One has to look no further than the coverage of the French Open men’s semifinal to understand the reason why the major networks are losing viewership. In their desire to capture revenues, these organizations have failed to keep in mind their audience.
At the odd hours that the French Open is transmitted, only an avid fan would care enough to watch. Therefore, as one such fan, I feel slighted when instead of viewing live action, I am presented with pre-recorded programs. Gone are the days when television had a monopoly on this sort of information. Nowadays, with up-to-the-minute data a click away on the internet, this medium is running the risk of becoming obsolete in the world of sport.
From the outset on May 25th , I followed the competition on the Tennis Channel. Early on in the tournament, ESPN (ABC’s sister station) picked up where that network left off, making it a seamless transition. Then on June 2, as the Tennis Channel terminated its programming, I expected ESPN to show the next match, Croatian Ivan Ljubicic versus Frenchman Gael Monfils. Instead, there was a replay of the calamity of Maria Sharapova vis-à-vis Dinara Safina, culminated with the annihilation of American Robby Ginepri by Chilean Fernando Gonzalez. Any fan with computer access was probably aware of the results of these completed matches.
With ESPN having a six and a half hour broadcasting window, it is incomprehensible why this station would think that rehashing old stuff was the means of bolstering ratings. Its target audience, just as I, most likely logged on to the Roland Garros site for live scoring and radio commentary. Moreover, why endure the torture of persistent chatter and inane telecaster commentaries during play, forcing me to watch the proceedings on mute. Besides, the internet option spares me from having to listen to John McEnroe and Ted Robinson fill in pauses with erroneous trivia such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, Caribbean islands being situated in Africa, validating most Americans’ denseness at geography. The utmost insult to viewers was when NBC aired a taped version of the first men’s semifinal in lieu of a direct feed of the second, Federer versus Monfils. The latter semifinal turned out to be an intriguing contest with Monfils a couple of points from taking Federer to a decisive fifth set.
A delayed presentation of the NFL or NBA playoffs? No TV executive would dare commit such a faux pas; the public would be indignant. Although the popularity of these sports trumps tennis in America, I don’t think usurping the gazillionth hour of the Today Show this year for a live showing of the French, would cause many people to object. Yet, I suppose that French Open organizers, the WTA and the ATP, who sell the rights to the networks, are partly to blame. With their eagerness to fatten their bottom line, they are willing to prostitute the sport to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, they are neglecting the fact that their behavior runs the risk of alienating the very population they are attempting to reach. Perhaps, rather than doing the job half heartedly, these networks should think about conceding the task to stations that would do it properly. In this era of revolutionary technology, it is wonderful to know that tennis fans do not have to accept the crumbs that ESPN and NBC have to offer.