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
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.
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.
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.