There has been much knocking of the BBC coverage last week at the Commonwealth Games amongst track and field enthusiasts; myself included.  Kirsty Addy wrote a piece in defence of the coverage on eightlanes.org but I think she missed a good part of why the BBC actually did a good job.

Let’s take a look at all the ways that the BBC broadcast the athletics:

  1. Main “BBC1” coverage hosted by Gaby Logan with Michael Johnson, Colin Jackson, Paula Radcliffe and Denise Lewis plus others on top of the ‘A’ list commentators
  2. Red button athletics feed with Rob Walker, Katharine Merry and John Rawling commentating
  3. Online dedicated feeds of particular field events which included Peter Matthews amongst others

Most of the criticisms I’ve seen revolves around the first of these, the main “BBC1” coverage. This is the coverage that Addy addresses and I don’t think needs much more expounding upon.  I do take issue at the #boltdown clock, I think viewers are quite well aware of when he was due compete.  There was a particular presentation of the clock on Sunday along with a typical “lightning” Bolt pose over a large part of the screen during a race that was very jarring.  If they must have the count down clock a small thing in the corner would suffice e.g. the size of a football score line.

I shall return to the commentators and other talking heads later as I see this as a separate issue.

For those that don’t want the talking heads, the montages, extra build up to particular (track) events then the simplest approach was to hit the red button or go to the dedicated red button channels available on Virgin, Freeview and I assume Sky and chose the second option above.  This gave a pretty old school coverage of track and field.  That is a bias towards track events but with plenty of coverage of field events.  There were no interviews and no montages and no talking heads so there was more time to show field events.

BBC Coverage

BBC Coverage to the full

And finally for those wanting dedicated field event coverage, there were feeds for individual field events online.  These were shown uninterrupted (other than buffering issues).  You want to watch 2 or 3 field event at once? Then open up 2 or 3 browsers and tile them to fit on your screen or screens.  It helps here to have multiple screens to watch from.  This picture taken on Saturday evening has the BBC Red Button on the TV, the Women’s HJ and Men’s PV on the left hand laptop, the Women’s DT on the right hand laptop leaving the iPad to handle Skype conversations and (not shown) an iPhone to check results/latest standings.  I later switched to BBC1 on the TV with 2 field events on the left hand laptop and red button coverage plus a field event on the right hand footage. Sometimes I do actually want to hear the post event interviews, but most of the time I don’t!

You could easily argue that this level of coverage is better than being at the event.  You miss out on the atmosphere and shared experience but you get to freeze the coverage, rewind it and not get interrupted by people trying to get past at inopportune moments.

It’s hard to say that the BBC did not cover athletics to fullest possible extent. The hardcore track and field fan who can’t attend the events in person needs to take advantage of all the options offered to them and stop complaining that the BBC didn’t show field events.  Yes they did but just not on their main coverage.  To justify the expense of covering these events, they need to get non-athletics fans to watch the main coverage so that audience figures are as high as possible.  Hard core fans are already won over, you will watch the coverage, it’s the non-core fans they need to attract.  If you don’t like the chit-chat and the 1 shot put throw, don’t turn it off (as Justin Gatlin may advise you to do) but seek the other options available.  Even without extra technology, the red button covered much more of the field events.

Coming back to the commentators, I feel this is an area where the BBC needs to make improvements.  The platitudes and non-information that comes out Colin Jackson’s and other’s mouths is well documented; having competed at the highest level and having a pretty face is not a qualification to be a colour commentator on your sport.  My favourite Jacksonism was from a Diamond League: “the secret to good long jumping is to jump far”.  The BBC need to tighten up on who they have chatting about what’s going on, a cull of those at Glasgow 2014 is long overdue.  Brendan Foster also needs to be put out to pasture.  The BBC has been trying to bring along new commentators and at least this shows good purpose.

The red button commentary team was the team that C4 used for the Para Olympics.  Unfortunately I found them below par.  Given that this team was broadcasting to a more dedicated audience it’s hard to fathom why I felt like I was being treated like a child at times (this was particularly true of Merry).  It’s a shame that Peter Matthews wasn’t used here, he would have brought much needed authority.  The worst bit of commentary I heard was during the Women’s 1500m final with almost racist comments by (I think) Rawling all but saying of the three Kenyans one was tall and the other two look the same and I can’t tell them apart.  Kudos to the BBC on having a separate team for the red button coverage but they need to look elsewhere for its make up.  I didn’t really listen to the commentators on the individual field event feeds so I can’t comment on their contributions.

So well done to the BBC for covering all the events and now on to the European Championships.  I suspect the level of coverage will drop down but then there will be an excellent feed from European Athletics that may have a separate field events feed to augment that of the BBC and Eurosport.

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