French TV cutbacks

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Most readers won’t be able to watch French TV and you’re not missing much given the weak output of most of the stations which rely on imported US series, made-for-tv films and parochial news coverage for the bulk of their prime time content. But one bonus is the coverage of cycling from France Télévisions and in 2012 there will be 120 hours of race coverage. Hopefully this time without staff ramming riders off the road.

But if 120 sounds like a lot, it’s significantly less than last year and even if you live on the other side of the world these cutbacks could hamper your TV viewing and reduce team sponsorship too.

French sports website enpleinelucarne.net reports that cycling has been popular:

In 2011, on average more than a million viewers followed each of the different races screened on France 3 on a Sunday afternoon. Excellent results crowned by a 2011 Tour de France that broke numerous audience records

20% reduction
If this sounds good then it’s not as promising as it sounds. Last year they announced 150 hours, so the coverage is down 20%. Surprising given le Voecklermania.

Also there is 80 hours for the Tour de France which is impressive and several stages are usually screened in their entirety meaning you get to watch the crucial first hour. But this overshadows the rest of the season. 80 hours for one race means 40 is spread over everything else. There’s no Milan-Sanremo or Amstel Gold classic, no Giro or Vuelta and so on.

Cycling on TV

Stay-at-homes make up the majority of the audience

Fair enough since sports coverage is increasingly reserved for dedicated channels and you’re probably about to rush to the comments section to say “I don’t get a fraction of this in my country“. Thanks to the Tour de France you might think of France as a cycling crazy country but it’s not really true, certainly the main broadcaster doesn’t want to cover much beyond ASO’s portfolio of races like the Tour, Dauphiné, Paris-Nice and one day Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice. As FDJ-BigMat’s Sandy Casar noted recently, John Gadret’s riding in the Giro went almost unnoticed. In other words the home calendar is screened but there’s not much from abroad.

What does this mean for me?
If you’re not in France you might think this doesn’t affect you. But France Télévisions is not just a broadcaster, it is the producer and also provides images for other channels, broadcasts and feed. If France 2 and France 3 have cut back their broadcast hours by 10% then it could mean less airtime for for some races.

On a secondary level, TV coverage is massively important for the sport. A 20% reduction in coverage then it’s less incentive for French sponsors to back French teams.

Good picture, weak audio?
Yes the images are stunning, especially in HDTV and many tune in for the scenery. Some reports suggest the largest segment of the audience is in fact watching the countryside and not the race. Perhaps this explains the weak sporting coverage which is usually devoid of analysis, live images are commentated but there’s no studio discussion prior to the live broadcast to place the upcoming racing in context. In short there’s not much depth, it feels like is aimed at the casual TV viewer. The channel handles athletics, tennis or rugby in a similar way, promising action, spectacle and emotion. This blog tries to dissect the sport in several ways so no wonder the TV viewing frustrates but more average sports fans do complain too, it’s not just a personal rant and word has it that even some of the broadcast staff are frustrated at having to simplify their output. Media navel-gazing aside, if nobody is explaining the sport on TV then audiences won’t get so involved.

Summary
Last year they announced 150 hours, this time it’s 120 and that can’t be good for cycling. Whilst it remains to be seen if this a trend or a one-off, either way French fans will be frustrated and reaching for Eurosport and hunting for other sources. But the casual viewer is unlikely to try so hard and a reduction in airtime means they think less about the sport and team sponsors will think twice about investing.

Pete Verral February 22, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Appreciate (though) sadden with this news. Is there an email address for France Télévisions to state displeasure with cut back in hours? Perhaps an email campaign could be started.

sheree February 22, 2012 at 8:33 pm

I suspect that the cutbacks on terrestial tv will be more than offset by increased coverage on Canal+ and the two Eurosport channels. Since, I’ve been living here (7 years), French tv has not broadcast anything other than French races. I access the respective domestic channels for the Giro and Vuelta.

chris February 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

one thing to bear in mind the France 2/3 Tv cameras are the ones that provide most of the feeds to the other channels so if they drop out too much then someone else will have to want to do it enough to take over the coverage

CAT4Fodder February 22, 2012 at 8:57 pm

In terms of commenting on the strength of the analysis in cycling coverage…as much as they are iconic, Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin exemplify this problem (although I am unsure whether this is their fault, or more a matter of the direction being dictated to them by producers).

But as a perfect example, watch the 2011 Paris-Roubaix race..and when Boonen’s bike has a mechanical i the Arenburg Forest, my first thought was why there was not a single teammate near Boonen to protect him for just that situation. A casual viewer, unaware of some of these strategic decisions in cycling may have very well been a more informed viewer had Phil and Paul brought this up, and criticized Team Quickstep for that failure.

I did however hear multiple discussions or references to the coal mining town near the Arenburg forest…which is interesting, and should be part of cycling coverage, but a little less of that, and a little more of the former would be welcome.

David N. Welton February 22, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Ok, so it would be really interesting to have stats on cycling TV time per country. In Italy, for instance, we get the Giro, with a few stages covered almost start to finish, *and* we get the Tour, although normally just the critical bits (the last few hours and *maybe* a major pass early on in a mountain stage). No Vuelta though, although I’m trying to think if that has changed with the proliferation of channels.

In any event, it’d be fun to compare countries with those statistics.

slim jim February 22, 2012 at 11:52 pm

I watched a bit of the Giro while holidaying in Italy – despite not being able to understand Italian. From what I could see; there appeared to be plenty of post-race analysis and discussion and they also had an old pro do a recon of the following day’s climb – I just wish I could understand what they were saying.

BA's_Mohawk February 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm

When will The organisers of these monuments insist on telemetry being transmitted live to the audience? How engrossing would it be to have just 3 metrics for each rider at your disposal whilst viewing the coverage via red button or otherwise. Speed, HR & Power. Much like telemetry on formula 1 or other sports this would bring another dimension to not only the viewers but also the commentary. Schleck jr reckoned he attacked upto the lauteret at 500w in his stage win to the mighty Galibier in last years TDF – I’d have LOVED to have seen this live on the broadcast followed by Cadel’s valiant efforts to limit losses.. It’s the future!!

David N. Welton February 22, 2012 at 11:56 pm

@slim jim – yeah, they have a pre-race show, a post race show, and various other tie-ins.

The old pro is Davide Cassani, who is also the “color commentator”. He is a treat to listen to, as he knows the sport inside and out. He’s usually quite good at “calling it”, to the point that sometimes he makes following the action almost a bit less interesting!

rhys February 23, 2012 at 1:19 am

BA’s Mohawk, this is a fantastic idea. I’m not sure how many teams would like their data broadcast to the public, but maybe the UCI could make it mandatory to have at least one person per team’s data available for transmission to TV. Even returned dopers after serving their ban, something like that. It would be great for average Joe to see the younger of the shleck sisters put out 500w for a long period of time and then try and emulate this on his gym’s spin bike the day after.
Perhaps if there ever was a breakaway league not over-run with corruption we might see better broadcasting and options like these to viewers.

MattK February 23, 2012 at 2:40 am

OK, just a crazy idea. But how about outsourcing all the filming to a third party and then French/Italian/American TV can license it from them either in whole or part? This would then be offered online for a subscription fee and could also be licensed to other online streaming services. Hell the UCI could be the one to control the whole thing and they would make a killing off the licensing. Based on how much it probably costs to film these events, I am sure media outlets would be glad to have a third party handle it. I will even toss up a Kickstarter fund and start making calls to people who can actually film an event… if you thought the last Tour was well filmed, prepare to grovel. :)

inopinatus February 23, 2012 at 2:42 am

Cat4Fodder – almost everything I’ve come to understand about the strategies at play in professional bicycle racing has been from following the commentary of Phil Liggett & Paul Sherwen, or (on Eurosport) David Harmon & Sean Kelly.

So I think there is enough for the armchair enthusiast to follow.

However the most memorable commentary I have ever heard was during what I remember as an otherwise unremarkable Giro or Vuelta stage in 2010. I believe (forgive if I am wrong) that Carlton Kirby was in the box, and his partner had not shown up. There was nothing to see, there was no break to discuss.

And so the commentary became a long monologue that became more and more introspective and personal as the stage wore on. Shared with millions, it was truly a dark voyage into the commentator’s soul. I believe at one point he was discussing his youth and relieving times he was embarrassed in public as a schoolboy. Fortunately the stage ended before he could articulate the complex relationship with his mother.

regsf February 23, 2012 at 3:07 am

Phil and Paul are the worst. All the gaffs, poor tactical calls, misidentified riders and an anglo-centric bent annoys the hell out of me. If they’re commentating it’s sound off for me. Sean Kelly and the late Laurent Fignon are/were the best. Magnus is not bad.

I’d subscribe to a pay France 2 feed if there was one to buy. It’s geo-blocked in the US and we’re forced into the Versus sinkhole. I spend the month of July in France to be able to watch French coverage.
Inner Ring, please do an article about the brilliant Daniel Mangeas.

CAT4Fodder February 23, 2012 at 3:27 am

The guys (Steve Golgowski?) I believe who are on University Sports and do commentary on the Giro, Vuelta, and a host of other races actually are quite decent. Because they are stuck in the basement of Universal Sports (seriously – it is the most cramped, dark studio I have ever seen), they are forced much more than others to just stick to commenting on the race. They are in Los Angeles, and not getting interviews or gaining anecdotes, that while interesting, all too often pass as race analysis.

My wife and I cancelled our cable once Comcast dropped Universal Sports 1/1/2012 from the Denver local package. In a way, it is for the better. It was tough on the schedule watching literally 9 weeks of cycling between the three grand tours. Now more time for riding (trying to turn water into wine on this one)

CAT4Fodder February 23, 2012 at 3:29 am

I will give this to Phil Ligget…he may lack for the first 3.5 hours of a race…but no one, and I mean no one is as good as he is at heightening up the excitement on the last climb of the day or the sprint finish.

ali February 23, 2012 at 9:53 am

@Slimjim, RAI coverage is amazing, but not Davide Cassani, just think Sean kelly in italian.

The Inner Ring February 23, 2012 at 9:57 am

I’ll second the RAI coverage. Francesco Pancani does the emotion, Silvio Martinello has an authoritative voice and Enrico Cassani gives excellent advice and Alessandri di Stefano is able to discuss sports and human aspects pre and post racing. Better, their on air chemistry works well. Belgium’s Sporza (Flemish) and RTBF (French) is also excellent. State broadcasters with a mass audience can do a great job.

Patrick February 23, 2012 at 10:30 am

All we can do is really root for the French cyclists this year because only big wins will increase viewers, although the fact this reduction has come after what Thomas Voeckler achieved last year is especially puzzling. Was there much attention in the French media for Arnaud Démare’s stage win in Qatar a couple of weeks ago?

Bundle February 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

Belgium and Italy have the most serious fanbase, the highest density of races, and the widest TV coverage. France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are one or two steps below. The rest of Europe has to rely very largely on Eurosport.

Larry T. February 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

DAVIDE Cassani is the technical commentator for RAI. He does a great job and speaks clearly and concisely which helps a lot when your Italian is far from excellent (though I’m getting better!). I still remember being frustrated years ago while following the Giro stage into Briancon when we could not find TV coverage in FRANCE! The race was there, but no TV. The reduced TV coverage of LeTour in France reminds me of a statement the Versus folks made awhile back, something to the effect they wanted to show viewers there was more to cycling than just LeTour, which was some sort of perverse justification for NOT showing the Giro. We’ve suffered through Universal’s stuff a few times before arriving in Italy – sound off, as REGSF noted, same with Heckyl and Jeckyl. Even when viewing some old DVD’s of races from the past on the trainer I’ve got to mute the talking magpies, they annoy the hell out of me with their inane chatter, catch phrases and pretense that they’re actually there (TdF excepted) seeing the race unfold live, rather than in a London studio drinking tea.

ddraver February 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I ve never watched Versus being from the UK, but it seems like you get a lot more coverage (even if it is with Phil & Paul) from Versus in the US. Coverage of anything other than the TdF has been impossible on normal TV in the UK. We had some improvement last year when we got some coverage of the Vuelta (which looked like they’d borrowed the set and equipment off of Waynes World!). It’s Eurosport or nothing for anything else.

Adam February 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I disagree a little about the analysis – studio replay analysis is formulaic and boring in other sports and would be here too. Cycling is best analysed from amongst the action, and France TV use their motorbike based analysts to great effect. Before Fignon’s death brought him back inside, Jalabert’s ability to read the break at the tdf used to be incredible. It’s even true when nothing is going on – in the ITV4 coverage of the vuelta last year the most illuminating bits were when Ned and Matt idly talked over images of “dull” parts of the race, not when they and their guests exchanged cliches in the studio.

Do you have a list of what the 120 hours will consist of?

Big Mikey February 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm

To Adam’s point, I was in France for the TdF one year, and their TV coverage is amazing. In-car discussions with DS, interviews with any- and everybody, they get to the inside of the sport with people who are doing it. It’s not some 2 minute in-broadcast interview/commercial with the marketing guy from Specialized that you see on versus.

And, for the record, Phil and Paul are trite, useless and utterly uninformative. Their peak passed with the jingoistic support of LA during his TdF run. Not sure who the british guy who works with Sean Kelly on Eurosport is, but he’s all class (as Kelly would be if he would enunciate a bit). Versus video with Eurosport sound is required.

bikecellar February 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Nobody has mentioned the Scot, Brian Smith, ex Cycling TV now heard on Eurosport, an ex pro who knows his stuff.

The Inner Ring February 23, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Big Mikey: French TV has the ingredients but for me doesn’t quite deliver. Take the in car interviews, reporter Philippe Lafon asks simple questions. They have the interviews and the in-car camera but miss the opportunity a bit. See the live stream from RAI the Giro for a better example… free to watch for fans around the world too.

cthulhu February 24, 2012 at 7:06 am

For my broadcast I have to entirely rely on Eurosport.
But in my opinion they do a pretty good job. At the beginning an overview of the course, then if the have images of it the start and the break forming attack and afterwards go straight into medias res. They always react immediately to the action in the pack and fill the “boring” parts quite. Especially if they have a guest. And the chemistry between the usually to commentators is pretty. Sincere on-air jokes even about something really non cycling related are common. After the race a quick glance at the results and then a short preview of next day’s stage if it is a stage race or the next important one day race that follows, maybe the award ceremony.
And I like it that way. Don’t need any unnecessary talk before or afterwards about what can happen/would have been and so on.
Yeah, but I don’t know how the French program is so I cannot comment on that, but it really surprises me, that although the feedback from the audience is getting better they decide to send even less than more. Like they want to turn into a rare luxury good.

Also this call for live stats is so American in my eyes. Although I love numbers and math, they wouldn’t add any excitement to any bike race and only raises the production costs.

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