Future of Sports television

I don’t have cable and it’s not really a big deal because most networks stream their shows online or they’re on Hulu or in some cases I’ll (I guess illegally) download them in torrent form to watch.  I don’t miss the annoying commercials, the aimless channel surfing, 500 channels with nothing to watch, local news or even nightly national news.

But there are a few things I hate about not having cable, or television for that matter.  I hate not being able to watch timely programs like The Daily Show or Colbert, I hate that I’m always late to the internet watercooler when it comes to zeitgeist shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica or Mad Men, but more than anything else I hate that I can’t watch sports.

When I want to watch the Red Sox I have to find a bar showing the game here in Portland, same with the Patriots on Sunday or when the Celtics when sweating it out in the playoffs last spring.

NBC has been putting their Sunday Night Football game online with five different camera angles.  I’ve watched it twice now for the Patriots, including last Sunday.  I like it, though if it streamed more smoothly I’d like it even more (seriously the test pattern and bleed your ears tone when the video was buffering?  Seriously that’s the best you can come up with?).

I like that you have access to the broadcast feed, with the commentators (TBS and MLB streamed the playoffs online with no sounds and this was not the future of online sports broadcasting), and that there are several other options to watch.  Among them are the endzone camera and the star camera, which follows a specific player for the duration of the game.

Slate agrees and loves the different angles.

An inventory of the camera angles: First is the high end-zone cam, which is essentially the same as the coaches’ film—formation junkies, this one’s for you. While you can’t see the receivers flanked wide or the corners who are covering them at the snap, the rest of the players are visible. If you want to know what the QB is seeing when he breaks the huddle—is the safety in the box? is a blitz coming? should I shift the play to the strong side to take advantage of the defensive personnel?—plan on spending some time with this angle. I viewed almost the entire first quarter of the first game I watched online (Steelers at Browns) from this vantage.

The low-angle sideline cam is akin to standing on the bench during the game—great for watching sweeps in the direction of the camera and for judging whether the ball carrier broke the plane of the end zone. Otherwise, it’s like getting a sideline pass without getting to stand next to all the players. You miss most of the action, and you don’t get any free Gatorade.

The “Star” cam isolates on one player from each team—or, in the case of the Tampa-Seattle game, five different players. Other “stars” have included Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward and safety Troy Polamalu, Jacksonville QB David Gerrard, and Cleveland wideout Braylon Edwards. For quarterbacks, this feature is a bit redundant—the camera’s always on the guy with the ball—but it’s fantastic for the other positions. Watching Polamalu fly around the field at full speed on every play is fantastic, and not just because his jouncing hair is hypnotic. Few athletes play with Polamalu’s reckless abandon, and it’s thrilling to try to forecast collisions by watching him bounce around the iso cam.

The Star cam works even better for receivers. After watching Ward and Edwards for three straight hours, I now understand why so many wide receivers are narcissistic—their job is to run one wind sprint after another with only the occasional ball thrown their way to break up the track workout. Even Ward, by consensus the most team-first, blocking-happy wideout in the league (although we cognoscenti also know him as a dirty player), could be seen remonstrating angrily that he was open, breaking off routes halfheartedly, and, when teammate Nate Washington scored on a pass play against the Jaguars, cutting directly to the bench rather than joining his buddy for a little celebration. Mostly, he just ran, ran, ran.

The author of the piece doesn’t feel like this online experiment by NBC will replace actual broadcast anytime soon, and it never will.  Sports aren’t meant to be watched on a tiny 15 inch monitor, but at some point the internet is going to replace cable and when that happens the networks broadcasting sports better have a plan in place and NBC is ahead of their pack with the (mostly) successful Sunday Night Football experiment.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jacket March 16, 2009, 8:04 am

    Great post, thanks for the info