Sunday Night Football Extra: the future of sports television.

The stadium scene.
Oct. 31 2008 7:13 AM

The Future of Sports Television

You can catch a glimpse of it online with NBC's Sunday Night Football Extra.

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With all this supplementary material on the Web, I'm not about to complain that SI's idyll hasn't arrived just yet. OK, I'll complain a little. My biggest beef with Sunday Night Football Extra is that the extra angles don't come with replays. We all take instant replay for granted until we don't have it. Watching the games on NFL.com, I realized that without replay it's impossible to understand the inner workings of a game that is much too fast for the naked eye. Statistics and most other graphics, like the First and Ten yellow line, are also missing. (The score/time line is omnipresent on all the angles.) Fixating on the other angles without frequently toggling back to the main broadcast feed (or having the TV on along with the computer) is like being inside a tornado—you know there's a major event going on, but things move too quickly to grasp the big picture. Watching the cable cam for 10 straight minutes is a huge rush, but it's pure viscera. It won't help you understand strategy, or why a play worked (or didn't). A great addition would be to have an analyst dedicated to the other angles. My dream: Ron Jaworski calling the high-angle formation cam.

The NFL says the online enhancement is a one-year experiment, with its continuation hinging on usage and positive feedback. (The league is very satisfied with it so far, according to the PR man I spoke with.) Of course, once there are enough viewers and potential ad dollars, the endless excess inherent in regular football broadcasts will migrate online. Sunday Night Football Extra doesn't so much reveal what we're missing in traditional TV productions as it emphasizes the best parts of it, minus the dancing robots, endlessly repeated promos during play, and cutaways to the players' mothers in the stands.

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Twenty years from now, when computers and TVs are replaced by an omnivorous media- consumption device, those elements will still be firmly in place, even though by that point, we'll be able to project our own holographic images onto the field and, through advanced Wii-like technology, tear our knee ligaments just like Tom Brady—the ultimate fantasy football. As much as I look forward to dodging the next-generation Troy Polamalu, I'm fully aware that the experience will involve beer ads and reminders that 60 Minutes is up next, except on the West Coast, where it can be seen at its regularly scheduled time.

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