Monday, January 30, 2012

What were ESPN2’s tennis programmers thinking?

For each of the Australian Open men’s semifinal matches, overnight Wednesday and overnight Thursday (here in the U.S.A.), they allotted only 2 and a half hours of air time. That’s right, for a best of 5 set match – which more times than not goes to 4 sets (or 5) – they planned for only 3 short sets of tennis.

Now, could they have gotten burned? Is it possible that one of the semifinalists would blank another, the match would finish early, and the cable channel would be stuck with air time that they might quickly have to fill? Sure, I guess it’s possible. But one need only look at recent history to know that all four of the men’s top seeds have made it to the semifinal round over the past four Grand Slam tournaments to know that the contests would likely be hard fought, and this year they were.

Here’s the problem: the matches aired live starting at 3:30 AM EST/12:30 AM PST in the United States, which means a large number (if not the vast majority) of viewers would be watching them “tape delayed” on their DVRs. I wonder how many got up to watch the match Friday (or last Thursday) morning only to find that their DVD stopped recording the match in the third set … and they missed all the drama!

Of course, ESPN’s programmers were probably worried that they’d lose some viewers of the show that began at 6 AM EST/3 AM PST: Mike and Mike in the Morning. I’d be laughing at the absurdity that a televised radio show took precedent over a Grand Slam tennis tournament semifinal if I wasn’t so upset that I missed the evidently dramatic third set (won by Andy Murray over Novak Djokovic) of Friday’s match. Fortunately, I tuned in live to the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal match the previous night, and caught the decisive fifth set.

If you were unfortunate enough to DVR the matches and failed to manually extend the recording time 2 or 3 hours, I feel your pain. The channel allotted 5 hours to the ladies’ semifinals, and my DVR caught the first five of the six sets played; it ended during the third game of the third set of Maria Sharapova’s win over Petra Kvitova. Oh well.

I'll cut ESPN's programming department some slack regarding Sunday's men's final, even though they only allocated 3 and a half hours to it. No one could have predicted that the longest Grand Slam final in history - 5 hours and 53 minutes, an hour longer than the previous record - would be played. Incredible! (I'll post my thoughts on the match this Thursday.) If, like me, you anticipated an overrun and added an additional 3 hours to the recording (DirecTV's upper limit), your "taped" show still cut off the final decisive game of the fifth set ... and all the post match festivities. Fortunately, the channel aired the match again - right after it ended - as an "Instant Classic". Thanks!

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