TVNZ coverage a hammer blow for fans
OPINION: By the end of the Commonwealth Games, everybody watching in New Zealand had a TVNZ story.
There was the time those watching Duke were told go online to watch Julia Ratcliffe win gold in the hammer throw, only for the event to end up on Duke moments later – indicative of a sudden behind-the-scenes change.
There were all the times the broadcaster cut from live action to ads, sometimes at inopportune moments, or had the same event playing on two different channels – at least on one occasion, with one slightly behind the other.
There was the time last Friday night, when they came back from an ad break on TV1, with host Toni Street telling viewers: ‘‘We’ve just seen Olivia McTaggart’s final attempt in the pole vault final’’. The problem was, nobody except Street had – the cut from ads to the event came as the teenager was crashing into the pad after a failed attempt.
There were plenty of other complaints. You only have to scroll down TVNZ’s Commonwealth Games Facebook page to see that – but if you do, you will also see a social media staff who were committed to addressing them, not just acknowledging them and apologising. Live television is tricky, no doubt, but these Games were a more frustrating viewing experience than they should have been.
In the same light, some of the hits the broadcaster took have been fair, and some of them haven’t. Those who seemed annoyed by the mere existence of ads probably need to reflect a bit, and while some of the double-ups were frustrating, especially when they involved events with no Kiwis while the silver fern was being worn elsewhere, the idea behind them – showing events in full in one place, but also bringing them to a wider audience when time allowed – was laudable. DON’T WORRY ABOUT RUGBY When TVNZ’s acquisition of the free-to-air rights for next year’s Rugby World Cup was confirmed on Monday morning, chief executive Kevin Kenrick was quick to emphasise that they had learned plenty from the past two weeks, and promised there would be no ads during game play in any of the seven matches they will show. That that needed to be learned is concerning, but it’s good to see they have recognised they got things wrong.
The Commonwealth Games are among the most complex events New Zealand broadcasters have to come to terms with. It might seem odd, but they are more difficult than the Olympics, given the superior numbers of New Zealanders involved, and the increased likelihood that many of them will go deep into their competitions. As for the Rugby World Cup, the key difference there is that there’s only ever one rugby match on at a time, so there’s no need for juggling. It’s like checkers v chess.
NOT FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TVNZ’s inability to make changes when events dictated they should defined their coverage. Television is still a passive medium, by and large, especially for older audiences, and the broadcaster’s flagship station could have served as a mothership – collecting all the big events, switching between them to catch the big moments, and telling the story of the night, whatever it ended up being.
Last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, bowler Jo Edwards, squash player Joelle King, and hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe each won gold, in turn becoming that story. All were medal hopes, but but not certainties, and so didn’t feature in TVNZ 1’s plans.
Edwards’ and King’s events were both streamed online in full, while Ratcliffe’s was nowhere to be found until very late in the piece, but still in time to catch her final throw and celebrations. In the latter case, TVNZ had opted to take a feed with all the athletics events combined, which was ‘‘indicated as offering us the fullest coverage,’’ they said in a statement. When that turned out not to be the case, they ‘‘urgently obtained another feed’’. Lawn bowls and squash were programming decisions.
Choosing what to put on where is a tricky task, and decisionmakers are sure to annoy some group – when TVNZ opted to air a dedicated pole vault feed later in the week, when Kiwi Nick Southgate competed in the men’s events, there were people complaining they weren’t seeing any of the other athletics events.
You can’t please everybody, but in the cases of the three gold medallists mentioned above, and especially those of Edwards and King, it felt like a missed opportunity. Online streaming isn’t ubiquitous yet, and it would have helped the athletes and their sports, both of which don’t get a lot of attention, if they had been shown on the flagship channel. It would have also helped viewers find a moment of glory they might have not known about – success, more than anything else, is what people want to see.
It should be noted that TVNZ did show flexibility on at least one occasion – resulting in the type of experience they could have had on several other nights.
On the second Friday, TVNZ 1 was showing athletics, where Southgate crashed out of his event early, meaning a long wait before discus thrower Siositina Hakeai began her event. Meanwhile, the Black Sticks women were locked in a tight battle in their semifinal with England, live on one of their other channels.
For 10 minutes or so, it looked like TVNZ was going to show the rest of the men’s pole vault, where there was no Kiwi interest, but then they put the hockey on – just in time for the end of the final quarter and the penalty shootout that followed, with the Black Sticks advancing to the gold medal match. There is no hard data available, but you’d bet that decision put one of the defining events of the Games in front of a fair few more eyeballs.
While they got it right in that instance, it was an exception rather than the rule.
The athletes and teams that competed on the Gold Coast will be moving forward, reflecting on how they went, and making adjustments for their next events. TVNZ doesn’t know when it will next be responsible for broadcasting an event of this magnitude, so it might be a while before any of the lessons it has learnt are put into practice.
It will likely be two years before the rights for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in England come up for grabs, and there’s no guarantee they will end up back with TVNZ, or even that TVNZ would want them. They say they achieved their goal of making this the mostwatched free-to-air sporting event, with nearly 3 million TV viewers, and 2.3 million live streams, but much of the 2022 event will take place overnight, when audiences will be smaller, and ads hard to sell for top dollar.
Might Sky want back in, especially after losing the 2019 Rugby World Cup? (It has the summer and winter Olympics sewn up through 2024, for the record). Could Spark be a player, looking to build off next year’s Rugby World Cup , which it will show in full?
It’s hard to know what will happen in a media environment that is constantly evolving, but after the past fortnight, whoever ends up with the rights will be on notice.
Julia Ratcliffe won gold in the hammer throw, but TVNZ missed most of her event.
Kiwi pole vaulter Olivia McTaggart featured in one of TVNZ’s Commonwealth Games blunders.