Logo for the DFR Audible post categoryHockey’s Version of Windex

I may not have been entirely impressed with this year’s World Cup of Hockey, but one good thing did come out of the WCoH viewing experience: a new and better way of television adding ads to the rink.

I’ve ranted before about how much I hate the superimposed advertising graphics that have been showing up lately on the glass behind the goal nets during game broadcasts. They’re ugly, distracting, and totally unnecessary–not to mention a violation of the dignity of everyone in the stands who becomes an advertising placard for the broadcasters.

But ESPN’s broadcasts of the WCoH games showcased something I had never seen before: a superimposed graphic that placed the TV ads on the boards around the rink, below the glass and over top of the ads that are already physically there in the arena–leaving the glass “clean,” as it were. And I have to say, despite my natural disgust over the perpetual encroachment of advertising onto our playing fields, this new form of graphic blandishment is definitely the way to go.

We’ve all come to accept the presence of advertising on the boards around the rink at NHL games; even hardcases like myself. Indeed, having ads painted on the boards is, in one sense, something of a virtue, since the ads provide a certain amount of texture to what would otherwise be an oddly blank visual field. (Watch old games on NHL Network and notice how strange it seems when you see nothing but white paint encapsulating the ice surface.)

Folks in the stands still see those in-arena ads; and even TV viewers get to see them during replays, when the software does not drop the visuals onto the mapped surface of the lower boards. But while the puck is in play, the physical ads are covered over by the virtual billboards–and that’s no real loss for the viewer. The superimposed ads live on a surface already dedicated to ad space, without adding visual distraction outside that field of view. They can be changed at regular intervals, without making a jarring transition (as often happens with the ads on the glass). And they can even include animation, giving them even more visual interest for those who wish to–for some reason–pay attention to the ads instead of the game. (Hopefully, the networks will show an adequate amount of restraint there. We can hope…)

All in all, it’s an excellent compromise. The broadcaster gets to service the needs of its advertisers (that is, their revenue source); the teams and stadium operations get to service their partners’ needs in the form of the physical, in-arena ads; and viewers get to watch a game with relatively less visual distraction than other, more intrusive options. For once, the seemingly bottomless well of greed in which TV sports wallows is not making the fan’s experience. Nicely done, ESPN. For once, you really got something right.

Maybe there’s hope after all–for the fans, the networks, all of us.

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