Most of the posts I write here are intended for people with an interest in blindness technology. I hope this one will be of interest to a far wider audience, because quality radio coverage of cricket has been a Kiwi tradition and expectation for generations.
As a blind person, the Sky coverage isn’t as enjoyable for me, since naturally, they don’t need to describe every delivery in great detail. So I go out of my way to find radio coverage of cricket.
But radio coverage is also important for socio-economic reasons. Even if you’d like Sky, but can’t afford it, at least you had the radio.
Even if you have Sky, there are times when the radio coverage is just more convenient. When you’re at work and want to enjoy a game while getting things done, the radio coverage only occupies a little of one of your senses.
It’s been there for well over half a century for New Zealanders painting the house, enjoying some time at the beach, or curled up under the covers at night when an important game’s being played on the other side of the world.
We’ve seen a progressive thumbing of Radio Sport’s nose at cricket coverage in recent years, but what they’re doing in the context of the Cricket World Cup is a step too far, and something needs to be done.
Cricket coverage on Radio Sport started going down-hill when they stopped broadcasting domestic four-day games. I accept that you might have to be really into the game to miss those. It could be argued by Radio Sport that the cost of covering them, plus the disruption to other programming, didn’t make sense given that Radio Sport is a commercial operation and the broadcasts only interest a handful of devotees. For a short time, there was a compromise and the games were broadcast online via Radio Sport Extra.
Games by our national team are in a completely different category, and effort ought to be made to cover every game. Last year, not for the first time, we didn’t get live radio coverage of a critical international test and one-day series when New Zealand took on Pakistan. There were some thrillers in that series I would dearly love to have heard via a radio commentary. The excuse for these sorts of decisions is that cricket rights are expensive. To me that’s just a cost of being in the business they’re in.
But what is happening now is just outrageous. We have one of the biggest events in sport, the Cricket World Cup, taking place in part right here in New Zealand. During the pool phase of the tournament, Radio Sport had decided only to broadcast games in which New Zealand are playing. New Zealand Radio listeners missed out on the incredible batting displays in the Australia England game, and the plucky performance by Zimbabwe against South Africa that made the game more exciting than many were expecting. They also missed a fantastic performance by Ireland against the West Indies. These latter two games were being played right here in New Zealand.
It’s not that these games are tucked away somewhere on Radio Sport’s website, there’s just no ball-by-ball radio commentary to be heard in New Zealand anywhere.
To make this situation even more bizarre, Radio Sport commentators are being used in the pool commentary that is being shared by the BBC, the ABC, and possibly other radio broadcasters.
Presumably at the request of the ICC, a range of streams that used to work on the TuneIn service which has a website and smartphone apps no longer work. I thought this was a decision Radio Sport took alone, as discussed in my previous post, but it’s gone far further than this. For some years, it has been possible to listen to the BBC or ABC coverage of live cricket, even when the stream was intended only for people residing in their home countries. It required a minimal investment in technology to make it seem like you were listening from the appropriate country. If you want to investigate such technology, I can highly recommend the Hide My Ass VPN service. That geo-blocking technology continues to be used, but if you’re a smartphone user, you have to go hunting outside of TuneIn to find out how to get the streams. So there has been a new hurdle introduced.
Even if there’s some argument to be made that there’s not enough public interest in the world’s most important tournament of our national summer game, a notion I find laughable, Radio Sport could at least make the commentary they are participating in available online.
If one can get access to the ABC or BBC commentaries, you can get radio coverage of every single game, and what’s more, it’s ad free.
If I thought another petition on this subject would help, I would start one. But Radio Sport has already shown what they think of online petitions. They may as well come clean and rename themselves Radio Rugby. They’re not giving cricket the attention and respect it deserves.
Perhaps it’s time for New Zealand Cricket to seek to negotiate other arrangements for radio coverage, or separate the Internet rights from the terrestrial radio rights, so some enterprising operation can have a go at providing decent online radio coverage. I’d gladly pay a subscription.
It’s also time for the ICC to take a look at the fragmented nature of cricket coverage. While I realise there’s a big difference in scope and logistics between the MLB, which is purely North American, and cricket, which is global, I envy the baseball fans who can pick up one app, and pay a subscription to either hear or see every game, depending on their needs. Cricket fans are being badly served at present, and the game’s not keeping up with new delivery mechanisms for radio and TV ball-by-ball commentary.
There is another option. Cricket radio coverage used to be provided by New Zealand’s public broadcaster, as for the most part it is in Australia and the UK. If Radio Sport really can’t make decent cricket coverage work commercially, then maybe it’s time to seek NZ On-Air funding for it.
For now, I’m going to continue to tune into the ABC or BBC just in order to hear games played in my own country, on occasion even a few KM down the road. What an absurd situation.
Shame on you, Radio Sport.