Silent Sky Sports – The silent atmosphere killer
I know I’m a little set in my ways but I have long been against TVs in pubs. It always has struck me as as somewhat self-defeating. After all, I go to the pub to get away from the TV, not to watch it. In fact, much that I enjoy about the pub, on the rare occasions I am the other side of the bar, is all about getting away from things whether it be from a hard day’s work or a nagging missus (and sometimes both).
So when Sky Sports came in, just over twenty years ago, I faced a slightly unnerving dilemma. My initial intransigence to install this wonder of modern technology saw me lose a steady trickle of trade on match days. Said trickle quickly evolved into a torrent on the days of a particularly tasty fixture. I could cope with, no disrespect intended, Newcastle vs. Everton or the like but even Mrs B’s legendary roast dinners were not enough to tempt punters away from the Manchester derby.
The economics of Sky for small and medium sized pubs were never especially compelling, even back then. It was (and still is in my view) particularly difficult to measure with all the potential returns concentrated on one or possibly two events of notable interest a week, with lengthy and abnormally inefficient fallow periods in between. Since then, not only have we seen a dramatic escalation in cost but substantially increased penetration, both and home and at pubs themselves, has notably decreased the ‘novelty’ premium. By implication, this has subtly eroded its drawing power; it is no longer the magnet for thirsty punters it once was and it is their drained pint glasses that pay the bills.
We all know about the many unintended but nonetheless damaging consequences for the trade and the consumer of the rise in the cost of their pint of beer. Just one of those, widely debated elsewhere, is the rise of the ‘pre-loader’ who arrives at your establishment suitably ‘refreshed’ from imbibing quantities of his/her favourite tipple at below cost supermarket prices. They soak up the luxury of your premises but with their trajectory of alcoholic intake miraculously curtailed though, unfortunately, not necessarily their behaviour. Well, I am sure I am not alone in observing a similar phenomenon during match days. Said punter arrives just in time for kick-off, often brought up to a suitable level by hearty domestic consumption, nurses a solitary pint through the entire ninety minutes, and has already left the seat of the chair for their skulk off literally fractions of a second after the decibels have emitted from the referee’s full time whistle.
My point being that taken in an overall context as a result of all these developments, the decision to install or even retain Sky now for the average publican is typically very marginal. Frankly, as a result, I was not surprised to see the Karen Murphy court case. And I regularly get swarthy, suspicious types appearing at my pub, promoting the latest foreign satellite card at temptingly attractive prices. But the rising cost of subscription for the premium channels, when combined with the desire to utilise the asset in the aforementioned fallow periods, has also led to a more recent and particularly depressing development: the inexorable rise on pub screens of Sky Sports News.
In my view, nothing has done more to kill the noble art of conversation in pubs than this channel. Often on in perpetuity, in the background, and somewhat bafflingly in silence, it turns the TV into a tempting siren that seduces you in at every natural lull in proceedings. Soon these gaps get longer and before you know it your saloon bar can unwittingly acquire all the cache of a dentist’s waiting room. And for what exactly? The channel is filled with largely irrelevant sporting minutiae on an apparently ever increasingly repetitive loop whose only saving grace is it’s pleasingly attractive presenters. The gently corrosive damage this pervades is all the more depressing for the fact that you simply do not need to know the wisdom it imparts (the only notable exception to this is rule is of course being if you find yourself lumbered with the crushing pub bore, in which case your desire for the latest speedway results or Partick Thistle injury news will instinctively, and entirely understandably, take on an insatiable new dimension).
Overall I find it highly doubtful that anyone publican or punter alike can honestly claim that Sky Sports News has proved a genuinely enriching development for all concerned. Lazy landlords are using it as substitute for engaging with their customers, the less sociable punters as an alternative to conversing with their neighbours. Of course, there is no compunction to intermingle on either’s part. But surely it is at heart of what the pub is all about, a meeting point and a place to bring together the local community. I doubt very much there would be a riot if the TV screen was turned off; after all those who really want to know these things there are plenty of easily accessible sources these days anyway.
You won’t be surprised after these rantings to hear that Sky no longer forms part of my pub. Despite this, I actually think it works tremendously well in the larger, high street and specialist venues. But in my eyes for the traditional local real ale pub, convivial conversation should be the heart of the proposition. Technology’s rapid development has caused some natural fractures in social etiquette, mobile phones usage and personal music perhaps being the most prominent. And social attention deficit disorder may be becoming an urban affliction, we as publicans don’t need to encourage it with hypnotising claptrap such as Sky Sports News on our background screens.