As a UK resident I am able to follow snooker via the following media:
- BBC coverage of the Grand Prix, UK, Masters and World Championships
- Eurosport coverage of the above plus all other ranking events, as well as John Higgins’ World Series of Snooker
- Skysports coverage of the Premier League Snooker events
- Internet feeds
- Bookmakers websites coverage of the Championship League Snooker events
BBC Snooker Coverage
The BBC coverage really hasn’t changed that much since the days of David Vine. The biggest leap has come in the live action via the red button, finally ending the days of missing out just as a match was getting interesting, or working out the result based on the amount of transmission time remaining.
The BBC has to cater for the wider audience such as my dear old grandmother who loves the snooker and has finally worked out how to use the red button. In general this means the presentation is a rather dumbed down affair with nothing ground breaking to captivate the new viewer and draw their interest into the sport. This is a major shame because the BBC commands a significant television audience.
The BBC also makes household names of ex-players as pundits, and this now seems to have resulted in an unbreakable clique consisting of Dennis Taylor, John Virgo and Willie Thorne. There is a lot of useful information but also incessant waffle about things from golf, to dancing, to who they had dinner with last night, which understandably grates with a lot of viewers. The simple answer is to introduce a “commentary off” option. Broadcast in surround sound, the atmosphere of a snooker match can be very much enjoyed without being told what’s happening.
Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor, two of the BBC’s snooker team
Eurosport Snooker Coverage
Eurosport coverage takes the host broadcasters pictures and adds commentary either at the venue or via a studio in another location. Eurosport has played a significant role in bringing snooker to the wider European audience, however by relying on pictures from the host broadcaster they are limited in the extra they can bring to events. It also means that the commentators have to deal with things out of their control, such as Dennis Taylor’s white lines!
I’m a big fan of Eurosport and have been for years – the somewhat quirky nature gives it definite character and charm. It also has an HD channel although as yet I’ve not seen snooker in HD. Eurosport is doing a fine job in broadcasting snooker and apart from HD which is dependent on the host broadcaster, there isn’t much more that needs to be improved. Eurosport also currently boasts the best theme music and opening sequences of all snooker broadcasters (note use of nicknames).
Sky Sports Snooker Coverage
Sky Sports coverage is currently limited to the Premier League which takes place on Thursday nights from October to December and is hosted by Andy Goldstein – a presenter with personality who asks questions others don’t and brings out the personality of the players in the process. Sky Sports has the capacity to give the best snooker broadcasts on British television, and now with Barry Hearn at the helm I hope this will mean an end to the limited snooker coverage. Sky broadcast some ranking events in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s, however a fall-out with World Snooker led to the end of such wall-to-wall covered events, which was a travesty for the sport and hurt it badly.
At present there appears to be plenty of room on Sky Sports to stage several more snooker events per season, and there is also the free-to-view ITV4 channel which (like Sky) can base its entire schedule around the current event on which it has the franchise to broadcast, such as in the Grand Slam of Darts.
Andy Goldstein alongside Helen Chamberlain – two of Sky Sports’ main presenters
Internet feeds are increasingly available via TVU player and other websites. If you know a match is taking place and you’re desperate enough to see it, the chances are you will be able to find a way to watch it via the internet.
Recently 110sport launched an internet TV channel whereby it gave live coverage of some of the qualifying stages of ranking events. Many were put off by the charges introduced which seemed excessive when worked out on a session by session basis, but this is the hurdle internet broadcasters have to cross if ranking events are ever to be available exclusively on the internet.
Bookmakers have recently been using the Championship League snooker to do business. This is one way of ensuring free live feeds, however it also degrades snooker to a gambler’s sport and makes one feel like they’re sitting in a bookmakers with lots of old men watching the horses. It would be unfortunate if snooker needs to go down this route to make any money, however the Chinese love a gamble and snooker is popular there so I’m sure it won’t be long before this market is targeted.
Ideas for Improvements in Presentation of Snooker
For the future, here are some of the changes related to overall presentation (TV and otherwise) I think would benefit snooker and help to bring it into the Decies:
OK so it’s already started in the Masters but it’s definitely a good thing. All that needs to be done now is to prolong the walk so the music can reach a chorus, and then perhaps let some scantily clad ladies lead the players out into the arena from backstage..
Nicknames give the players personality and this is exploited fully in darts, however a lot of snooker players either don’t have a nickname or they’re stuck with something unimaginative. It’s up to the players to give themselves a good nickname, and by coming up with a logo they would give themselves a brand to build on and use throughout their career.
World Snooker once tried to introduce clothing whereby the lower ranked player wore red and the higher ranked wore blue. Or it may have been the other way around but it doesn’t matter, the idea was a bad one. With such a poor ranking system in place the higher ranked isn’t necessarily going to be the favourite anyway, but even if he were, why should he wear a specific colour?.. The idea was there but the implementation was not.
Perhaps if the dresscode were relaxed and players were invited to be more creative with their image, it might help to loosen the collar on expression that many feel is holding the sport back. While the formal dresscode is certainly a key to the noble sense of decorum and dapper sophistication that has always defined snooker in some way, as such we have to wonder whether it may be too quaint for the modern game. Indeed perhaps it’s beyond choice if the sport is looking to attract a larger, younger, global fanbase by way of charisma. If players are to become appealing modern icons then (like it or not) we suppose they must create strong visual identities.. And there’s only so much you can do with a haircut.
The current dresscode could be kept for those special ‘ceremonial’ occasions such as evening sessions and ranking event finals.
Jazz up the Tables
Snooker is always played on a green cloth, however is there any harm in changing the cloth colour occasionally? I love the sandy brown coloured pool tables and think it would make snooker very pleasing on the eye. There are numerous styles and colours a table could be presented in, as long as the players aren’t put off then it’s fair game and will be eye-catching to the viewer who is expecting green. Obviously the ball colours should remain and the cloth colour should make all balls as visible as they currently are. Jimmy White once said that the day they changed the colour of cloth was the day he retired – surely it’s not as bad as changing the game to accommodate a shot clock!
How an alternative cloth colour can look – nice isn’t it?
The BBC has standardised several camera angles, however there is no reason why you can’t make more use of a side-on camera or overhead camera. I’ve seen cameras which are on a pivot and can swoop across a scene such as a crowd. A camera modified in this way specifically for snooker could rise above the head of the player at the table to give an overhead shot of the player’s view. Obviously it would require skilled cameramen, but wouldn’t it make things better? It’s hard enough to judge distances and angles from the squashed-up perspective we’re used to seeing in the main static camera, but the technology is available to liven things up and move to the next stage.
The director plays a key role in making scenes more dramatic to pull the viewer in. A director who understands snooker will do a far better job that one who doesn’t and it’s something maybe an ex-player could help with behind the scenes. As it is now, the things that I would immediately change if I could would be:
- Stop the necessity to ensure every single shot is shown live in all circumstances. Sometimes for example you will be watching a player’s cue action with a great side on view of the player, and just as he starts to deliver the cue the picture will cut back to the table. Then you’ll get a slow motion replay which stops before the end too because we’re missing another simple pot red! If a player makes a mess of the next shot as you’re showing a replay, show a replay of it! You’d do it anyway!
- Stop the necessity to show the crowd reaction just at the point of the players handshake. You can tell a lot by the body language between players as they shake hands after a match, yet usually we’re treated to a shot of the clapping crowd, only cutting back to the aftermath of the handshake.
- Do more close-ups of players sitting in their chairs as their opponent is putting the hammer down. Once again, without the need to show every single shot. The player is squirming in his chair, his forehead sweating, looks like he’s feeling the heat? Then zoom in on him slowly and watch him for 3 or 4 shots. You don’t always need to see the action, the referees calls will make it obvious if the balls are still dropping. It adds to the drama.
Currently we have the great new invention called “Hawkeye” by which BBC commentators are able to describe shots as well as getting the players’ eye-view on the current shot. Hawkeye must use cutting-edge mapping technology because it seems to log the ball positions very accurately. As a tool, it isn’t being utilised nearly enough.
Hawkeye and software like it should be used in the television studio for post-match analysis such as Andy Gray on Sky Sports following football matches. Obviously the BBC won’t spend too much time after a match ends with their scheduling commitments, but other channels such as Sky Sports and ITV4 have the time for a lot of detailed post-match analysis which is something die-hard snooker fans currently don’t get enough of.
state-of-the-art graphics could be used more
TV Studio Appearance
The set up of the BBC studio is rather dour and doesn’t change from tournament to tournament. Obviously not all venues will allow, but a soundproofed studio with windows overlooking the match table (as found with a lot of other sports) would certainly improve things. A full-sized snooker table in the studio for analysis and questions from viewers about shot selection would always help things too. Currently the BBC seems to use a table as part of the scenary but rarely use it for shot analysis.
It is very possible for snooker to thrive over the next decade and beyond without tampering with the rules of the sport. A lot of people seem to think that the only answer to snooker’s problems is to speed up the sport by way of shorter formats and shot clocks. The shot clock would be one of the worst things to happen to snooker if it were ever introduced to the 15-red game rules, but thankfully the chances of that happening seem very slim. However by using shot clock in combination with another variation – 6-red snooker, as described in part 1 of this blog – it could have its place in the game, and snooker could have its own 20/20 format, adding variety to the calendar without interfering with the true game. Snooker’s little brother, if you like.
Meanwhile there is plenty that can and should be done to the existing game to liven up proceedings and bring snooker back to where it belongs (i.e. near the top of the televised sport viewing figures) without tampering with the product which, as all traditionalists agree, is already the best game in the world with no changes required.