The idea of remote broadcasts, with announcers announcing matches from a studio miles away, has been a notable discussion in sports broadcasting over the past decade. This is an obvious way to reduce potential costs, but also one with a more significant potential for repercussions than some other cost-cutting measures. And this discussion became even clearer when it came to remote broadcasts launched due to COVID-19 protocols, with some of them remaining remote even after the protocols were relaxed.
An interesting recent example of this is ESPN’s coverage of this year’s Australian Open, which has received many removed comments. While COVID protocols have prevented ESPN from traveling to Melbourne in recent years, this year it appears ESPN’s decision to base much of its reporting in Bristol. Longtime ESPN tennis host and play-by-play voice Chris Fowler addressed some of these on Twitter Sunday at the start of the tournament.
“To answer all the questions I’m getting, no I’m not in Melbourne and unfortunately I’m not on my way to Melbourne. But ESPN’s tennis team will cover the Australian Open starting Sunday night and running for two weeks. The decision was made to call it from the home office in Connecticut. We’ve been calling it from there out of necessity for the last few years. We’ll do our best to stay connected to the tournament and call it in the third shift, 16 time zones away.”
“You’ll hear most of the familiar voices of the ESPN tennis team throughout the fortnight, especially week two when the games get more important. You’ll also hear some lesser-known voices. We just take what’s called the world feed, all tournaments have one, ‘Here are some people announcing games at different times that you might not know either.’ But the Aussie Open is going on, I’ll be up there in Connecticut in the early hours calling games with the rest of the team. And like I said, I’ll do my best. And I will return to Australia. 18 years down there, loved every day. One day, somehow, maybe as a tourist, but I will go back there.”
That’s a remarkable display of presenting the required line of business while showing that you may not be entirely enthusiastic about it. And that’s understandable, especially for someone like Fowler, who has been attending and calling these events in person for so long. And in most cases, there’s not really a debate that personal calls are stronger; Being able to see with your own eyes, in addition to monitors, and experience crowd reactions firsthand, rather than just through audio feeds, has been cited by countless broadcasters as very helpful throughout this process, hence the main argument for remote in a world with relaxed restrictions is primarily budgetary. It’s not at all shocking that he’d rather be there. But it’s interesting to see him talk about not being there, especially with a lot of fans upset about the.
The fact that the announcers are not present in person is only part of the problem for many fans. Other frequently Complaint has been about how much coverage the ESPN OTT streaming service ESPN+ has.
ESPN+ coverage of this tournament has been around for several years, but the coverage used to be shared with ESPN3 (which was also streaming but required cable/MVPD authentication instead of a separate OTT subscription). Now there seems to be a lot more on ESPN+, with last May’s announcement of a nine-year extension of the Australian Open broadcasting deal with Tennis Australia mentioning a wide range of ESPN+-exclusive matches, and this year’s coverage announcement also provides ESPN+ (with every game) heavily into the limelight there) and not ESPN3 (but at the same time noting that ESPN and ESPN2 linear hours are increasing from 44 in 2022 to 68 this year, which is the Network was easy to defend).
Yes, as with any of these “paywalls” for streaming services, there is a debate about actual accessibility. Linear ESPN channels and ESPN3 have a non-cheap MVPD requirement, and ESPN+ is also available (even at the $9.99/month higher price since August), and ESPN+ is available for a small fee for those who want a Have a wider Disney bundle with Disney+ and Hulu. But there’s still extra expense for those who have cable and not ESPN+, and there’s added hassle for those used to watching linear or authenticated streaming. Even Disney’s 24.3 million ESPN+ subscribers in November are well below ESPN’s remaining linear subscribers (around 74 million as of December). So it’s understandable that there are complaints about this, and it’s noteworthy how ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe addressed this in the first part of a video he posted Wednesday night – like Fowler, from chilly Bristol, Connecticut:
“Come in, everyone, for the 7:30 p.m. production meeting. Airs at 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ESPN2, always on ESPN+ of course, but you don’t want to hear that, I know.”
McEnroe then goes on to talk about how many of the big names aren’t in or out of the tournament, but the people he wants to see. But the “It’s always on ESPN+, but you don’t want to hear about that, I know” is perhaps particularly noteworthy as an acknowledgment of those complaints that are out there.
Any company’s approach to events comes with compromises, especially in this high-streaming era and especially where it’s often been argued that ESPN needs the “flexibility” of ESPN+ components to make rights deals work. Betting more on ESPN+ is better for some (those with the service but no MVPD), worse for others (those with an MVPD and not ESPN+), and just plain annoying for many (those with both MVPDs and ESPN+ who are used to it). and prefer viewing events on Linear). And that’s definitely a downgrade in potential viewers when it comes to current ESPN linear subscribers versus current ESPN+ subscribers. And it’s certainly fair to see some complaints about them, and even to see them being recognized by on-air talent.
The remote broadcasting lawsuit is perhaps even stronger. There has really been very little attempt to argue that long-distance broadcasting is beneficial for announcers and viewers alike (aside from the obvious health concerns of travel and face-to-face calls for older announcers, especially during the peak of the pandemic). another matter), and some of the attempts to defend long-distance broadcasting have gone very badly or have resulted in setbacks.
Long-distance transmissions will not disappear completely anytime soon. But there are reasons for fans to push for in-person calls at celebrity matches and to criticize remote calls they receive. Whether that gets anywhere depends on the size of the backlash and how worthwhile it is for networks (ESPN in this case) to change course as a result, which in this case probably wouldn’t even happen until next year. And what’s actually worthwhile for ESPN from a dollar-and-cent perspective matters, especially with increased calls to spin off this business.
Regardless, the backlash from fans is still notable. The combination of remote announcers and ESPN+ paywall makes this year’s Australian Open seem like it’s not a big event or a priority for the company. And it’s also interesting to see the likes of Fowler showing their disappointment at not being able to attend the first tennis major of the year in person. We’ll see if that changes next season. UK Sport