Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gioco del giorno

Some People Are On The Pitch speculates wildly about the return of live Italian football to UK TV.

The ratings are in and the Milan Derby, screened on BBC3, attracted roughly 700,000 viewers, which is not bad at all for a digital channel.

For those of you based outside the UK, Serie A has been off the air here in Blighty since Five dropped its coverage last season. So when the BBC announced their decision to screen Inter v Milan last week on their digital channel BBC3, speculation grew on the various Italian football forums as to whether this was a prelude to more regular coverage.

The reasons for broadcasting last Sunday’s game are fairly apparent. Presumably the Beckham Factor was the principle reason behind the decision to give Serie A another chance. However, there is plenty on offer for fans of good football so it’s possible that somewhere in the back of the programme controllers' minds, they may look to screen more games this season.

Continued coverage must also depend of whether 'Golden Balls' stays at Milan. When Channel 4 started to screen Serie A back in the 90’s it was on the back of one man: Paul Gascoigne. Of course back then the Premier League had just started and the Italian League was the best in the world. Nowadays, Serie A is blighted by in-stadium hooliganism, atrocious TV coverage and an outdated image here in the UK of being boring and defensive (an image propagated, in my opinion, by large sections of the pro-Premier League English media).

However, fans of the Italian game would argue that the reports on hooliganism are overplayed (and a touch hypocritical coming from the English) and that the TV coverage for the evening games is much better than the afternoon games which Five covered last year. As for the game being boring, on the evidence of last weekend, that simply isn’t true.

Many Serie A fans argue that if a broadcaster screened the Saturday or Sunday evening games, they would be screening the top games with the best coverage. While there is great merit in this argument, there are some obstacles to the return of Serie A to our screens:

Firstly, the ratings. Screening a Milan game with Beckham in it is bound to attract an audience of some description in England but even 700,000 is not sustainable for mainstream free-to-air channels like Five, Channel Four and ITV. These channels do have smaller digital stations but their respective acquisitions budgets will be tiny. The cost of carrying these games is probably too high for the likes of E4, FIVER and ITV4 given the ratings return even if Beckham played every week (which he wouldn’t).

Secondly, dedicated sports channels are covered for live weekend football in the evenings. Sky have been all about the La Liga for years now. Setanta used to cover Serie A and were in for it again, according to James Richardson, however the broadcaster couldn’t agree a price (apparently).

Thirdly, there’s a global recession going on and broadcasters are affected just like everyone else. It’s unlikely that they are going to take a punt on a League that keeps getting dropped.

What Serie A needs is for a broadcaster to believe in the league, invest in the league and give the league time to bed in with a new audience. Said broadcaster shouldn’t be governed by the rigours of the commercial TV market and should be able to afford to take the risk that the league may not pay off immediately. Ideally this broadcaster will not be commercially funded. Ideally it should be the BBC.

Hopefully, the ratings will persuade the Beeb to give Serie A another crack by screening another game. Perhaps they’ll screen another big match involving Milan followed by a non-Beckham game, ideally the Derbi D’Italia. If people are still watching, then hopefully that will be enough for the Beeb to sign a regular deal next season, assuming they can justify the licence fee expenditure.

Of course if Becks finds himself on a one way trip to LA next month, then the likelihood of seeing Serie A back on our screens would be significantly reduced. That’s why UK based Italian football fans had better hope a deal can be done lest they become condemned to watching dodgy feeds on for the foreseeable future.


kevin said...

"Serie A is blighted by in-stadium hooliganism"...great selling point IMO!!!!

"atrocious TV coverage and an outdated image"............worse than Setanta?

seriously, I would love to see Serie A back on Tv and I reckon the Beeb, whose coverage was terrible, the commentary was in front of the play, won't make a play for it. I think the best bet is Setanta who after losing an EPL package maybe will look at Serie A and the 'Becks' Factor to keep viewers.

They should maybe just sack Craig Burley and Scott Booth as co commentators right enough.....

Duffman said...

Hi Kevin, The coverage of the Sunday afternoon games are poor. I believe that they are only broadcast domestically in specific regions. If that's the case then their respective budgets will be low. The trouble is that it these games that traditionally get screened in the UK (ITV2 experimented with the evening games some years back but dropped them).

It’s true that Setanta may come in for Serie A again. However, it will have to be for the right price (James Richardson suggested that they could not agree a price at the beginning of the season).

Kevin said...

I remember ITV2 showing night games thought it was ok but Italian football is no longer of fashionable interest for the average fan. I often wonder what the ratings are for the French League and German League on Setanta. Surely the Italian league would be a better punt than both of them?

Here I think AC Jimbo is the key. He is the jewel in Setantas crown and nearly as Italian as they come.

The problem I have wie Justin Tv and that is that you can't just casually stumble over a game. You have to make time to watch one on the internet. My St Pauli watching days are few and far between now due to the lack of time factor.....

kevin said...

In Italy the clubs do their own Tv deals is that correct? Is that a factor in the coverage being so poor unless one of the 'big boys' is involved?

Duffman said...

I believe that each club negotiates seperately for domestic coverage. Not sure if they do internationally. I imagine this may has some baring on the quality issues.

With regards to ratings for the Bundesliga and Ligue 1: Low. Very very very very very very very very very low. Serie A would defintely rate higher but its worth considering that even if it trebled the viewing figures over say, Ligue 1 we're still talking very very... well you get the idea.


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