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July 13, 2009

Don't blame ABC for no HD broadcast of British Open

Posted at 2:45 PM by Mike Walker | Categories: British Open

For a student of history, the United Kingdom is wonderful place to visit. You can learn about the illustrious kings and queens of the past, the poets and playwrights who created the world's richest body of literature and the origin of epochal movements like the Industrial Revolution. You can also see what television looked like 20 years ago.

Thanks to the backwards BBC, you won't be able to watch the British Open in HDTV this week. Not even on American broadcast partners TNT and ABC. The reason is that TNT and ABC have to use the international feed provided by the BBC, and that feed will be in standard definition, the 2009 equivalent of a black-and-white broadcast. (TNT and ABC will "up convert" the standard definition feed for HD broadcast, but that will just allow people to see the broadcast in full-screen format -- in other words, no black bars.) In case you think we're being too hard on the BBC, here's a list of events broadcast in HD: the Tour de France, Wimbledon, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour, the game show Jeopardy!, etc. ABC and TNT don't sound too happy about it either.

"The American broadcaster is required to take the world feed," says Mark Mandel, an ABC/ESPN spokesman. "As much as possible, we want all our events to be in HD. It's great for the sports fans and it's great for the event."

HDTV is an especially good fit for the British Open because the TV-friendly tournament is invariably played at a dramatic, photogenic course (except when it's at Carnousite) and the early morning start on the East Coast -- and witching-hour start in the West -- means you can watch all the golf you want and still have the rest of your Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Also, of all the majors, the British Open is the one American fans are least likely to get to see in person, so the high-definition feed is as close as most of us will ever get to those magical Open rota courses.

The BBC's deal with the Royal & Ancient doesn't expire until 2011 and the BBC has a long history with the event. Still, R&A boss Peter Dawson has to be frustrated with the BBC's inability to present the game's oldest and arguably most important tournament in a state-of-the-art format. Next contract, the R&A needs to make sure it gets the best broadcast possible, which means dropping the BBC.

UPDATE: Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson answered questions about the British Open in HD on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say:

On the high definition point, we have had a lot of discussion with BBC about their introduction schedule for high definition. We have an absolute guarantee that it will be introduced next year. There's a huge investment being made by the BBC on the trucks and the mixing units required for high definition which are being delivered later this year. And so it will be fully high definition in 2010.

Would we have preferred it this year? Yes. But we have to understand that these things cost a lot of money and can take time. So we're looking forward to it next year, and I'm quite sure this year's coverage is going to be very adequate.

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