SBJ/Dec. 8-15, 2014/Media

Here’s the real bottom line: Nets overcrowd their screens

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I find the increasingly cluttered screens during live games to be completely annoying. Sports networks should get rid of their bottom line scrolls. They provide useless information and take up too much space. Networks also should shelve on-screen sponsor and network logos, which sometimes are as big as the scoreboard and distract viewers from the game action.

People invest in flat-screen TVs for big, beautiful pictures. But the irony is that while video quality is at an all-time high and getting better, it seems like the space given to the video that people actually want to see — the live games — is getting smaller.

I was in Las Vegas last Monday watching the Clippers and Timberwolves play on Prime Ticket (don’t ask!). During the game, the RSN’s bottom line scroll looped with stats for the top rushing, receiving and passing leaders from the previous day’s NFL games.

Was there anybody watching an early-season NBA game in Los Angeles who was helped by the information that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ran for 95 yards the day before? It would take only a couple of seconds to get that information via a mobile phone.

I don’t mean to pick on Prime Ticket. Everyone does it. During Tuesday’s Syracuse-Michigan basketball game, ESPN’s bottom line listed every NFL matchup for the coming weekend, which still was five days away. ESPN’s bottom line also kept viewers up to date on the Stony Brook-Cincinnati game — a game I would have been watching if I cared about it.

It’s time for the sports networks to clean up their screens. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

I took my complaint to ESPN, and they say my view is in the super minority. In every focus group ESPN conducts, up to 80 percent of people buy into the bottom line and consider it to be valuable.

“Our bottom line gets the highest approval ratings possible,” said Ed Macedo, ESPN’s vice president of stats and information. “People find great value in having content fed to them when they are watching another game. It’s clutter only if we don’t provide good information.”

ESPN employs about 15 people to produce the bottom line for its networks, including the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes. This group has focused more on providing breaking news and scores on the bottom line than lists of, say, the NFL’s top passers this season, or schedules of coming games, Macedo said.

Now you see it: CBS Sports has tested a scoreboard that turns transparent during plays (top).
CBS Sports also uses a bottom line, as do all of the sports networks. But for the past month, the network quietly has been testing another technology that will clean up its screen.

During two Friday night college football games on CBS Sports Network, the score bug at the top of the screen turned transparent during a play and returned to full color when the play stopped. CBS considered using it for its NFL games this season, but opted to test it out on some college games first.

“The point is to make it more subtle and less of a distraction for the viewer,” said Steve Karasik, CBS Sports’ vice president of remote productions. “We use our cable network as a lab to try new ideas.”

CBS first tested the transparent scoreboard Nov. 7 for Fordham’s overtime win over Bucknell and found that the scoreboard was not transparent enough. The network made some tweaks and tested it again Nov. 28 for Houston’s win over SMU and was happier with its look.

“This is a radical new idea for us,” Karasik said. “We wanted to try it on real football games before branching out with other properties that we have.”

If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that technology eventually will give viewers control of what they see on screen. Viewers still will have to deal with network and sponsor logos. But within five years, ESPN’s Macedo predicted that viewers will be able to customize the bottom line.

“The infrastructure is set up for that to happen,” he said.

Does that mean I could, possibly, opt to get rid of the bottom line altogether?

“Perhaps,” Macedo said.

It’s not quite a commitment, but it’s still the best news I heard all week.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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