So, after possibly the longest wait in TV history to find out who'd be screening this season's English Premier League football, the suspicious silence from eventual winners Al Jazeera Sport about how to subscribe, the expressions of frustration from key carriers such as Du and Etisalat about the lack of information for customers, the mysterious 11th hour removal of all the channels schedule to broadcast EPL games from Al Jazeera's schedule and arrival of some new HD channels no one had in their package, and the eventual kick off between Liverpool and Stoke on Saturday afternoon, with a full weekend of fixtures following on, how did it all end up eventually?
Surprisingly well, we're pleased to report. By way of background, we'd suscribed to the full Al Jazeera Sports package available through Du, consisting of Chanells +1 to +4, the seemingly disappeared +5 to +10, and HD1 and 2. On Saturday afternoon, despite fears to the contrary following the channel's removal from AJS' online schedule, we tuned in to find that +10 still existed, and had a full day of content dedicated to the football, starting with a Football Focus style pre-match magazine show looking over all the weekend's games before getting into the action with new hosts Andy Gray and Richard Keyes, and guests this opening weekend showing a healthy Manchester City bias, despite them not playing till Monday, in the shape of former manager Kevin Keegan and former head coach David Platt.
The actual game content was exactly what you'd expect, as it comes direct from the EPL's UK team just the same as last year. The home-produced content on the other hand did seem to step up a level in terms of both volume and quality. Gray and Keyes were the seasoned pro hosts you'd expect after years at the helm of Sky's UK coverage, the new studio looked huge and impressive, and Keyesy and Graysy were even given the challenge of a female presenter to contend with in the shape of Sarah Stone. It's as yet unknown whether the hosts think she can do the job as well as a man, but we're sure they agree she looks better.
There were some hiccups, for sure. The presenters of the early-doors magazine show struggled with the tongue twisters of the various Twitter, email and so on handles viewers could contact them on, while during the main live event there were some occurences of commentary coming in to drown out the presenters over replays and the like - all issues that are sure to be ironed out over time.
Overall, I'd say B+ to Al Jazeera's production team who have pulled a very promising looking show together. F to the marketing and sales operation who have failed to communicate its existence, advise clients how to access it and generally left a lot of football fans worried over what turned out to be nothing.