Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5

Channel 4 were the first to use Hawk-eye

As was widely reported here in the UK yesterday, Channel 4 have lost the rights to show live cricket in Britain. (not that interesting for non-UK readers…sorry) This has quite massive potential implications on cricket in England and Wales. I don’t know what to think – any comments, feel free to post them. I’d be particularly interested to hear what other countries’ TV rights are (India & Australia in particular – I also remember reading recently that NZ rarely get cricket coverage on TV…true or false?)

Channel 4 bought the rights from the BBC, who lost interest (and couldn’t pay enough) – back then (1998?), opinion was divided as to whether Channel 4 could match the quality of the BBC’s coverage. Channel 4, like the BBC, are “free to air” on terrestrial TV – but unlike the BBC, are a commercial TV station and there was concern that adverts would impede the viewer’s enjoyment of watching live cricket.

All in all, Channel 4 provided excellent coverage with reasonably good commentators (Mark Nicholas, Richie Benaud, Mike Atherton, Boycott, Simon Hughes, Ian Smith, Slater and more) and summarisers. They implemented a number of technological enhancements which have now been used or bought by other stations around the world. They were the first to use Hawk-eye, for example – although none of this technology used was necessarily produced by Channel 4, they had the foresight to use technology to improve the customer’s viewing pleasure.

Most of all – viewers didn’t need to pay extra to watch the cricket. Sky, as most people know, charge exorbitant fees for their services which will dramatically reduce the numbers of armchair cricket fans. Isn’t that how a whole generation were introduced to cricket? By seeing it on TV? I know I was. (Paul Reiffel bowling to England in 1993). Some people are claiming the enourmous fee the ECB have received from Sky (£200m+) will be injected into grass-roots, and will be of massive benefit for the future of English cricket. But, wasn’t it Nasser Hussain who once said that Cricket is entertainment? That the most important people in the game are the spectators and fans?

I’m not anti-Sky – I find their fees very expensive, but they offer undeniable benefits. Digital-quality Television which is unsurpassed in quality (pictorial quality!); they have the majority of radio stations available in digital for no extra cost; regardless of whether you’re a TV-addict or not, there is generally something available to watch that most people would find interesting. I only bought Sky a few years ago and purely to watch the winter tours and rugby, but I must admit to having enjoyed the films and other channels available to me.

It is, as Marcus Trescothick said today, inevitable that Sky would win eventually. The true ramifications won’t be known for a while. Long live TMS, I guess.