NFL Choice of Camera Angles


Televised NFL games have always been a problem for the television networks. How many cameras to use? What to show? How long to show it? The networks have not learned a lot over the years. This rant just deals with television networks and doesn't address other annoyances not under control of the broadcasters.

Back in the day when networks first started televising NFL games, the number of cameras was limited. I think the total number of cameras was one. No, that's an exaggeration. The first televised game on October 22, 1939 had two cameras. Even into the 1960s, the number didn't increase a lot. Neither did the telecast presentation focus on a lot. It was kind of here's the field, look where you want. There were no such thing as a replay. If it happened and you missed it, you missed it for good.

There were no sports channels. There was no cable. All you got on TV were the local channels. Even the big ones like WCBS and WNBC did little more than give you the scores. Technology was limited.

Then NFL Films entered a niche market where they focused on the important plays using high speed film. Combining that with the fact that you saw highlights from all NFL games, remember that this is something the networks didn't do, and the result was that people looked forward to the big NFL Films' broadcast of the previous week's games. That this happened nearly a week after the games were played didn't matter. The style of NFL Films made watching the highlights a high point of the week for a football fan. (I wasn't quite there yet in the 60s, but NFL Films and their images of the weirdly proportioned Bobby Douglas were making inroads in my apathy.)

Where's your neck?
Uh, nevermind.

Technology started gaining ground and that which was exclusive to NFL Films became widely available. What were once weekly highlights turned into daily highlights and eventually instant highlights.

As technology improved and the number of toys increased, so did the need to play with the toys. Good stuff came along with the bonanza but so did the dreck. Good stuff? The replays. Isolated receivers, slow motion, stop action. Even the telestrator, especially in the hands of John Madden, added to the enjoyment of the game.

"Timeout Cowboys!"

Bad stuff? Interviews with the coaches ("How does it feel to be down fifty points?"), the end zone view during kick-offs and punts (what yard-line was that?), and a focused field (aren't there more than six players a side?) hurt the game. The biggest problem, prior to the 2015 season, was the number of commercials. Between the kick-off or punt, there are commercials. Between the quarters - commercials. Time out on the field? Show commercials. Coaches challenge? Show commercials. Injury timeout? Take advantage of someone else's suffering and morbidly try and hawk a product.

Not enough? For example, what happens in a game where there are long drives and no injuries? Introduce TV timeouts. Yep. There must be ten TV timeouts per HALF in each NFL game. That doesn't include what can be squeezed in during the fifteen minute half-time.

Make no mistake - the NFL is about greed and their biggest source of revenue is what they get from television networks. For 17 games, ESPN paid the NFL $1.9 billion dollars. ESPN paid the NFL enough money to pay the players on roughly half of the teams in the NFL. Alight, only about 13 NFL teams, but you get my point. The NFL isn't about millions and millions of dollars, it's about billions and billions of dollars.

My point? Television networks get their money from advertisers. They need to sell more and more commercial minutes to recoup their costs and make a profit.

Just an FYI that the NFL received nearly $5 billion from networks for broadcast rights. That's enough to pay the salary cap for all 32 NFL teams with $420,000,000 left over. The $5 billion figures is from television rights. The $143.28 million salary cap per team is from salary cap.

Just a brief jag here to make a point. If someone offers you tickets to a game and you can sit anywhere, where would you sit? In the owner's suite? You can't see the game from the clouds. How about forty yard line seats? How about forty yard line seats one-third of the way up the first level? Yeah. Now we're talking. You want seats between the thirty-five yard lines far enough up to see over the heads of the players but no so far up that you need binoculars. These are the tickets you want.

What don't you want? End zone seats. Except for backsides, you can't see anything when the action's down the other end of the field. Would you trade places with the back judge on offense? It's a different view, but it's too focused and you can't see the whole play. How about ten feet off of the ground hanging from the roof at the fifty yard line? Seriously? How is that watching the game? How about the coaches view? Not even that!

Where do the offensive and defensive coordinators sit? Not on the sideline, that's for sure. Even at the high school level, games are filmed from locations that are atop poles because the coach's view is so restricted.

Only 25% of the players are not shown.

There was a time when at least the networks cared that the viewer saw the play. Heck, there was even a time when a high-definition television meant that you saw more of the field than you did with an old cathode tube TV.

This year, it looks like networks are trying to bring some of that Madden VIDEO GAME feel to the NFL. Every three to five seconds, there has to be a new camera angle. For those with ADD, or ADHD, or ADHD-C, or whatever trendy new moniker is being applied, the networks are there to not only help, but to encourage. Want to focus? Forget it! Can you keep your focus? You won't for long!

Jump, jump, jump. In the forty-five seconds between plays, you can see the sideline, the huddle, the quarterback up close and personal, five or six defensive players up close, the huddle again, the offense lining up, the stands, the quarterback's face as he is approaching the line, the other sideline, the hiking of the ball from overhead if the quarterback doesn't take more than five seconds calling out signals.

What you can't see is the defense getting ready, the offensive formation, the wide receivers, motion in the backfield, or shifts by the defense. These integral parts of the game are treated with distain because the viewer would need to pay attention to appreciate them.

There are some plays where the viewer only sees the helmet of the quarterback when the ball is snapped.

What about after the snap? The Skycam tracks the player that has the ball from above and behind. Is someone getting to the quarterback on a rush? You don't know because they're out of frame. Is the quarterback checking off receivers? His head is moving, but you don't have a clue what he's looking at. He throws the ball and it's caught. The Skycam, like a roller coaster, moves to focus on the reciever.

Where is the receiver on the field? Who knows? Was he open? Maybe you were lucky and saw someone other than the receiver. Does the receiver have a chance to make yards after catch? You can't tell.

But if he does and starts juking his way down the field, well, I hope that you aren't susceptible to motion sickness. The camera weaves its way around while simultaneously moving in for a close-up ("I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."). Then you're so close to the receiver that nothing else matters. The game, the ball, the field, the purpose are lost in the shot.

Get the shot. The game is nothing more than an excuse to spend millions of dollars on equipment and once we've spent the money, we've got to just justify the expenditure so the equipment must be used.

For those of us who've played football, and not just the video game, the new way of showing the game goes past minor annoyance all the way to unwatchable. Sometimes, the old camera views are used. After the snap, maybe every fourth play gives the viewer the coveted forty yard line view.

Some channels are worse than others. Fox seems to be the worst. The NFL channel has always been inept. But CBS doesn't look like a worthwhile network either. The year 2014 may go down in history as the last year that I watched professional football.

Use the new gizmos for what they are - ways to show replays. Don't alienate viewers by forcing them to only enjoy one play out of four.