Over the last few weekends, I’ve been ridiculously excited for reasons my friends cannot comprehend – live athletics has been on the television.
Okay, so it’s the Aviva Indoor Athletics which aren’t the most important events in the world, even if they are used to get qualifying times for the World Indoors next month. And granted, the Indoors aren’t vitally important, and many great athletes won’t be there. But it’s very good preparation for London 2012 and I enjoy watching athletics. I don’t care who’s competing or where it is, as long as it’s on the TV.
Both the BBC and Channel 4 have been covering these qualifying events. The BBC covered Glasgow’s event and Channel 4 broadcast from Sheffield where Jessica Ennis got her season off to a brilliant start. This Saturday, the BBC is moving to Birmingham.
Those that read my blog will know I have been very critical of Channel 4’s athletics coverage previously. They were, and will be next time around, the broadcasters for the Athletics World Championships. There was one occasion where I was sitting watching the 2011 Worlds, when Channel 4’s coverage ended before the pole vault final had concluded because they felt they had to show Three In A Bed instead.
Channel 4 will be the broadcasters for the Paralympic Games and their promotional programmes have been nothing short of excellent. One fine programme made use of sport science technology to show how these incredible athletes use their bodies and disabilities to excel in their sports. The Paralympic Show has provided insightful interviews. The other day, I watched a ten-minute segment on Eleanor Simmonds.
Channel 4’s actual live coverage, however, is still lagging behind the BBC’s.
First, is the issue of the presenter. Channel 4 opened the Worlds with Ortis Deley, who proved to know very little about athletics and struggled with the live presenting. He was eventually dropped and exchanged for Rick Edwards.
Edwards is better than Deley. He copes with questioning his very knowledgeable guests, including Dean Macey and Kelly Sutherton and is much better at providing segways between interviews and live action. But something still feels amiss. He simply is not as natural as John Inverdale. I haven’t yet put my finger on what’s missing, but something is.
Channel 4’s coverage also struggles because of its adverts. The BBC’s programming excels because of its expert analysis from Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson between events. Channel 4 does not have time to do this because it cuts to adverts between events. Indeed, Channel 4 leaves very little time for interviews with the athletes unless they are particularly famous. They chose to interview Jessica Ennis and Dwain Chambers, but seemed to feel others were unworthy of screen time.
Channel 4’s coverage last Sunday involved the finals from a two-day event. It attempted to highlight the main action from Saturday and from Sunday morning, but actually showed very little of it. At one point, it seemed to cut suddenly from its highlights to live action because the highlights were almost shown over a race. The BBC’s programming tends to last longer than the athletics itself, allowing time for an interesting interviews and conversations between the presenters before the live actions starts, and some time at the end to sum-up.
Some of these problems will be hard for C4 to rectify. It will have adverts during the Paralympics and this may still leave insufficient time for analysis. Analysis is something athletics watchers enjoy. It’s amazing to watch in slow motion the moment in a race where Mo Farah suddenly accelerates, where you see a hurdler knock one hurdle and lose the race on the line, where you can see the 100m again, because its too fast to fully appreciate the first time around.
There is still time for Channel 4 to improve. It will be hosting the Indoor Worlds in Istanbul next month and promises over 20 hours of coverage screen across Channel 4 and More 4. It will definitely have learnt from Daegu last year, where it struggled with poor presenting. Hopefully it won’t cut out any live action to make room for repeats this time.
Ultimately though, Channel 4 has a long way to go if it wants sport coverage to rival the BBC’s. But there is still time.