That’s all stuff and nonsense…

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The AFL finals are a glorious month of nonsense in football media – there’s twice the interest, twice the talking heads filling up space (hey look! Denis Pagan is talking! Mick Malthouse is talking time zones!) with half the games. It’s a month where Neroli Meadows is shoe-horned into doing stand up comedy, where Trade Whisperers promise information for 1000 retweets. Trade radio was almost entirely made up to fill in the gap in the lack of games – you don’t need any kind of insight to link club X with a top 10 draft pick to, say, Jake Stringer. Or any kind of insight to discuss Josh Schache has packed up his flat. What does it MEAN! This has been a year Jon Ralph has been a tribunal expert, Cameron Ling a medical expert. Qualifications to talk about football in an interesting way have fallen by the wayside. This is the year quantity ruled. Quality is no longer required. You clicked it, you tweeted about it, that’s more than enough…and that’s just the regular season…

Already the AFL finals have had some Essendon supporters coming up with conspiracies around hoses, erstwhile Channel 7 boundary rider Mark Soderstrom asking Matt and Brad Crouch if they had their appendix (and later following up asking Ollie Wines if he was “disappointed”) and paragraphs about Dustin Martin…so many paragraphs about Dustin Martin. We’ve touched before on the fact that football coverage long ago left behind pretensions of actual journalism some time around the time Damien Barrett began the “Sliding Doors” column. Guess work is now of course the norm, Kane Cornes is running the world, guessing where Sam Mitchells spit was supposed to go…it’s the ultimate in media nonsense, and if you ever played for Richmond, boy are you in luck. No one believes more in nonsense, stuff, and more nonsense than Channel 7 – the finals are a chance to play more music, try out more gadgets, run out more ex footballers…it’s their time to shine, as long as you don’t mind the noise…

The finals of course are the apex of Channel 7s live football coverage – but there is a secret terror among all the carriers of live television. In public relations, we are usually inundated at various points of the year by most live sports provides with requests for market research, for media monitoring, to share ideas about that most slippery and elusive of viewers – young people. Now, young people have terrified TV executives for many years, but they always had live sport. Today, TV executives when they aren’t buzzing about integrated marketing programs and fretting about streaming services are likely to have had many whispered and terrified conversations about younger viewers drifting away from live sport. Are the games too long? Too boring? What is Twitter saying about our coverage? Why won’t they watch sport and not get off Instagram! Who cares if Tayla Harris and Dustin Martin are in the same picture! Stop watching Netflix, and come join us on good old commercial TV like the old days…

Channel 7 have stepped up the integrated marketing of their games to a ridiculous level, deciding that every single second of their coverage must involve “fun”, “noise” and “discussion” at every moment. This is, no mistake, a corporate strategy. It’s unfolded in many ways across their coverage – taking the wit and insight of Daisy Pearce and making her discuss boundary throw ins, talking over Nick Riewoldt goals instead of letting the moment stick, producing “things to look out for” tweets ahead of games in which the game is item 6 or 7 on the list instead of the headline act, discussing the players playlist at length (Ollie Wines offended the footy gods by selecting Limp Bizkit) and most notably, introducing the world to Roaming, Wandering Brian Taylor. Taylors embarrassing wandering around change rooms asking hard-hitting questions like “what are you drinking” or, for a change of pace “what are you eating?”…

The best thing from Channel 7s point of view is that Taylor, ahem, “provokes strong reactions” – we’ve discussed before on the blog that Taylor is part of an integrated marketing strategy that immunes Channel 7 from criticism. Negative criticism is still “joining in the conversation”, peaking when Hamish McLachlan and this blogs bete noire Wayne Carey read negative tweets live on air directly to Taylor, like an awkward dressing room edition of mean tweets. Channel 7 love and live for this, because the last thing anyone wants to be in 2017 is a fusty old commercial television station. They want to feel interactive and engaged, like the hippest channel of 2007. They’ve just discovered “feedback” in the corridors of Channel 7, and nothing makes them happier than a commentators nickname catching on. No no no, it’s not “Hamish!”, it’s “Hammer!”…it got 23 likes on Twitter! High fives and cheese platters all round…

The game is secondary to this chatter, to this discussion, to this wall of noise. Loaded up with bands, music, tweets, gadgets, nicknames, fun, “gags”, live crosses and even more nicknames, Channel 7 are seeking to present a “product” around the game, and it often creates a frustrating mess of a broadcast. When excellent commentators such as Daisy Pearce or Nick Riewoldt or Luke Hodge attempt to provide insight, they get subsumed and swallowed up by the “fun”, nudged by Basil or Hamish and dragged into conversations about fans with sideburns or babies being run through banners.

During the week, Tony Romo debuted as an NFL commentator and was a revelation, taking the viewers into the game and predicting plays before they happened. Such a commentator would be entirely drowned out on Channel 7. They think the viewers (especially younger ones) would drift off if you gave them insight or talked about the game. By design, the game is the last thing they want to discuss. No matter the person in the commentary box, they must have a nickname, they must have opinions on the banter, they must understand all players lunch habits. Ha, he’s got sideburns Wayne! Amazing…

Throughout the Sydney Swans vs Essendon game, Channel 7 decided to let Cameron Ling speak extemporaneously at any point of the game, on any subject he felt like, often for 45-60 seconds at a time. During the last quarter, with the game decided, there was not a single seconds silence in the entire quarter – Ling got to talk about “feeling the love”, the depth of heat packs, the SCG grass, Michael Hurleys haircut, what it was like to lose in 2005, Nick Davis…whatever he felt like. The result was appallingly bad, pushing the viewer further and further away from the broadcast. Ling is a Premiership captain who has eschewed offering contemporary insight to play the game according to Channel 7. It’s now all “fast start from the Swans”, “hows this mark”, “hows this quarter!”…how indeed…

It had the exact opposite effect tot what Channel 7 were hoping for. If they thought the inane chat was going to keep viewers listening, it had people drifting to other channels. When a game is bad or one-sided, Channel 7 go into overdrive, trying to provide not insight or genuine wit, but more volume. You can understand that to a point, after all, a boring game is a commentary nightmare, but Ling took it beyond all reason. Poor old Jason Bennett, trying to commentate and leave appropriate gaps, was simply overwhelmed by the end, forced to talk loudly just to keep up…

During the Port Adelaide vs West Coast Eagles game, Channel 7 really amped up the noise, stuff and nonsense by rolling out over and over, in a game that didn’t really need it, the Telstra Tracker. What was the Telstra Tracker? They didn’t have time to tell us, silly viewer. It’s…it’s….the Telstra Tracker! Poor overwhelmed Matthew Richardson had to refer to it endlessly, at one point telling the viewers Jettas “repeat speed effort” was outstanding. It was a 14.5. This was not explained, it was presented without context, it was just a 14.5. Drew Petrie kicked a big goal, and Richo was left floundering, not being allowed to let the emotion sink in before being plunged into another plug for the Telstra Tracker. This time, something about metres covered. Was the metres covered good? Was it bad? Meanwhile, nothing took the viewer right out of the drama as extra time began than a sycophantic Basil seeing David Koch in the grandstand and simpering “Kochie knows a lot about exhilarating TV!”…

Given that the Port Adelaide game was close while the other games were blowouts, the Port Adelaide game showed a network incapable of letting the moment sink in. In a game as captivating, and yes, as exciting as football can get in September, Basil was dropping in jokes, Matthew Richardson was trying to get the Telstra Tracker up in short bursts and Kochie was shown in relentless close-ups. Whether the game was close or the game was one-sided, Channel 7 simply served up clunky non sequiturs, bad jokes, insights into heat packs and then some more music from the players playlist.

The commentators are now charged with being part of the story, part of the narrative, at the expense of the game. And this is only to get worse as people in TV fret and study polls to show young people aren’t interested in sports. The more push polling they do, the more they’ll decide that the volume needs to be turned up to keep millennials engaged. Cameron Ling talking and gadgets that don’t work? That’s the future…

A baby is born, crying out for attention…

Cameron Ling may have sucked up all the attention and volume in the broadcast, but a different scene was playing out in the stands. The man on a thousand policy flip-flops, Malcolm Turnbull, was enjoying the action from the stands, posting to Instagram a shot of him watching the game with his grandchild. The photo was taken while Turnbull was holding a beer and of course, because this was social media, people were instantly outraged. Or so it seemed – most politicians could post themselves saving kittens from floods and people would be outraged they weren’t saving dogs, let alone one as reviled as Turnbull. Of course, there weren’t as many people outraged as the mainstream media would have you believe.

One thing the mainstream media does better than anyone these days is permeate the myth of the keyboard warriors. Now, obviously, online trolls are real, vile and hurtful. The point is more around mainstream media somehow exempting themselves from the hurt and insult heaped upon people, particularly a paper like the Herald Sun that is Murdochian in outlook. The Herald Sun editorial posited Turnbulls picture showed the decline in public standards of debate and that everything is horrible and vile and can’t be debated, in the same paper as the latest thundering around Daniel Andrews.

None of this point is even political anymore, as much as the Murdoch slant is conservative. The point can easily be made about football, with trade rumours, innuendo and terrible criticism about players on one hand followed up by “social media” criticism on the other, when they go hand in hand. The Herald Sun talked about “keyboard warriors” in their Alex Fasolo sympathy while their chief football writer made one of the most publically hurtful comments on Twitter without censorship or repudiation, even from the socially conscious Gerard Whateley.

And in reality, the whole thing seemed to be a well thought out PR campaign from the get go. After all, a politician with his grandchild is a classic pose/move, akin to American politicians being flanked side by side by the wife at a podium. That there was “criticism” was all the better, and that would have been anticipated without question by Turnbulls advisors. If X, then Y. It’s impossible to imagine for an experienced government, whatever you think of them, that there wasn’t two steps of planning ahead. This is either a likeable photo we can get out there, or people will hate it and we can roll out bloody lefties and loony keyboard warriors…win-win. Again, given this is PR, wine and cheese platters all round…

 

 

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