Sports on Television: Is Simple Better?
Texas Tech researcher finds that mosaic broadcast formats get mixed reviews from fans.
Written by Leslie Cranford
The NFL Game Max Channel allows fans to view many games at once.
Beginning Saturday (Dec. 15) there is a college football bowl game nearly every day or night until the Jan. 7 championship game – 35 of them in all – with broadcast advertising dollars and audience reach attached to them. With so many games and viewing choices, how do the networks keep fans engaged?
A Texas Tech researcher has studied how one particularly novel broadcast technology addresses that challenge, and whether or not it works.
His findings, “Can Visual Complexity Impact Appreciation of Mediated Sports? Team Identification and Viewer Response to a Complex Presentation of College Football,” were published in the International Journal of Sport Communication. His research team also included Ed Youngblood and Mike Milford, both of Auburn University.
“Networks use a variety of production techniques to sustain interest in a sports broadcast,” Cummins said. “These mosaic formats are becoming increasingly common for hard-core sports fans. For example, NFL’s GameMix channel lets football fanatics monitor eight games at once.”
The study tested how this visually complex format impacted the viewing experience for viewers who were die-hard fans of one of the teams depicted as well as those who didn’t have any ties to the team.
“To do this, we collected data both here at Texas Tech as well as at Auburn University,” Cummins said. “Students at both schools watched either a traditional game broadcast or the mosaic-style broadcast and rated how much they enjoyed the experience.”
Catering to All Types of Sports Fans
Cummins found that for viewers without ties to the teams, the visually complex mosaic format actually led to a more positive viewing experience compared to a traditional broadcast. But for viewers with strong ties to teams, the mosaic format was greatly disliked.
The online video player at ESPN.com allows fans to watch four different sporting events live on one screen.
“All this speaks to networks’ growing desire to cater to different segments of the viewing audience and provide a viewing experience custom tailored to sports fans of all types,” Cummins said. “We’re seeing more and more of this technology in living rooms, and I think broadcasters are recognizing these changes in the viewing experience, and trying to come up with ways to capitalize on them.”
Using technological embellishments over a broadcast is useful for networks because there are so many things they can’t control. What they can control are the technological bells and whistles they put on top of a broadcast.
“If you think about any sport – football, baseball, gymnastics – there’s an awful lot of down time that has to be filled between events. So what broadcasters can do is find different things to fill in those lulls between actual moments of game competition,” he said.
Cummins said, looking at the history of sports broadcasting, there have been changes over time. Many people talked about how television changed sports; how sports changed television – the symbiotic relationship between television and sports. This is something that has had a lot of attention in scholarly literature for the past few decades.
“As viewers, we’ve become so accustomed to the first-down line, so accustomed to the game clock, and these other features that we see on sports, we can’t remember sports without these things,” Cummins said. “A few years from now it’s going to be the same thing – we can’t remember watching sports without these unique perspectives of game play.”
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