Commentary April 27, 2013

Sound FX, please

If broadcasters give more commentary options, then it's less likely viewers will be forced to watch matches on mute while browsing for audio or text alternatives online

What if you had the option to listen to commentary from other fans instead of professional commentators? © PA Photos

As Joe Root seared his double entendre-laden name on the collective conscious of the New Zealand cricket fan back in February with a delightfully annoying 79 from 56 balls in the Napier one-dayer, we pondered the idea of being able to watch the cricket with a selection of aural delights on the menu:

For once this suggestion was not inspired by the commentary being especially appalling or mind-numbingly repetitive at the time, but was part of a discussion about how Kiwi cult cricket lover and raconteur Jeremy Wells could be woven into our lounge-room viewing given he was behind the boundary rope but not part of the official TV coverage.

The same idea also cropped up this week in a column from that beloved doyen of Indian cricket commentary, Harsha Bogle. The communications consultant translated the Cordon's very own Jarrod Kimber's plea for commentary of the cricket tragic variety as follows: "Give me a choice of commentary and let me choose which one I like. Don't lose me with a one-size-fits-all broadcast…"

Dead right, Harsha, and especially so if that onesie features Danny Morrison.

As Bhogle mentions the economics must make sense - and a "sound FX only" option ticks that box. Here in New Zealand, it's something we've experienced as recently as January with several bonus channels of the Australian Open tennis airing with court noise and graphics only. It's a cracking option if you're after a less intrusive option or one where you and your mates are crapping on so much that the TV commentary is getting in the way of your own staggering in-house insights.

Giving viewers some options and adding spicy variety to the noise track of the game can only be good - at the very least it is always intriguing to hear the home-and-away dialogue about a game you're watching.

Already the rise of the "second screen" has many cricket followers watching the ball being bowled, then diverting to soak up platforms like Facebook and Twitter as the bowler meanders back to the top of his run-up. Feeding the appetites of viewers with more audio options would provide broadcasters with a product that is harder to depart from.

It's technically possible and has already been spotted in this neck of the woods for trans-Tasman rugby league where Ocker and Kiwi commentary options are available, and rugby union matches where the Te Reo Maori audio was on the menu for viewers.

The cricketing possibilities are endless: as well as this ambient everything-but-the-commentary option, we'd love the option of synching the beautiful Sky TV pictures with the Test Match Special or Radio Sport audio without going to the hassle of muting TVs and bringing the wireless out of the loo and into the lounge.

Michael Holding could launch his own Whispering Death audio channel and commentate games outside his official duties from his Kingston lounge with Jeremy Vernon Coney and Bumble Lloyd swinging by. It'd be a so-laidback-it's-horizontal West Indian version of internet commentary trailblazer Test Match Sofa.

On another audio channel, random cricket lovers could take part in an X-Factor style audition for a few overs each and provide their quirky or nerdy take on the games from wherever they are watching the coverage unfold. The winner gets their own audio channel for the next game on air and a lifetime supply of Strepsils.

Of course there's nothing new about being out of love with television's voices: moaning and critiquing commentators has existed ever since one second after commentary first aired.

The first televised matches made it to air in June 1938, but it was not until the 1970s that coverage exploded with a barrage of "party out the back" hairdos, velour suits and magnificent whiskers. Commentary was part of a newfangled cricket package designed to entertain.

The fact is a few abysmally dressed blokes talking away to each other in a small room atop a stand will never please everyone, and never has. But in so many parts of our digitally enhanced lives it is a hell of a lot easier to be part of a niche of a niche and be catered for. Consumers expect options, and cricket viewers are no exception.

By providing the incumbent broadcast commentary teams with some genuine competition through a bevy of easy options, we might find the incumbents lift their game. I suspect a little more nerdery will go a long way.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here