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Remotely in control?

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Paul Armstrong | 14:04 UK time, Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Amongst the many balancing acts we try to perform on Match of the Day is the one between match action and analysis.

For every letter or email we receive asking us to cut the yap and get on with the action, another one arrives asking why our studio team failed to dissect team x's admirable defensive performance away to team y last Saturday.

It's generally more reassuring to receive stick from both sides in any particular argument than it is to have all the detractors saying the same thing.

In less accountable times, it was rumoured that one particular editor of Grandstand when faced with, say, an enormous mailbag from the pro- and anti-snooker lobbies - "why did you interrupt the crucial 15th frame for a horse race?" vs "you stayed with those two idiots in bowties and only joined the big race just before the off" - used to reply simply by sending them each other's letters. I don't think we could get away with that in this day and age!

When I joined BBC Sport in 1989, the editor of Grandstand, or a multi-sport event such as the Olympics, was the person wielding a remote control on behalf of the whole audience.

If there was a Grand Prix, a Test match and the final round of The Open all happening on the same Sunday, he would have to decide on which lap to leave the motor racing on to sample a little cricket (preceded by a VT recap of the wickets we'd missed) a quick update at the golf, then back for the chequered flag.

This was just taken as read at the time, but would rightly be regarded as inconceivable in our current era of dedicated sports channels and red button options.

No digital viewer would expect to miss a single ball of a Test, and if you don't agree with the editor's choice of live sport at the Olympics, or even choice of court at Wimbledon, interactive TV allows you to make a choice of your own. And speaking as a viewer, rather than power-crazed editor, it's a good thing, too!

The Match of the Day highlights package doesn't quite work like that. For one thing, given the cost of live football rights and the sheer volume of Premiership games, we can't spend hundreds of millions of pounds of public money to become a primary rights holder, so our current portfolio of FA Cup and England live games, with Premiership highlights, works extremely well for us.

The package we have allows terrestrial viewers a decent helping of Premiership football, while those (like me) who want to watch a large volume of extremely well-produced live league football can subscribe to Sky - and, from next season, Setanta - and watch it to their heart's content.

That said, we'd love to be able to do what we're often asked to do (not least in some of your recent emails) and show longer edits of each game either interactively or on the web.

We can't, for the simple reason that the clubs have retained the rights to transmit their games on the web, and because Sky made the highest bid for the right to show extended highlights of each game interactively on their "Football First" service.

Not that we're not extremely glad to have the Saturday and Sunday packages that we do have, but it seems worthwhile to explain the limits of our contract.

And that also partly explains why we show at least five minutes of each game and try to reflect as many teams as possible in our chat and analysis.

As the season evolves, some games will inevitably become mid-table affairs which demand less examination, but at the moment, every game is meaningful, and most seem to have involved some kind of controversy!

We'd prefer to analyse the way teams are playing football, rather than look at flying elbows and dodgy penalties, so let's hope it all settles down in the next few weeks. it's been a pretty good start though, particularly if you support Portsmouth, Villa or Everton!

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