Pool on TV
If you're like me, a pool aficionado, you enjoy watching great pool on TV. Unfortunately, in the USA, this is completely absent from main stream TV. ESPN was airing some women's tournaments, but that didn't work well. Why it didn't work is up for debate. Some think pool is not popular because it has a bad image, you know, sloppy dressed, smoking, drinking, gambling, fighting barbarians. Who wants to watch them? Well, actually, about everyone. Even though this stereotype is not very accurate, it is a real stereotype, but one that is attractive to TV fans. For every Leave it to Beaver or Ozzie and Harriet show, there are thousands of gang shows, Asphalt Jungle type shows. As for gambling, the main reason Football and Basketball are popular is due to gambling. Almost no one in the country hasn't played a football pool or bet on a March Madness pool. Nope, stereotype just ain't the issue, not even close.
Pool on ESPN was poorly presented. You could never figure out when it would air, even searches generally would come up blank, even if an event was scheduled. Pool on ESPN failed because about everything they could do wrong was done. The result is no pool on TV.
The story isn't over though, as now we have the Internet. Ustream.tv and YouTube are bringing a ton of pool to our homes. Also, Roku allows us to run these on any TV for free. This means we are no longer dependant on Main Stream TV to see good pool. A $35 Roku stick hooked up to your Comcast WiFi brings it right to your HD TV. This is great, so LIVE events are now available via ustream.tv, and recorded events via YouTube. Things are looking up for Pool and Pool fans.
More is needed from the presentation aspect however, it's not enough just to put a match in front of someone. To get and keep viewers a few things are needed, fortunately, they are not too hard to obtain and things just keep getting better.
Great pool on TV requires 3 things:
- Great Players
- Great Camera
- Great Commentary
The first one sounds easy, just grab a couple of pro's and sick a guy with a video camera on him. Not so much. You can't have a guy spending five minutes a shot deciding what to do. This is a killer for the fans. One of the things The wimmen did right on TV is have a 30 second shot clock. I've seen a few men's events with a 40 second shot clock, and that seemed great. Longer on the shot after the break and two extensions. This seemed to keep things moving without too much stress on the men. I could never figure out why a pro player would spend so much time figuring out what to do. They have played enough that 99% of shots should be automatic. Strickland plays the best speed for TV, not too fast, not too slow, just right. SVB seems to adjust his speed to that of his opponent. He plays Earl fast, plays Archer slow...Curious. At any rate dress is of little importance. A pool player does not have to dress like a polo player or a groom on a wedding cake to entertain.
This one sounds hard, but it is easy. Cameras today are good on a cell phone, so it doesn't take much to get good videos. The wonderful thing about pool is only one camera is required, and NO cameraman. Sure, two camera's plus a camera man might be better, but not needed at all, and the camera man is often detrimental unless he is really knowledgeable about pool, and the guy controlling the camera's is good as well. Anyway, this one is a no brainer and shouldn't cost all that much.
Saved the toughest one for last. A good commentator is hard to come by. Unfortunately, it is also the most important aspect of great pool on TV. About all pool (in the US) comes from Ustream.tv. Outfits like AZBilliards, InsidePoolMag.com, POV Pool, Cue Sports International (CSI) TAR (The Action Report) and a few others provide us with varying quality live pool. Some of it is really well done, but seldom is the commentary up to par. The commentators do it free I reckon, so how can one bitch about it. Well, if a free commentator has a monotone voice, or talks through his nose, or has a Brooklyn accent, or coughs into the mic every 5 minutes not a problem, what do you expect for free. That's not the big issue. The big issue is sound and content.
Too many of these broadcasts have major volume issues. The pool room is super loud, commentator super low. This has to be right because the viewer can adjust the volume, but not individually, so either the room noise is blasting, or you can't hear the commentary. This should be an easy fix but for some reason, not understandable to me, it seems next to impossible to get right. I guess I'm missing something.
This is a biggie. Far too often these free commentators should not be allowed near a mic. They talk about everything but the match going on in front of their nose. Often they talk with the chat room, who are also not watching the match, just making stupid comments to one another. The commentators often don't have a clue what the score of a match is, seldom comment even on a world class super shot, making obvious they are not the least bit interested in the pool match they expect you to be interested in. I've heard them actually say
commentate on the match, everyone can see what is going on. Duh! Have these dudes never watched a sporting
event on TV? Really! You don't need to be a polished super announcer, but some common sense is in order.
A commentator needs to talk about the match, AND make it interesting. The greatest match ever played will be boring if the commentator is yawning into the mic, talking about a match he himself played 3 years ago whilst missing completely the best rack ever played. Those watching these matches recorded on Youtube, or watching via Roku can't see the Ustream chat room so commentators interacting with chat is really annoying.
I have seen guys talk all though a rack about nothing then when the player is racking, often painstakingly, silence. During the action they talk about the weather, food anything but the match. Between racks when they say could add some idle chatter, nothing. Wow, how bad is that. Pool has got to be the only sport on earth the commentators ignore the match, seldom know the score, and carry on conversations with unseen and unheard people in chat rooms. I know, they are free, but really, if they can't get that bit right, turn off the mic and play elevator music, it would be less distracting and better for pool.
I once watched a match on ustream between two of the top players on earth, and the commentator had a guest cue maker and the whole damn match they talked about cue making, not one mention of the wonderful match playing out right in front of them. After the match, silence, the guest cue maker left, the commentator shut up. Unbelievable and Unforgivable.
I said "once" but really this happens way too often. I once listened to Archer talk all about his new pro pool league format all through another super pool match. While interesting, the time for this type of interview is between matches when nothing is going on. If you have to turn off the sound to enjoy a match in front of you, something is wrong.
Think about Poker on TV.... The most boring thing on earth, well, next to golf on TV, yet because of superb commentary and presentation, it is "somewhat" interesting. Pool has the potential to become really popular on TV but the format and presentation must be there. You can find some good matches on Youtube, with good announcers like Billy Incardona or Danny DiLiberto and they make it fun to watch. I've heard a few pro players that were also good. Believe it or not, one of the best is Earl Strickland. Heard him sit in once and he was great, his knowledge and love of the game came through like gangbusters. Same with Danny Basavich (Kid Delicious)
That's what pool needs. Forget about the fancy vests and pretty clothes. Pool has more people playing it than any other sport on earth. All it would take to make it a popular spectator sport is a bit of quality presentation. I think we are headed in that direction at a rapid pace. I would love to see a bit of consistency, say a big match every Friday night, broadcast on Ustream.tv, with quality commentary. The ball is rolling, thanks to a few great outfits like CSI, AZBilliards, Inside Pool, POV, TAR and those companies kicking in some cash, like Diamond, Simonis, and so on.