We have heard it all before, ‘This is a new era for a televised sport’. Many have come, boasting that they can challenge the SKY Sports supremacy, especially when it comes to covering live football. ITV Digital, Setanta and ESPN have come and pretty much gone without too much of a fuss.
Now telephone giants BT have decided to do battle with BSKYB.
The start has certainly been interesting. There have been a lot of positives and negatives to look at.
So let’s start with some of the poorer points.
First off the camera work in studio and at pitchside has been very amateurish at times. The desperate need to have the cameras moving is really grating especially for someone like myself who works in production.
Look at the first SPFL Premiership game of the season between Partick Thistle and Dundee United at Firhill. Now BT went with one presenter and three guests. They had one roaming camera that would turn it attention and focus on each individual, instead of having two cameras. You would use one camera, being a wide shot containing everyone in frame, and the second camera moving to the face of whoever is talking. Then you need a vision mixer cutting into the right shots at the right time. Maybe BT think their style is arty or cool, but it’s not. They don’t have the skills to pull it off especially over a good period of time like 15-30 minutes.
The constant moving around by a supposed steadicam gives the viewer motion sickness or it at least tries its very best to do that.
Also while I am talking about the Thistle game. If you have a presenter plus three guests then have the presenter on the end of the table, preferably on the lefthand side. I know its conventional but there is a reason why people say ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Why alienate one or two of your guests by having your presenter blocking them off as he’s asking the other guest a question? It looks bad and doesn’t set a good atmosphere between the panel.
The camera work in the studio during EPL games is better but please BT calm down with the cuts between all your different shots. Honest to god I must have seen every camera shot plus angle in your repertoire in the space of five minutes. The shots were steady but we saw far too many of them. For example I don’t need to see a shot that is made up of 75% of the BT desk and the heads of the pundits and presenter.
On a plus, the studio itself looks absolutely fantastic. I am sure a lot of money was spent on it and it looks like the money was well spent. That said we don’t really need to see your presenters walk all the way around it whilst still trying to talk to the camera. Keep it nice and simple and then you’ll see less mistakes.
The scoreboard graphic being on the bottom left hand side of the screen is another touchy subject. On Twitter I have seen a lot of people liking the fact it links with other player related graphics and stats. Yes that may look great for the first month or so but then the novelty will soon disappear.
I have also seen a great amount of folk against it.
Why do I prefer it being top right or left?
Well I will admit I am used to it. Not just on SKY but on every channel I watch football on. SKY in fact tried to change it one time and it lasted three weeks at most.
But I also have other reasons for my dislike for the BT scoreline position.
One being that if like me, you like to write, go online, eat or do housework during games you can quickly look at the screen and while looking to the top to see the score you also see the action on the pitch. When it’s placed at the bottom you look for the score, but only see whatever is underneath your telly. Then there is the fact that the camera angle can’t always compensate for the scoreline. So if the ball is on that part of the screen then it or the player with it can go missing. At the top it never causes confusion or becomes a distraction.
Now let’s look at the faces in front of the camera.
I like Jake Humphrey. I think it was a great and shrewd appointment to get him from the BBC’s F1 coverage. He is interested in football and that comes across. He is also inoffensive to look at and to listen to. That said I hope he doesn’t slip into calling people by their nicknames too much. On BT’s first show he used the names ‘Jamo’, ‘Macca’ and ‘Stubbsy’ all in the space of five minutes. Even if they are your pals, the viewers don’t know that or care, they want professionals on screen doing their jobs. Also don’t have Jake scrutinise the starting lineups when you have two former Champions League winners twiddling their thumbs. Seriously that makes no sense. I don’t really care who Jake thinks is ‘a great player’.
As pundits I really liked seeing Owen Hargreaves and Steve McManaman on together discussing Arsenal and Fulham. Both make sense, use detailed analysis when they can and seem to do some actual research which can sometimes seem like a bad word to certain football pundits. Also the friendly insight Hargreaves gave us into Dimitar Berbatov was well thought out and the viewers actually learned more about the subject.
David James is just a nutter. He seems intent on rub people up the wrong way and say controversial things just for the sake of it. I hope I’m proved wrong on this but we shall see. If you are going top heavy with former pros being pundits then have them specifically talking about their own positions.
I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have Neil Warnock on as a pundit for the SPFL Premiership match. He clearly lacked any real knowledge of the Scottish game and started referring to one player as the ‘wee guy’.
The commentary team in the EPL leaves me unconvinced at the moment. Darren Fletcher (No not the Manchester United player) will no doubt come into his own, given time. But at this early stage he is still struggling with the change from radio to TV commentary. Michael Owen just doesn’t do it as a co-commentator for me. His voice is a bit monotone and very dull. He did a very good promo video that was meant to show off his skills on the mic, but alas it seems Michael used up every bit of passion he has on that one TV ad. Owen also falls into the trap that too many others have in the past, he tells us all what we can see with our own eyes. Football enthusiasts pay to have someone give them insight into why a striker makes a certain run or what shot they should have taken and why.
Beside Owen and Fletcher, BT have introduced former referee Mark Halsey. It’s another way for them to be that bit different from the competitors. Again it fails. On more than one occasion when Halsey goes to say his piece, Owen spoke over him. The dynamic doesn’t flow and just causes confusion. Plus to go to Mark for his view on absolutely every refereeing decision does get boring very quickly. Football should be a free flowing game and the same should happen with the commentary. I think it would be ideal to set up a corner in the huge studio for Halsey and go to him at half time and at the end of the game so he could then take us through the main talking points from a ref’s point of view.
For the Scottish games BT have the best commentary team going in my opinion. Derek Rae is wonderful at calling a game and adding great tidbits that keep the viewers learning. Beside him Gary McAllister has impressed. He is a thoughtful co-commentator who doesn’t just tell us all what we can see. He gives us the insight that Owen clearly can’t during the English games. To be honest the Scottish commentary team beats their English counterparts hands down.
A huge goal for BT has been their European football coverage.
There has been a lot more live Ligue 1, Serie A and Bundesliga games. This is a market that needed to be improved and has been with BT Sport. For too many years TV companies believed the tripe Sky were promoting about the EPL being the only exciting league in the world. So many Brits love foreign leagues and for far too long they have been starved of any proper coverage.
Whether its Derek Rae or Peter Drury you will be guaranteed good commentary. For the Italian games Richard Hughes gives us fine analysis of the game alongside the main commentator.
Now another main aspect that I have enjoyed about the BT channel is the European Sunday night football show. It’s a show that has a knowledgeable panel with Ralph Honigstein, Julien Laurens and Lorenzo Amuso. Plus on the first week they had a special guest in Joey Barton, who could easily become a future pundit as he was very good on camera. For the show to work at its best they need James Richardson on hosting duties every week.
Paul Dempsey doesn’t offer up the same expertise and is more reminiscent of an Alan Partridge era.
I also enjoyed seeing different faces getting the chance to become pundits notably Mina Rzouki and Andy Brassell while covering the European leagues. Both know their stuff and proved that you don’t need former footballing careers to talk about the sport. That new gamble is one that will pay off in my eyes!
All in all BT Sport have enjoyed an encouraging start to life as a sports broadcaster. There is a lot of fine tuning to be done. Especially with filming and editing work at pitchside and in studios. But they will no doubt learn from these mistakes and will hopefully not make those same mistakes again.
They need to get SKY out of their heads. Far too many of these quirky changes are down to the fact they want to be different from SKY. But to be honest SKY’s format works. If BT are to continue in this field, they need to promote their strengths; like superior commentary, more insightful guests/pundits and the greater selection of European coverage. Plus more top of the range documentaries.
Also take note of your audience and listen to them, don’t create an old boys club. If they moan constantly about something or someone then act on it. In this day and age we have Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube. Viewers from all around the country, of all ages, are telling companies like the BBC, SKY and now BT Sport exactly what’s wrong with their networks. That free bit of advice can be invaluable as you stride on, hoping to make a permanent mark on the industry.