opinion Last night, many of us were lucky enough to witness one of the truly fantastic tennis Grand Slam finals, but there's just one bone I'd like to pick with the broadcast.
No, it has nothing to do with commentary — this year, the combination of Bruce "Special" McAveney, Jim "Long-Winded Interview Question" Courier and Lleyton "C'mon" Hewitt actually worked surprisingly well.
Add the fact that Seven, for the first time in ages, decided to broadcast the Australian Open live instead of on a supposedly revenue- and ratings-enhancing delay. Stir in continued coverage on 7Two as an antidote to the news and Today Tonight, and, all up, I'd have to say that this year's coverage was satisfying.
My big gripe, however, centres on how the tennis was broadcast only in SD on free-to-air television.
This isn't because an HD feed doesn't exist; the majority of the cameras dotted around Rod Laver Arena and the rest of the Melbourne Park complex are actually HD in nature, as those lucky (or rich) enough to have a Foxtel HD subscription can well attest.
And it's not because there isn't an HD broadcast option available to the Seven Network. The powers that be decided to use 7mate to broadcast Mythbusters, and the movies Blue Streak and Open Water instead. Even as grandfather clocks struck midnight along the east coast, and the match grunted its way towards its denouement, 7mate stuck to its scheduled programs, Caprica, and, straight from the late '70s, The Incredible Hulk.
The reasons for this boil down to history, ratings and revenue.
On the latter two points, it's advantageous for commercial television networks to offer a choice of programming on each of their three channels (two in SD and one HD). Thus, those who care not for tennis have an alternative that doesn't involve switching networks, or, heaven forbid, turning off the box and talking to friends/family/loved ones/the dog/the cat/the chair/the crazy old man down the street.
And lest you think that I'm unfairly picking on Seven, we could easily substitute in cricket and Nine for this spiel, or go on a long, arm-flailing rant about the demise of One HD from a purveyor of beautifully crisp HD sport to a peddler of narrow-screen Cops, M*A*S*H and Get Smart repeats.
What can be done about this situation? Not terribly much, we're afraid, except be patient.
Analog television broadcasts are scheduled to run through until 31 December 2013. Until then, television networks are obligated to mirror their analog channel on a standard-definition digital channel. After this point, we may see the news, current affairs and first-run local and international programming leap back into the world of 1080i if the networks decide to switch their primary station to HD and convert an existing HD channel to SD — in this possible reality, Seven would broadcast in HD, while 7mate would regress into SD.
In the meantime, "tier-A" sporting events, such as the Melbourne Cup and NRL and AFL grand finals and the like, must be broadcasted on free-to-air TV in analog, and therefore SD, too. So, it's unlikely that we'll see any of these events in HD until 2014, unless there's a rare outbreak of corporate benevolence. "Tier-B" events, such as regular-season AFL and NRL matches, however, may be seen in HD, but only if you live in states where the respective code isn't popular.
For example, AFL matches in Sydney generally rate lower than two politicians shouting at each other about the rights and wrongs of sourcing bird pellets from Nauru. This being the case, Seven will show, from this year onwards, Friday night AFL matches in the harbour city on 7mate, possibly in native HD. South of the border, however, people would queue to watch an Aussie Rules match between the Clayton Old Folks Home and the South Yarra Under 8s, so commercial necessity dictates that AFL matches be broadcasted in analog and also SD, but not necessarily in HD.
As one can see, this writer is angry, frustrated and powerless. He's also curious to find out whether he's the only one. So, do you, our dear readers, care that most major free-to-air sporting events and new television series are broadcasted in Australia only in standard definition, even when a high-def source is readily available.
Let us know in the poll to the right and in the comments section below.