Monday, 31 January 2011

The thing about 24 hour news channels….



 “Have people started looting yet?” the newsreader asked, barely able to contain the excitement in her voice. Behind the scenes you can practically hear the producers salivating at the prospect of footage showing televisions and furniture being liberated from shops and homes; and shown it would be, probably on repeat for 6 or 7 hours in the absence of any actual breaking news.

As Sky News speculated when looting may start and what items prospective looters may have their eye on, the same 10-15 second clip of a raucous crowd in front an Egyptian tank played on a loop. Then it cut to the latest instalment of the Sky Sports Sexism soap opera, as we found out if any of Richard Keyes’s former female class mates felt his sexist tendencies were noticeable as early as their year nine history lessons.

The problem seems to be that if you have a news channel running constantly for 24 hours a day, save for an insane amount of advert breaks, there is obviously going to be a time where the amount of news available to broadcast will fail to meet the insatiable demand of viewers.

Undeterred by this inevitability however, the modern 24 hour newsreader is adept at filling these ‘content gaps’ with a combination of speculation, insinuation and unsubstantiated gossip. There are those presenters and channels that do this well, tricking you for hours on end into beleieving you’ve actually been watching the news, for you only to realise some time later that you already knew a recession was on. And then there is the coverage of Sky Sports News on Deadline Day, as it tracks the closing stages of football’s January transfer window, which is in another league entirely. 

Sky has turned the continual broadcasting of no news into something of an art form. Each year, at the end of January scores of football fans watch the TV in a wide-eyed state of heightened alertness as “roving reporters” stand in the car parks of premier league training grounds, recounting snatches of eavesdropped conversations from unnamed sources, all the while being verbally abused by local youths. This is a most special time.

Fans of the deadline day frenzy were not let down this year. Unlike the complete dearth of activity last year, which tested SSN’s presenters to the limits of their ability: “don’t go away, something could happen at any minute!”; the 31st January 2011 has spoilt us. There has been mandatory shirt burning, (matches and shirts provided courtesy of Sky Sports); the full spectrum of fan emotions; presenters all but foaming at the mouth, gleefully exclaiming such insights as “Fernando Torres is heading in a southerly direction” and all this taking place against the background of the deadline day clock, ticking away like some madman’s nuclear bomb.

This year sky pushed the boat out even further than usual; “the totaliser”, an ever updating number calculating the anticipated value of all prospective transfers gave the coverage a Children In Need Style feel; though this time the children were in need for multimillion pound transfer deals, as opposed to a new youth centre or drug rehabilitation clinic. The real stars of Deadline Day 2011 however, were the helicopters.  

It took just two deals to irrevocably change the preferred mode of transportation for multi-million pound premier league transfers. Whilst the fates of Andy Carroll who flew west from Newcastle to Liverpool and Fernando Torres, who flew south from Liverpool to West London were as yet undecided, it was clear that when it came to Deadline Day, road travel was a thing of the past.

Sky could only watch, grounded, like the rest of us, its cameramen looking up at the helicopters flying overhead in awe, like penguins watching fighter jets on the Falkland Islands. They may have even fallen over, we can only speculate, yet one thing is certain: for once the Sky Sports News team was left outmanoeuvred, cursing the skies.

As you can imagine, this situation cannot be allowed to continue. You can bet your life that Sky will already be in negotiations with the hard up Ministry of Defence for a full fleet of attack helicopters, which they will more than likely customise with infra-red cameras. They may even enlist Prince William to fly one, they’re certain to try. Where else is there for them to go? No, it’s the only natural progression, for the first time in its history Deadline Day 2012 will get airborne. It’ll be a cross between Children In Need and Police, Camera, Action; now who wouldn’t want to watch that?

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