Amazon’s delivery of US Open augurs well for football
The Boxing Day feast of Premier League games could be a late festive delight, writes Alan Tyers
The US Open tennis was watchable for UK viewers via Amazon Prime. The streaming service will be responsible for one of the most intriguing developments in broadcast sport later this season, when it shows every Premier League fixture from the Boxing Day round of matches. So what did we learn from the tennis coverage, and what can football fans expect to go along with their festive hangovers?
Amazon Prime is a membership to watch television and movies and utilise some functions on what started out as the Amazon online shopping site. For £7.99 a month, or £79 a year, Prime “members” get terrifyingly fast delivery of their stuff. It is an optional charge, like income tax for
supranational information-age megacorps. Anyhow, I ordered a fridge thermometer the other morning and a man had brought it round before teatime on the same day.
The thing started its life in China: all of this for a fiver. One has to wonder what money is being made on that as an operation. The answer can only be not a lot, but Jeff Bezos does not seem in want of 50p for the meter so one can only conclude that it is all part of a cunning plan.
Making and selling things obviously being so last season, the future is gathering data and using it, hopefully only better to predict who needs fridge thermometers and when, but frankly God only knows. All of which is to say that Amazon Prime used to be a shopping thing, is now an entertainment channel and presumably will ultimately morph into an all-powerful, all-knowing sentient megabrain some time during Sheffield United v Watford on Dec 26 2019.
From the all-powerful, all-knowing sentient megabrain to “Tiger” Tim Henman, one of the pundits on Amazon’s impressive coverage of the American tennis showpiece. Tim has developed the peculiar habit of staring at his fellow broadcasters while they are talking, blinking as if confused or hurt, perhaps pining for Sue Barker or thirsting for a refreshing Robinsons lemon barley water.
This distraction aside, the breadth of coverage has been unimpeachable: live and advert-free action from all the matches with little build-up, often just a single fixed camera on the court for a bit before the tennis begins. This lo-fi approach can be oddly soothing, calling to mind the BBC red button multi-ball during the Olympics, or the true
Citizen Kane of the genre, the Somerset County Cricket Club coverage of their championship fixtures, which affords the viewer the chance to spend huge expanses of time gazing at a Taunton groundsman brushing the Ciderabad pitch.
For the bigger matches, Amazon has given a more traditional pundits-and-commentators approach. Jim Courier and Annabel Croft we already knew were good; Daniela Hantuchova has been more than decent.
Catherine Whitaker is an excellent anchor and pundits have included Greg Rusedski and Martina Navratilova. The coverage is absent of that sort of twee chumminess that can grate with the BBC Wimbledon fortnight, which might partly be down to the differing nature of the US Open to Timbledon but is also an encouraging augur for football fans that Amazon’s coverage of their sport will not be too heavily reliant on the same old faces saying the same old things.
Programme makers at Amazon have expressed admiration for Sky Sports’ Redzone coverage of the NFL: the superb action and news show that takes viewers to key moments of each of the simultaneous games, a sort of Soccer Saturday where you get to watch the actual action rather than listening to Paul Merson shouting: “He’s hit the beans on toast, Jeff!”
That could be an exciting and novel way to experience televised football. And the excellent, snappy but not context-free highlights of the tennis, with Marcus Buckland coaxing insights out of Blinkin’ Tim atop a New York gantry, suggests that they might do that side of football coverage smartly, too.
Football fans fear change and have every right to be disgruntled that they will have to fork out for another service on top of BT and Sky if they wish to be Premier League completists this term, but the form book as suggested by the last fortnight’s tennis coverage, at least, is cause for optimism.
The twee chumminess that can grate at Wimbledon is absent
Net benefits: Catherine Whitaker was an excellent anchor of Amazon Prime’s US Open coverage