NFL Redzone and the changing television landscape

Jamie Squire

The NFL is sadly behind the times covering football in this day and age. Will Redzone change that?

Your team scored a touchdown. Hooray! They scored a successful extra point. Hooray! Now the game is going to a mandated commercial break. No problem, plenty of time to grab a beer or quick smoke break and settle back in for the kickoff. The kickoff is a touchback, as is common with the new rules. That's lame, but we've gotten used to it. Time to see what the defense can do--oh, they're cutting to more commercials? Why? Everyone's set up and ready to go. What's the point? Hey, it's the same unfunny Bud Light ads I saw 500 times already this season. Oh please, Lexus, tell me more about how your "luxury" cars will be the perfect Christmas present. It's not like there are any other games going on at the moment while we're being pitched shit we don't need and can't afford.

This has been the sad reality of the NFL TV landscape for about as long as I can remember. Thanks to archaic TV rights deals and advertising mandates (seriously, look it up. It's fucking insane), the average football game drags on about two hours longer than it should. It's a cliche that people spend more time talking about football than actual football being played, but nowhere does that hold truer than the Sunday broadcasts. Commercials after commercials, long periods of dead time where you have to hear two halfwits in the booth pretend they know what they're talking about. It's excrutiating, and actively drains the enjoyment of the game we are all hopelessly addicted to.

Now there's a way to change this, by instituting widespread boycotts of the NFL and the major products being sponsored until things change, but that's never going to happen. The major networks are locked into their billion-dollar deals, and thanks to decades-old rules their only real questions for deciding which game to broadcast in which market boil down to "did the local market sell out?" and "does (insert ESPN darling of the week) play for that team?"

Most people have, at best, three games to watch on Sunday--their local team, and whatever CBS and FOX deign to air in their market. They have no choice in the matter. If their local team doesn't sell enough tickets, they're down to two games. If you read that previous sentence and furrowed your brow, congratulations, you live in the 21st Century. It's an outdated model that demands an upgrade for an audicene more willing to pay attention to more than one game at once.

Enter NFL Redzone.

Launched in 2009 as part of the NFL Network package, Redzone is still fairly obscure thanks to the NFL's attempt at strong-arming cable packages into carrying it. But thanks to a strong online audience ready to embrace more coverage of the actual games, Redzone has quickly gained a cult following, and deservedly so.

Redzone's formula is deceptively simple. It only shows plays inside the red zone (as the title implies, natch), but airs no commercials and goes out of its way to show big impact plays as they happen. The main host, Scott Hanson, is one of our modern-day superheroes. At 1PM ET every Sunday, he goes in front of the cameras and flawlessly juggles the various goings-on of 13 games in a seven-hour period. Not once do you miss a big play in that entire time period--Hanson and his crew are always on top of it. It's a dizzying but thrilling period of television that will never be matched by the networks, no matter how many Coor's Light Hard Facts they throw at you.

I only started watching Redzone regularly in the middle of the '11 season, and it has captivated me every time. Never before have I truly appreciated the gravity of NFL Gameday--there is always something important going on. It's a sort of beautiful chaos you never really notice watching just the mandated games on the major networks. Admittedly, this feeling may be lost on people who subscribed to NFL Sunday Ticket for years, but Redzone offers an entirely different dimension. They make you feel like the games matter, and they do it without the cheesy ads or hacky commentary. Hanson and his crew just let you feel the action as it happens.

That's not even mentioning all the fun bells and whistles Redzone adds. Like the two-minute countdown before every broadcast, complete with booming NFL Films music. Or the touchdown montage at the end of every broadcast (Hanson loves it so much he profusely apologizes if a game runs longer than expected and they can't show the whole thing).

There are legitimate arguments to make against Redzone. Some will say it's only a honeypot for fantasy geeks who only care about the results and not the process, something I can't disagree with. Others will say it's just another byproduct of our increasingly Twitter-addled ADHD society. Again, I can't entirely disagree with that.

But you know what? I don't care. Would you rather listen to Troy Aikman describe a game like he's describing his breakfast, or do you want to watch Scott Hanson's brain go a million miles a minute as he narrates the famed "quad box", and fucking pull it off?

NFL Redzone is the perfect venue for football in the 21st Century. I don't think it will replace the dinosaur business models of network TV, but one can hope. If there's enough support, then perhaps it could become popular enough that people don't have to watch it on Internet streams.

Imagine that. No padded commercials, no commentary bullshit, no dead space. Just wall-to-wall football for seven hours a day, with talented people playing volleyball with the constant game action. Beautiful chaos, non-stop.

And hopefully no more Bud Light ads, but that's a different dream altogether.

Follow Jon Benne on Twitter at @LordBenne
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