Adventures in TV viewing

17 03 2015

Hello, it must be Tuesday. Or maybe it’s Wednesday?

If you’re setting your clock by the cycling coverage on Sportsnet, it’s easy to get confused.

The European cycling season has started in earnest. For the past few years we’ve actually been able to watch many of the races on TV.

But save for the three Grand Tours, most of the coverage of one-day classics and the week-long stage races is delayed. Sometimes by a few hours. Sometimes by a day or more. Sometimes a race or a stage gets overlooked completely. Sometimes a scheduled race turns out to be cricket highlights or a tennis match from some obscure tournament in Cincinnati.

Sportsnet's on-air guide says it's showing Tirreno-Adriatico, but instead I'm watching cricket highlights.

Sportsnet’s on-air guide says it’s showing Tirreno-Adriatico, but instead I’m watching cricket highlights.

It’s a bit of a gong show. And thoroughly frustrating.

This past week has been particularly challenging with both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico juggling airtime. But finding those races was an adventure.

And the delay meant staying off all cycling websites and avoiding my BigRing1 Twitter feed.

Since Sportsnet acquired the Canadian broadcast rights to all three Grand Tours, it has been trying to position itself as the country’s cycling broadcaster and building the sport’s audience by showing more of the season’s myriad of races.

That’s a good thing.

For too long cycling on North American television consisted of the Tour de France and not much else. As far as casual viewers were concerned, that’s the only race big time pro cyclists did all year.

But even though Sportsnet has no fewer than five channels in its broadcasting basket, it treats cycling as little more than filler programming. That means races are at the bottom of the priority list when there’s a baseball game, a hockey game, a tennis match, or even cricket or darts fighting for airtime.

So we see the races only when Sportsnet manages to find a gap. That means Sunday’s climactic stage of Paris-Nice might be aired Monday. Next Sunday’s Milan-San Remo will be broadcast in the wee hours of Monday morning.

And when it does show the races, the delayed coverage is often subject to random edits so the program can fit into an allotted two-hour time slot.

This is particularly frustrating because European time zones mean most of the races would be live in North America in the early morning hours, when there is NO OTHER LIVE PROGRAMMING. And aren’t live events the reason for sports networks existence?

Perhaps Sportsnet could find a better home for cycling on its World channel, which is mostly populated by Euro football matches and the occasional rugby match. It’s a premium channel but I’m betting it would get more subscribers if live, or very close-to-live, World Tour races were in the mix. I know I’d pony up.

Or perhaps it’s time for a broadcasting entrepreneur to step up with a proposal to create a North American version of Eurosport. I know fans of World Rally and British Touring car racing share similar frustrations trying to follow their sports on North American television. I can’t even imagine the frustrations of a handball or field hockey fan.

In a country filled with multi-cultural communities, it sounds like a slam-dunk.