If it's Sunday then it must be Stuttgart
- 23 Jun 06, 09:55 AM
BERLIN - Television schedules are usually drawn up months in advance, set in stone weeks in advance, then fine-tuned by no more than a few seconds here and there. However, at this stage in a World Cup, all that goes out of the window.
At a couple of days’ notice, BBC1 have completely redrafted their plans for the coming weekend and slotted in an avalanche of live football. Events like Wimbledon or the Olympics hijack the airwaves in a similar way, but they can be planned with a fair degree of precision months and sometimes years ahead.
Sharing a football tournament with ITV, and the absence of even a day’s gap between the first and second phases meant that four days’ television output was put on hold until the last possible minute.
The original BBC/ITV split of live matches gave the BBC first choice in the second round, then picks two and three to ITV. I wasn’t privy to the high-level discussions involved, but this morning a final decision was made on which live games each broadcaster would be showing.
The result is that we have Germany v Sweden and Argentina v Mexico on Saturday, England v Ecuador (our first pick) at teatime on Sunday and the late game on Monday. The Group F deciders this evening were the second in seven consecutive live programmes on BBC1. ITV don’t now do another live game until Sunday evening.
In the meantime, our feet aren’t going to touch the ground. Our videotape editing operation at the International Broadcast Centre in Munich will be an overloaded montage, match edit and analysis factory for the next few days.
In an industry which spends half its time analysing ratings, sees scheduling as a science, and runs virtually every idea it has past a focus group first, it’s wonderful to be involved in something which, by definition, is predominantly spontaneous. I edited the highlights show last night and the contents - from the order in which we showed the matches, to what we analysed, to the decision to use a clip of the puppet which presents football on Mexican TV – continually evolved during the day and were adapted before, and indeed during, the show.
The original intention was to run 15 minutes or so of Wednesday night's highlights, then look at the games in Group D. But as the games unfolded that all changed round completely.
Adrian Chiles and I were tickled by the sight of two Portuguese players embracing each other tenderly on the ground. Danny, one of our videotape editors, added kissing effects and “Je T’aime (Moi Non Plus)" to the soundtrack, much to our childish amusement and we added the finished clip to the running order.
Leonardo mentioned that it was his son’s 12th birthday, and that Bebeto’s original cradle-rocking celebration at the 1994 World Cup had been in his honour, so we felt duty-bound to find that in the archive.
On the air, Martin O’Neill embarked on a highly-entertaining monologue about the Slovakian who refereed both Mexico v Portugal and Celtic’s UEFA Cup Final, so a planned later discussion about the Czech Republic was dropped. All the chat is unscripted, so we continually adjust our timings as we go along to make sure we keep to our allotted duration.
By definition, highlights shows are more relaxed and flexible affairs than live games, with more time to prepare VT sequences, and a niche audience which is mostly dedicated to its football. MOTD2 is a good example during the regular football season.
But almost all of our programmes go out live, so though we take notice of feedback and frequently conduct audience research, dozens of decisions per show have to be taken unilaterally. There’s no time for focus groups, preview audiences, or even worrying about how many people are watching when you’re actually on the air. As we will be pretty much permanently from now until Sunday evening…