England v India Fifth Test: Sky double-century raises free-to-air v satellite TV debate...

But subscription channel points out its huge level of investment

cricket correspondent

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, if he is still alive, will doubtless be apoplectic. Swathes of middle England might profess to join him while sneaking a look. It is a debate that will always rage.

The fifth Test at The Kia Oval, which starts on Friday, is the 200th game broadcast by Sky involving England. It seems more, it seems Sky has always been around. But it still annoys tracts of the casual sports-watching public, and worries others, that cricket is losing a core audience, and probably does not annoy or worry the rest who have never known or cannot remember any different.

It is a landmark which serves to point out the changes in the broadcasting landscape. The argument of those who continue to resist Sky’s coverage, whose excellence is beyond argument, is that cricket, especially Tests, should be on free-to-air television, not a subscription channel.

They fear that too many people, who may not be sports nuts but quite like the odd session or two, are being deprived of the chance to watch it and that in the long run the game will wither. It is a dilemma that those running the game resolved long ago.

“It is not possible to sell a product to somebody who doesn’t want to buy it,” said an England and Wales Cricket Board spokesman, repeating a well-rehearsed debating point. “The last time the rights were up for sale there weren’t any bids from free-to-air broadcasters and in 2008, when the BBC announced its Formula One coverage, the BBC made it plain that they were changing their approach to sport, which didn’t involve live Test cricket.”

It was then that Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, a man who can come up with a well-honed aperçu, especially when irked, asked: “And how many people in the country play Formula One?” Sky’s coverage has changed the finances of the game since it acquired the domestic rights at the start of the 2006 season. But it is instructive to note that the first Test Sky showed was the epic match between England and West Indies in Jamaica in 1990.

England won a famously improbable victory by nine wickets. Sky’s most insightful commentator, Nasser Hussain, played in it. England’s Tests abroad have never been shown on free-to-air TV – and were never likely to be. Sky naturally wanted more and finally took over from Channel 4, which in 2000 had replaced the BBC – which even then was distinctly unbothered.

Bryan Henderson, Sky’s executive cricket producer, said: “The free-to-air debate always raises its head and always amuses me to an extent. It’s up to the ECB who they distribute the rights to. They decide on a package and we bid for that package.

“We place a huge premium on exclusivity and if the ECB were to change that there would clearly be a huge financial shortfall and the ECB clearly don’t want that,” he added. “It is nearly 10 years since there has been a Test on free-to-air television.

“In that time England have gone to No 1 in the world and I think they have used the resources very well. We’re a subscription channel wanting to give the best service to our customers, but obviously people want England to win and play attractively, and viewing figures reflect that.”

Henderson, a Scot whose passion for cricket led him to leave his job in the City for television, took over last year. He rightly points up the high and evolving production values – “the high-tech pictures from 1990 look horrendous now and no doubt we’ll be saying that in 15 years of 2014” – and insists that the sole qualification for being a Sky commentator is not to be a former England captain – “they tend to be the best analytical minds and that translates into being the best talkers a lot of the time.”

Henderson thinks that Hawk-Eye is the most valuable gizmo but his coverage now makes great play of the Sky cart, in which players give on-the-spot analysis of what has just happened. They are usually perspiring and game-soiled but it works, partly because they are looking at pictures rather than having a microphone thrust under their nose, partly because of Ian Ward’s dexterously friendly probing.

As executive producer, Henderson wants to be inclusive and recognises the input of the technical team. He is essentially a fan with a camera. “To have grown up as a cricket fan in Edinburgh, I was only interested in buying a Duncan Fearnley Attack With Ian Botham cricket bat and, now I’m working with him and trying to avoid him on a night out, I have to pinch myself now and again.”

Sky’s 100th match was at The Oval, which Pakistan forfeited after being accused of ball-tampering. Something similar would not be welcome this week, except perhaps for viewing figures, and Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells would probably blame the broadcaster.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own