Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interactive Tuesday? No Thanks

My 1st reaction to the text crawling across the top of my TV screen last Tuesday during the Villanova-Marquette game was "Why are they covering up the action up there...and when will it stop?"

Which program is better -- Marquette in the 1970s or Villanova in 1985? Are you kidding me (apples and oranges)? Cheesesteak or Brauts? These are the questions that fans of the two terrific, guard-oriented squads, want answered in the midst of their much anticipated return match (their first tilt went down to the last 3 possessions...)? The game I was watching may well decide who gets that last double bye spot in the Big East Tournament. Tuesday's game, a tug-of-war right down to the last 2 minutes of the second half, was marred by the distraction of scrolling text and the broadcast crew's preoccupation with viewer polls. I realized a number of Vilanova fans were annoyed with ESPN's production of this game, but it was not until the folks at Cracked Sidewalks alerted me that they were going to go on record with their displeasure of the coverage, that I realized Marquette fans too found the production lacking. Dan Hanner over at Just Another Basketball Blog has also given this "innovation" a thumbs down. My own letter to ESPN's ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber...

Ms. Schreiber,

One of the things I have enjoyed about ESPN broadcasts of Big East Conference games, dating back to the early 1980s was your organization's commitment to delivering the game, complete with the play-by-play call, thoughtful commentary about the state of D1 basketball, and the conference, and solid analysis of game and why each team was winning or losing. The announcers were clearly fans who enjoyed watching the game, and who may well have bought tickets if they were not calling the play-by-play and providing color. I have favored ESPN's approach to broadcasting D1 basketball over other broadcasters, precisely because, it seemed to me, ESPN valued the viewership of the D1 fan, and shared a commitment to deliver as much of the game as possible to viewer. I watched ESPN2's February 1, 2009 broadcast of the Villanova -- Marquette game, aired at 7:30 here on the East Coast.

Please do not inflict "Interactive Tuesday" on another audience. I am a Villanova fan. I love Rollie Massimino. I do not want to see Coach Mass in a cut-away while the game is in progress. I do not think, had he known beforehand, Coach Mass would have wanted that either. Scrolling text messages across the top of the screen was annoying:

1. It took up valuable screen "real estate". Viewers are to some degree captives of the camera operator's "eye". Sometimes the viewer can catch a significant action at the edge of the screen. Cutting down on the viewable area reduces the chances of catching that peripheral, but sometimes significant action.
2. The motion of the text distracts the eye and disrupts concentration. I found myself reading an occasional message, not because I wanted to know the author's opinion, but because the scrolling motion caught my eye.

Running viewer polls during the broadcast was also distracting and annoying. I have no desire to vote in a poll during the game, nor am I interested in what other viewers think about cheesesteak or brauts, Cinderella teams or Big East POYs. I am not watching the game to learn about another viewer's opinion. I want to see the teams play. The stream of polls also forced the announcers to split their attention between calling the game and introducing polls and announcing results. While the announcers were "preparing" yet another poll the referees called a double technical. The announcing crew missed it and were clearly surprised and confused when they saw the referees signalling the call. No one manning the mikes seemed to know who the calls were against or why the calls were made. I have to believe that if they were exclusively committed to broadcasting the game they would have been able to explain the who, what, when, where and why of those technicals. My view of the game is restricted to the camera person's eye; I have to rely on those announcers to explain what happened "off camera".

Clearly conceived and implemented by those who love technology more than basketball, this is one "innovation" that should be discarded. Please use your influence to make this so. Quickly and completely.


Also annoyed by ESPN's production last Tuesday? Contact Ms. Schreiber at her feedback page and let her know how disappointed you were (be courteous please).

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