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Media Report -

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HideRichard Aedy: Hello. Welcome to the Media Report on RN. I’m Richard Aedy. And today is all about our summer game and my childhood obsession, cricket.

Cricket commentary montage: It’s gone again. Another big hit, straight down the ground, bang! … A short ball, Bradman moves back and pulls fiercely past square leg. … I’m sure he’d love a hat trick. Will this be it? … I think it was a disgraceful performance for a captain who got his sums wrong today. And I think it should never be permitted to happen again. … As the shot is made, the effects man who has in front of him a copy of the cable message, drops the needle on an effects record and listeners hear the applause of the crowd as the shot reaches the boundary. … And a run out…oh dear, oh dear! It’ll be Watson. It will be Watson I feel. Unbelievable scenes here at the MCG. … How hard is it going to be to take those wickets—especially when you’ve got two blokes…all their heart is set on is not getting out. … How’s the body feeling mate? ... You’re in a remarkably dominant position to be against the number one team in the world. What do you put that domination down to?

Richard Aedy: Yes. The theme made famous by Channel Nine which goes back to World Series Cricket in the late ’70s. Nine has been the home of the game since that time so there are generations of fans and players who can’t remember it being anywhere else. But it might not stay there. The deal the network has with Cricket Australia finishes at the end of the summer. Nine, along with Foxtel has until December the 31st to reach a new agreement. But it’s been reported that Cricket’s keen to have as wide a field of bidders as possible, which means it won’t be sorted out before the New Year.

Both Seven and, more explicitly, Ten, have expressed an interest in broadcasting the sport. It remains to be seen whether Ten in particular has the money. It’s expected the next five-year deal will be worth more than $700 million. We’ll keep you posted.

One man who’s particularly interested in all of this is Brad McNamara. He’s Nine’s executive producer of cricket. And as he explains it’s a big production.

Brad McNamara: Well personnel-wise there’s a hundred and thirty people working on the cricket on any given day. Everyone’s got a different role to play. There’s probably around 50 cameras. Some of those are tracking cameras but basically everyone’s got their role to play, whether it be in vision or audio or, you know, the technology departments—these little…basic little offshoots of…whether Hawk-Eye guys or the Eagle Eye guys and the Hot Spot guys have got their own little department. So, it’s a massive broadcast. It’d be kilometres of cables being run. Every camera has to have a cable run to it and back to it into the truck, which then feeds into a tape machine which is manned by, you know…every camera has a tape operator man to it, which then gets fed through into a big screen in the truck to the director. So, it’s an enormously complicated setup.

Richard Aedy: How long does it take to actually do it? I can’t imagine you can roll up at six o’clock in the morning and unpack all this.

Brad McNamara: No, you can’t. We normally, for a test match—or most of our broadcasts are fairly similar size now—you’d be getting there two days before the match actually starts. And, you know, a lot of the time is taken up running the cables to the cameras and back to the truck. And, you know, some big stadiums, places like the MCG, some quite long cable runs there, so it’s quite a labour-intensive setup.

Richard Aedy: How many of these setups do you need? I mean, you were saying 50-odd cameras. Some of the tests and certainly the one-days, there’s not a lot of time in between. We’re a big country.

Brad McNamara: We’re a very big country and we quite often are faced with a situation where we need to be in Perth one day and then two days later be back in Sydney, so…virtually impossible to have one setup that would cover all that. So, we’ve always got two on the road basically. So, whilst we’re setting one up—for instance, this week we’ve…the guys will be setting up in Hobart and then the next truck’d be moving on to Melbourne for the Boxing Day test and getting ready for the setup down there. So, you need two of these massive things on the road at any given time to cover the length and breadth of the country.

Richard Aedy: How many options does the director have in terms of what they show us on the screen?

Brad McNamara: Well, he’s got an enormous amount of options. Basically he gets an output of every camera. So he’ll see what’s being shot on that camera at any time. He, as I said, every camera has a tape machine that it’s linked to. So he’ll get an output of all the tape machines. So the live shot of the camera, the replay version of the camera. Then he’s got all the graphics to contend with as well. So he’s got to make sure that, you know, the right graphics go on at the right times. There’s all the outputs of the various technologies—Snicko, Hot Spot all that sort of stuff. And then, of course, he’s got to contend with the talent and the commentators and actually make sure that what he’s putting to air is, you know, in the right sequence which is a highly skilled job.

My mind still boggles when I go in to that truck and see that wall of monitors, literally hundreds of monitors in front of him. Out of all those he’s stitching it together on the run. And you just see it on your box at home and there’s one picture. It’s amazingly skilled art. And the guy we have doing that for us, a fellow called Rob Sheerlock who’s widely acknowledged as the best sports director in the world, he’s very good.

Richard Aedy: Wow. It does sound specialised, but I’m wondering how specialised pretty much all of your people are because it’s a TV enterprise almost like no other.

Brad McNamara: Yes, you’re right. I mean, you could quite easily argue that maybe a game like rugby league, for example, you could probably take that to various places and networks and you could probably find seven or eight cameramen and crew that’d put the rugby league coverage together fairly well regardless of where they’re from. But cricket’s such a specialised area; you’ve got cameramen that specialise in following certain shots of certain balls and you’ve got your tape operators who know what, you know, certain things to look for. You know, for example, you know, when a ball gets hit in the air on our coverage, we’ll have seven cameras shooting it. Whereas on other coverages you might be lucky to get one, you know, to get that…and it’s a highly specialised job and, you know, there’s a lot of talk of the cricket rights being up and taking them to other networks and that. It’d be a very difficult thing to do with the cricket. I’m not saying that no one else could do it. But it’d be a very difficult thing to find that expertise that does go into putting a cricket broadcast together and transplanting it elsewhere.

Richard Aedy: Now there are some new toys this season, which I’ve noticed as a viewer: Spidercam. How does that work?

Brad McNamara: Mate, I’m not sure. It’s…no, it’s the most amazing piece of engineering. It works on a pulley and weight system. So the camera sits in-between four Kevlar wires that are strung off the light towers in the grounds and the engineering is such that there’s only about five kilograms of weight on each of the places where it’s hooked on. And that’s just an amazing bit of technology. It’s a big winch that winds it up and back and it’s GPS-driven as well so it can’t hit the ground or it can’t hit people or light towers or stumps or all that sort of thing. And they’ve got their own little spot up near the commentary box where they sit and operate it. And it’s just amazing. I think it’s the best sports camera in the world and it’s taking people to places, especially in test cricket, where they’ve never been—probably is the biggest game-changer in cricket coverage I’ve seen.

Richard Aedy: Is that it then, or have you got any other toys that you’re going to get out this summer?

Brad McNamara: No, look we’re always looking to push the envelope and look at new technology and different ways of engaging the viewer. We are looking at helmet cameras. I’m not sure if that’s going to be for us yet. I’m not sure the picture quality’s quite what we want there. But the thing we’re most excited about and we’re bringing in on Boxing Day, is three-dimensional replays. So, everything we’ve done in previous years has been in two dimensions. This technology has the ability to stitch all our camera angles together and fly you in between them, almost like an Avatar type situation. So you won’t need a 3D TV. This’ll, sort of, do it for you. So, I think this is one of the great innovative tools that I’ve seen in broadcasting for quite some time. And hopefully we get it working well for Boxing Day and people will be able to make up their minds for themselves.

Richard Aedy: Brad McNamara. He mentioned the rights. And the rights are where things get complicated. Three years ago, the Senate held an inquiry into the ambiguities of sport reporting and rights, though little came out of it. And, for an example of how messy it gets, you need only look to India which is playing England at the moment. Sky has the British broadcast rights but that hasn’t stopped it falling out with Indian cricket’s Board of Control. David Rowe from the University of Western Sydney is co-author of Sport Beyond Television.

David Rowe: Well I mean, it is essentially the usual disputation over control of images, or audiovisual in the case of Sky, and still in the case of the press agencies. With digitisation a lot more material can be broadcast and communicated rapidly. And, of course, there’s money to be made out of that. The sports organisations such as the BCCI, that runs cricket in India, wants a slice of the action and couldn’t come to terms with broadcasters and the press agencies. And so, for example, if you go to the BBC now as I was this morning, and you look at the latest reports on the test between India and England, you have archive images only, no current images.

Richard Aedy: But the BBC is paid-up as I understand it. And certainly they’ve paid up to be in the commentary box for their radio coverage. Whereas Sky is sort of saying, look, we’ve already paid as far as we’re concerned and now you’re asking us to pay more.

David Rowe: Yes. They’ve been across the road as I understand, taking the…

Richard Aedy: Well, Mike Atherton, the former England captain who’s part of their team has been reporting from the car park.

David Rowe: Yes, yes. I mean essentially there were demands made, I think, at the last moment in both cases and there’s been resistance.

Richard Aedy: What is at stake here David?

David Rowe: Key thing I suppose is, what we would regard as the right of the public to receive sports news provided for them by media—traditional media organisations. It really gets down to that. I mean, in Australia, not very long ago, the Senate Standing Committee had an inquiry into sports news and the emergence of digital media because of this very issue. There’ve been…these disputes have happened in Australia as well; they’ve happened with the AFL, they’ve happened with Cricket Australia and so on. It’s by no means confined to one or two places in the world. These are breaking out all over the place. And it’s essentially, I suppose, getting down to who controls the mediation of sport. Who controls sports news? How much can be shown? How much can be communicated and by what means?

Richard Aedy: Well let’s talk about what happened a few years ago, and it all came to a head, I think, at the first test of the summer in Brisbane. Just remind us of what happened.

David Rowe: Yes, it was…essentially it was Brisbane, 2007, and your usual clutch of sports journalists turn up to cover the event, to get into the Gabba and essentially there’re prevented from going in there—actually excluded from the ground because there has not been an agreement over, you know, those issues concerning what will be circulated in terms of news. What, indeed, constitutes news? How much can be released and in what form? And so essentially, we talked about the car park scenario in India at the moment with Fox and Cricket and something very similar happened there.

Richard Aedy: This, as I recall, concerned stills photography and it also directly affected the wire agencies. So things like AAP, and AFP were, kind of, locked out? In fact I think there was a photo of journalists on one side of the fence and James Sutherland who’s head of Cricket Australia, kind of, looking at one another.

David Rowe: I mean, a complete public relations disaster, and I’ve interviewed some of the journalists that were involved in that unhappy moment, and the embarrassment of actually appearing in the newspaper outside the ground looking bemused. One of them I interviewed said, look, we’re foot soldiers here, we’re caught up in something really big; we just want to report the cricket, but, you know, we’re expected essentially, to have degrees in intellectual property rights. I mean, that’s a really difficult issue for sports journalists because they want to be able to practise sports journalism and they want to be able to use whatever technologies are at hand. But, of course, there are big, big disputes going on above their heads.

Richard Aedy: This hinges ultimately on audiovisual content. That is the key as far as the rights holder—in this case Cricket Australia and the Indian Cricket Board with their dispute—are concerned. And it is because we are no longer reliant on the TVs, network or concern that has paid the big wodge of cash to have the rights. They’re not the only people who can show us moving images of cricket anymore. That’s the issue isn’t it?

David Rowe: That’s the biggest issue. It’s not the only issue. So, I mean, the whole question of still press photography is still a big issue. And…because digitisation enables you to put out so much stuff so quickly. And, of course, it can be sold and resold, and that…this is the objection of the likes of Cricket Australia—they want a slice of that action. But the big one, the overwhelming issue, is audiovisual content, obviously with a capacity for live streaming and that sort of thing. The major economic driver, the underpinning of contemporary professional sport is broadcast rights or media rights more extensively. The most valuable part of media rights is live action, that’s the bit that degrades very quickly—that’s what people want to see and they want to see it now. And of course people who are paying billions of dollars in broadcast rights or selling those rights are obviously very concerned about that.

Richard Aedy: Has this issue been completely resolved? Because my understanding is, despite the kind of moment of crisis a few years ago at the Gabba in Brisbane, it’s never been completely sorted out.

David Rowe: No, it hasn’t. I mean, if you take the senate inquiry I was talking about, it came down with a, you know, pretty weak kind of resolution if you can call it that.

Richard Aedy: Nothing binding.

David Rowe: Nothing binding, a mediation…code of practice and a mediation possibility but also ultimately resort to the courts and so, nothing changed there. And one thing it definitely kept out of was audiovisual. So the code of practice that was developed applied only to still images—did not apply to audiovisual. So it has not been resolved and it’s very difficult to resolve. And, I mean, one of the key issues is that—and this came out in the senate inquiry—mutual accusations of media organisations, aimed towards sports organisations that sports organisations want to become media organisations.

Richard Aedy: David Rowe; you’ll hear more from him later.

This is the Media Report on RN. I’m Richard Aedy.

So what’s it like to be a reporter who covers cricket? Chloe Saltau is the chief cricket writer for The Age.

Chloe Saltau: Certainly on the first day of the test, you’re getting there in time for the toss and to, sort of, catch up on whether there are any team changes or anything like that. Everyone’s tweeting about, you know, who’s batting first and who’s in the team.

The first session you can usually watch pretty intently because there aren’t too many other demands on your time. After lunch you start to think about what the coverage is going to look like and you’ve normally, certainly at a home test, got a couple of colleagues with you, so you can, sort of, start to plan out, you know, who’s going to be covering what. You know, who’s going to be writing about Michael Clarke’s century, who’s going to be writing about the touring team, who’s going to be, sort of, writing the opinion piece about who should get sacked—that sort of thing. And, you know, on a quiet day you might have to hit the phones and try to, sort of, drum up something related to, but perhaps not specifically related to, what’s unfolding on the field.

From teatime onwards you’ve got your head down, writing basically. Because deadlines—newspaper deadlines—have, sort of, come forward to the point where, you know, you don’t have the luxury of sitting there for a couple of hours after stumps, getting everything right. You have to, pretty much, get it ready to go, get down to the press conferences, file any breaking news from there, touch everything up and then go again the next day.

Richard Aedy: When did you start covering cricket, and what did it involve when you did?

Chloe Saltau: My first tour in the cricket writer’s job was the 2003 World Cup. At the time it was very much just all about the newspaper and everything that we wrote in the paper, obviously, went on the web. But we really only filed for newspaper deadlines. So that particular first tournament was in South Africa which had its own challenges because of the time difference, but really you were filing for one deadline—or perhaps two deadlines a day to get match results and news in the papers. So, it was pretty straightforward at that point.

Richard Aedy: And how is it different now?

Chloe Saltau: It’s changed dramatically; probably most of the changes have really happened in the past three or four years. The difference between covering the 2005 Ashes in England and the 2009 tour to England was dramatic in the sense that, in ’05, although it was a really newsy tour, the only specific web stuff that we did was match reports on stumps basically in England for the web. So that when people came in and checked the web in the morning, they had a wrap of the day’s play.

But by 2009 we, sort of, realised that nothing really holds. News doesn’t really hold for very long. So you were filing, not only, just a stumps match report, but, you know, news out of the game; pretty much anything that was of interest had to be written straight away, by about seven in the morning Australian time. So, that meant that then, you got back to your hotel room and started to think about what you were going to write in the paper the next day. So that’s when it becomes really gruelling, I suppose. And really challenging to, sort of, conceive ideas and stories that are going to be fresh for the paper.

Richard Aedy: What about things like live blogging? Do you have to do that?

Chloe Saltau: We certainly do it and, for instance, from the test in Hobart today, we’ve got a live blog happening and we have a live blog for all test matches. I don’t usually do them, because I’m usually at the game and it’s usually done by someone back in the office watching it on TV. Because they, I suppose, don’t have the pressures of covering the match. So, yes, it’s something that we all need to be able to do. But it’s usually done outside the core cricket coverage.

Richard Aedy: So you mentioned that 2009 was a lot more onerous and, of course, you’ve got 2013 next year, if you’re going on that one, it’ll be more onerous still. How is it more onerous?

Chloe Saltau: It’s more onerous because the deadlines are constant, I suppose. And, yes, I expect that the 2013 Ashes will be more demanding again in terms of the amount of material that will be required by the web. At the same time, I think we’re perhaps getting a little bit smarter about how we do things. And I think our coverage of the London Olympics this year was a good example of that, in the sense that it was an acknowledgement in some ways, that that was very much an online tour because of the time differences. It meant that a lot of your best stuff was appearing on the web—and it might be republished in the paper but resources were really invested in the website. But we need to not forget that there’s still a really voracious readership for the newspaper and the expectations of that are, that, you know, they’ll want something really substantial and just a really nice read to get stuck into the next day as well. So we can’t neglect that.

Richard Aedy: Chloe Saltau. As you heard her first tour was in 2005. Mike Coward’s was in 1972 when he covered the Ashes in England for AAP. These days, though he’s too modest to say so, he’s as much an historian as a writer. His 40-year perspective is that the game affects the media and the media affects the game.

Mike Coward: Primarily through television, not so much through radio—radio broadcasting we had in 1927, of course. But even that has changed, in a way. You know, the days of the Arlotts and the Johnstons and the McGilvrays—it’s very different now. Television is where the impact has been.

Also with the newspapers and newspaper writing; one of the consequences is, there’s very little reflective writing anymore and, I think, very little reflective commentary and considered commentary on the game. I think it’s because it’s a reflection of the way the game is being played now. You know, it’s frenetic. There’s three forms of the game and I sense that the, sort of, frenetic aspects of the shorter forms of the game—T20 and the 50-over game—are infiltrating the coverage of the traditional game. I think it’s just a very frenetic world.

Richard Aedy: What about the idea now, that’s been kicking around for a few years, and I think must come from television—day-night tests? Because that will change the game quite profoundly if it happens.

Mike Coward: Yes it will, if it happens. Of course they’ve got the challenges of coming up with the appropriate ball to play at night, and of course you’ve got the dew on the ground. We’ve seen, over the years…in fact the World Cup final of 1996 in the one-day form with Australia in Lahore when they lost to Sri Lanka, the dew on the ground played an enormous role in that game. And that will be another issue if test cricket is played at night. It’s a very complex area, but yes, you’re right.

I mean, test cricket is prosperous in Australia and in England but nowhere else. You’ll have periods in India and you’ll have periods in South Africa where the crowds will attend. But basically they’ve been seduced by the limited-over game—particularly in India. And India, of course, is the compelling modern force of the game.

Yes, there is a strong lobby, particularly in Australia—some interest in England as well. And it’s…that’s interesting because these are the two countries where test match cricket is strongest but they are showing particular interest in playing test cricket at night. James Sutherland the chief executive of Cricket Australia has been very conspicuous.

Richard Aedy: I’m wondering if TV’s desire to have this product that goes into prime time, might end up being, of all things, the salvation of test cricket?

Mike Coward: Yes, it’s an argument I suppose. I mean, the traditionalists are very uncomfortable with it. To be fair, over the years the players themselves—and many of the administrators—particularly the players have…the players have a great affection for test match cricket. You know, even the younger ones coming through understand what it represents. There’s a reluctance of the players to play test match cricket under light. They’ve…over the years they’ve said, okay, if you want to fiddle around, do it with the limited-over forms of the game—with the shorter forms; it’s an entertainment. And we’re seeing now, very much with the whole marketing of the T20 game, very similar trends to what we saw back in the ’70s with the development of the limited-over international. You know, jingles on television, things that will appeal to children particularly, adolescents particularly—the short attention span. And perhaps the attention span is getting shorter from the ’70s and now into the start of the 21st century.

It really was started…Martin Crowe you’ll remember, of course, a great player, but he talked about cricket max and he introduced that to television in New Zealand, well, 10-15 years ago. And that involved four stumps; that involved shots to the boundaries for 8, over the boundary for 12, and things like that. He was thinking laterally and, of course, he’s an executive with Sky Television in New Zealand. So he could see it both as a cricket person, as wonderful a traditional cricketer that he was, but as a cricket person, and as a television executive he could see the values. And it’s been packaged up in different forms for 10, 15, 20 years.

Richard Aedy: Mike Coward. So far we’ve really been talking about the mainstream media but we can’t finish without acknowledging that there is a lively digital sector that focuses on cricket. David Rowe from the University of Western Sydney doesn’t believe it really threatens the traditional outlets.

David Rowe: I mean, they’re important. A lot of people will use what they have to offer all the time, kind of prefer it, because of its flexibility, its fairly rich data source et cetera. What I think though is happening is the purely digital realms, and such that it is, is really melding in to the traditional legacy media. So, they often have, you know, arrangements and so on, or the legacy media are moving themselves into there. I mean, where is there anywhere in the world now, you know, a major media organisation that has not heavily invested in digital. And it can be involved itself or it can make arrangements with existing digital enterprises.

So there is a decided shift towards the digital. But large media brands are not going to go down without a fight. There’s a lot, I think, of nonsense spoken about the end of television and we’ve just written a book with a slightly ironic title of Sport Beyond Television. And what we’re essentially arguing is that, television is changing, like all other technologies have changed in the media over centuries, but if you understand your media history you also know that these technologies become blended with new technologies and large media organisations with very deep pockets are very adept at moving in to this new territory and coopting it.

Richard Aedy: What about the fan David? Because it’s done in pursuit of audiences and obviously revenue. But are we—I’m a cricket fan, I have been all my life—do you think that people like me are better served now than we were, say, when—I can still remember, you know, cycling off to the petrol station to get the poster of the ’75, ’76 touring West Indian side—when all you had was television and radio and reports in the paper?

David Rowe: Well, you’re a fan and you’re also an eyeball to be monetised. And, I mean, that is, I guess one of the big questions here. Sports fans produce the value in media sport. So, we talk about fishing for eyeballs; you know, trying to track you down wherever you are. Trying to find new services that you are prepared to engage with, sometimes pay for. So, probably, as a fan, you are better catered for, or catered to, than you’ve ever been before, if you want to be. But, of course, you’re being bombarded all the time with offers. I mean, I don’t know what kind of cricket fan you are. Are you a betting cricket fan?

Richard Aedy: I’m not.

David Rowe: No. I’m not either. How do you feel about being constantly petitioned to bet?

Richard Aedy: I think it’s a pain in the arse actually. But…it’s not something I welcome.

David Rowe: But, you see, someone will offer the justification: you may not bet, but you will justify it from the additional funds that have been brought into the game by those who do.

Richard Aedy: Well, I hope we both get to enjoy the summer. Thank you for joining me today.

David Rowe: A great pleasure. Thank you Richard.

Richard Aedy: David Rowe. And you can find details of David’s book—he’s a co-author of it actually. It’s called Sport Beyond Television: The Internet Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media Sport—on the website. That’s the place to go also for more information about everything and a chance to listen again or download the show—

I’d like to thank David, Mike, Chloe and Brad—all of whom were generous with their time this week in the lead up to a test match no less. It’s much appreciated.

Just time to let you know about next week’s show which is about a future of the medium that you’re listening to now, the future of radio. It’s not something that we think about. We’ve done a bit of thinking. Next week’s show is the result.

Thanks to producer Kyla Slaven and sound engineer Menny Wasserstrom. I’m Richard Aedy.

Brad McNamara
Executive Producer
Nine Network
Chloe Saltau
Chief cricket writer
The Age newspaper
(Twitter: @chloejane32)
David Rowe
Professor of Cultural Research
Institute for Culture and Society
University of Western Sydney
(Twitter: rowe_david)
Mike Coward
Cricket journalist, commentator and author
TitleSport Beyond Television: The Internet, Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media SportAuthorHutchins, B. and Rowe, DPublisherRoutledge
Presenter Richard Aedy Producer Kyla Slaven Comments (0)