.

And the customer is getting screwed. Sky Sports will cost at least £20 a month (since the wholesale price is £17.14). That’s £240 a year. The BBC’s entire licence-fee is about £140. So they can’t compete, unless, as I also suggest, they charge a separate sports licence-fee (since many people watch no sport at all), once the analogue switch-off ensures that all viewers can have access to dozens of channels (which could include BBC Sports 1, 2…).

Many people will not take Sky Sports, but make do, as now, with the residual “free to air” coverage on BBC and ITV, some of it controversial because it arguably reduces the income to the sports.

If you have a monopoly, in this case Sky Sports, profit is maximised when some people can’t afford the product. That’s just how it is – 10 million paying £240 a year (£2.4 bn) brings in more money than 15 million paying £120 (only £1.8 bn). If putting the price after costs up 10% costs you less than 10% of your customers then you may as well do it.

But more people could afford to watch at least some sport if there were offerings at, say, £240 (Sky?), £120 (ESPN, ITV?) and £60 (BBC?) a year. In this scenario Sky would show (as now) a lot of sport and the BBC just the choice events. Because multiple broadcasters would show at least some events, Sky would actually be able to show even more sport for £240. And sports wouldn’t be disadvantaged if mandated to allow “free-to-air” coverage (sorry the use of the term “free-to-air” makes me laugh – ITV is free to the viewer, since ads pay the bills, but BBC coverage is not “free”, it’s just that you’re not allowed not to buy it! A situation that’s becoming increasingly bizarre).

And you’d even be able to choose which channel to watch those choice events on!

All this while the sports themselves earn even more from the rights!

July 13, 2009

Bring Back BBC Bias!

Filed under: BBC, Cricket, F1, Media, Sport — Tim Joslin @ 10:13 am

With so much sport to choose from, it takes something special to grab my attention – genuine rivalry, perhaps, like the Ashes. Or a special individual. I happen to think Lewis Hamilton is a driver of exceptional talent. My interest in F1, like that of millions of others, was rekindled when he burst on the scene.

I was therefore fuming when Hamilton’s McLaren suffered a puncture on the first corner of yesterday’s German GP, leaving him in last place for the rest of the race. Like millions of others I was interested to know exactly what had happened.

I was rather puzzled that Hamilton appeared to lose it at the first corner and not only ran wide but, at first sight, must have collided with another car (Raikonnen’s Ferrari was the candidate) on rejoining the race. OK, there’s a bit of “My boy can do no wrong”, about it, but such errors would be very uncharacteristic for Hamilton, who, as I said, is pure raw talent.

Sure enough, the plot soon began to thicken. It was announced that the Australian Red Bull driver Mark Webber, who ended up winning the race, was under investigation for an incident at the start. The BBC’s “expert pundit”, former under-achieving Scottish driver David Coulthard (if you’ve followed that Wikipedia link, then, like me, you’ll have been reminded that Coulthard’s last racing team was – you’ve guessed it – Red Bull) immediately announced that Webber had done nothing wrong. His comments suggested that his basis for this was that he “hadn’t seen a collision”.

At this stage we hadn’t seen any clear replays, so Coulthard clearly believes that he has the ability to monitor exactly what is happening over a few seconds to 20 cars speeding away from the start of a GP. No-one else can do this, especially whilst simultaneously commentating, so Coulthard is clearly superhuman and deserves every penny of the millions he earnt not winning many races.

Replays soon confirmed that Webber had in fact side-swiped Barrichello’s Brawn going into the first corner. Webber admitted in the post-race interview that he thought Barrichello was on the other side of him! Lucky he wasn’t on a public road, or he’d be facing a dangerous driving charge. Miraculously, the collision had little effect on Barrichello or Webber’s cars. On another day, though, Webber’s mistake would have taken out half the field.

David “Superman” Coulthard’s opinion was, of course, unchanged by the visual facts of what had happened.

Webber received a drive-through penalty, which was insufficiently severe to prevent him winning the race. What sort of sport is this becoming? When I used to watch, the penalty was a 10 second stop, as well as a drive-through.

What the stewards didn’t investigate, though, was what happened next. Webber bounced off Barrichello, and – no doubt shocked to have found a car already there as he headed to the apex of the first corner – also steered left where Hamilton happened to be going round his outside. It turns out Webber clipped the McLaren forcing him off the track and giving him the puncture that cost him the race.

But the Beeb’s narrative was what a “brilliant performance” by Webber. Sorry, I expect sports coverage to reflect at least some of what I feel about the event, not construct some dumbed-down narrative. Webber was lucky his car wasn’t wrecked after playing dodgems at the start; lucky F1’s punishment regime is a joke; lucky not to find himself behind Hamilton and Barrichello at the start (and vulnerable for a lap or two to Kers-powered overtaking moves by the Ferraris and Kovalainen’s McLaren); and lucky too, as it happened, that Brawn screwed up a Barrichello pit-stop, relegating the closest rival to the Red Bulls to 6th. Maybe there’s a reason the “brilliant” Webber had not won any of his previous 129 GPs.

Not only is the Beeb happy to give Webber more credit that he deserves, they are also apparently happy to do down the British talent:

“Hamilton had fancied his chances of scoring a podium finish after qualifying fifth – and a fuel-corrected third fastest.

But after benefiting from his Kers power-boost system to contest the lead with Webber and Barrichello going into the first corner, Hamilton missed his braking point and ran wide.

He got a puncture and rejoined last where for some reason the McLaren, which has a major aerodynamic upgrade this weekend, did not show the pace it had on Saturday.”

What’s this “fancied his chances”? Subtext: “but got egg on his face”, eh? And “benefiting from Kers”? – with the implication that he doesn’t deserve it. But he should benefit. The car has to carry the Kers gear around the track! And McLaren have made design compromises to put it in the car. And probably budget compromises too – working on Kers rather than other aspects of the car (only McLaren and Ferrari have effective Kers systems). I expect they thought F1 was serious about including this “green” technology, and that it wouldn’t be quietly dropped as is being done next season. And Hamilton was so far behind (he had to limp to the pits with his puncture) that there was no point flogging it. There may also have been other damage to his car.

Yes, much of posterity will believe this latest poor result was purely Hamilton’s fault. Anyone using the Guardian’s archive will get the same impression as at the BBC:

“Lewis Hamilton had a bad day after being forced into the pits shortly after the start with a puncture. He made a strong start from fifth but ran wide after turn one. He returned to the track but was bumped from behind almost immediately.”

Independent readers will see Kimi Raikonnen slurred by name:

“As for Lewis Hamilton, on a day when he and McLaren felt their year of woe would potentially end with a podium, he could not have anticipated it would end so disastrously and in such swift fashion.

From fifth on the grid, and aided by a push of the KERS button, the world champion made a storming start.

As Webber and Barrichello played dodgems, Hamilton appeared poised to take full advantage, only to overcook it and run wide into the sharp first-corner hairpin.

Returning to the track in fifth place, Hamilton’s right-rear tyre was punctured by the front wing of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, which was not to be the only incident of the day involving the Finn.”

Raikonnen has been wrecking a lot of other drivers’ races lately, but not Hamilton’s on this occasion.

Whilst the Independent is happy to report what a BBC commentator guessed had happened, the Times actually bothers to get it right:

“Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton finished 18th and last after an attack on the opening lap saw him involved in a collision with Webber that cost him a puncture.

Webber bashed into Barrichello’s car on the run from the start to the first corner, a collision for which he was punished with his drive-through penalty, but he overcame that with a dazzling drive to victory.”

After this, I woke up this morning expecting to hear the BBC revelling on England’s remarkable escape in the First Ashes Test – listening to the last overs of this had rather raised my spirits. But no, Auntie had decided “the angle” was supposed England delaying tactics. It did seem England had overstepped the mark (though part of Strauss’s explanation – trying to ensure the players out there knew how long they had to last – is very plausible), but this had no effect on the match – the Aussies lost no overs. The rule was 15 overs or an hour’s play whichever is the longer. Can anyone imagine the Aussies (or any other Test side) allowing the bowlers to achieve more than 15 overs in the last hour in similar circumstances?

Look, BBC, I pay my licence fee because – oh, sorry, you’re a monopoly – anyway, I expect what British viewers and readers would consider balance. Winning a GP after playing dodgems at the start is not “brilliant”, and to deserve to win a Test you actually have to look like being able to take the last wicket. If I want the Aussie angle, I’ll find out how to get their coverage over the internet!

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