October 2, 2014

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Dan Coughlin: Today’s TV viewers are spoiled

The latest commotion is about high definition, or “HD” as they call it in television. Viewers complain about Channel 19’s crawl during Browns games telling them it’s not on HD. It is my belief that hardly anyone cares about HD because they don’t have HD sets, but the crawl is annoying.
This week’s game is on
Fox 8 and it is being shown in HD. It is my belief, since my day job is with Fox 8, that everyone cares about HD. We should run a crawl during the game reminding people to turn to Fox 8 HD.
I marvel at the way television presents the NFL. They use a dozen cameras and they’re all in color, many in high definition, and they never run out of electronic tricks.
Anyone my age remembers when we were content to watch pro football in black and white with three cameras, no slo-mo and no replays. The games were played in two hours. They started at 2 o’clock and were over at 4. They didn’t need as many commercials to pay two announcers, three cameramen and a director. I’m talking the 1950s here, the early days of television, an era so distant that couples met through carbon dating.
I said we were “content to watch.” No! Back in the 1950s we were delighted to watch because only the away games were on television. The home games were not shown on television. They were blacked out.
No one argued or whined about it. It was NFL policy. People accepted that. Watching football on television was not one of those inalienable rights protected by the Constitution.
This policy continued into the mid-60s. The Browns’ 1964 NFL Championship game against the Baltimore Colts at the old Stadium was not shown here in Cleveland, but it was shown in Baltimore.
The theory, of course, was to protect the home gate. Especially in winter in the north, cold weather and the availability of watching at home could discourage ticket sales.
By the late 1960s, however, “Lift the blackout” became the fans’ mantra and the NFL listened. Home games were shown if they were sold out 72 hours before kickoff. At the last hour “angels” often surfaced to buy up the last thousand tickets in order to “lift the blackout.”
Look at the path sports and television have traveled over the last 50 years.
In the 1950s college football contracted with ABC to show one feature game every Saturday afternoon. Then it became a doubleheader. Now there are games on television almost every night and up to a dozen on Saturdays. Notre Dame has its own contract with NBC. The Big Ten has launched its own network.
The NFL is now on four networks home and away.
Thirty years ago the Indians’ television exposure amounted to 25 games on Channel 8. Today the Indians have their own cable channel and show every game.
In order to fill broacast hours with live events, the Indians’ network bought exclusive TV rights to high school football playoff games, live on Saturday nights and tape-delayed on Friday nights.
Oddly, boxing went in the other direction. In the 1950s they ran out of fighters because boxing was on TV almost every night. By the 1970s, television lost interest in boxing, which survived by introducing closed circuit in theaters for major title fights. This actually was of great benefit, especially for police who worked overtime quelling riots when the closed-circuit pictures went haywire, which was often. Now boxing actually thrives on home pay-per-view.
It comes down to this. Sports and television have discovered ways to exploit each other for their mutual benefit. How poker on ESPN fits this pattern baffles me, however.
Dan Coughlin is a sports columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Fox 8. Contact him
at ctsports@chroniclet.com or 329-7135.