Right around the time I watched my 50th orange parabola soar above Erin Hills this weekend, showing me a ball flight I’d somehow enjoyed golf on TV without for 30 years, I felt like something needed to be said.
Preferably, I’d have a blue sidebar — eating up about 20 percent of the area where you’re trying to watch something — in which to say it, but we’ll just have to manage.
Until, like everything else, we either find the right balance or find something else to complain about.
I’m old enough to remember when “waiting for the TV to show the score” was a viable response to Mom calling me down to the dinner table. (At least for one use.) You’re reading a newspaper, so not only are you almost assuredly that old, you go back further.
Instant replay made its U.S. debut in the 1963 Army-Navy football game. Slow motion replays came around the same time, first to ABC, with a New York Times report declaring “the day of reckoning for umpires may be near.” The 1975 World Series was cutting edge: Stats shown on screen could be updated during the game.
The on-screen score bug was birthed in America for the 1994 World Cup. There were scrolling tickers across the bottom of screen before ESPN2 debuted the BottomLine in 1995, but that (and Sept. 11) started us on the road to them being everywhere short of Animal Planet. The first-down line now ubiquitous on football broadcasts is about 20 years old.
As a rule, we like these. They pass the simple test: Does it enhance, or does it distract?
We don’t get there automatically or always. Look no further than that first-down line, a borderline must for football on TV. It stemmed from FoxTrax, better known as the glow puck, which remains the most memorable (and not happily) thing from that network’s mid-1990s NHL coverage.
FoxTrax made it about two and a half years. We’ve had the parabolas for at least that long between CBS and Fox, but it’s easy to imagine them heading to the same dustbin.
Fox deserves credit for trying new things, as we all knew they would when the network acquired the USGA slate in 2013. The constant leaderboard bug in the bottom corner is excessive, but at least useful at times. That the screen nearly always has at least two USGA logos on it feels like it might not be the network’s choice … would it kill them in instead to include, say, the player’s nationality?
Putting the yardage of a par-3 in the corner graphical bug, then also in a giant floating arrow showing where the green is? Now we’re getting to a clearer bad call. (It’s no better as a floating arrow showing me distance to a bunker I can barely make out on the horizon.) And never mind the shot tracker in live footage … the orange parabola, overlaid on a virtual representation of a hole, complete with a spinning ticker showing how far the ball carried?
Spare me the virtual video game. How about letting me watch the event I tuned in to watch, rather than devoting a fifth of the screen to extraneous clutter?
Like, say, the Red Sox all-time record against the Astros. Or the American League team hitting leaders. Or that Evan Gattis was a 23rd-round pick of the Braves in 2010.
I will resist the urge to pile on NESN, because all reports suggest its new sidebar during Red Sox games comes via the feared DFA: Directive From Above. (Also, if I start piling on NESN, this column’s going to go 10 pages.) And honestly, compared to the sidebar telling us about a nine-figure anonymous donation to MIT during its June 8 debut, we’ve come a long way.
During Friday’s game against Houston, it felt more sparing in its usage. The sidebar ran a quick game update to start the fifth, seventh and ninth, the sort of stuff NESN used to run in a traditional floating graphic anyway. The recap of Matt Barnes and George Springer’s UConn connection was at least interesting, Even If a Sidebar Where Almost Every Word In a Giant Block of Text is Capitalized Feels Like a Poor Use For The Technology.
There’s nothing in it, though, that we need. Nothing that couldn’t be in a bug to begin an at-bat sometime in a three-hour broadcast. Nothing to justify needing filler like this being Brian McCann’s 13th MLB season or that the Astros are 22-14 at home. Or, better still, showing the next three Astros due up when there’s already two out.
It’s another medium trying vainly to compete with our cell phones and our second screens. (When the Globe did a story on the sidebar’s May rollout for NESN’s nightly highlight show, the buzzword was “concurrent content.”) The idea is sound, but fails when you realize the information you’re given is information you don’t need on any medium. Unless, I don’t know, you really love knowing the AL team hits leaders from a couple hours before.
We didn’t have to deal with the sidebar on Saturday or Sunday night, the Sox being broadcast nationally. I did chuckle, however, and find my eye drawn to the strike-zone box ESPN superimposes over the plate during Sunday Night Baseball. That first came about in 2015, and a quick run through some tweets led to a particularly apt one.
It was a complaint about the distracting box, accompanied by a picture of a '90s hockey broadcast on Fox. A slapshot in the photo was ripping toward a goalie, trailed by a dark red streak.
“It’s weird, and it’s definitely distracting,” a USA Today writer declared about the live K-Zone. “If ESPN pays attention to the fan response, it’s probably not going to last very long.”
If only today’s offense wasn’t tomorrow’s annoyance and Wednesday’s “eh, whatever.”
Contact Jon Couture at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @JonCouture