With the formation of the International Swimming League, and their eye on major television distribution globally, the next few years in swimming will likely bring a renewed focus on session lengths. Television companies have gotten pretty good at knowing how long programming should be to satisfy their audiences without boring their audiences, and with more data they will become even better at that.
With that context, we’ve done the math on how long the sessions were at both the 2016 and 2018 World Short Course Championships. The finals numbers are the more apt comparison, because prelims length varies so dramatically based on entries – which is far more variable at Short Course Worlds than it is, say, at the Olympics or long course Worlds, and for that matter aren’t the major television draw.
For example, in 2016 there were 5 heats of men’s 1500 freestyles, while in 2018 there were only 4.
In total, the session lengths for the 2018 finals sessions were effectively the same as in 2016, with some sessions being a bit longer and others a bit shorter. It seems clear that FINA has gotten the message that 2 hours is the right length of time for a televised finals session (ISL expressed similar information from their media advisers at their summit in December). The difference with the ISL is that meets will have all events crammed into 2 days (though with no distance events and probably fewer relays).
These sessions will probably grow longer at the 2020 championships when FINA will be forced to install the men’s 800 and women’s 1500 (or otherwise contract to a single, same-distance race).
The biggest improvement year-over-year came on day 1 of the meet, where organizers managed to shave 4 minutes off the session length. Reducing a session from 120 minutes to 116 minutes may seem insignificant, but those 4 minutes can provide crucial wiggle-room for television producers.
Prelims sessions in 2018 were by-and-large much shorter, but that has as much to do as the number of splashes and heats as anything – which were way down in 2018.
Note that session times are estimated, because official results only have race start times, not race finish times. We used similar methodologies to estimate race finish times, however, so the comparisons should still be valid. We also excluded session-ending swim-offs, because they’re often done well after other racing is concluded.
Estimated Session Lengths of 2016 vs. 2018 Short Course World Championships, in Minutes
|2016 prelims||2016 finals||2018 Prelims||2018 Finals|