Sofa wars: Editor of The Cricketer defends Test Match Sofa in row with BBC's Test Match Special
We're no parasites and no threat, Test Match Sofa hits back at BBC
Andrew Miller left baffled by hostility from BeebTMS anchor Agnew responds by threatening never to read magazine againEngland T20 captain Broad supports Agnew in row
13:04 GMT, 1 November 2012
Test Match Sofa, the alternative cricket commentary which operates from central London not from Test venues, has this week been described as a 'parasite' that needs to be 'nailed' and 'swept offline'. Here ANDREW MILLER, the editor of The Cricketer magazine, who owns TestMatchSofa.com, hits back at those allegations…
Earlier this year, one of the oldest voices in cricket took a leap of faith and jumped into bed with one of the newest.
The Cricketer magazine, established in 1921 by Pelham Warner, saw in Test Match Sofa, an irreverent online cricket commentary service established in Tooting in 2009 by Daniel Norcross, a spark of innovative potential that it simply could not afford to pass up.
The tie-up was never going to be to everyone’s taste, but like two inter-joining circles on a Venn diagram, that was never really the point. In a print media market that seems to be shrinking as quickly as broadband speeds are rising, innovation is vital if you want to stay afloat.
England expects: Alastair Cook (second, left) takes evasive action from a shot by Ajinkya Rahane of India 'A' during the final day of England's first warm-up match
WHAT IS TEST MATCH SOFA
Match Sofa is an online broadcaster providing cricket ball-by-ball commentary for
all England test matches and selected One Day Internationals.
station is available worldwide serving as alternative commentary to
the BBC's Test Match Special which is only available in the UK.
The station began broadcasting from
the Tooting Bec home of one of the station's creators, Daniel
Norcross, but moved to a rented house in Nunhead, also in South
London, in August 2010. In January 2011, Test Match Sofa moved to an
undisclosed location, believed to be somewhere in central London.
Listeners interact with the show's commentators through
Twitter, with this interaction often influencing the agenda.
Follow Test Match Sofa on Twitter @TestMatchSofa
The Cricketer saw in Test Match Sofa a
cult following of young, technologically savvy cricket fans – a
demographic that it might not have attracted by any other means. In
return the Sofa was offered shelter and status, and a chance for that
seed of a concept to germinate. At a stroke, each had doubled their
potential audience, and shored up the other’s foundations. It was, and
remains, a win-win scenario.
expected resistance to our venture, and it duly arrived – though not
from the quarters we had imagined. The ECB, recognising that we were not
breaching any rights, ceased correspondence on the subject back in May,
ahead of England’s Test series against West Indies. Test Match Special,
on the other hand, have taken the Sofa’s existence as a personal slight
– culminating in a declaration on Wednesday that it needed to be
'nailed' and 'swept offline'.
We're flattered by TMS’s attention, but baffled by their hostility. At what point in that magnificent programme's evolution did the promotion of cricket become a zero-sum game To complain, as they do, that Test Match Sofa is a 'parasite' that pays nothing for rights and gives nothing in return is a sad parody of the public access position the BBC once held dear.
After a summer in which rain, the Olympics and the Tour de France combined to squeeze cricket to the margins of public interest, surely the game needs as many people as possible to make as much noise on its behalf as is feasible. Anyone who believes otherwise might also argue against letting schoolkids enter for free on the fifth day of a Test.
The Sofa does not profess to fill the void by any means, but it provides a start. Through the use of Twitter (@testmatchsofa), every listener is offered a voice that, as often as not, will help dictate the narrative of the day’s play. In so doing, we aim to cement the enjoyment of a new breed of cricket listener – ones who, like those who will doubtless enter their blog comments below – want a conversation with their commentators, not a lecture.
Different audience: The Test Match Sofa crew pose up
Surely, if any BBC institution could still be relied upon to uphold the company's Reithian principles it should be TMS, the voice of cricket for more than half a century and, let's be frank about this, the very reason why Norcross and his colleagues were inspired to establish the Sofa in the first place.
Without exception, the Sofa team venerates TMS. Every one of the enthusiastic amateurs who give up their own time to watch cricket in a windowless studio do so because their youths were misspent with radios under their pillows and Wisdens in their stockings.
Window to the world: Members of the BBC Radio Test Match Special team in the commentary box at Lord's with the window cut out on the far right. Front row, from left, Henry Blofeld, Jonathan Agnew and scorer Bill Frindall. Back row from left, producer Peter Baxter, assistant producer Shilpa Patel, Vic Marks, Mike Selvey, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Colin Croft and Tony Cozier
… AND WHAT IS TEST MATCH SPECIAL
Test Match Special (known as TMS) provides ball-by-ball coverage of most Test cricket, One Day International, and Twenty20 matches and tournaments involving England.
It is, rightly, considered by most cricket lovers THE place to listen to coverage of England matches.
BBC Radio was the first broadcaster to cover every ball of a Test match.
TMS is broadcast on Radio 4 long wave (198 LW). At times of cricket matches, the normal BBC Radio 4 schedule continues on its FM frequencies, while longwave is taken over by the cricket. This has sparked controversy with some Radio 4 listeners unable to change frequencies. The shipping forecast is, however, retained. TMS can also be heard via the Internet.
TMS's coverage of England's tour to India had been under threat over fees demanded by the Indian board to broadcast from the grounds.
However, TMS producer Adam Mountford revealed on Twitter on Thursday that a deal had finally been reached.
'We are pleased to confirm that Test Match Special will broadcast England's cricket tour of India from the grounds,' he said.
Follow Adam Mountford on Twitter @tmsproducer
Jonathan Agnew and Christopher
Martin-Jenkins remain two of the greatest broadcasters of any
generation. But as a homogenized TMS leans more and more on ex-pros and
multi-sports specialists to fill the vacancies that crop up in the
course of time, one wonders where the next John Arlotts and Brian
Johnstons will appear to infuse cricket commentary with the whimsy and
digressions of old I’d suggest, right now, the Sofa is the likelier of
the breeding grounds.
And yet, TMS is still the undisputed master of the airwaves. Earlier this year, the question was put to me, rhetorically, what would happen if the BBC chose to stop broadcasting from the grounds and tried to do it off the telly On account of the India access row, we might be about to find out … and I think the answer has come as a greater surprise to the BBC.
Peter Baxter, the former TMS producer, understood the value of his product (and by extension the rights that the BBC pay) when in 1999, he demanded that a special window be cut in the middle of the enormous sheet of glass covering the front of the new Lord’s media centre. Quite rightly, he wanted to be able to dangle his effects mike into the crowd to provide total aural immersion to TMS’s legions of listeners.
That sense of being there is priceless – it’s the hum of contented silence that tells you you’ve twiddled your long-wave radio to the right frequency – and it’s something that the BCCI, rarely slow to spot a changing trend, have recognised.
Radio rights per se are irrelevant in the internet age. You can no sooner stop Test Match Sofa from commenting on the action than demand silence while fans watch it in the pub. The true value lies in being able to call it from the ground. Remarkably, it has taken the Sofa’s existence to remind TMS quite how important they are.
Andrew Miller is editor of The
Cricketer magazine, who own TestMatchSofa.com
AGGERS HITS BACK AND BROAD JOINS ARGUMENT
After reading the Cricketer on Thursday, Test Match Special presenter Jonathan Agnew tweeted: 'I've never read such hypocrisy & assumed knowledge as that spouted by the once great Cricketer magazine today. I won't be reading it again.'
England's Twenty20 captain and former Sportsmail columnist Stuart Broad also weighed in to the argument, saying: 'Don't read the media Aggers… What have I told you!! Can only bring negativity to your world!'