The diffidence of British broadcasters towards international cricket highlights surprises me. None of the four main terrestrial channels is showing the daily retrospective of the current Ashes series in Australia. The caché of carrying sporting events live is understandable, but highlights programmes play a critical part in engaging the cricket following community.
The sleep sacrifice (or time shift) required to follow overseas tours live is only for the very dedicated or under-occupied. Most of the hours of play in internationals in the home summer clash with regular business hours, making live viewing out of bounds for many. An end of day highlights programme re-connects to the game these viewers, as well as all of the cricket followers who, for reasons of finance or principle, will not pay to take the channels of the live broadcast rights holders.
I feel I need to assimilate each day of Test cricket played by England: understand the relative positions of the teams, appreciate whose performances have influenced those positions, experience the instances or passages of play that exemplify a player, a contest or a theme. Unable to watch, or follow, most days’ play in real time, the highlights more than any other method have the potential to fulfil this need I have to internalise the day’s play.
In the UK, Sky continue to complement their live coverage with a highlights programme shown at two, three or four different times between the close of one day’s play and the start of the next. Channel 5 are the most recent terrestrial carrier of something similar for home Tests.
Although a fairly frequent viewer of these programmes, I am usually underwhelmed. This is most noticeable when the programme host is wrapping up the show, enthusing about a thrilling day’s play. I am rarely sharing their enthusiasm, experiencing, at best, a warm glow if England have prospered.
Is this distancing from the events of the day inevitable in a condensed, after the event presentation? Does knowing the score and the outline of the day invariably rob my viewing of its excitement? While it seems likely that these are inherent weaknesses of the highlights product, I was interested to see if their current format also played a part.
To get some more insight, I have completed some content and quantitative analysis of the Sky highlights show for day 3 of the Adelaide Ashes Test.
The programme lasted 58 minutes, eight of which were spent on two commercial breaks. I timed how much of the remaining 50 minutes comprised ‘live’ coverage (defined below) and noted how much of the day’s play, using the currency of deliveries, was shown.
By ‘live’ coverage, I mean from the bowler beginning his run up until a break in the transmission to show a replay or advertisement. Included in this category – along with the core bowler bowling, batter batting – would be reaction shots and some visual filler while the commentator completed a comment. There were 27 mins, 21 seconds of ‘live’ coverage – around 55% of the programming time available (net of commercials).
Day 3 saw 518 legal deliveries bowled. 82 (16%) made it onto the highlights show. Most of the 45% of programming time not spent on ‘live’ coverage comprised replays. 35 deliveries (43% of those featured) were shown in replay, most from more than one angle.
More detail is provided in the table below, divided into the three sessions, which conventionally match the portions of the programme separated by the two commercial breaks.
Table 1 – Highlights coverage timings
|Programme segment||duration (mins)||match coverage (mins)||live (min:secs)|
Table 2 – Highlights content
|Programme segment||Deliveries in session||Deliveries in highlights||Runs in session||Runs in highlights||Wickets||Deliveries replayed|
32 of the 50 deliveries shown in sessions 2 and 3 were boundary hits or wickets. 5% of deliveries that didn’t take wickets or get hit for boundaries were shown – 100% of those that had either premium outcome naturally made it into the highlights.
The broadcast was very effective at showing the top 10% most exciting and significant deliveries (the highlights!). The viewer’s appreciation of these moments was enhanced by replays from different angles, the players’ reactions and the commentators’ descriptions. But is too much of the context of the match sacrificed?
In the morning session, Michael Carberry’s dismissal came after five consecutive maidens were bowled by Harris and Watson. Dot balls do not make highlights. But would that passage of play have been conveyed more effectively if the 17 dot balls played by Carberry had been shown in rapid succession (c.50 seconds required) culminating in him pulling the ball to Warner at square leg?
To do that, the editor must find 50 seconds to take from elsewhere in the package. I have written before about the visual media’s fetish for wicket celebrations. I would trade some of those hugs and high-fives for a little more context in the form of additional ‘live coverage’, even of dot balls.
I doubt the broadcasters will be swayed by my argument. The highlights programme must be compiled rapidly at the end of the day’s play, making a more nuanced presentation unlikely. I also suspect that I – and you as a reader of a cricket blog – am not the target audience. I will return to this subject shortly. In the meantime, do highlights shows leave you a little low, or do you find they hit the right notes?