The modern era of commentators

At one point the broadcast world was fairly geographically separated. American commentators were fairly uncommon in the UK and vice versa. The proliferation of cable and satellite has changed that dynamic fairly drastically.

While American sitcoms and dramas have been fairly popular in the UK for decades, the same was not true in the reverse. For a majority of Americans, their concept of British television was shaped by Benny Hill, Monty Python, and Doctor Who.

As cable channels began to frantically search for content, Americans were introduced to more British presenters and personalities. The fact that the stars were predominately English “bullies” like Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsey, Len Goldman, Piers Morgan, and Robert Irvine gave viewers an equally skewed version of UK broadcast personalities.

The world of radio was even more stereotyped, especially for Americans, who predominately viewed British radio as the rather stuffy BBC.

One area that has benefited from the availability of broadcasts via satellite channels and internet archives is sports commentary. Because of the wide diversity of sports available in the UK and the loyalty of UK fans to not only their teams but to their commentators, the UK has produced some of the best examples in broadcasting as well as one commentator that is blazing a new media path.

Some traditional examples

Cricket: While not a UK native, Richie Benaud’s cricket broadcasts were known throughout the UK. It can safely be said that the other commentators on this list owe a debt to Benaud and his philosophy which he summed up as “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”

His understated excitement and dry wit set the standards that others would strive to achieve.

Broadcast executives have long held the opinion that in order to comment on a sport one has to have played the sport. This is similar to assuming that since Russell Brand could act that he could serve as a presenter for awards shows or a chat show host. However, in some cases this has in fact been true.

Rugby: Jeremy Guscott is considered by many to be the finest rugby player of any era. He has brought the insight into the game that made him a great player to the broadcast booth.

His insights into the new players in his guest columns and the commentary on events such as the English team’s behaviour at the Word Cup in New Zealand prove that he understands all aspects of the game.

Formula One: Martin Brundle is possibly the most highly regarded Formula One commenter around. He explains the intricacies of the sport in a way that appeals to both novice and die-hard fans.

This ability has been described as “an extraordinary ability to simplify and entertain in an often complex sport. He also exhibited a fearless authority on some of the most sensitive issues – not least his gimlet-eyed pursuit of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone on the grid at Indianapolis”. For this he was named best Sports Pundit in 1998, 1999, 2005, 2005 and 2006.

Football: Alan Hansen is a prime example of the outspoken commentator that minces no words when giving his opinions on a team’s play, with his choicest words of criticism for a team’s defensive shortcomings.

The new breed of commentator

For the last few years the internet has been populated with those looking to break into traditional media. YouTube channels and podcasts abound with those that offer a “better” or “non-corporate” view. Since we are living in a time when in many parts of the broadcast world the traditional training grounds for talent are disappearing, these media outlets actually fill a void.

However, it is rare that a broadcaster leaves the traditional world to join the internet broadcast world.

That is exactly the path taken by James Hartigan, who has a solid background in traditional broadcasting. He has served as the news anchor on a number of breakfast shows and film critic for the London’s LBC. Hartigan is also a recreational poker player.

It was through poker that Hartigan arrived at the latest stage of his career. He served as a poker commentator for a number of televised poker programmes for Sky Sports, Eurosports and Channel 4, including the World Cup of Poker. He eventually came to the attention of PokerStars and was tapped as the commentator for the European Poker Tour (EPT) internet broadcasts.

Poker is arguably one of the most difficult sports for any commentator. The game can move slowly, with players sometimes taking five minutes or more to make a decision. Tournament poker has no end time, other than when one player has all the chips. This means that Hartigan has started his broadcast day and finished a couple of hours later as well as found himself in the broadcast booth with his partner, Joe Stapleton, calling the action for upwards of 18 hours.

The fact that he can accomplish the latter with unflagging interest and enthusiasm coupled with his obvious enjoyment of the game has made the EPT coverage one of the most popular broadcasts in the world. The audience’s support of the broadcast has prompted Hartigan and Stapleton to launch a weekly podcast as well.

The show features well known poker playing celebrities like Tito Ortiz as well as established pros who bring insight into the often unpredictable world of poker. The podcasts adheres to a standard that is impossible within the confines of traditional media in that it lasts as long as it takes to tell the story.

At one point in the not too distant past, it was common for radio and television personalities to turn to the internet after receiving the boot from their regular gigs. Hartigan’s success serves as an example that the internet is an important element in the media mix, and one that is here to stay.

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