How stupid is this?
The year 2012, an age filled with a kajillion cable & satellite channels. Go online and find swaths of bandwidth clogged with ads for car insurance and porn. And DVR technology, don’t forget DVR technology. Just HOW ON EARTH do we, the citizenry of the United States of America, allow former broadcasting giant the National Broadcast Corporation to delay the airing of the Opening Ceremony to the Olympic Games until primetime on the East Coast? It’s only one, if not THE biggest spectacle on the sports calendar this year. Yet here we are, played for dopes by a broadcast network that would fail to medal in its own field out of a group of 4.
What the hell?
Yeah yeah, I know it’s about the money. And in the case of NBC and the rights to the Olympics, we’re talking Pegula-levels of cash. When you are dumb desperate savvy enough to outbid everyone in the solar system to air the Games, you gotta try and make some of it back anyway you can. Thus one of Dick Ebersol’s wonderful legacies: Tape-delayed athletics in the information age. Ugh. (Now of course, an advantage of homesteading it on the Niagara Frontier is the availability of Canadian television and their silly concept of showing most of everything Olympics live. Oh, the sweet, sweet benefits of hanging tough in a fringe Top 50 market border town.)
When you see these kinds of decisions made at the network level, why expect much better at the local affiliates? At least the affiliates have the excuse in their back pocket of not having either the money or the personnel.
Before going any further, full disclosure here: I have worked at two of the local network affiliates in town, so I have some idea of the situation. And it’s not that different than what is going on at other station around the country. Corporate, non-locally owned stations are being told to do just as much or more with fewer staff and money. No different than most other American workplaces. But one place that’s going to take a hit is the sports department.
Look at the sports folks that have left local TV in just the past few years: Dennis Williams, Paul Peck, Robin Adams (what’s up, Ch.4!), and just recently, Ben Hayes, and John Murphy (no, really, WHAT’S UP, CH. 4???) That’s a whole lotta experience walkin’ out that door. All of them, except Murph, have left the TV business entirely. And this doesn’t even touch on the loss of talent we saw when Adelphia allowed Empire Sports to wither and die nearly a decade ago.
Does this mean that there are not quality pieces being produced? Most certainly not. Just understand that turning around really interesting, well-crafted packages require time for shooting the video, interviewing, writing & editing. And the days of having staff photographers dedicated strictly to the sports department are long gone in many cases. This is stuff that needs to be accomplished around the course of a normal day of chasing down fires or the latest perp walk inside the courthouse.
In addition to time to write & edit, they also literally require time, which is coming to be harder and harder to come by. Take a 30 minute newscast: Lop 8 minutes off right off the top for commercials breaks in the show. Take another 1 ½ – 2 minutes out for the break leading into the parade of pharmaceutical commercials interrupted by network news at 6:30. Then subtract another 3 – 3 ½ minutes for weather & the “happy talk” heading into and out of weather. You’re already down to about 17 minutes. Now throw in 2 – 3 news packages of 1 – 2 minutes each from those reporters the stations promote hard throughout the day of. 11 minutes left. 1 ½ minute network package? 9 ½ minutes. And don’t forget the “Crime Block” or “Community Events” portions of the show. You are very quickly left about 3 minutes for sports. And that number shrinks even smaller when your local Ron Burgundy is having a rough night reading the script. Stories need to start getting killed out of the script to make up time. And since sports is usually last in the batting order, that is where the cumulative effect will be felt. Not much time left to do anything other than show you a couple of catches by Donald Jones, then quickly say “Good night!” and get to the video of people giving the “We’re 4 Buffalo’s”.
I guess the question I have is…do any of us care?
If you’re reading this blog (Hi!), I doubt very much that you rely on local newscasts to get your information from the sporting world. And while there may be no more Azars or Millers to give us their takes on the goings on with the Bills & Sabres, that vacuum has been filled with sports talk radio, blogging, and twitter drive-bys, lack of gravitas amongst the newcomers notwithstanding, this author most certainly included. Add to that the establishment of in-house media departments within the local franchises themselves. While the amount of coverage may be dropping on a night-per-night basis on local news, the total amount of information available to us has most certainly skyrocketed. What better time to have a voice of clarity.