Commentary, especially cricket commentary, has been “too sanitised”, taking fun out of the game, observed Uday Shankar, president, The Walt Disney Company (Asia Pacific) and chairman, Star & Disney India.
“One of my problems is (that) commentary, especially in cricket, has been too sanitised. And that’s why a lot of fun has gone out of the matches. What we call colour and I am not saying colour in a flippant way, the more well-rounded, lively description of the sport has gone away. We keep talking about life going out of cricket and things like T20 are becoming too transactional. But we are also responsible for that. And we need to think how we create a well-rounded, lively experience for people, which goes beyond scores and runs without being socially detrimental,” Shankar said at The Indian Express E-Adda Tuesday.
Shankar was in conversation with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and National Sports Editor Sandeep Dwivedi.
Commentators are not a journalists
There’s a perception that broadcasters act rather quickly on public opinion while picking their commentary panel. Also, in Indian cricket, if some commentator ruffles feathers of any influential cricketer or the BCCI, there’s a possibility of the axe falling. Asked about this, Shankar said: “There’s a distinction we need to make between cricket journalists and cricket commentators. A journalist is at liberty to say what you want to say. A commentator, in my view, is not a journalist.
“A commentator is part of the entire package to make the game more entertaining, more popular. I routinely see a tendency among commentators who make this mistake. There’s a role for a journalist and role for a commentator. I have very clear views on that.”
Emotion in sport is important
Star India effectively has a monopoly over all cricket media rights in India. Their Rs 6,138.1 crore (around $944 million) five-year BCCI broadcast rights deal came in 2018 on top of their Rs 16,347.5 crore (around $2.55 billion) IPL broadcasting rights that was signed a year previously. Star also has the ICC broadcast rights and the ‘Mauka Mauka’ type promos they put out for major ICC events, and also their build-ups for bilateral series, are considered to be adrenaline-filled. Is this an effort to thrive on a popular storyline?
“It has to be done judiciously. But just imagine if there’s a very intense moment; a bowler has bowled a great ball and the batsman hits it for a six, and if the bowler meekly just turns around and goes back, would the audience not suspect that the match was fixed? (That) he doesn’t even care that he gets hit for a six. So where do you draw the line? It’s difficult to have objective parameters, but emotion is a very important part of sport. It’s a reason why fans love their sport,” Shankar said.
According to him some ‘house training’ is also essential and viewers should put things in perspective. Stump mic, helmet camera, slo-mo, and ball-tracking add to the excitement and with proper ‘house training’, the devices would be even more helpful.
“Sometimes we expect a little too much from our cricketers also. These are young boys and girls who have one special skill. They don’t have a degree in sociology. They aren’t trained diplomats. And we expect them to say exactly the right words, do the right things; we want them to behave in the most perfect manner even when their emotions are running really high. I think that if we train the people and everybody is mindful, then all these innovations will make the experience richer,” Shankar said.
Role of broadcasters in content getting marginalised
So, as long as banters aren’t “racially insensitive, culturally insensitive, or making fun with people with disabilities”, broadcasters are okay with it. Shankar, however, opined that the role of the broadcasters with regards to content has reduced of late.
“In my view, over the years I feel that the role of the broadcasters in determining the nature of the content has got reduced. People talk about the BCCI having played a very regressive role in that, containing the nature of the coverage, but I think it’s the same everywhere. In some places, it’s much worse. Without going into the specifics, I think, as broadcasters we feel creatively. We are a creative company. The only thing we understand is how to make exciting content across genres. And yet, you would be shocked to see the kind of rigid framework in which sometimes people insist that we operate. You cannot do that. Broadcasters are getting more and more marginalised.”
Hand-held devices to become important
Over the next few years, digital platforms in terms of eyeballs are going to be even more popular. “The way the world is moving, we believe in this country in the next four-five years we will have about 700-750 million handheld screens and there will be about 200-250 million TV screens. Clearly the handheld devices will become very important. We have to understand that today matches are not held for 40,000-50,000 people who are sitting in the stadium. The power of sport comes from its streaming and its telecast,” Shankar said.
As for the IPL’s future, he said: “Internally, we are discussing and planning (about IPL) but we also wouldn’t want the tournament to be held unless the atmosphere is safe.”
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