Mic’d Up?

ABC and their new OLED mic flags at the NBA FinalsWhile I’m back to ranting on a regular basis-just don’t expect all of my rants to pertain to my current career of web design and development. A lot of bloggers stick with one topic but I don’t want to do that. Case in point, long before I got into website development, I was a broadcast designer aka motion graphics artist. So a lot of my knowledge was and still is in the television business. Especially TV Sports. Being from Philadelphia, I’ve always been a sports fan albeit I look at it a bit differently than most. While some people might root for Mavericks or Heat or Canucks or Bruins, I might root for a great intro piece, animated open or a certain announcer. I like to look at the little things that really separate how one network or station does a sportscast vs. another.

Like Microphone Flags.

Yes, Mic Flags. The things you see on microphones usually at sporting events or local newscasts that identify an outlet’s brand. In some countries, they’re not even flags but logos on the colorful windscreens attached to the top of the microphone. If you viewed FOX Sports’ coverage of the UEFA Champions League Final on May 28, then you might know what I’m talking about.

However, the next evening, Disney’s ABC and ESPN debuted a whole new mic flag at the 2011 NBA Finals from a company called the Recom Group using miniature OLED monitors to display various animated logos on each screen. Each mic flag had three sides and were rectangular in shape. Now you could have a four sided mic flag, but I guess ABC/ESPN is a bit too cheap to do this…or are they? (read on).

I’m actually surprised that with all the unusual shaped OLED and LED monitors out there, a circular monitor couldn’t be used. After all, a round ABC logo in a squarish mic flag just looks out of place.

At first, I was intrigued by the mic flags and quite fascinated. Reminded me of the first time I saw 3D mic flags on Group W stations like KDKA in the late 70’s. I actually was given one by a KDKA staffer when I was at Senator Arlen Specter’s election rally in 1980. I still might have it hidden somewhere back east. After awhile, the ABC flags it simply got annoying really fast. No doubt, it’s a cool item and I wouldn’t be surprised another network takes a chance on them. But how much do these flags actually cost? Usually mic flags purchased in bulk can cost 20 bucks or less depending on where you order them and what shape they are. These definitely didn’t cost 20 bucks a pop. So where to get the extra money?

Oh yeah, squeeze and sell extra spots into the broadcast.

Much like CBS squeezes in as many commercial spots as they can in a NCAA Basketball Championship (ahem! March Madness…they don’t use “Championship” anymore). So does ABC/ESPN at the Finals. Only now they’ve taken it too far.

One thing I always like watching during the Finals is the introduction of the players. Normally the networks don’t show it during the regular season anymore (yes, to squeeze in more ads). Whole idea is no matter whom you’re rooting for, if you’re rooting for anyone, you can get pumped up for the PA announcer to scream at the top of his lungs and the music and animated intro that appears prior to it. What would the Chicago Bulls be all these years without that Allen Parsons music and that 3D animated bull snorting through the United Center scoreboard?

So I was completely surprised after viewing Michael McDonald perform the anthem at the start of Game One (anyone in this current generation even know who he is?) when they introduce the starters for the visiting Dallas Mavericks, I’m all ready to watch the Miami Heat video intro and then all of a sudden at the bottom of the screen, I see:

COMING UP: Miami Introductions

Huh? Coming up? What’s this? A Gatorade spot? And then a 15 second ABC spot for some lam-o ripoff of a Japanese game show?

Yep, ABC just figured a way to squeeze even more commercials.

So the entire animation and music was completely missed. And this would continue throughout the Finals even when the only spots that aired were for the network itself. Which means most advertisers didn’t want that spot to begin with. So at least it didn’t work. This year.

I still can’t believe ABC/ESPN would sink this low to squeeze a spot right in the middle of the player introductions. It’s bad enough that the game doesn’t start right then and there so the network can run their intro (great five years ago, but now tired….time for a new Finals intro, Mickey). By doing so, you lose a lot of feeling you have getting pumped up for the game only to see spots for reality shows you’ll likely never watch.

At least NBC and its new sister net, Versus (or whatever it will soon be called…I’m shooting for SNBC) gets the message and during most of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ve taken a page from CBC and Hockey Night in Canada and shown all the intros, anthems and I can get totally pumped up for the game (and not switch to an illegal CBC or TSN stream somewhere) and I’m ready for puck drop. Sometimes, selling a commercial somewhere, anywhere, isn’t always the best thing to do.

It’s funny how I’ve lately been watching old 1970’s NFL broadcasts on YouTube when commercial breaks were few and usually lasted a minute tops. And they wonder why games last well past midnight. It’s not the leagues’ fault itself. It’s the networks demanding more and longer breaks so more commercials can be squeezed in to make a few extra bucks to pay for the exorbitant rights fees. In that case, maybe it is the leagues’ fault.

Maybe I’ll just watch some more UEFA Champions League replays. At least I won’t see a break anywhere in the game. Maybe a logo, but that’s about it.