Monday, February 4, 2013

Memorable Super Bowl Plays Just OK on TV

Cameras captured every important moment of Super Bowl XLVII -- from the emotion of the coaches and players to the darkened Superdome lights during a 34-minute delay and even replays of every potentially controversial play (there was only one that was even challenged, and the decision was correct and obvious) -- but there was still something missing from the broadcast.

CBS Sports missed regularly with necessary context and, worst of all, with any sense of importance, timeliness or urgency.

As far as game broadcasts, the effort was solid. In general, that's a good thing because the broadcast did not take attention from the game itself.

Still, beyond the pictures -- and the production staff caught every important and necessary shot -- the broadcast never really reached a Super Bowl level.

In the end, sideline reporter Steve Tasker emerged as the breakout star of the game, with as-newsy-as-possible updates during the blackout. With CBS limited to just 11 of its 62 cameras during the blackout, Tasker rose to the occasion sharing what news their was about the situation and providing perspective from the field.

He shared what he knew, did not speculate and shone as a result. While other on-air types offered lame humor (said play-by-play man Jim Nantz to Phil Simms when they finally returned to air, "Let us know the next time you plan to plug in your cell phone") or sophomoric silliness (it seemed everyone wanted to talk about either BeyoncĂ© or the Ravens shutting down the power in the stadium), Tasker stood out because he did his job.

Luckily for viewers, it was Tasker and his cameraman, not Solomon Wilcots or Tracy Wolfson, who the production crew went to first and foremost. It was a good decision.

From a direction and production standpoint, the broadcast featured the just-right storytelling shots of everything from the 49ers' offensive alignment on the first play of the game (which drew a penalty) and the on-field emotions  throughout the game to players biding time during the blackout and the 49ers' final offensive play of the day (which did not draw a penalty).

In terms of content and context, Simms talked too much, and about things that did not matter or where he was just plain wrong -- and it started on that first play of the game, when the 49ers completed a big pass play but were whistled for an illegal formation.

"I saw that and said that's an illegal formation," Simms told viewers after the play. Well, if he saw it and said it, he did both to himself. Pointing it out after the fact misses the point, and saying you saw it after you never really said you saw it just compounds the problem.

That was an early example of where the Super Bowl broadcast, like so many others in sports, falters because someone (anyone please) does not encourage the on-air types to react to what viewers actually see on the screen. If they do so, it comes up late and sounds wanting.

CBS did it again when Ravens safety Ed Reed was injured. He clearly came up limping while defending a pass and the action was caught on camera, but nobody made mention of it until Reed was off the field.

Then, viewers saw him leaving the field and minutes later, Wilcots provided a no-information update that Reed had left the field and was being treated for an injury. Really? Viewers should expect more than what they already know -- and someone should help put the talent in a better position to succeed, or at least to prevent them from sharing the obvious.

For Nantz and Simms, the broadcast had a regular-season feel simply because they treated it as such. There were too many references to things "we" (that'd be Nantz and Simms) had seen earlier in the season or earlier in the playoffs, but the fact is that a normal playoff game draws some 20 million viewers and the Super Bowl 100 million. So the audience was probably unfamiliar with what they were talking about and a little more context would've helped.

Even for football-focused fans, things such as an early first-down pass to Baltimore fullback Vonta Leach seemed different on the first play from scrimmage for the Ravens, and the broadcast would've been stronger if viewers could have been told, for example, how many times Leach had caught a first-down pass this season. With just 27 receptions all season entering the game, you get a sense it was a relatively small number that could point to part of Baltimore's game plan.

Similarly, the chippy play and emotion of the game were obvious, but never referenced by Nantz and Simms or reigned in by officials ... until a skirmish led to offsetting penalties in the second quarter.

Nantz and Simms offered appropriate priase of the Ravens' offensive line and Simms was similarly spot-on about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick never throwing a pass until he sees a receiver open, as opposed to before a receiver makes his break during a pass pattern. That was good information that helped viewers, and was repeatedly obvious as the game progressed.

Still, such things were the exception rather than the rule.

Great pictures of Ravens coach John Harbaugh on the sideline with his daughters before the game and during the blackout were accompanied by ... nothing. Similarly strong shots of Harbaugh (often less emotional than his brother Jim, the 49ers' coach) ranting at an NFL official during the blackout were accompanied by ... nothing. No context in either situation. That's a mistake, in both instances.

The blackout news itself never resulted in any on-air interview or input from an NFL official. Granted, those folks were probably busy, but CBS did not press enough to make it happen ... because it never happened.

At the end, Simms bookended the broadcast with indecision -- never a good thing for an analyst. On Kaepernick's pass into the end zone, intended for Michael Crabtree, the analyst was without an opinion.

"The more angles I see the more confused I get," he said. "It's hard to throw a flag in that situation."

To his credit, Nantz correctly raised the possibility of a Ravens safety to end their subsequent possession, even though Simms dismissed the possibility of such an approach. Of course, Simms was wrong.

Super shorts
-- Kudos to CBS production types for digging up that aerial footage of the power outage that impacted the Monday night game between the 49ers and Steelers from 2011.

-- Former coach Bill Cowher was the only one member of the CBS Sports studio team picked the Ravens to win, citing, at least in part, fate, so the power outage storyline played nicely to his logic.

-- The blackout probably helped drive a record for social comments about the game. According to Blue Fin Labs, an analytics company that connects advertisers, agencies and networks to real-time audiences, the game eclipsed the record of 12.2 million social media mentions set last year.

-- The NFL should examine its approach to televising kickoffs. For years it seems, the play has been under attack by the competition committee and league to make it either more entertaining or more safe, and with a record-tying kickoff return for a touchdown in the game the play certainly has an important role. Still, the process of commercial-kickoff-commercial needs to be examined in terms of the structure of broadcasts. It's just not an approach that's friendly for viewers.

About the ads
First, some math ... Bud Light > Black Crown. But, neither equals Budweiser and the Clydesdales.

As expected, humor scored (for Doritos and Taco Bell) and emotion proved powerful late in the game, with longer-form efforts by Dodge (farmers, Paul Harvey voiceover) and Jeep (Wounded Warrior Project, Oprah) touching a chord.

Still, ads in the first half rated higher in general than those later in the game, according to USA Today's AdMeter.

And a few ads that aired just before the game (giving advertisers good exposure but not at the same expense) were entertaining. That included efforts by, Wheat Thins and Volkswagen.

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