Monday, February 01, 2010
With Fox Soccer Channel officially going HD this past Thursday, three of our household members talk breathlessly about being able to watch the waver of grass blades and the glistening trail of sweat. I just finished reading the message board on Fox Soccer Channel 's website about its launch of the HD channel and judging from the number of entries posted in just a few hours, I would say the percentage of people who are hooked on the sport has to be significant. All of them were clamoring for the HD feed to be added to their service provider's channel line-up. For them HD on FSC is akin to the advent of fire or the dawn of the Renaissance. No longer is it enough to have soccer available 24/7, now it has to be consistently in brilliant, crystal HD.
I, on the other hand, have a more cautionary view. I worry that we will run out of recording capacity on our DVR. HD uses up to four times the memory than regular TV. Right now we have six English Premier League games stacked up on the DVR which translate to twelve hours. We can record up to 133 hours of SD (standard digital) TV, but only 37 hours of HD. Those six EPL games would translate to one third of our recording capacity if they were in HD. Come World Cup in just five months we'll be in real trouble since ESPN's tier of channels already broadcast in HD. I'm being both practical and protective. I have my own set of shows I want to record, but I'm afraid I'll lose out to the phalanx of HD soccer competitions. If the boys tape all the permutations of the World Cup games available we'll run out of both recording capacity and time to sleep. I also worry that they'll be so busy watching "life-like" soccer that they'll forget about playing "real-life" soccer.
The advent of multiple TV carrier options means soccer broadcasts aren't limited any longer. Twenty years ago all most soccer fans could hope for was the World Cup finals. Ten years later we had ESPN to deliver soccer games and championships but these were often taped and broadcast days after we had already learned of the outcome. In 2006 Fox Sports World went all soccer being reborn as Fox Soccer Channel and opening up the U.S. market to international soccer with live and taped games throughout the week plus Fox Soccer Report to deliver news from the world of soccer. With a geometric proliferation satellite, cable, and ATT services provide additional soccer channels including GOLTV and Setanta. Americans can see games from England, Italy, France, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Germany, Spain, Canada, and Australia as regularly as citizens of those countries do. Major soccer competitions such as the Gold Cup, MLS, Women's Professional Soccer, NCAA games (men's and women's), international friendlies, United Soccer League games, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, FA Cup, UEFA championship and games, and of course FIFA World Cup qualifiers and games air across ESPN's tier, Fox's tier, Setanta, GOLTV, Telemundo, Telefutura, Univision, and that ratings giant Channel 1 Russia. Occasionally CBS, NBC, and especially ABC will broadcast major soccer games. In addition, some US Youth Soccer National Championships games are shown on both national and local TV feeds. Soccer has now become the sports equivalent of the Law and Order franchise – turn on your TV any day, any time and you'll find a game.
I applaud the burgeoning landscape of soccer transmissions. It celebrates the growth of soccer in America. It provides youth players the opportunity to see soccer outside of their own soccer games and to appreciate the traditions and skillfulness of the sport. It definitely promotes the sport by broadening the fan base and bringing diverse soccer fans together to enjoy a game in a sports bar or restaurant. It introduces soccer to the uninitiated especially to sports fanatics who end up lingering on a channel and having soccer appear unexpectantly. But we also need to get out of the house and watch soccer in the ultimate HD experience – live. Use soccer on TV to bring kids into the game, to better educate them about the sport, and to foster their love for soccer. But don't watch TV soccer at the expense of playing the sport or supporting local soccer teams by going to their games. While the sophistication of play on televised professional and college soccer games are an important part of loving the sport, the immediate camaraderie and intensity of a live game can't be duplicated.
But don't underestimate the broadcasters from doing whatever they can to duplicate the live experience and keep us indoors to watch the games and the attendant commercials. Just today I read that the Arsenal/Man U game telecast on Sunday, Jan. 31 was presented in 3D in pubs throughout Ireland and Great Britain. I only have two questions: How soon will this technology hit US programmers and how much of my precious DVR memory will it demand. Because I know the soccer fans in my house will not only want this option, but will watch as many games as possible in 3D. And I'll be reduced to watching Judge Judy on my iPhone.