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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Things I Think I Think About The Worlds, Part 3

The NBC/Versus broadcasts got significantly better than has been typical for US-based television, even as the Worlds wore on.

We are all too familiar with the usual setup: long lead-in to a race, the race, the obligatory and vacuous post-race interview, and then a commercial. Repeat until we're ready to vomit, then tell us who won the field events while showing only their winning efforts via badly-placed cameras.

In contrast, the BBC feeds that uses for the major meets makes an uninterrupted flow from running events to concurrent field events and back again, communicating the unending three-ring circus atmosphere that is track & field.

In an interview in the current Track & Field News, USATF CEO Doug Logan mentioned television: "Our quality has declined to the point where audiences are accepting stuff that is really very mediocre...then take a look at the television presentation of a European meet or listen to the BBC and it's like night and day." He said USATF is likely to put pressure on its TV partners to make changes.

Well, they must already be happening. The NBC/Versus crew did give us live or almost-live updates of field events not at all at the beginning of the Worlds, some in the middle of the week, and relatively often by the end of the week. They still pale in comparison to the Beeb's near-seamless transitions, but I have to give them credit for trying to learn on the fly.

The impetus for change may have come from competition: the ratio of online viewers (at to TV viewers was probably much different from the norm for sports in the US. Partly this was because the live feeds were during work hours, and it's a lot less conspicuous to watch a web feed at your desk than to bring your 50" HD set to your cubicle. ("Live sports at work? That's so much better than work at work!") But also, the online coverage was superior in every way.

Another improvement from NBC/Versus was using the field event graphics from the international TV feed in unedited fashion. Until now, apparently NBC's decision-makers thought we'd be so horrified by the Frenchy metric distances that we'd brand them cheese-eating surrender monkeys and immediately switch the channel to COPS reruns on G4. Truth be told, metrics are sooo much easier on the eyes and brain, as there are less digits involved, and all that really matters is who threw or jumped farther. And in the age of the internet, most everyone sees results in metrics anyway.

Our US-based crew can still do better, but at least they've got the idea. A track meet's ideal broadcast model is that of a golf tournament. There are many things going on in many places simultaneously, and each has its own meaning that ties in to the larger picture. And we want to know about all of them as they are happening.

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