What’s Up with Tennis Channel?

By Jane Voigt

Remember when all those petitions flew around your tv-viewing region? Sign here if you want Tennis Channel. Tennis fans united. They lobbied cable providers and, for some, Tennis Channel was born into their living rooms. 

Golf had its own coverage, as did football, baseball, soccer, and basketball. And now tennis had joined the big sports with a channel all its own.

But what’s happened lately to its broadcast choices?

  1. When it doesn’t have rights to a tournament it broadcasts older matches, but only one or two. No variety. 
  2. Commentators talk during points. It’s not such a bad move, except when their conversation has nothing to do with the match. This puts attention on talking heads, as if they were the interest of viewers. Of course, we want to know more about Lindsay Davenport and her three children and Justin Gimblestob and his new baby and all that, but we can surf the net for that. 
  3. Matches are interrupted by studio scenes. During Roland Garros this has been an annoying occurrence. Kevin Anderson advanced to the fourth round today, after Ivo Karlovic retired. Brett Haber, a well-informed and likable man, did the interview with the South African. Meanwhile two Grand Slam champions, Petra Kvitova and Svetlana Kuznetsova (above, photo credit tennisclix.com) were locked in a 3-hour up-and-down affair that went unnoticed. Kuznetsova (No. 27) triumphed 67(3) 61 97. She won the title in 2009.
  4. Andrea Petkovic (No. 28) and Kristina Mladenovic of France contested a fiery 3rd set while Tennis Channel showed clips from earlier matches, one the victory of American Sloane Stephens over Ekaterina Makarova, 63 64.
  5. And, right now on Tennis Channel, its early-round coverage begins with a taped match while Andy Murray and Philipp Kohlschreiber are in a 5-set battle, and Frenchman Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco muddle through their match … LIVE in Paris.
Gael Monfils came from 2 sets down to defeat the defiant Italian Fabio Fognini today on Stade Roland Garros, 57 62 64 06 62, to advance to the round of 16. It begins Monday in Paris.  
Photo credit tennis.clix

Tennis Channel was the brainchild of Steve Bellamy in 1999. Its inaugural broadcasts began in 2003. It was raw, which is fine. It diversified programming. Yet, of late, with the addition of the neon-yellow couch and the rather stiff commentators, programming direction resembles, we apologize in advance, NBC and CBS … the mega-stars of sports’ television. 

NBC promises ‘live’ coverage, then backtracks. Earlier this week, on Memorial Day here in the United States, NBC ran a taped match between Roger Federer and Lukas Lacko. The world loves Roger Federer, but come on. It was the first round of the second major of the year, more matches than M&Ms in a 6 oz. package were scattered around the site, and NBC — NoBody Cares — ran a taped match. Maybe the executives were golfing or with family for a barbecue. But let’s get with it folks, it’s a ‘now media’ that leads sports and draws viewers, aka, advertisers’ dreams.

To increase revenues Tennis Channel began to offer, before the start of Roland Garros, “Tennis Channel Plus,” a subscription only service. A Season Pass cost $59.99, and a daily dip for just under $10 was available, too. 

Season Pass subscribers were promised ‘Access to all of Tennis Channel Plus content, including live matches from over the 45 tournaments throughout the year.’ It also included Tennis Channel Everywhere, an app for iOS and Android users, which has been available for well over a year. 

But here’s the rub. Cable providers offer Tennis Channel as part of an upper tier sport package. Tennis fans cannot ask for Tennis Channel, like an a la carte choice. We have to buy a bundle, which costs a bundle. So now on top of the bundle, Tennis Channel wants us to pay for exclusivity, which subscribers thought they were paying for in the first place. 

Something’s out of whack in the vision division of Tennis Channel, and, perhaps, the financial end, too. 

Tennis Channel needs to remain a boutique broadcast promise. It cannot follow the non-leaders, like NBC and CBS. Tennis Channel is not a behemoth but it’s beginning to act like one. Take off the suits, if that will help you relax. But whatever you do, inhale and rise above the production platform. View your offering from multiple perspectives, but mainly from a loyal fan’s perspective. We want live tennis, flexible viewing hours, and streaming. 


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