In their first foray into the staggered double-headed concept on Monday night, ESPN and ABC tried to calm fans of each game by providing as much information about the other game as possible. In the future, perhaps a better plan would be to offer less. Much less. Maybe nothing at all.
When it comes to prime time, fans are used to watching just one match. It is preferred by many. The dual overlapping head is at least partially intended to reduce the total commitment time from six hours to approximately four hours. But there is a better way to balance the interests of those who want to consume two games at once and those who prefer to invest a full six hours (or more) by watching one game at a time.
This is the biggest unsolicited (and potentially unwanted) advice that can be given. ESPN and ABC should aspire to keep viewers able to watch every game without spoilers. Games should be standalone and not synchronous.
On Sunday afternoons, highlights, results and other information from other games are routinely shared, although much of the audience watches only one of the seven, eight or nine competitions. This is what viewers are used to.
Thirty years ago, fans longed to be able to see what was happening in other games, and the only way to get that information (except for calling the 976 line) was to watch which game(s) were being streamed in the local market. (CNN Headline News was the first network to show scores of NFL games in progress at the bottom of the screen, making it—for a year or two—a must-have destination for fans who want to know what’s going on in a game that wasn’t available on TV.)
The experience on Monday night (and prime time in general) was a lot different. Fans are used to watching one match at a time. It is preferred by many. With two games broadcast nationwide, there’s no reason to keep people watching one game up to date with everything that’s happening in the other. People who want to watch both games will find a way to do so. Whether they have a TV or a TV and a laptop, tablet or phone, it’s not difficult and expensive to watch two games at once.
So the goal shouldn’t be to keep the audience of one game fully informed of the progress of the other, but it should not be fully informed. The error caused by the other game, which is very distracting, should be eliminated. Also, there is no need to view both games simultaneously. Cut the screen in half to show what is happening in the other game is moving away from the main game. And there’s certainly no reason to show highlights from one game in the other.
Scott Van Pelt is awesome. But when watching Vikings-Eagles, I don’t need him to show me and tell me about other game highlights – especially when, on at least one occasion, he’s been telling Titans-Bills highlights about the Vikings eagle movement. (It’s not his fault. He was doing his job. But someone higher should ask if this was a job to do.)
Last night was an experience that supposedly ESPN will fix a little, or a lot, in the game’s presentation. Hopefully, ESPN will consider the value of letting fans who want to watch one match at a time do so, without any spoilers.
There is no purpose to be achieved by tempting the viewer to change from one Disney-owned network to another. Viewers are already tuned in to one of the games. There is no reason to try to get them to overturn. There is every reason to allow those who want to invest six hours in a row watching Monday Night Football To do so without knowing anything about the other game until they watch it.