At the No-Logo Norway Chess Open, commentators Laurence Trent and Jan Gustaffson had plenty of time to follow their Twitter feeds, catch up on the World Cup, discuss rap music and current events, and take numerous breaks in between discussing the chess games during the six hour broadcasts...
The FIDE Rapid world championship tournament was also broadcast on Livestream and was naturally faster paced. Each round took around an hour and with five rounds a day it led to around the same six hour broadcast as Norway Chess. The commentator was GM Dmitiry Komarov who made up for his thick Russian accent with boundless enthusiasm, shouting the names of the players that were winning and showering praise over the leaders of the tournament and the winners of each round. Komarov would also give his opinions on who was better and why and did a reasonable job outlining what he thought the plans should be for each player. The glaring problem with the broadcast was that even though there were over 50 games in each round the games were followed with live cameras (instead of the moves being electronically relayed) and there were only enough cameras to focus on four boards at a time. This led to the same problems as the Norway Chess tournament broadcast – if there weren’t exciting games on the top boards there just wasn’t much for Komarov to discuss. This was highlighted in the next to last round when the first 10 minutes of the broadcast was spent watching Caruana and Levon Aronian stare at each other and Aronian continually getting up to walk around and look at the other games before the broadcast also got up to focus on Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk playing their game at the next table which was won by Carlsen around a half hour later in a less than action-packed grind it out game. Even at the relatively fast time control of a 15 minute game, there were too many dead spots in the broadcast to hold my interest for an entire round mostly because Komarov was captive to the lack of cameras and unable to focus on the most exciting game and look in on the other top boards intermittently.
In this video, two of the world's five best players (Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian) match up in the FIDE World Rapid championships. Even at a time control of 15 minutes per side (with a 10 second increment), there seemed to be so little action that the broadcast followed Aronian in watching other games.
In the top video, World Champ Magnus Carlsen takes on reigning Blitz champion Le Quang Liem of Vietnam in the FIDE World Blitz. Underneath, Carlsen takes on the top American player Hikaru Namamura (at the one minute mark). If you have just ten or so minutes you can watch either game and both could be shown in a half hour TV segment with room for plenty of commercials.
The FIDE Blitz World Championship was chess as a spectator sport and would be the perfect tournament format for television. Ten to fifteen minutes per round and five minutes for commercials would get nine rounds in a three hour time frame with minimal dead spots. A $200,000 prize fund (the Rapid championship provided another $200,000 prize fund) and $40,000 first prize attracted most of the world’s top players. If this type of tournament could be held once a month or once a week, I can’t imagine one of the many sports networks that have recently sprung up not paying a similar amount for the broadcast rights for the weekend or two three nights of programming it would provide. I'm not saying it would get the viewership of NASCAR, golf, tennis but the fast pace and increased prominence of the sport thanks to a youthful Western European champion would guarantee a sizable audience. There will always be a place for longer time controls but I expect in the near future the suitability of the blitz format for television will be discovered and that it will eventually become the new chess standard.