John McEnroe and Chris Fowler call the Australian Open remotely.

The numbers of remote broadcasts today are far higher than they were five years ago, and that can lead to some issues. Remote broadcasts mean announcers are relying solely on video and audio feeds than anything they can observe from their eyes and ears. And while they come with cost savings and less travel hassles, there are dropoffs in broadcast quality, which often leads to pushback from fans (and even sometimes from the announcers) when events like ESPN’s coverage of the Australian Open wind up with a heavy remote component.

Quite an interesting part of this came on a broadcast Thursday night (in the U.S. time zones). There, analyst Darrin Cahill (there in person) relayed the court conditions to announcers Chris Fowler and John McEnroe (calling matches from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, CT). And Fowler noted that it was 35 degrees where they were rather than the up to 80 in Melbourne. That was particularly notable with it coming in juxtaposition with a graphic overlay of Fowler and McEnroe over the court on the broadcast immediately earlier:

It would seem unambiguously better for viewers to remove remote broadcasts entirely. There is no advantage for a viewing population from announcers not being there and not being able to add their own senses to what they’re describing, to say nothing of the potential further technical difficulties that seem to often pop up with remote broadcasts (understandable, considering that these involve mixing in at least a third location). The only conceivable benefit for viewers is if remote means a higher-profile announcer who couldn’t travel to something, but even there, there’s a debate about if a less-prominent in-person announcer who can use their full senses might do better. And that’s not an issue in this case, with Fowler himself being very open ahead of the tournament about his desire to be there in person.

There is an advantage to remote broadcasts for companies, though, and it’s a dollars-and-cents one. And that is not immaterial. Companies like ESPN parent corporation Disney are publicly traded, and there are some specific incentives for them to maximize the bottom line (and sometimes even the short-term bottom line; thanks, Dodge brothers.) And while complaints about broadcasts can have an impact (see the spending on Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to improve the perception of Monday Night Football, which comes with not just better reception from fans, but also perhaps better scheduling from the NFL), there’s a tradeoff there.

For any given event, networks are weighing the cost of in-person versus the backlash for remote. There absolutely can be arguments about what events are “big enough” to deserve better coverage, and there can be shifts as a result of that. (And the Australian Open certainly has a case as a “big enough” event.). But some events are definitely going to wind up with remote-only coverage unless networks’ approaches wildly shift, and that doesn’t seem too realistic given the financial pressures and shareholder demands at networks. So one big question from a consumer standpoint becomes about honesty.

The stance from this corner is that if networks are going to do remote broadcasts, that should be clearly and unambiguously revealed off the top. That gives viewers relevant information, and lets them know what the announcers are basing their calls on. And it allows for a fair level of reaction from viewers; it’s quite different to blast an announcer for thinking a fly ball is a home run if that announcer is working in person versus working remotely.

And on that front, Fowler’s repeated honesty about the remote setup, and about how it’s not what he’d prefer, is much appreciated. And he’s likely able to do that because of his ESPN tenure and stature. But even just a simple “We’re broadcasting this remotely from the studios in X…” from all announcers at the start of remote broadcasts would be appreciated. That’s likely a network policy change rather than something most announcers can do on their own, but it would still be good to see.

It’s understandable why there are some remote broadcasts, even if optimally there would be zero. And we can debate which ones should be remote or not, but a return to “zero-remote” seems unlikely. But on-air acknowledgements of remote status would go a long way. That’s being fair to both broadcasters and viewers, and sets expectations appropriately. Fowler doing that here is a benefit for viewers, and it would be great to see more of that.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.