The Media pages of the Thursday edition of The Australian were nothing but even handed today in their assessments of the Seven network’s coverage of the Olympics.

Media buyer heavyweight, Ann Parsons was laudatory, but Australian writer, Michael Sainsbury wasn’t and media write Amanda Meade was on happy pills with this story on Seven’s new program, Packed To The Rafters.

But in her media gossip column she reverted to form in this assessment of Today Tonight host, Anna Coren:

When people turned on the TV after a day at work, they were greeted by Anna Coren’s screeching take on the day’s events. The lasting memory of the Games for Diary, unfortunately, is a heavily made up Coren sitting next to a swimmer’s mother in the stands as she watched her daughter’s race.

The poor woman couldn’t savour the moment because Coren was in her face asking her how it felt to be there. Today Tonight, of course, had paid for her to attend after milking her for several stories about being too poor to attend.

That’s harsh and perhaps also reflects the view of another network. If Ms Meade had watched some of the interviews Nine, ABC and Ten reporters have conducted in Beijing, she would have been a bit more even-handed.

But of all the reports today, Michael Sainsbury comes closest to the mark: Seven’s coverage is disjointed and sliced and diced to fit viewing habits, not sporting events. It has been a constant frustration that Seven has ignored updating people or giving rundowns of what’s happening in events happening as Australian teams or competitors are on screen. If he or anyone else thinks that Nine will improve in 2012, you will be very much mistake. The Beijing games are two hours behind us, so we are getting to see some sports live and some on delay.

If you remember back to Athens, Seven packaged the games (as it did from Atlanta in 1996) into prime time fare — and was bagged for doing so. That’s what Nine will be doing in 2012. It won’t be showing events or finals live on a nine hour delay because the UK will be running them at times to suit TV viewers in Europe and then the US. So a 7pm or 8pm final in London for a sport will be around 4am or 5am in Australia. It would be commercial suicide for Nine.

They will have to mix and match, show many live and then repackage for the evening for the bigger audiences. Not to show them live will mean that the rival networks will concentrate their packages on those events Nine will be showing in prime time to try and lessen the attraction to the audience.

We will probably see every major Australian heat live but finals etc will be repackaged to run in a long five to seven our block from 7pm. The advertisers want this and will pay accordingly. Because Great Britain will have a lot of medal contenders, everything possible will be in prime time.

All the News Ltd reports on the issue have failed to mention that from the 2010 winter games, especially in 2012, you will have to pay to watch minor and semi minor sports: the sort you are seeing on SBS at the moment. So handball, soccer, volleyball, lots of table tennis, men’s and women’s hockey (minor games), fencing, judo (non Australian) etc will be on Fox Sports on Pay TV. That means they will become even more minor. Minor winter sports like the luge etc will be on Foxtel in 2012.

And there’s another consideration: of the two new Olympics broadcasters in Australia for 2010 and 2012, Nine and Foxtel, Nine has a huge spending program to bring itself up to full digital transmission. It might be able to get away with using Fox Sports to improve its images in 2010, but in 2012 it will have to have completely digitised the network and the various stations because analogue will be ending within a year of the games being broadcast (at this stage).

Foxtel has spent heavily on going fully digital and has state of the art transmission and rebroadcast facilities, as has Seven and Ten, with the ABC getting there and SBS on its way. Nine’s conversion has been stalled for years because the Packer interests didn’t want to spend the money and didn’t even think about it because they were not planning to remain in the business.

This is tied up in the financial pressures on Nine’s owner, PBL Media, which lost money in the second half (PBL Media owns the Nine stations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and owns the regional network NBN). The smartest thing CVC (75% owner) and Cons Media (which owns 25% of PBL Media plus 25% of Foxtel and 50% of Fox Sports) could do is a deal where Nine shares the Pay TV operators’ fully digitised facilities in Sydney. Nine News and A Current Affair, plus the Today Show would get an immediate boost.

For all the bagging of Seven’s coverage, audiences have been sticking with it: last night there was another 2 million plus audience for Seven’s prime time coverage. The softballers and the basketballers helped. The audience could fall below 2 million tonight and tomorrow night because of lower viewing levels both nights as they did last week. But Seven is having the last laugh on its critics because the audiences have been so solid. Viewers don’t care what we critics think and carp about.

Peter Fray

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