I’ve been enjoying the French Open on the Tennis Channel. Thorough, intelligent coverage – candor and insight from commentators like John McEnroe, hours of coverage of early round matches. What a pleasure. Only one complaint – it’s not HD. So as we moved from Tennis Channel coverage to ESPN in the quarterfinals, I was excited – HD tennis! On the beautiful red clay! From a big sports network! Too bad that ESPN clearly is utterly unconcerned about the viewing experience. They are broadcasting an abominable, cluttered screen, bordered by their useless, intrusive graphics, as if they are determined to ruin the viewing experience beyond all redemption.
It starts with such promise. The screen I had been watching on the Tennis Channel is suddenly filled, end to end. The clay, the yellow ball, the beautiful sky, the players moving and sliding – wow, this is great.
And then the morons take over. Suddenly the screen is smaller than it was before. Or at least surrounded by things that make it appear to be, like a demented optical illusion perpetrated by determined, anti-viewing tennis-haters. There is this distracting, flashing, scrolling, logo- and tv schedule-filled crawl along the bottom of the screen, gleefully telling me about the EXACT SAME GAME SCORES several times every few minutes while I watch something that will (hopefully) run for hours – and that I’d like to focus on, thank you very much.
There’s more. At the top of the screen, ESPN hijacks another 10% of the vertical space for the score, so I can see it all the time, instead of occasionally on the screen at appropriate moments, which has always been adequate for tennis until ESPN decided to improve on it. It ensures that I know I’m watching the FRENCH OPEN 2009 – MEN’s QUARTERFINAL (yes, it’s ALL CAPS.) Helpful stats pop up there too from time to time, to take my eyes off the play – how many total points each has won, how many double faults…whatever. Who needs commentators? Finally a pattern of horizontal lines in graded color intensity at the corners adds an architectural quality that also helps draw my eyes away from the play. I’m sure somewhere a graphic design “expert” is cackling with delight at his own brilliance, counting his money.
But all this pales next to the splendor at the sides of the screen. Ah yes, rotated 90 degrees on the right and 270 on the left is the glory of the ESPN2 logo. How could I enjoy the match without that taking 20% of the horizontal field of vision?
What can you say, but “shame.” SHAME on ESPN for this travesty. Even more, SHAME on the tennis association. Who accepted the money for this trivializing of their precious product? Who are they accountable to? Surely not the fans who would actually like to watch the athletes. SHAME on you – for spoiling one of the finest spectacles in sport.