Technology TV

The Magic Box

Could this be the year of a magic box that simplifies the home entertainment experience?

This week saw the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where numerous companies display their wares and issue a blizzard of press releases in the hope of creating awareness for their products.

But there is a missing piece of technology that looms large over this year’s CES, mainly because it hasn’t been released yet.

What if a company could unify the TV and Internet experience for the average user?


Over the past few years the rate of technological change for the consumer has been dizzying.

Not only has there been the introduction of high-definition television but there has also been an explosion in more powerful mobile devices and applications.

However, despite the ability to time-shift and view sharper images the fundamental experience of sitting down in front of your TV and watching a film or show hasn’t actually changed that much.

You still have to juggle at least two remotes, navigate a tricky user interface and occasionally experience your box freezing as it struggles to absorb all the digital information hurled at it.

It can be hard to generalise, but let’s start from the proposition that the vast majority will some form of digital widescreen TV.

If you don’t, then it will be hard to watch anything in the UK from April as that’s when they finally switch off the analogue signal.

Then let us assume most people have some form of digital TV – be it a basic Freeview setup (one off payment for a box or PVR) or premium services like Sky (satellite), Virgin (cable) or BT (digital phone line).

Nearly all of these services have some kind of recording or on-demand capability which allows you to time shift your viewing.


But if you think the current landscape is by any means straightforward, then you should think again.

The acid test is to go to your main TV and describe the services attached to it.

When you have finished, then compare it with family or friends and you’ll not only be swapping tales of multiple remote controls and horrible user interfaces but you’ll find it hard to keep track of what everyone’s setup is.

The Economist recently quoted a Forrester Research report which found that:

…many people didn’t fully understand the devices they had bought, and only a few had recommended them to their friends

But this confusion only reflects the comparative pace of change in recent years.

Most people just want something to watch, be it regular shows, sporting events or a movie.


An added factor over the last decade is the whole business of the Internet coming into our living rooms and merging with our televisions.

This process has been gradual starting with red-button services in the late 1990s and really picking up steam in recent times with services like BBC iPlayer available online and via web-connected TVs.

As it stands, various TV manufacturers such as LG, Samsung and Sony have all tried to offer a TV that can blend the world of broadcast and the web.

So far, they haven’t really got there yet.

Partly because it is early days for truly web enabled TVs but it part of it is also down to modern remotes and user interfaces being designed for another era.

Have you ever tried to access YouTube on an LG TV? It is like learning how to type text messages in the late 1990s.

I’m betting that the same is true to a greater or lesser degree for other TVs and services.

Over the last decade a generation of TV viewers has got increasingly used to the web and since 2007 web enabled smartphones.

This brings us to the one company that could truly unite television and the web.


Over the last decade Apple revolutionised the music industry by creating the iPod and have started to make inroads on the laptop market with the iPad.

In Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs there is this revealing passage:

…he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

Since 2006 Apple have regarded their current TV efforts as basically an extension of iTunes, with digital downloads of TV shows and movies.

But broadcast TV has proved a much harder proposition.

In June 2010 Jobs gave what was to be his last in-depth interview at the D8 conference.

Right at the end of the session he was asked a fascinating question about reshaping the ‘traditional interface of television’.

Jobs replied:

The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go-to-market strategy. The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us… ask Google in a few months. The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everyone a set-top box, and that pretty much undermines innovation in the sector.

Then came the key bit:

The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it. But right now, there’s no way to do that….The TV is going to lose until there’s a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem with the industry. It’s not a problem with the technology, it’s a problem with the go-to-market strategy….I’m sure smarter people than us will figure this out, but that’s why we say Apple TV is a hobby.

This was a classic Jobs tactic of stating facts and whilst hinting at the future.

Five years previously at the D3 conference in 2005 he talked about the difficulty of getting video displays on iPods just months before Apple unveiled a (yes, you guessed it) video-enabled iPod in October of the year.

When asked at the same session about the possibility of an ‘iPod phone’ he laid out the challenges:

By January 2007 the iPhone was unveiled and effectively reshaped the mobile industry.

If you compare the challenges of Apple producing a phone in 2005 with that of making a TV in 2010 it is easy to feel a sense of deja vu.

Although a secretive company it does leak carefully selected morsels of information to favoured outlets (that was how one editor got in trouble tweeting from his iPad before the official launch).

In recent times the Wall Street Journal has become the place to watch for clues as to where Apple may be headed.

One article in December was of particular note:

Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple is also working on its own television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project.

In the recent meetings with media companies, the Apple executives, including Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, have outlined new ways Apple’s technology could recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs, people familiar with the talks said. In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users’ voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels.

This basically confirms what many technology writers had long suspected, but until Apple unveil a dedicated TV some fascinating questions remain.

What if they can truly turn apps into what are effectively TV channels?

What if iOS devices can become the remotes that don’t suck and seamlessly integrate with the (future) Apple TV?

Part of Apple’s original strategy for the iPod was to create a ‘digital hub‘ around the home computer which Jobs revealed way back in 2001:

By making the computer the hub around which they built iPods, iPhones and iPads Apple tapped right into a huge market as the halo effect of these mobile devices drove Mac sales and vice versa.

This virtuous circle is precisely what has driven Apple’s phenomenal growth over the last decade.

Although iTunes overtook Walmart as the world’s largest music retailer in 2008 (itself an incredible feat), Apple really make money on the hardware, whilst the digital music and apps are kind of the key gateway drug.

Could a TV be the final part of an overall home hub strategy?

In fact, you could argue it is the last frontier in the home just waiting to be conquered.

Imagine getting rid of all those channels you don’t ever watch and throwing away those clunky remotes.

iOS devices are effectively pre-built remotes and with Siri enabled voice commands it opens up a world of possibilities in the long term.

As for premium programming, the main drivers for pay television are movies and sport.

Apple already have plenty of films on the iTunes store and via apps like Netflix and Lovefilm.

When it comes to the major studios Disney have already put their chips firmly with iTunes, whilst their rivals (Sony, Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount) have signed up to UltraViolet, which is essentially a digital locker strategy.

Apple are rumoured to be working on a similar service for films, which will almost certainly involve iCloud.

Sports is potentially a much trickier area – and it is not clear whether Apple would want to even go there – but it could be a possibility if you extended the ‘app as channel’ model a bit further.

Imagine if the MLB, the NFL or even the Premier League wanted to make a deal with Apple for an exclusive deal to broadcast their games.

It would be a great way of driving sales of the new Apple TV.

The WSJ story highlights the difficult dilemmas traditional TV organisations face:

The pace of change puts media companies that make TV shows and program TV channels in a dilemma. On one hand, they hope that they can increase their profits by selling new services on new devices. But they are worried that a proliferation of new services could undermine the existing TV business, which brings in more than $150 billion a year in the U.S. in advertising and consumer spending on monthly TV subscriptions from cable, satellite and telecommunications companies.

Could 2012 see Apple provide the elusive magic box and disrupt the TV business like they did to the music industry?

> WSJ on Apple’s TV plans
> CNET on the Apple TV
> More on Apple TV at Wikipedia


Films on TV over Christmas 2011

Here are my TV film picks for the festive period if you want to plan ahead and set the DVR or catchup on BBC iPlayer.

A few quick observations:

If you want to discuss any of the films below on Twitter my username is @filmdetail

Thursday 22nd December

Friday 23rd December

  • LOCAL HERO (1983) is on Film4 at 3.20pm
  • EYES WIDE SHUT (1999) is on ITV1 at 10.50pm
  • FIGHT CLUB (1999) is on Film4 at 11pm

Saturday 24th December

Sunday 25th December

  • BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) is on Film4 at 1.10pm
  • SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) is on More4 at 3.05pm
  • MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947) is on Film4 at 3.20pm
  • RATATOUILLE (2007) is on BBC1 at 4.50pm
  • EL CID (1961) is BBC4 at 7pm
  • Monday 26th September

    Tuesday 27th December

    Wednesday 28th December

    Thursday 29th December

    Friday 30th December


    Films on TV over Christmas 2010

    Here are my TV film picks for the festive season if you want to plan ahead and programme the DVR.







    • Suspicion (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1941) 11.30am, BBC2
    • Stand By Me (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1986) 1.30pm, Fiver
    • Cars (Dir. John Lasseter, 2006) 3.05pm, BBC1
    • Hero (Dir. Zhang Yimou, 2004) 12.55am, C4
    • Dead Calm (Dir. Philip Noyce, 1989) 1.40am, ITV1




    • The Incredibles (Dir. Brad Bird, 2004) 3.25pm, BBC1
    • Big (Dir. Penny Marshall, 1988) 7pm, Film4
    • Volver (Dir. Pedro Almodovar, 2006) 11.35pm, More4


    • E.T. (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1982) 2.40pm, ITV1
    • Juno (Dir. Jason Reitman, 2007) 9pm, Film4


    • Gomorrah (Dir. Matteo Garrone, 2008) 10pm, BBC4



    • Casablanca (Dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942) 4.50pm, Film4
    Thoughts TV

    The Curse of ITV


    For most football fans their collective memory of a World Cup comes from the television coverage, but after two mysteriously poor displays in South Africa, some fans are asking whether ITV are cursed when it comes to screening England games.

    The channel attracted criticism after two high profile blunders in the current tournament. The network inexplicably missed England’s opening goal of the tournament against the USA on their HD channel.

    This was followed by the dismissal of their pundit Robbie Earle after a bizarre episode in which tickets in his name somehow ended up in the hands of Dutch women engaging in an ambush marketing stunt.

    These gaffes come after a series of highly embarrassing and costly mistakes over the past 2 years: Everton’s winning goal against Liverpool in a live FA Cup replay in 2009 was ruined by a rogue Tic-Tac advert; a high profile Nike World Cup advert was cut short during the Champions League final last month and an expensive Adidas advert was also the victim of technical problems.

    A quick online search on Google or Twitter (try entering ‘ITV England curse’) reveals a superstition amongst some England fans that ITV are a jinx on the national side during a World Cup.

    On paper this is ridiculous. I’m sure Fabio Capello and previous England managers didn’t structure their team talks around which channel was showing the match.

    It would seem tactics, fitness and players hitting form at the right time would play a much more important role in a team’s success at a major international football tournament.

    However, given the role that chance undoubtedly plays in football, it can be a game that inspires some remarkably superstitious behaviour:

    • As a striker Gary Lineker never shot at goal during the warm up, whilst as a presenter he has to say “Is this for real?” before every Match of the Day.
    • French defender Lauren Blanc regularly kissed the bald head of goalkeeper Fabien Barthez before games at France 1998
    • Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea allegedly urinated before facing penalty shootouts (“It was my lucky charm …I was very subtle, nobody complained”)
    • England defender John Terry has confessed to having ‘around 50’ superstitions, one of which involves an Usher CD (and no, I’m not going to make any cheap Wayne Bridge gags)

    At the 2006 World Cup, Noel Gallagher became a lucky mascot for Allessandro Del Piero. After the Oasis star witnessed Italy’s semi-final victory over Germany, the Italian forward forced his friend to wear exactly the same clothes for the final in Berlin. They not only won, but did so in a penalty shoot-out, which is rare for Italy.

    It seems understandable that players like to relieve pre-game tension with a ritual or charm.

    For fans watching on TV, who have no control over the game, superstition arguably performs a similar function in reducing stress and creating an illusion of optimism that things will somehow turn out for the best.

    But how does the idea of a particular TV channel being a jinx on the England team actually stack up to the evidence?

    Do England perform better at a World Cup when the game is live on the BBC? Or is this just an urban myth that has arisen around which coverage we prefer?

    Looking at the historical data of which channel covered England games doesn’t really reveal any scientific truths, after all an ‘ITV jinx’ isn’t really Newtonian physics.

    But it does uncover some interesting factors which may explain why such an idea has taken root.

    If you look closely at every World Cup where the BBC and ITV have covered England games, certain patterns and motifs do emerge.

    Below is an analysis of every tournament where the the two broadcasters have covered England, with the following ground rules:

    • Each broadcaster gets 3 points for an England win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss.
    • Games decided on penalties are treated as straight victories or defeats.
    • ITV didn’t exist until 1955 so the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland is not counted.
    • The 1962 World Cup in Chile poses a particular dilemma because satellite transmission was still in its infancy, meaning there was no live TV coverage in the UK. However, the BBC did broadcast the games on a two day delay, which in theory ITV could also have done. Therefore, the tournament is counted towards the overall score.
    • The current World Cup isn’t counted until it is over (which if things don’t go as planned, could be Wednesday night)

    So, are ITV really cursed when it comes to England?

    SWEDEN 1958

    When it comes to live international football, the BBC had already established itself as a World Cup broadcaster at the 1954 tournament in Switzerland.

    So when ITV was launched in 1955 it was already playing catch up when they covered their first tournament in Sweden during 1958.

    Despite being in its infancy, the newly formed commercial network covered the same number of games as the BBC, which were the 0-0 draw with Brazil and the 1-0 defeat to the USSR.

    This was also the beginning of a long trend which saw the rival broadcasters cover the same matches, something that became more common in years to come.

    But perhaps at this early stage of World Cup coverage, the BBC was deemed the more authoritative voice due to the fact that they were the older broadcaster who had formed a special niche in British cultural life since their birth in the 1920s.

    England’s Results
    • Brazil 0 England 0 / Wednesday 11 June 1958 / Nya Ullevi Stadion, Göteborg / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Peter Lloyd and Gerry Loftus
    • U.S.S.R. 1 England 0 / Tuesday 17 June 1958 / Nya Ullevi Stadion, Göteborg / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Peter Lloyd and Gerry Loftus
    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 1 / ITV 1

    CHILE 1962

    1962 in Chile presented major logistical problems for TV channels in the UK, as satellite coverage was still in its infancy and pictures couldn’t be beamed back live from South America.

    BBC Radio covered England’s matches whilst the filmed footage had to be shipped back to the UK and edited before being broadcast in delay two days later.

    England’s group games included a 2-1 defeat to Hungary, a 3-1 win over Argentina and 0-0 draw with Bulgaria, before ending with a 3-1 quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Brazil.

    But ITV’s decision to not to cover the tournament at all gave the BBC a valuable opportunity to establish itself as the broadcaster to turn to when England were playing in a foreign tournament.

    David Coleman’s spirited rant whilst introducing the infamous ‘Battle of Santiago’ between Chile and Italy was also a classic World Cup moment cementing him as a voice we forever associate with this era.

    England’s Results

    • Hungary 2 England 1 / Thursday 31 May 1962 / Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua / BBC Delayed Coverage – Kenneth Wolstenholme
    • England 3 Argentina 1 / Saturday 2 June 1962 / Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua / BBC Highlights – Kenneth Wolstenholme
    • England 0 Bulgaria 0 / Thursday 7 June 1962 / Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua / BBC Delayed Coverage – Kenneth Wolstenholme
    • Brazil 3 England 1 / Sunday 10th June 1962 / Estadio Sausalito, Viña del Mar / BBC Highlights – Kenneth Wolstenholme

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 4 / ITV 0

    ENGLAND 1966

    England’s most successful tournament was in 1966 when the nation triumphed on home soil.

    From a broadcasting perspective BBC and ITV covered all the England matches live, so logic would dictate that their coverage would judged equally. But football and logic don’t always make for natural bedfellows.

    Ask any England fan what they remember about the final against Germany and one famous phrase sticks out.

    As Geoff Hurst blasted in England’s fourth goal in a 4-2 win, the words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme became legendary:

    They think it’s all over …it is now!

    If you ask fans who was commentating for ITV that day you are probably likely to get a puzzled look (it was Hugh Johns).

    England’s most famous sporting triumph was indelibly associated with a BBC voice.

    England’s Results

    • England 0 Uruguay 0 / Monday 11 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • England 2 Mexico 0 / Saturday 16 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • France 0 England 2 / Wednesday 20 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen (all except first half-hour)
    • England 1 Argentina 0 / Saturday 23 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme and Jimmy Hill / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • England 2 Portugal 0 / Tuesday 26 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme and Walley Barnes / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen
    • England 4 West Germany 2 / Saturday 30 July 1966 / Empire Stadium, Wembley, London / BBC – Kenneth Wolstenholme and Walley Barnes / ITV – Hugh Johns and Dave Bowen

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 16 / ITV 16

    MEXICO 1970

    1970 in Mexico saw the first World Cup in colour television and both broadcasters covered an equal number of matches, although they decided to split some games for the group phase.

    The BBC opted to show the 1-0 win over Romania, both channels showed the 1-0 defeat against Brazil and ITV went with the final group game against Czechoslovakia, which England won 1-0.

    The fateful 3-2 defeat against West Germany in the quarter-finals was on the BBC, but two interesting trends had now emerged.

    It was the beginning of both channels opting to show some games exclusively and others ‘together’. But it was also a further reminder of how culturally resonant BBC commentators had become.

    Ask any armchair England fans which TV voices they remember from this World Cup and they’ll probably think of David Coleman (“Pele! Jairzinho! There it is!”) and Kenneth Wolstenholme (“That was sheer, delightful football!”) waxing lyrical about the Brazilians on the BBC.


    • England 1 Romania 0 / Tuesday 2 June 1970 / Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara / BBC – David Coleman and Don Revie
    • Brazil 1 England 0 / Sunday 7 June 1970 / Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara / BBC – David Coleman and Don Revie / ITV – Hugh Johns and Billy Wright
    • Czechoslovakia 0 England 1 / Thursday 11 June 1970 / Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara / ITV – Hugh Johns and Billy Wright
    • West Germany 3 England 2 / Sunday 14 June 1970 / Estado de Guanajuato, León / BBC – David Coleman, Don Revie and Joe Mercer

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 3 / ITV 3


    That era of England winning and reaching the latter stages of a World Cup would take on an extra nostalgic glow as they failed to qualify for the tournaments in 1974 and 1978.

    But in the absence of reaching those finals in Germany and Argentina, some infamous qualifying games took on a new significance.

    In particular, the clash with Poland at Wembley in 1973 was a horror show.

    England needed a win to qualify but a major goalkeeping error from Peter Shilton and an inspirational performance from his Polish counterpart Jan Tomaszewski (who Brian Clough dubbed a “clown”) meant that a 1-1 draw was not good enough.

    It was an iconic defeat marking the end of an era.

    Alf Ramsay resigned and England were not to reach another World Cup until 1982. How could we win a World Cup if would couldn’t even reach one? England’s self image was forever tarnished.

    But significantly for ITV, they covered the game exclusively live. Was the channel tainted by this disastrous result? Did England fans subconsciously link them with a painful defeat?

    In the qualifiers for 1978, ITV repeated the same ‘trick’ by covering a crucial qualifier.

    This time it was with group rivals Italy and although England actually won 2-0 at Wembley, they eventually failed to qualify on goal difference. Again, were ITV unfairly linked with the dark days of England’s football in the 1970s?

    SPAIN 1982

    When England finally did return to World Cup action in the 1982 tournament in Spain, the template for modern TV coverage was set.

    The opening qualifiers alternated between the two channels, with the BBC covering England’s 3-1 over France, whilst ITV opted for the 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia and the 1-0 win over Kuwait.

    The second group stage (which would see the winners progress to the semi-finals) saw the BBC cover the 0-0 draw with West Germany whilst ITV chose the 0-0 draw with Spain, which ultimately wasn’t good enough for England to progress.

    Due to the nature of the group system that year (which was replaced to the present format in 1986) England somehow managed to exit the tournament despite not losing a game and only conceding 1 goal.

    ITV covered more England wins in the tournament than the BBC, but had the misfortune to cover the frustrating final game, the 0-0 draw with Spain they had to win in order to progress.

    Kevin Keegan missed an easy header in the dying minutes and it was symbolic of modern English frustrations at a World Cup. Good, but not good enough.

    Was ITV becoming associated with England’s failure? Were they now becoming the ‘England’ of football channels?

    England’s Results

    • England 3 France 1 / Wednesday 16 June 1982 / Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao / BBC – John Motson and Jimmy Hill
    • England 2 Czechoslovakia 0 / Sunday 20 June 1982 / Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao / ITV – Martin Tyler and Jack Charlton
    • England 1 Kuwait 0 / Friday 25 June 1982 / Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao / ITV – Martin Tyler and Jack Charlton
    • England 0 West Germany 0 / Tuesday 29 June 1982 / El Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid / BBC – Barry Davies and Jimmy Hill
    • England 0 Spain 0 / Monday 5 July 1982 / El Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid / ITV – Martin Tyler and Jack Charlton

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC  4 / ITV  7

    MEXICO 1986

    Mexico in 1986 was a tournament that started off disastrously in the group stages. The BBC covered the opening 1-0 defeat to Portugal, ITV broadcast the dismal 0-0 draw with Morocco and the action returned to the BBC for a crucial 3-0 win over Poland.

    As the tournament entered the knockout phase, both channels covered the key England games.

    This was a trend that continued up until the 1998 World Cup and the logic was fairly simple: England could go out and both channels (this being an era when there was literally only four to watch) wanted as bigger a slice of the audience as possible.

    The 3-0 win over Paraguay in the Second Round was followed by the 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Argentina, in which Maradona’s infamous hand of God goal was followed by one of sublime genius.

    But for this tournament, it seemed pretty even as far as the broadcasters were concerned and it seems hard to recall anyone at the time referring to ITV bringing bad luck to England.

    However, there still persists a strange theory that ITV somehow jinx those games also covered by the BBC.

    England’s Results

    • Portugal 1 England 0 / Tuesday 3 June 1986 / Estadio Tecnológico, Monterrey / BBC – John Motson and Jimmy Hill
    • England 0 Morocco 0 / Friday 6 June 1986 / Estadio Tecnológico, Monterrey / ITV – Martin Tyler and David Pleat
    • England 3 Poland 0 / Wednesday 11 June 1986 / Estadio Universitário de Nuevo León, Monterrey / BBC – Barry Davies and Jimmy Hill
    • England 3 Paraguay 0 / Wednesday 18 June 1986 / Estadio Azteca, Santa Úrsula, ciudad de México / BBC – John Motson and Jimmy Hill / ITV – Martin Tyler and David Pleat
    • Argentina 2 England 1 / Sunday 22 June 1986 / Estadio Azteca, Santa Úrsula, ciudad de México / BBC – Barry Davies and Jimmy Hill / ITV – Martin Tyler and David Pleat

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 6 / ITV 4

    ITALY 1990

    With the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the two rivals fell in to the familiar pattern of alternating the group matches and simultaneously covering the knockout phase.

    This tournament lives long in the memory for a generation of English football fans.

    Reaching the semi-final was the best England had achieved since 1966 (and still is). The popularity of Paul Gascoigne foreshadowed the rise of the celebrity footballer.

    Most significantly, a much needed optimism driven by success in the tournament helped English clubs back into European competitions after the ban following the Heysel disaster.

    But after only just qualifying for the tournament with a 1-1 draw away to Poland, it is easy to forget the uproar that greeted England’s opening group game against Ireland in Cagliari.

    The 1-1 draw was a dire match made worse by the long ball football favoured by the Irish under Jack Charlton. The channel that showed this infamous game? Step forward, ITV.

    In contrast the BBC showed the next group clash with Holland, a much improved performance despite being a 0-0 draw, and the following 1-0 victory with Egypt.

    For the knockout stages both channels opted to show England live, which covered the clashes with Belgium, Cameroon, West Germany and the 3/4th place playoff with Italy.

    Most importantly, football hit a wider cultural nerve and a new generation of fans were hooked. These included the people who would pay monthly to see football on Sky and help kick start a boom which saw the creation of Premier League in 1992.

    An unprecedented amount of money and overseas talent poured into the top-flight of the English game, although the long term effect on the national side was debatable.

    England’s Results

    • England 1 Republic of Ireland 1 / Monday 11 June 1990 / Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Sardinia / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • Netherlands 0 England 0 / Saturday 16 June 1990 / Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Sardinia / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • England 1 Egypt 0 / Thursday 21 June 1990 / Stadio Comunale Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Sardinia / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking
    • England 1 Belgium 0 / Tuesday 26 June 1990 / Stadio Renato Dall’ Ara, Bologna / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • Cameroon 2 England 3 / Sunday 1 July 1990 / Stadio San Paolo, Fuorigrotta, Napoli / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • West Germany 1 England 1 [4-3 on pens] / Wednesday 4 July 1990 / Stadio delle Alpi, Torino / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson
    • Italy 2 England 1 / Saturday 7 July 1990 Stadio San Nicola, Bari / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Brian Moore and Ron Atkinson

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 10 / ITV 7


    DO I NOT LIKE USA 1994

    Interestingly, the domestic success of the Premier League in the 1990s was not reflected at international level.

    After a woeful European Championships in 1992 (which saw manager Graham Taylor depicted as a turnip after losing to the Swedes) England somehow failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

    After a stuttering qualifying campaign that saw them lose to Norway, they faced Holland in a crucial deciding qualifier in Rotterdam in October 1993.

    A 2-0 defeat effectively saw them miss out on qualification. It was the most infamous England game since 1973 and, just like that Poland match, ITV showed it exclusively live.

    A behind-the-scenes Channel 4 documentary (originally commissioned to show England’s glorious route to the World Cup) captured Taylor in full meltdown and gave birth to his famous catchphrase “Do I not like that!“.

    Although the BBC would show some poor England performances, it seemed ITV were developing an unfortunate habit for capturing the high profile stinkers.

    The 1996 European championships in England, which saw the host nation nearly reach the final, was a further boost to the popularity of the game and expectation was sky high for the next World Cup.

    FRANCE 1998

    When England arrived in France for the 1998 tournament the modern media template was in full swing.

    Pre-tournament crisis (manager Glen Hoddle dropping Paul Gascoigne from the final squad) was followed by ridiculously high expectations and massive media coverage.

    Since Euro 96, each successive tournament featuring the national side seems to grow exponentially in terms of hype and it is easy to forget now (post-2002 and 2006) what a frenzy there was surrounding England’s first World Cup since Italia 90.

    As far as TV coverage was concerned, there was now a regular pattern as to how the broadcasters divided up the games.

    They would alternate until England reached the quarter or semi-final stage and from then on both would show the games live (how optimistic that sounds now!).

    The BBC opted for the opening group game against Tunisia. Anchor Des Lynam slyly greeted the afternoon weekday audience with the line “shouldn’t you be at work?”, before England won 2-0.

    ITV had opted for the second group game against Romania, presumably because the evening kick off time meant a prime time audience. Bad choice as it turned out, as England not only lost 2-1 but did so with a particularly painful stoppage time goal which came minutes after a dramatic equaliser from newcomer Michael Owen.

    Needing a win against Columbia in their final group game to go through, it seemed inevitable that the BBC would cover the 2-0 win over Columbia. Failure to win the group pitted them in the tough half of the draw and they lost on penalties to Argentina after drawing 2-2 in extra time.

    The game was on ITV and was for several years the largest audience in the channel’s history. But despite being a ratings success with around 25 million viewers tuning in, it is my theory that this tournament was where the notion of an ITV curse began to form.

    Quite simply, there were four England games in total. When they played on the BBC, they won. When they played on ITV, they lost. As the first World Cup since Italia 90, directly following the success of Euro 96, this was a tournament firmly in the glare of modern media overload.

    A consequence of these was that key defeats became associated with ITV. Unfair? Irrational? Yes, clearly it is both unless someone uncovers evidence that sinister ITV operatives somehow bribed referees and drugged England players before games.

    England’s exit in this World Cup was only the second time they went out on penalties. Unfortunately for ITV, commentator Brian Moore provided a bizarre flourish to their exit.

    As David Batty ran up to take the fateful penalty in the shootout Moore inexplicably asked co-commentator Kevin Keegan if he was going to score. Keegan was in an impossible situation.

    If he had said no then he would be ‘blamed’ for the miss, but if Batty missed he would look stupid. Within a second it was the latter, but this bizarre ITV moment seemed to sum up England’s recent World Cup adventures: excitement, expectation and disappointment.

    Another factor that may have given rise to superstitions during this period was when manager Glen Hoddle recruited a faith healer as part of the England coaching staff. Whether it had an effect on ITV’s luck is unproven.

    England’s Results

    • England 2 Tunisia 0 / Monday 15 June 1998 / Le Stade Vélodrome, Marseille / BBC – Barry Davies and Trevor Brooking
    • Romania 2 England 1 / Monday 22 June 1998 / Stade Municipal, Toulouse / ITV – Brian Moore and Kevin Keegan
    • England 2 Colombia 0 / Friday 26 June 1998 / Stade Félix-Bollaert, Lens BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • Argentina 2 England 2 [4-3 on pens] / Tuesday 30 June 1998 / Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne / ITV – Brian Moore and Kevin Keegan /

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 6 / ITV 0

    KOREA/JAPAN 2002

    But by the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan, there was a sense of déjà vu.

    The rollercoaster qualifying campaign saw the resignation of Kevin Keegan, the recruitment of the first ever foreign manager (Sven Goran Eriksson), a 5-1 win away to Germany and a last-minute qualification goal against Greece.

    Unluckily for ITV, the early kick off times (due to the Asian time zone) meant there was no prime time clashes, with games coming on at breakfast or lunchtime.

    A particularly strange ITV moment happened when they covered the opening game of the tournament between France and Senegal. Anchor Des Lynam (a high-profile defector from the BBC) asked pundit Paul Gascoigne what he knew about the African side. Gazza simply answered: “Nothing”.

    Their bad luck continued as they covered the disappointing opening 1-1 draw with Sweden, whilst the BBC broadcast the victorious 1-0 win over tournament favourites Argentina and the decisive 0-0 clash with Nigeria that saw them progress.

    Possibly because the kick off times in this tournament were much earlier than ITV would have liked, they opted to screen the England’s knockout games with Denmark (3-0 win) and Brazil (a 2-1 defeat) alongside the BBC.

    But when they go head to head with the BBC in these matches, ITV always get a smaller share of the audience.

    Is this because audiences want uninterrupted coverage with no adverts? Better commentary? Or do some people really believe in that curse?

    England’s Results

    • England 1 Sweden 1 / Sunday 2 June 2002 / Saitama Sutajiamu Niimarumarunii, Saitama-shi / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson
    • Argentina 0 England 1 / Friday 7 June 2002 / Sapporo Dōmu, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo-shi / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • Nigeria 0 England 0 / Wednesday 12 June 2002 / Ōsaka-shi Nagai Rikujō Kyōgijō, Ōsaka-shi / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking
    • Denmark 0 England 3 / Saturday 15 June 2002 / Niigata Sutajiamu, Niigata-shi / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson
    • England 1 Brazil 2 / Friday 21 June 2002 / Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Fukuroi city / BBC – John Motson and Trevor Brooking / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 7 / ITV 4

    GERMANY 2006

    By 2006, the tournament in Germany reached new levels of hype.

    ITV were salivating at the prospect of European kick off times and huge-ratings in an era when multi-channel TV has eaten away at large single audience shares for major channels.

    With the England squad featuring its supposed ‘golden generation’, the hype for the tournament was so great that one news channel even provided live coverage of England’s coach driving off to the airport.

    The BBC had the uninspiring opening match with Paraguay, which saw England win 1-0.

    ITV then had the misfortune to cover another World Cup clash where England were truly dire as they laboured to a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

    Things improved slightly for their coverage of the 2-2 draw with Sweden and a massive audience of 21 million tuned in.

    For the knockout phase the BBC covered the tedious 1-0 win over Ecuador, whilst both channels covered the exit on penalties to Portugal after a 0-0 draw.

    I find it odd to think that this was a particularly ‘cursed’ World Cup for ITV as England played just as badly on the BBC.

    However, the superstitious may point out that Michael Owen’s tournament-ending knee injury occurred within 30 seconds of the kick off against Sweden on ITV.

    With Rooney coming back from injury, the two strikers only played alongside each other for 30 seconds during the entire competition.

    England’s Results

    • England 1 Paraguay 0 / Saturday 10 June 2006 / Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen / BBC – John Motson and Mark Lawrenson
    • England 2 Trinidad and Tobago 0 / Thursday 15 June 2006 / easyCredit-Stadion, Nürnberg, Bayern / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Gareth Southgate
    • Sweden 2 England 2 / Tuesday 20 June 2006 / Rhein-Energie-Stadion, Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Gareth Southgate /
    • England 1 Ecuador 0 / Sunday 25 June 2006 / Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg / BBC – John Motson and Mark Lawrenson
    • England 0 Portugal 0 [1-3 on pens] / Saturday 1 July 2006 / Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Nordrhein-Westfalen / BBC – John Motson and Mark Lawrenson / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Gareth Southgate

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 6 / ITV 4


    [Click here for a larger version of the above image]

    So, it would seem that England have done better at World Cups when the BBC cover the games.

    Even if you discount the 1962 tournament which ITV didn’t cover, the Beeb still comes out on top.

    Does this mean ITV are cursed?

    I think the notion is a fairly recent one and any kind of conclusion as to why this superstition has grown needs to be placed in some kind of context.


    The modern World Cup for England works like this. First there is the hype. Then there is some bad luck. And finally there is elimination due to a bogeyman or scapegoat, sometimes both.

    The massive hype across all media usually features references to 1966 and the assertion that England are going to win the tournament, despite history and statistics suggesting otherwise.

    The bad luck often features injuries to key players before or during the tournament, such as David Beckham in 2002, Wayne Rooney in 2006 and Rio Ferdinand in 2010.

    There is also a likely clash with a former wartime enemy. Germany (1966, 1979, 1982 and 1990) or Argentina (1986, 1998 and 2002) often fit the bill and this year we have already had USA playing the role.

    For good measure, the eventual elimination on penalties is usually blamed on a scapegoat. This can be a dodgy referee, a hapless player or a cheat.

    ITV have been caught up in this modern madness that surrounds England at World Cups.

    Although it represents the rare commercial opportunity of guaranteed ratings (especially if England do well), we also shouldn’t underestimate one of the main reasons the British public love the BBC: the lack of adverts.

    The commercial nature of ITV also means its coverage of a tournament is filled with hype and over-optimism, which possibly feels worse when England go out.

    Added to this are some truly infamous qualifying defeats (Poland in 1973 and Holland in 1993) broadcast exclusively live on ITV.

    Most people probably have forgotten this, but it may linger in the collective subconscious of England fans and provides ammunition for irrational thinking.

    The years when they covered the Premier League (2001-2004) also loom large when a failed 7pm timeslot and ill-advised touches such as the ‘tactics truck’ made BBC’s Match of the Day seem the proper home for football highlights. Ron Atkinson’s racist outburst against Marcel Desailly after a Champions League tie in 2003 further tarnished the channel’s image.

    On top of this, there is the logic that our national broadcaster should cover our national team. The fact that BBC always beat ITV by a large margin in the ratings when they both show England games would seem to suggest this, as there isn’t much to separate them on a purely technical level.

    Even England’s greatest victory of recent years was a perceived blunder for ITV. The 4-1 qualifier win away to Croatia was live on Setanta and haggling over the highlights package meant that ITV didn’t screen them until the following night, which in the year 2008 meant everybody had already seen them on YouTube.

    The BBC are in an interesting position: if England go through after playing Slovenia on Wednesday (the full permutations are here), then the myth will grow that they are England’s lucky channel, even though England haven’t yet lost on ITV in this World Cup.

    Is this all fair? No, clearly it isn’t. Like certain aspects of football, the perception that ITV’s coverage is a jinx on the England team is riddled with illogical thinking and superstition. But football is a superstitious game.

    Why blame our grass roots infrastructure, our delusions of grandeur, our short-term strategies for the national team and our underperforming players when we can simply say that ITV brings us bad luck?

    * UPDATE 20/06/10*


    Since originally posting this, England’s campaign in South Africa has ended after a disastrous 4-1 defeat to Germany in the Second Round.

    On reflection, the tournament fitted the usual pattern of excessive hype followed by massive deflation.

    The old cliché of losing to a wartime enemy was fulfilled by Germany and references to the past were abundant as Frank Lampard had a perfectly good goal disallowed at 2-1, in what seemed to be some kind of cosmic revenge for the decisive goal in the 1966 final.

    But what made the end of this campaign interesting was that there was no easy scapegoat, as the manner and scale of the defeat was so crushing.

    Obviously the main villain would appear to be Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistants Mauricio Espinosa and Pablo Fandino, as even FIFA have since apologised for the now infamous decision.

    However, this was England’s worst ever defeat at a World Cup and the woeful manner in which England were outfought and outclassed has seen blame spread amongst various scapegoats: manager Fabio Capello, the squad, the FA, the Premier League and even the footballing culture in England.

    But how did ITV fare against the BBC? Like 1998, England only played four games and they were split evenly amongst the two broadcasters.

    The first two games were on ITV and they were unlucky enough to capture two poor performances (the Algeria one was a particular stinker), whilst the BBC screened the crucial win against Slovenia.

    Although both channels will be disappointed at England’s exit, ITV may be secretly relieved that the German defeat was screened exclusively on BBC.

    The ‘curse of ITV’ would have gone into overdrive if the commercial channel had screened the match.

    But my guess is that this superstition will still be around the next time England play in an international tournament.

    Why? A superstition is easier to understand than the very deep problems that afflict England at international level.

    England’s Results

    • England 1 USA 1 / Saturday 12 June 2010 / Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg / ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend
    • England 0 Algeria 0 / Friday 18 June 2010 / Green Point Stadium, Cape Town ITV – Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend
    • Slovenia 0 England 1 / Wednesday 23 June 2010 / Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth / BBC – Guy Mowbray and Mark Lawrenson
    • Germany 4 England 1 / Sunday 27 June 2010 – / Free State Stadium, Manguang/Bloemfontein / BBC – Guy Mowbray and Mark Lawrenson

    Channel Head-to-Head: BBC 4 / ITV 2

    * UPDATED OVERALL SCORE 1958-2010: BBC 67 / ITV 48 *



    Films on TV over Christmas

    Christmas TV Film Guide

    * UPDATE: For a list of films on TV over Christmas 2010 click here *

    There are a lot of films on TV over Christmas, so if you are in the UK and plan to eat, drink and watch a few over the festive period, here are my picks.







    • Gilda (1946) 02.10am, BBC2








    *Don’t forget to check out details about the Orson Welles season *