There’s a wonderfully prescient exchange in Whit Stillman’s 1990 film, “Metropolitan,” wherein the know-it-all main character is interrogated on all the works of literature he can’t stop referencing. “You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven’t read the Bible either,” he reveals, by way of defending himself. “I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelist’s ideas as well as the critic’s thinking.”
Befitting Stillman’s meditations on the urban haute bourgeoisie, this character is something of a douche, but I can sympathize — especially after I’ve watched the KeyPlays from some soccer match, courtesy of that fully engrossing, cognitively dubious function of my YouTubeTV subscription. For the uninitiated, many (but not all) sporting events recorded via YouTubeTV offer the option to not only watch the match later — at your stop-and-start leisure, in its entirety — but also to watch only the KeyPlays from said event.
At first, I was skeptical of this opportunity, which flat out does not work in the basketball context. There is no drama, I soon observed, in watching an uninterrupted parade of hoop after hoop after hoop, entirely out of context… But I’m also here to report that KeyPlays has proved pretty damned compelling in the futbol context. It also works like a charm with hockey and American football. Even then, however, the problems come when another human wants to engage me on the match itself, in its many nuances, its shifts in tactics, its twists and turns over the course and flow of 90 minutes. Invariably, I cannot do so. Because chances, saves and goals — however “key” or spectacular — do not a match make.
I sampled pretty much the entire 2022 Major League Soccer and Liga MX regular seasons via the KeyPlays function; something I would never have had the time to do otherwise. However, did I really develop a sense for Dallas FC, or Toluca, in the dramatic or competitive sense? Not really. In this way, KeyPlays has effectively dumbed me down. Because even literary critics have, at the very least, read the entire book. Haven’t they?
Let’s not be coy: KeyPlays are just highlight packages devoid of production value, the likes of which have been available via plain ol’ YouTube for some time. They are the reason that no one watches SportsCenter any more, why the ESPN app and every competing sport media entity is loaded with “key” snippets from around the world. Yet the delivery of quick-hitting recaps isn’t just for people who missed the match live on TV. It’s also for those who have the time but not the attention span to sit and watch athletic competitions start to finish.
Many young folks today, in the 21st century, never developed attention spans, and one cannot lament the loss of what one never possessed. I, on the other hand, used to have a pretty good attention span! I ploughed through book after book — actual bound, analog hunks of non-fiction. I “took” The New Yorker magazine and, while I often struggled to keep up, I did so — stacking back issues for later consumption aboard an elliptical machine, or the toilet. Until about 2010, I routinely turned on the car radio and waited patiently for engaging music or news content to eventuate. And I watched entire sporting events, start to finish, without checking news headlines, without simultaneously playing Scrabble or doing the crossword, without checking on the self-appraised social lives of casual acquaintances via media platforms that did not yet exist.
That world is gone. I’m well over it. And yet: The one aspect of this previous life that should have been a perfect fit for my new one — Match of the Day — has inexplicably been taken away.
Match of the Day, like soccer itself, is an English tradition, a highlight show that first aired on Aug. 22, 1964, some three weeks before I was born. The show emerged during a time when only a single Football League match might be televised all weekend, via the one and only television outlet serving the British sporting public back then: the BBC. It proved such a hit, MOTD moved from BBC2 to BBC 1 in 1966 and, from that point forward, never failed to feature in the network’s evolving/expanding futbol coverage. A dozen different riffs and iterations have ensued, but the simple highlights formula has endured.
When NBC purchased U.S. rights to the English Premier League, in 2013, the network imported Match of the Day lock, stock and barrel — to air on Sunday evenings, once all its live EPL matches had finished. I loved MOTD. Everyone loved MOTD. Its match highlights were discursive enough to rise above mere goal-only recaps. They were replete with high production values, well serving the already diminishing attention spans of futbol fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
NBC backed off its commitment to Match of the Day over the winter of 2021-22, about the time it junked its dedicated sports network, NBCSN, and pushed all EPL programming onto NBC proper (free), USA Network (basic-cable free) and Peacock (paid). This sort of tiered arrangement had already become standard operating procedure in the streaming era. However, NBC also limited the availability of MOTD, then pulled it altogether.
Despite what feels like a cynically methodical bait & switch exercise, the entirety of NBC’s EPL programming will never shift entirely to Peacock. The Premier League smartly insists that broadcast partners promote some portion of its product on free channels. Perhaps Match of the Day was not part of the new contract NBC signed with the EPL? (NBC’s current deal runs through 2028.) Maybe BBC Sport is no longer allowing the EPL to sell its product on to overseas partners? It’s possible NBC saw the highlight show as a redundancy, considering its plans for Peacock? I scrubbed the public record but could not find answers to these questions.
I am currently paying $5.26 per month for Peacock, less than a proper pint of craft brew (in a can). Weston McKennie’s arrival at Leeds, Jesse Marsch’s rumored emergency/crash landing in Southampton and my love of all things Spursy will likely oblige me to keeping paying through the 2022-23 EPL season. I care about Fulham. I want to watch Arsenal and Man United drop points. It took some doing, but I’ve even made some level of peace with the our North American Match of the Day void.
However, for the love of all that is holy, can our friends at NBC please address the bugs in its replacement?
Peacock airs “Extended Highlights” of all those games that appeared on the paid platform — a few hours after the live action concludes. Matches are not grouped to reflect an entire day’s play, which isn’t ideal. Yet here’s the bigger problem: Each individual Extended Highlight presentation comes with the final score emblazoned in the title/headline! This I cannot abide. It ruins the experience entirely; in fact, this is the major drawback to online footy highlights generally.
My trusty YouTubeTV interface allows me to turn off all references to final scores pertaining to every sporting event I might record, across the platform. I have searched and searched the Peacock app; I have Googled this matter extensively. While there are plenty of others who have the same problem, it seems the Peacock platform does not feature this capability.
Honestly, this does not seem to me an IT problem, but rather a philosophical matter relating to presentation. Just stop putting the damned scores in clip titles/headlines, please. If anyone cares enough to run down a highlight package, deep in the bowels of Peacock’s clunky interface, surely he or she wishes to preserve the competitive drama for as long as possible, no? After all, even the most peevish literary critics don’t spoil the ending.
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