What Happens After The World Cup?

We can all agree that TV coverage of the World Cup was better than ten years ago. Even Alan Shearer seems to have done his homework. Can he keep it up?

Last Updated: 17/07/14 at 09:15 Post Comment

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Returning to normality, just about, after five weeks of footballing goodness, John Nicholson and Alan Tyers review the BBC and ITV World Cup coverage and ask if their tournament approaches will have any bearing on the new season...

Firstly, both BBC and ITV had very good World Cups - coverage has improved across the board and standards are beyond question higher than they were a decade ago.

When they went head to head for the final, it was of course unsurprising that the BBC won the ratings battle. However, the margin of victory was notable: the BBC with around 12 million (average) viewers and ITV just three million. While it's a one-off situation - it's not like you can watch the Champions League or Premier League on a choice of channels - it is a harsh reality for ITV. Did the British public simply reject ITV en masse, fearing another glimpse of the swelling of Glenn's testicles, or is it something more existential than that? It is often said the British watch great national events on the BBC because they see it as somehow trustworthy for the important stuff. Maybe they worried that ITV would just cut to ads and miss the crucial goals. This may be misplaced faith in the BBC, but it looks like it holds an element of truth.

Then again, maybe the BBC were just much better than ITV. Superficially, it looked better and its content was a touch more aesthetically pleasing. In Rio Ferdinand they certainly have a future star in the making once he's been relegated with QPR. To underline this, the Rio In Rio programme showed a photogenic, empathetic man at ease with being filmed.

Interestingly, the commercial broadcaster has begun to diverge in style from the BBC more markedly. Perhaps realising that they cannot compete in a heads-up situation, ITV are going for a more distinct vibe.

While the BBC coverage of the final found Rio, Alan and Alan in sober, even sombre suits, ITV were still doing their 'wahey, lads on tour' thing. You might not like that, but it is an identity of sorts and the more fan-centric approach certainly plays to the strengths of Adrian Chiles. It's important to have more than one flavour and ITV might feel justified in pursuing this a little more clearly in the future.

With BT making its audacious Champions League grab from 2015, the marketplace is getting more crowded and, for the consumer at least, that can only be a good thing, but it means all outlets need to be more clearly defined.

This World Cup has helped set a trend: the BBC, leaning towards authoritative, English pundits drawn from the absolute top rank of our country's footballing talent and also Robbie Savage. ITV: more informal, more diverse voices. If you add in the technological innovation and new-kid energy of BT and the longer-form 'one man and his iPad' tech analysis of Sky, then that is four fairly diverse products.

For many years there was little or nothing to distinguish ITV from the BBC save the identities of the talking heads, and then really only in name only because they were all saying the same things. We're glad this is changing. If we were to recommend anything to ITV, it would be to use Matt Smith a lot more. To the BBC, we'd say ditch whoever normally writes the MOTD scripts and let Gary, Alan et al just talk naturally. They're far better doing that than crow-barring pre-written wit into proceedings.

In terms of the actual commentary, we took little new insight from the tournament. Your Mowbrays and your Clives are as ever. The only ones who especially caught our ear were Steve Wilson, who had a decent tournament, and the faintly Partridgean Sam Matterface, who was sometimes quite close to declaring he knew of a cracking owl sanctuary.

Overall, the commentators all sound more or less the same, in part because it is very hard to commentate on football without sounding like a football commentator. The tone, the timbre, the delivery, the preparatory work, the frames of reference are so well established to go way beyond cliché. To talk in a way other than a Barry Davies-John Motson-Clive Tyldesley successor is to go against such a huge cultural weight; it would be like going on stage and trying to play a guitar by hitting it with a drumstick (which is great fun, but you won't write many hits).

Try it for yourself: record yourself commentating on a match for 90 minutes, without swearing or saying anything that would get you instantly fired. You'll sound like a poor man's Matterface. It is simply not a line of work that facilitates innovation, so whatever progress football on TV is making, it's not going to be in the match coverage.

In the studio punditry, though, we detect signs of a new maturity and a recognition that viewers these days are smart, and indeed angry and noisy. When this World Cup sees even Alan Shearer having done a bit of homework and thinking, it feels that we may be entering a new era of TV punditry. Now they just have to cheer Lawro up a bit...

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football.

Or Alan's illustrated sports books here.

Follow Johnny on Twitter here or Alan here.

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