Friday, January 30, 2015

Simplicity should be key for NBC at Super Bowl

It’s the big game, but if NBC Sports wants to deliver on its coverage of the Super Bowl it needs to treat it as just another game -- albeit one that also ranks as the most-viewed television event of the year and one that requires the broadcast team to not miss a moment of the action.

That’s a delicate balance and a lot of pressure and responsibility, but it can be done.

Thankfully for viewers, NBC clearly has a team capable of making it work. From the on-air team (Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, Michelle Tafoya) to the producer and director (Fred Gaudelli and Drew Esocoff, respectively), NBC’s team has an important mix of experience and talent -- perhaps the best in the business.

That does not mean the broadcast has to be flawless or perfect, though. Just like the team that wins the game, the production can have hiccups and still deliver. And, just like the teams in the game, NBC has a game plan for its coverage.

In this case, that means a regular-game approach with super-sized support.

So, Michaels and Collinsworth will focus on the action as usual, but they’ll have bells and whistles that include 15 extra cameras (40 total) from a regular game and access to the NFL’s director of officiating to explain controversial calls.

The pre-game show, hosted by Bob Costas, begins at noon, and that’s when the Super Bowl silliness typically hits its height with a mix of entertainment and special guests. This season, that includes an interview with halftime performer Katy Perry, an abundance of football related interviews and talking heads, and the seemingly mandatory with President Barack Obama.

Plus, just about any on-air sports type employed by the Peacock Network has a role in the pre-game coverage. That’s everyone from heir-apparent host Josh Elliott to ice skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, who have spent time this week with wives of members of each participating team. That segment could be funny -- either intentionally or unintentionally -- and interesting.

Here’s the thing, though, once the game begins, it’s all about the game.

There might be some ah-ha or interesting moments during those first six-and-a-half hours of coverage, but it’s what happens when the game kicks off that really matters and that fans will remember.

In that situation, Michaels and Co. have consistently proven they can deliver.

Clearly, Michaels is a steady and strong play-by-play man, one of the best in the business, but Collinsworth holds the key to success each time they work a game together and especially during the Super Bowl. He needs to make points, share insights and toss out opinions in a way that’s comfortable and honest. Again, luckily for viewers, he does that well.

While Michaels has the ability to hamper a broadcast by getting preachy or offering too much context (which feels like he’s talking down to viewers), Collinsworth can only elevate what happens. He might’ve been a “possession receiver” during his career, but he can “stretch the field” as an analyst.

Additionally, just like the Patriots and Seahawks, the NBC team has conducted its own preparation and scouting reports in advance of the game. They’ve had practice sessions, and they’ve discussed an innumerable amount of if-then situations -- everything from down-and-distance play selections and typical team player groupings to injuries and even possible technical problems.

The network will not suffer for a lack of preparation. It’s just a matter of delivering when the moment arises -- and that’s especially true for on-screen graphics or timely statistics. Too soon for some things, and it might feel like they’re using what they’ve done just to show off. Too late and, well, it’s too late.

o, if NBC can simply make the big game feel like another game, and not miss the big or controversial plays when they happen, it will do well.

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One thing no network that covers sports does well (including NBC) is to consistently and reliably integrate social media hashtags on screen during coverage to encourage consistent interaction with viewers.

NBC has provided a presence for Tafoya online during regular “Sunday Night Football” games, but an on-screen graphic consistently promoting how to find her work, or enable viewers to post things remains lacking.

If NBC could commit to that during the Super Bowl, it would be important for the broadcast and, because of the record viewership expected (north of 113 million), it could also be a game changer for the combination of televised sports and social media overall.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Scott was simply stellar for ESPN, and far beyond

Dozens of people who worked with him at ESPN have had the chance to offer fitting remembrances and tributes to Stuart Scott since his death on Sunday -- and all have hit the mark.

He was revolutionary and talented, entertaining and informative. He was simply super at his job, and his impact went far beyond any program to which he contributed.

Scott's success opened the doors for many others to follow him, and many did. He helped make "SportsCenter" worth watching in its heyday. And, even as the show has become slightly less appointment viewing as the sports TV landscape has changed, Scott kept it relevant whenever he worked.

Whether it was behind a studio desk or on location for the NBA, NFL or any assignment, Scott brought attention to the event because of his style and because of his work ethic. Although he lost his well-chronicled battle with cancer, sports viewers were better because he had a job, and a prominent job, on TV. He made those he worked with better. He made sports better for fans. And he made the world a better place. He will be missed.