Thursday, March 10, 2005

10 March 2005: Trials

You think the Michael Jackson trial is a little weird, what with the key witnesses being fifteen and thirteen years old?

The Albert Smith murder trial in north-west Arkansas is even weirder. Not only was a witness called yesterday who was only five years old, but they wouldn't actually let the witness into the court-house to start with, ostensibly because the witness, one Murphy Smith, was a dog.

Called because the defendant had written Murphy a letter while in jail (like that makes it more normal? Can this doggy read??), Murph was eventually allowed in after his guardian, Albert's brother Darrel, showed the deputy on the door the subpoena. They went in, met with the prosecuting lawyers, and were allowed to go. Murph didn't take the stand, more's the pity.

Somehow though, with all these high-profile court cases, it reminded me of one I'd almost forgotten about. No, not Saddam -- that hasn't started yet, of course -- I was actually thinking of Slobodan Milosevic. Remember that case? Huge fanfares in February 2002 as he was put on trial for war crimes - the biggest trial of its kind since the Nazis. That was back when I used to work for QAS, which seems a long time ago now. Since then, Milosevic has managed to be ill, drag questioning out, avoid personal responsibility (which sets an interesting precedent) and in addition, the US has decided that it (the US) isn't answerable to such a court (final paragraph of that link) in case such charges were ever to be brought against Americans. Which means the whole thing has dragged on into a fourth year now, no sign of an end in sight, and Milosevic himself looking redder in the cheeks than ever. Chances he'll get found guilty? More likely he'll pass away first given that his rate of blood pressure growth seems to be hugely outstripping the rate of progress of his case. The case has already outlived the judge who began proceedings all those years ago. Even the BBC News site, respected for its up-to-datedness and thorough handling of global events, hasn't updated its official Milosevic Trial site since August 2004.

Which begs the question, why didn't they just tell Milosevic this at the start of the trial? "Pending further developments, Mr Milosevic, we sentence you to come to this courtroom every day for the rest of your natural life." Some people might find that even more scary than prison. Although coming from a family of lawyers, I shouldn't really say that.

Solution to all this? Well, if they got a few dogs in to the Milosevic or Jackson cases, at least it might speed things along a bit.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

9 March 2005: Slow

Broadband set to revolutionise TV, say the BBC.

Have they been reading my blog or what?

Meantime, I've been somewhat surprised to read that BitTorrent now accounts for 35% of all internet traffic. Well, why did BT think all those people want broadband? There aren't that many of us baseball fans out there to eat up the kind of bandwidth they're providing. As with football and, for a few years, baseball, the problem is not so much the technology being available but the holders of the rights to in-demand content being able to stop their product being made available from someone else.

One area, perhaps, where live sport can offer some security: you can download the latest episode of 24 from the web the day after it's shown in the US, and that's fine. But with sport, users really want to watch it as it happens, meaning unless people start pirate broadcasts from within, or hack into satellite streams and re-broadcast on the web (as actually does happen at the moment with Premiership games), there's less of a window of opportunity for your average hacker. They'll find a way, sure, but online broadcasts of sport are, just perhaps, more likely to be a money-spinner than almost any other kind of content you'd care to mention.

Monday, March 07, 2005

7 March 2005: Dot t.v.

Spring Training is upon us once again.

The usual questions face the Braves fans as the Grapefruit League begins to warm up. Will the Braves be able to beat the odds yet again and win a fourteenth consecutive division title? Will the off-season trades, which as usual have filled the Braves key gaps with players rated as 'over the hill' and 'will never make it back from that injury', shine through as All-Star MVP candidates? Will Julio Franco never get any older? (Note to the uninitiated: he's the oldest player in baseball by quite some distance, and he still steals bases. Officially he's 47 this year, unofficially he's at least 52.) And, this year, will John Smoltz perform the never-before-accomplished feat of being a 20-game winning starter, a 150-save closer, then go back to being a successful starter again?

The answers to these questions, and many others, will be found on the internet as the season unfolds. And here's where it gets interesting: I'll be able to watch it all as it happens, live. Over the internet.

MLB launched their service as an experiment jointly with RealNetworks in 2002, and have now extended it to include Windows Media formats too. Essentially taking the idea of the radio broadcasts, they figured: since almost all games are televised over local stations, why not just put those feeds up on the internet too, and charge a subscription fee for the service? At 350kpbs, the feed is more than just watchable -- it's often better than our fuzzy reception of Channel 5's excellent coverage (btw - great site from the Channel 5 guys, well done). For a little over £40, I've got all the television and radio feeds for all the season's baseball games for the next six or seven months. And it's absolutely brilliant.

Which begs the question, why can't I do the same with Saints or Argyle games? Why isn't there a central, official website where I can subscribe to Premiership or Championship games? The answer is organisation, of course: Premiership and other football clubs have such complex bargaining agreements with the broadcasting companies that such thoughts are almost unthinkable - getting all the internet media rights centralised was hard enough for a franchise operation like Major League Baseball, what are the chances of a bunch of loosely-affiliated independently-owned clubs who are members, not franchises, of the F.A. Premier League or the Football League, agreeing to give up their rights to that organisation, and then trusting they can take a cut of the profits later?

Alternatively, they could do it themselves. A fascinating Observer article from last October speculated that the reason for Malcolm Glazer's continuing interest in bidding for Manchester United is so that he can wrestle control of the broadcast rights next time the Premier League's contract with Sky is up for renewal, and instead set up a subscription-model for watching Man U on broadband, particularly for the lucrative south Asia market, who are crazy about both broadband and Man U. And this, if true, suddenly makes Glazer's bid look a lot less crazy and a lot more visionary than anyone has given him credit for.

Because, despite current skepticism concerning the internet as a replacement for television, it's only going to get better. MLB's coverage has spread to 97% of all major league games being shown live, and higher bandwidth services are to be experimented with either this season or next, improving the already-pretty-darn-good picture quality to something approaching DVD level. By the time the Premier League contract discussions come around in 2006/7, there could be a whole body of evidence to show where the future lies. And unlike, it will be organised club-by-club, meaning I'd only have to subscribe to Saints or Argyle to get all their games live.

Is there money in this internet lark? If you've got broadband, watch a channel from the Interactive Baseball Network for five minutes, imagine a slightly-improved picture quality, a live Premiership game and a Man U-crazy south Asian audience.

Welcome to the money-making world of the internet.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

3 March 2005: Harsh

Prutton, of course, may look at Wes Joyce of Southern League side Evesham United and figure he got off easily.

According to's suspension page, which is the official list linked to in my previous blog entry...

Evesham United FC
Wesley Joyce
Suspended from ALL FOOTBALL until the Club have completed 99 FIRST TEAM matches.
Start date: 30/11/2004

Doesn't tell the full story, of course: he's also apparently facing a major jail sentence and his suspension is due, allegedly, to his threatening to kill a referee during a game. If only Prutton had thought of that.

Bleddy Premiership footballers don't know 'em born, do 'em?

3 March 2005: Away

Taking a minor break from the mini-thesis work, it's worth reflecting on the predicament facing Harry's Saints.

No away wins in the league all season (although a touch unlucky at West Brom and, particularly, Arsenal), Saints had, before Tuesday's replay at Brentford, managed to be victorious on the road only at the fortress of Northampton Town (twice, bizarrely). The come-from-behind victory against the mighty Bees on Tuesday was hard-earned (especially without the extremely stoopid David Prutton) but gives Saints an interesting statistic as they face the prospect of a next-round match at home to Man United.

Saints are unbeaten at home since mid-September, and are in the quarter-finals of the F.A. Cup.

Looks good. Only problem is, they still need to win about five league games to stay up, which means either a dramatic upturn in away form (ie winning the odd match) or beating either/both of Man United and Chelsea at home in the league. Ain't gonna happen, is it? Is it?

Perhaps if David Prutton was playing, they'd have a chance. He's been given a ten-match suspension (compared with Paolo Di Canio's seven for an identical incident, and Jose Mourinho who was told it was ok to incite the crowd because he's manager of a big club so the rules don't apply to him). I'm not defending Prutton (he can do that himself, and I'm scared of him enough to not argue) but I will say this: Match of the Day on Saturday did NOT show the incidents which caused both the Prutton and Van Persie incidents. In the first minute, a disgusting tackle by Cygan on Camara around the edge of the Arsenal penalty area went unpunished - not even a free-kick. A few minutes later, right in front of the linesman, Prutton was clear through on the right wing and was hacked down - absolutely scythed - by Ashley Cole, in a tackle at least as bad as Prutton and Van Persie's later efforts. The linesman looked the other way and referee Alan Wiley, who had clearly eaten all the pies, was chugging along back at the halfway line and waved 'play on'. Prutton eventually got to his feet and remonstrated loudly with the linesman, and that was that: the referee had lost control of the game. Numerous incidents later (Saints were not awarded several clear free-kicks in the Arsenal half), Prutton and Van Persie both figured there were no rules today, so off they went, flying into tackles with as much ferocity as they could muster. As, it has to be said, did Viera, Quashie and the rest, and for the most part they got away with it. When Prutton was sent off, he pushed the referee, trying to get to the linesman who hadn't given the initial incident. (If you've seen the clip, perhaps you've been wondering why he was after the linesman.)

None of this, the Prutton and Van Persie incidents aside, was shown on MotD, which allowed Alan Hansen to say "the referee had an excellent game". Wiley didn't - it was the second-worst refereeing display this season behind Andy D'Urso's classic in August - and while Prutton fully deserves and will quietly serve his suspension, people need to realise that the referee actually brought the whole thing upon himself. Referees can do that, and often do, although not usually to the extent Wiley managed it on Saturday.

I'll say it again: I've no desire to defend or excuse Prutton's actions, but the referee and linesman should be held to account for their failure to apply the laws of the game, and the BBC should perhaps give slightly less biased coverage: Saturday's programme was pure spin to make Hansen look good, Prutton look psychotic (flew in for those tackles with no reason? Psycho!) and the referee look utterly innocent.

Jeff Gannon couldn't have done it any better himself.