ESPN’s Clutter Ruins French Open Coverage

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.

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

4 Responses to ESPN’s Clutter Ruins French Open Coverage

  1. Gareth Horton says:

    Merv,

    That sounds horrendous. I am a big tennis afficionado and left the US just before the Tennis Channel got going. It sounded just like my cup of tea though.

    In the UK, the tennis coverage is split between 3 channels – Sky Sports, Eurosport and BBC. The BBC usually only show Wimbledon, maybe Queens and perhaps another slam if you’re lucky. As you can imagine, the coverage is excellent – but sometimes can be a little dry vs Sky Sports.

    Sky Sports is usually very good and the team of presenters have stabilised over the last year or so and really have a good rapport-which pays off big time when they just have to waffle for a few hours when the weather’s bad. It’s huge credit to them that I can actually sit there and watch them blather on even when I have it recorded.

    Eurosport is not as good, but certainly eminently watchable vs this overlayfest you have to deal with over there.

    My only annoyance is that when I have to plough through hours on Sky+ (like Tivo), it has its on screen display (when fast forwarding etc) right over the top of the scores, so you can’t easily see what’s going on when trying to get through matches at high speed.

    Anyway, I hope you can enjoy Queen’s and Wimbledon on the Tennis Channel, without this onerous graffiti spoiling the experience.

    I’m thinking that if Soderling plays the way he did against Nadal & Davydenko, he will certainly win – whether he can keep it up, I don’t know.

    BTW already have my tickets for the ATP Tour Finals at the O2 in London at the end of the season.

    Gareth

  2. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks for the comment. We have several channels covering tennis, and for the French we have the Tennis Channel getting hte early rounds, then ESPN and NBC getting the later ones. The quality of the coverage is relatively high in terms of actual match selection (most of the time, with occasional lapses), commentary varies very widely, and the picture quality is always better on ESPN HD and NBC HD than the Tennis channel, which is not in HD.
    For those of us who eagerly anticipate a high quality picture, all the other stuff can be tolerated. But to have it taken away is infuriating.
    Congrats on your tickets! The finals should be awesome. I’ve had the pleasure of attending 3 of the slams (Australia is on my bucket list) but not the ATP final yet.

  3. Aravind says:

    You should see the way cricket is covered in some of India’s channels nowadays. The screen becomes something like a web page with banner ads at the left & bottom. Ads start as soon as the last ball of an over is bowled and many times the first ball of the next over gets missed out.

  4. Merv Adrian says:

    It seems to be the norm everywhere. We all bought these newer TVs to get a bigger picture – but the broadcasters seem more and more dtermined to take it away from us. Wonder if we will see a premium market emerge – pay a little more and we will let you get what you paid for.

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