The idea of a remote broadcast with announcers calling games from a studio many miles away has been a prominent discussion in sports broadcasting. to Many from last decade. It’s an obvious way to cut potential costs, but also One with a more pronounced backlash potential Some of the other moves to cut costs. And that Discussion had become more common or many still when It’s come down to remote broadcasts that started as a result of COVID-19 protocols, with some of those protocols remaining remote. until After, after Protocols relaxed.
An interesting current example is ESPN’s coverage of this year’s Australian Open, which saw plenty of remote commentary. While COVID protocols have prevented ESPN from traveling to Melbourne in recent years, this year appears to be ESPN’s choice to keep much of its coverage in Bristol. Longtime ESPN tennis host and play-by-play voice Chris Fowler took up some of that on Twitter Sunday as the tournament kicked off.
In response to my questions@ Australian Open ChampionshipCoverage, here’s the lowdown. Viewers should always check listings, but coverage starts tonight (SUN) at 7ET. # Hahaha #Tennis pic.twitter.com/x6zHxmvWbO
– Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) January 15, 2023
“To answer all the questions I get, no, I’m not in Melbourne and, unfortunately, I’m not going to Melbourne. But ESPN’s tennis team will be covering the Australian Open, which starts Sunday night and for two weeks. The decision was made to get it out of the home office in Connecticut. We’ve actually called him from there the last couple of years out of necessity. We’ll do everything we can to stay connected and connected to the Championship from 16 time zones as far away on the third shift.”
“You’ll hear most of the familiar ESPN tennis team voices over the course of the two weeks, especially in the second week when the matches become more important. You’ll also hear some lesser-known voices. We’ll just take the so-called world feed, all tournaments have one,” here some people call in for matches at different hours. You probably don’t know it either.” But the Aussie Open goes on. I’ll be there for the Connecticut matches with the rest of the team in the wee hours. And like I said, I’ll do my best. And I’ll be back in Australia. 18 years there, loving it every day. Someday, in a way, maybe as a tourist But I’ll be back there.”
This is a great offer to bring the desired corporate line while showing that you may not be entirely happy with it. And that’s understandable, especially for someone like Fowler who’s been to and personally connected to these events for so long. And in most cases, there isn’t much argument that personal calls are stronger; The ability to see through your eyes as well as the screens and experience audience reactions directly rather than just an audio feed has been cited by countless broadcasters throughout this whole process, so the main argument for remote control in a world of loosened budget constraints in the first place. It’s not at all surprising that he’d rather be there. But it’s interesting to see him talk about not being there, especially with so many fans annoyed about it.
Not having the announcers in person is only part of the problem for many fans. else frequent complaint It was About how much coverage has been put on the ESPN OTT ESPN+ streaming service.
ESPN has buried a major sporting event, the Australian Open, behind a paywall that is even more extreme this year, with air coverage starting later and ending earlier. I need to pump up the flow, but there needs to be a better balance.
– Daniel Kaplan (@KaplanSportsBiz) January 19, 2023
ESPN+’s coverage of this tournament has been a thing for several years, but so has their coverage is divided With ESPN3 (which was also streaming, but required cable/MVPD authentication instead of a separate OTT subscription). Now, it looks like he’s a lot more on ESPN+, though ad last May Extends nine-year Australian Open broadcast deal with Tennis Australia Male Wide selection of exclusive ESPN+ matches, and cover ad this year Also big highlights are ESPN+ (with every game there) and not ESPN3 (but, at the same time, noting ESPN and ESPN2’s linear hours up from 44 in 2022 to 68 this year, which Grid was quick to defend).
Yes, as with any of the streaming service’s “paywalls”, there are Debate about actual accessibility. Linear ESPN and ESPN3 channels come with MVPD requirements that aren’t cheap, and ESPN+ is available outside of that (even at higher tiers) Since August $9.99 per month), and ESPN+ is available for a low fee for those with a broader Disney package with Disney+ and Hulu. But there are still additional costs for those who have cable and not ESPN+ and there is an added inconvenience for those who are used to watching on linear or syndicated broadcasts. Up to 24.3 million ESPN + Disney subscribers He was killed in November significantly less than ESPN’s remaining linear subscribers (about 74 million, Like December). So it’s understandable that there have been complaints about this, and it’s notable how ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe addressed it in the first part of his video he posted Wednesday night — as Fowler, from chilly Bristol, Connecticut:
We live now espn 2 of @ Australian Open Championship pic.twitter.com/DQrUKuLRW8
– Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) January 19, 2023
“Everyone gets into the production meeting at 7:30 p.m. On the air at 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, of course it’s always on ESPN+, but you don’t want to hear about that, I know.”
McEnroe then goes on to talk about the number of big names that didn’t make it to the tournament or were left out, but about the people he’s looking forward to seeing progress. But “It’s always on ESPN+, but you don’t want to hear about it, I know” is perhaps especially notable as an acknowledgment of those complaints out there.
Every event approach from a company comes with trade-offs, especially in this age of high broadcasting and especially when it’s been argued that ESPN needs to “FlexibilityA component of ESPN+ to making rights deals work. Putting more on ESPN+ is better for some (those with this service but not MVPD), worse for others (those with MVPD and not ESPN+), and annoying for many (those with MVPDs). And ESPN+ who are used to it and prefer to watch action in my line.) That’s definitely a drop in potential viewership when it comes to existing ESPN subscribers versus existing ESPN+ subscribers. And it’s certainly fair to see some complaints about that and even acknowledgment by on-air talent.
However, perhaps the telecast’s complaint is stronger. There have been very few attempts to prove that remote broadcasting is in some way beneficial to broadcasters and viewers alike (aside from the obvious health concerns with travel and in-person calls for older broadcasters in particular during the height of the pandemic, which is a different topic), and some attempts have gone into broadcast defense. Remotely Too bad or led to relapses.
Remote broadcasts aren’t going away entirely anytime soon. But there is an absolute case for fans to push for personal calls to high profile games and to criticize the away calls they receive. Whether that leads to anything depends on the magnitude of the backlash and how important it is for the networks (in this case, ESPN) to change course as a result, which likely won’t happen until next year, in this case. And what’s really worth to ESPN in terms of dollars and cents matters, especially around it more calls to divide this work.
Regardless, fan reaction is still noticeable. The combination of remote broadcasters and the ESPN + paywall makes this year’s Australian Open feel like it’s not a major event or priority for the company. It is also interesting to see the likes of Fowler show their disappointment at not playing in their first major tennis tournament this year in person. We’ll see if anything changes there next season.
[Chris Fowler and Patrick McEnroe on Twitter; image from USA Today Sports Images]