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World Cup TV coverage

Posted: Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:24 pm
by Scottish
No, not another easy rant about biased and useless commentators. Instead, a prediction: this will be the last World Cup in which every match will be available on free-to-air TV in the UK.

The World Cup has long been one of the 'crown jewels' - one of those events protected by law from being available to satellite and subscription TV services unless terrestrial TV is also permitted to show it, like the FA & Scottish Cup Finals, the Grand National, Wimbledon etc.

I've always thought this was dodgy legally and while I fully endorse the sentiments behind the protected list - principally the ability to view great sporting events without being forced to pay through the nose - there is something that doesn't sit right about a government - any government - being able to dictate to sporting bodies which TV stations are permitted to broadcast their events.

I am not at all sure that any of the current protected events could withstand a legal challenge and certainly if some of the more lunatic ideas like forcing the SFA to sell TV rights to qualifiers only to the BBC & STV (bodies which showed little interest in such games prior to the advent of satellite TV) go ahead then it is only a matter of time before such a challenge is launched.

The World Cup though is the obvious point where such a challenge could be made. For a start the competition is the 'property' of FIFA and while it can be argued that national sporting bodies fall within the jurisdiction of the UK there is no way the same argument can be made of an international body with more members than the UN.

Secondly, can it be reasonably suggested that the right to watch New Zealand V Slovakia free of charge is on a par with Hampden & Wembley finals, Aintree, Epsom and the Centre Court in SW19?

Further, can it be seriously suggested that Japan v Cameroon is a more important sporting event as far as the British public are concerned than the Open, Test cricket and Rugby Union internationals - none of which are currently on the 'A' list of protected events.

The IOC is similarly beyond the jurisdiction of the UK but with the next Olympics taking place in London there is no likelihood of any legal challenge as far as the Olympic Games are concerned.

For an example of what the future may hold, I cite Spain as evidence. Of the 48 group matches in this World Cup just 12 are available on FTA TV. One channel has Spain's three group matches and the opening ceremony & first match. Another has eight group games and these are all heavily tilted towards the big guns with two Brazil games, two England and one each of Germany, Italy & France featuring (the other is Cameroon V Denmark, chosen presumably because it was the least unappetising of the three games scheduled for that day).

None of the decisive final group matches - other than Spain's - will be shown FTA.

What happens in the knockout stages I do not know though I imagine Spain's matches (should they qualify) will be covered by FTA throughout as will the Final and one of the quarter and semis should there be no Spanish involvement.

There seems to me to be no rational reason why a system developed in the era of two-channel television can - or should - continue in this multi-channel, TV on demand era.

Something similar to the Spanish system is bound to apply to the UK soon with only matches featuring the home nations guaranteed to be shown FTA along with a top-slicing of the best of the rest.

Good or bad? That depends on how much of a fitba junkie you are. Even I was sorely tempted to switch off the Ivory Coast- Portugal match today - and unlike the NZ-Slovakia affair, that featured genuine world-class players.