TV blog: PGA Championship lacks focus on golf
Monday, August 15, 2011
Any misguided soul who thinks that writing a TV column sounds like a fun job hasn’t had to sit through 28 hours of PGA Championship coverage. Or more accurately, that would be about 14 hours of PGA Championship coverage and 14 hours of commercials.
It got so bad that whenever that Southwest commercial came on, I started rooting for the huge ball of red tape to catch the man running through the airport and steamroll him into a pancake, just to break the monotony.
93rd PGA Championship: Round 4
Images from the final round at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Here’s how bad it got: During the third and fourth rounds, I tracked 10 consecutive segments of live action and the intervening commercial breaks during the heart of each broadcast on CBS. Or in this case, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I tracked 10 consecutive commercial breaks and the intervening action. I counted the number of golf shots (putts vs. drives and iron shots) and the number of commercials. You’ll notice a pattern that confirms the problems that I and others saw in the broadcasts.
Here are the raw numbers for Saturday:
• I documented 70 minutes of coverage starting at 4:07 p.m. Eastern time. During that 70 minutes there were 46 minutes, 49 seconds of live action. On the surface that doesn’t sound so bad. But let’s drill a little deeper.
• During that time CBS showed an even 100 shots – 44 full shots or chips, 56 putts. During that same period CBS aired 60 commercials, including 17 promos for various network shows. So viewers saw three commercials for every five golf shots. Or put in a worse light, we saw more commercials – 60 – than drives or iron shots (44).
• The longest segment of live action during that period Saturday lasted 7 minutes, 34 seconds; the shortest 1:43.
The story was similar on Sunday. Here are those numbers:
• I started documenting the coverage starting at 2:57 p.m. Eastern time, right after the leaders teed off. During the next 10 segments of live action, CBS showed 97 golf shots – 44 drives or iron shots and 53 putts.
• Spliced in between the golf were 60 commercials, including 17 CBS promos – the same results as on Saturday. So again, 16 more commercials than drives or iron shots.
• The longest live-action segment on Sunday lasted 6:29; the shortest 2:22.
I saw a lot of people laying the blame for all of the commercial interruptions on TNT and CBS. But the broadcasters can’t take all of the heat for delivering a minor-league broadcast at a major championship. They want to use golf to promote their more profitable shows.
The PGA of America has some explaining to do. How did it let this happen to its biggest championship? As a viewing proposition, the PGA Championship telecasts lag behind the other majors in the same way that the Baltimore Orioles trail the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. And I say that as a loyal and long-suffering Orioles fan.
We love watching the other majors, particularly the Masters and U.S. Open because the rights holders – Augusta National and the U.S. Golf Association – have negotiated fan-friendly TV contracts. If you tune in to those tournaments, you know you’re going to see a lot of live golf action. If you tune in to the PGA Championship, you know you’re going to be frustrated by frequent commercial breaks. I don’t know the terms of the PGA’s contracts with CBS and TNT, but we know from experience that those terms aren’t favorable to the viewing public.
There is, however, something that CBS could do that would help: Stop playing so much of that blasted E.S. Posthumus theme music. Every time that faux orchestral score starts to play, I want to throw the remote at my TV. That music only reminds me, and I’m sure other viewers, how much live action CBS is not showing. Every time we hear that music, it signals that CBS either is going to yet another commercial break or showing us multiple replays of the same shot or promos for its prime-time shows or a pointless graphic (which CBS probably put on the screen only because it’s sponsored, not because it provides useful information to the viewer).
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The first 22 minutes of CBS’s Sunday coverage were filled primarily with highlights packages, with footage of players such as Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner, followed by a feature on David Toms’ 2001 victory at Atlantic Athletic Club.
After Golf Channel’s pre-game show and three hours of stage-setting on TNT, did we really need more reviews of what had already happened? Just get to the live action. It was like going to the theater and sitting through 20 minutes of trailers for movies you’ve already seen.
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This whole blog has been a downer, and not without good reason. But let me note a couple of small, but positive points.
I really liked the TNT Tee Tracker feature that was used on No. 5. On an inset box, a line tracked the ball’s flight relative to the hole layout while we simultaneously saw the ball in flight. Good stuff.
Also, I was glad to see more use of the graphic boxes that showed the driving distances and yardages to the pins, while hole graphics showed the positions of the drives. As I noted a few weeks ago, the European Tour has used this simple but useful graphic for years on its telecasts. Nice to see it’s finally being used in America.
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I’ve given CBS’ Gary McCord a lot of grief over the years. I think he tries way too hard to get a laugh every time he opens his mouth, but lacks the comic timing to pull it off. But I have to admit, I did laugh when McCord said that Jason Dufner got “charisma lessons from his buddy Vijay Singh.”