No Signs Of Intelligence

It seems like ages since I last checked in with the NHL. I assume we are still headed towards another Western Conference Final that will reinforce the current period as the Blackhawks-Kings era–a series which will again likely be the de facto Stanley Cup Final.

Why am I so out of touch with the league these days? Well, work hasn’t helped; I’ve been buried deep beneath a heavy load of graphics work (my day job). Some of those projects  involve the NHL, but not anything going on this season. (Work has also been killing the posting schedule for the DFR, but that’s another matter…)

My California location doesn’t help, either. There’d surely be more hockey media saturation somewhere back East, not to mention north of the border. As it is, out here we  generally see the NHL through the teal-tinted prism of the San Jose Sharks–and those fish have been inconsistently lately, and have merited little attention on Bay Area outlets.

Still, I could at least watch a game now and then…except I find myself unable to do so. No, it’s not San Jose’s inconsistent play, nor the time-zone induced awkward scheduling on NBCSN, nor even the shiny distraction that is the Golden State Warriors. None of that has really kept me from watching more NHL games this season.

In fact, it’s those damn ads.

The DFR logo with hockey stick and puckI’m not talking about the latest round of Captain Morgan commercials; those are dumb and annoying, but not grating enough to drive me away from a broadcast entirely. The thing I really hate about watching NHL games these days is those computer superimposed ads on the glass behind the goals.

I’ve discussed my distaste for these things before, in the post titled “Banner Ad Bummer.” The passage of time has not made these visual insults any more palatable. In fact, these days I find myself unable to watch a full game because I find these projections so irritating.


“…if the banners disappeared … and then reappeared … viewers would certainly notice the change, and would not necessarily be so accepting of something that’s meant to be seen but unobserved, and quietly manipulative.”


Not that I don’t ever try to watch a game. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I made a point of watching a Sharks game, to gather evidence for just how absurd this broadcasting trend is. Let’s review what I saw, with the help of some visual aids.*

First, let’s look at what we typically see when these ads are on the screen:

Screenshot of Oilers-Sharks game, standard ad view.
A typical ad on the glass behind the goal.

That ad for YP is pretty standard. Note that, as mentioned in the earlier post, this image is superimposed over some indeterminate number of fans in the stands. They don’t know it, of course, but I personally find such behavior insulting. It makes me wonder about the character and motivations of the organization that they would be so cavalier about disrespecting their paying customers.

But why blame the Sharks? Isn’t this plague largely a Comcast thing; after all, these ads now appear on all CSN affiliate broadcasts. (I haven’t watched enough games to be sure, but these banners seem largely absent from NBC and NBCSN broadcasts; oddly so, since both of those channels are Comcast children.) While it’s generally good policy to blame all the evils of the world on Comcast, in this case you’d be kidding yourself; the Sharks organization has at least an equal responsibility for this nonsense. How do we know? Take a look:

Eye Test Ad
An “eye test” ad on the glass behind the goal. (Click for a larger view for readability.)

What the hell is going on here? That paragraph on the glass behind the goaltender is either a snippet of text  from the pages of War and Peace, or it’s a Sharks house ad pimping a ticket promotion for a future game. Of course it’s the latter, and it’s a demonstration that some of the impetus for this creeping commercialism comes from the team itself.

Now, let’s study the absurdity of this ad for a minute. That’s a lot of text to cram into that small a space. Remember: this is being shown during a hockey game. Who the hell has time to stare at the glass for that long in the midst of NHL game action? You can only see this ad when the puck is moving near the goal line, generally behind the net; otherwise, it’s out of frame. And it will only be in frame for the briefest flash, unless somehow everyone on the ice has their legs cramp up at the same time as the puck trickles behind the net. Sure, you could pause the feed and take your sweet time reading that essay on the panes, but who would want to bother right in the midst of the heat of the game? (Naturally, if you didn’t have a DVR, or for that matter an HD TV, you’d be out of luck.)

Sometimes, it isn’t even the speed of the game that conspires against these ads. Once in a while, the broadcast foils itself:

Blocked View Ad
Well, that didn’t go as planned. Layout matters, folks.

Good luck reading that banner. It’s almost like the broadcast decided to censor itself. Wonder how the promotions department felt about that snafu.

And then, of course, there are those times when this madness reaches truly baroque levels of stupidity:

Double Logo ad
Hey, does anybody know what channel we’re watching? If only there were some way of knowing for sure…

This is just plain idiocy. Why in the hell do they need to drop a “house ad” into the screen space when they don’t have another image–read: a paying ad–to place there? It’s particularly stupid when that banner is displayed right next to the logo bug in the upper right corner of the screen. Whose bright idea was that?

Now, some might argue that the CSN banner has to be there, despite the weird logo over logo look, because there needs to be a filler in the space even when there’s no paying ad to display. At first, this idea may seem to have some bizarre logic to it; unfortunately, it’s nonsense.

First, if the software is so coded that there needs to be something, anything, in that graphics slot in order for it to operate properly, then that is some very badly designed software.

As mentioned above, in my day job I work as a graphics professional, and while I’ve never used anything like a Chyron graphics machine (Chyron has been the industry leader in broadcast graphics like this, though these ads may be added in using some other company’s system), I do know a thing or two about most current graphics software. I work in most Adobe publishing applications–mostly programs for print and web (think InDesign and Photoshop), not video apps. But graphics software, even specialized applications, tend to have a lot of similarities in functionality. And one thing that’s invariably built into graphics display applications is settings for opacity (an image’s solidity or transparency, depending upon the setting). Meaning: even if the ad software requires some image to be placed within the frame, there’s almost certainly an option for dropping the image’s opacity. In other words, that placeholder banner could have been placed into the frame and given an opacity of 0%–meaning it would be there, but basically invisible. Even if the software sets a lower limit on opacity to something like 1%, that’s still invisible on screen for all practical purposes.

So why have that banner with the CSN logo and name there, when it’s clearly not necessary–at least technologically necessary?

The answer to that question speaks to the insidious nature of these ads. If the broadcast were to not put a banner up on the glass when they have no ad to fill the slot, the presence of the banners when they are there would be come much more glaring and obtrusive to most viewers. While I find these ads distracting and annoying, it’s a safe bet that most of the viewing audience simply glosses over their existence. That doesn’t mean viewers don’t see them; it simply means their perception of the ads operates at a low threshold when they’re always on the screen. But that doesn’t mean they’re not effective in conveying their message; the mechanism may function at a level that is almost subliminal, but it is functioning.

However, if the banners disappeared for some period of the game and then reappeared once the clock reached the time for the ad buy–if, in effect, these banners “strobed” on and off depending upon the time of the game–viewers would certainly notice the change, and would not necessarily be so accepting of something that’s meant to be seen but unobserved, and quietly manipulative.

That, folks, is why the ads we see plastered all over the stadiums, which are displayed on uniforms (potentially, at least), and which disrupt every broadcast of every game, should not be so readily accepted by sports fans: because they exist to manipulate us, to change our behavior and make us do what we otherwise would refuse to do. How that process plays out, and what it means for you and me as fans, will be the subject of the next Friday Feature, appearing in this space soon…


*All of the pictures featured here were taken by me with my iPhone, handheld and without benefit of a tripod or other stabilizing base, so the quality is not perfect–but it’s good enough to get the gist of what’s going on during the broadcast. Note too that the TV in the pictures is an HD set; any lack of clarity is due to movement, either mine or the images on the screen.

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