The television revolution - we've never had it so good

The Last Word The telev

Wednesday night wasn't a special sporting night by any stretch of the imagination. There was no Champions League, NFL, major tennis or even English Premier League soccer to watch. But those concerned for our thirst for action did their very best to keep us entertained. And how they succeeded. For Israeli television viewers, Wednesday evening was an opportunity to settle down to what some Englishmen might call a feast of football. It became the perfect example of the incredible impact of the television revolution. From 9 p.m. the discerning viewing public had a choice between watching Manchester United battle Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Carling Cup, Real Madrid über-signing Cristiano Ronaldo score a wonder goal in the first minute at Villareal, Ronaldinho fail to lead AC Milan against Udinese, Betar Jerusalem overcome Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Toto Cup and superstar Israeli teenager Ben Sahar score his first La Liga goal in Espanyol's come from behind win over Malaga. Phew! There was barely time to take a breather. This is all a far cry from the times not too long ago when there was only one television channel and Israelis often had to wait till the FA Cup final in May each year to see any quality live soccer from abroad. We English might look back on the days before Sky television (the satellite group launched in 1992 which acquired rights to broadcast Premier League matches), when we waited for Sunday's "Big Match" to watch the stars of the first division battle for the league title. But we always had the BBC's Grandstand on a Saturday, even if it mostly consisted of rugby league, horse racing and snooker. For Israelis clamoring for live sports in the '70s and '80s the pickings were few and far between. Regular season basketball league games were rarely, if ever, broadcast and local soccer games weren't on every week. The biggest night of the week was often Thursday, when close to half the nation sat down to see Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball in Europe. The change came about with the introduction of cable television in Israel in 1990. Locals used to having absolutely no choice whatsoever were suddenly given a channel totally dedicated to sport, Sport5, imaginatively entitled "The Sports Channel." Since then the increase in choice and quality has been rapid, culminating in the current situation where there is an amazing array of options out there - from Channel 1 winning back the right to show the main soccer game of the week every Monday, to live games offered for free on the Internet, many great events shown through the basic sports packages, and the more expensive extra channels broadcasting live English soccer, European basketball, Israeli league games and moto grand prix. This extra expense has been controversial and angered many local viewers. Why should they pay more for sports which were previously included in the cable package they first paid for 10 or 15 years ago. The launch of two extra channels - Sport5+ Live and Sport5+ Gold - two and a half years ago was a particular sticking point. It is a fair concern, but unfortunately television is a business and broadcast rights don't come cheap. Anyone complaining about companies charging for extra channels must understand that first, they have no obligations to pay for sports, and second, the revolution has come so far in such a short space of time that it will inevitably cost to sustain. At least it isn't ridiculously overpriced. The additional cost for the extra channels is much cheaper than some Sky Sports packages in the UK, for example. For a true sports lover the vast amount of games being shown is a joy to behold. Only a decade or so ago who could have imagined being able to watch World Cup qualifiers from three in the afternoon through to six the next morning without a break, if you so wished. The quality of broadcast is often called into question. But from Sport1 to Sport5+ Live the competition has brought out the best in nearly all involved. We must welcome radio legend Moti Haviv's television debut presenting local soccer on Sport1 and Sport2. One of the most striking changes has been the introduction of female presenters. Back in the day, sports broadcasting was nearly entirely the realm of the male. These days it is nearly 50-50. Sport5's Sports News presenter Miri Nevo deserves a mention for her wonderful handling of the issues of the day, nearly every day. And this has trickled through the channel and the entire array of channels. Nowadays you are just as likely to see a woman presenting a soccer match as a man interviewing a coach from the sidelines. The television revolution has vastly increased our viewing options for the better. The world is now our oyster.