Game Changer: How Instant Replay Influences Fan Experience

Texas Tech lab research examines instant replay impact on viewer perception and emotion.

Media Lab

In-Home Simulation lab

Deep in the basement of the College of Media & Communication building is a room housing a living room complete with a big-screen television, surround sound audio, nice couches and accent furniture.

It's a nice place to watch a game – exactly what professor Glenn Cummins wants. But this is no ordinary living room. Among the room's accents are cameras along the wall and a web camera mounted to the top of the TV that keep an eye on the viewer as much as the viewer keeps an eye on the TV.

This is one room in the Center for Communication Research (CCR), a laboratory that allows students and professors to test theories, audience responses and consumption of media messages in a controlled, scientific atmosphere without distraction.

Cummins, an associate professor and the college's associate dean for research, has spent countless hours here studying an aspect of sports broadcasting that, today, goes largely unheralded and, essentially, taken for granted: instant replay.

“What I'm interested in is how the technical embellishments, the production techniques that have been brought to bear in a telecast can be used to craft and influence viewer response,” Cummins said. “Networks can't control the nature of the matchup. They can't make both teams be good. What's in their control are the technical resources developed over time to cover a competition.

Instant Replay

Instant replay booth on football sidelines.
Courtesy: bobo1522/Flickr

“My focus is on how broadcasters strategically use instant replay to achieve some sort of end. The two things I look at in my research are how instant replay is being used to change the perception of events. The other thing I've looked at is how instant replay can produce an emotional response to what you're seeing.”

Instant replay has become a staple of any sports broadcast. It has to be, given the lulls in between action that most sports present.

Cummins' research has looked mostly at football and how networks and broadcasters fill the 30-40 seconds between plays. He's examined not only the techniques broadcasters use to fill those gaps, but also the emotional responses those techniques elicit and how they affect the viewing audience going forward.

A great example, Cummins said, is the proverbial “two yards and a cloud of dust” play. Through research, he found such plays can bring an emotional response when viewed from different angles or shown up close because it elicits a physiological arousal response from viewing the struggle of the play.

“An exciting play is going to be exciting no matter what. The touchdown, the home run will get the audience going,” Cummins said. “Dull plays need all the help they can get. In terms of perception, instant replay does a terrific job of changing how people perceive game action.”

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Media lab control room

Cummins said not only does instant replay bring a response to the current play, it also produces a heightened anticipation of the upcoming play more than if there was no instant replay. Essentially, viewers' emotional response in watching a play does not have to start over each play because the stimulation from the previous play bleeds into the next.

Networks and industry leaders take notice, and conduct much the same research as what happens in the CCR for their purposes. However, a network like ESPN, Cummins said, conducts its research on a much faster pace in order to determine how to enhance their current broadcasts, whereas academic research looks more at testing theoretical models explaining audience effects. He said networks also conduct research examining how to enhance the viewing experience in terms of using social media.

Of course, instant replay has become somewhat controversial in the last few years since officials, particularly in football, have used instant replay to examine and determine close calls. Some complain it slows down the game too much, and baseball purists still resist the use of instant replay. But instant replay continues to grow.

“Just this week I was looking at some industry research talking about the use of drones in the telecast of sports,” Cummins said. “That's something that gives a perspective that hasn't been seen before and can catch a viewer's attention and draw them into a broadcast. The audience always needs something new to stimulate them.”