For this upcoming season, the NFL has made and is allowing a few tweaks to the format of games, breaks, and how they’re broadcast.
Some of the changes are for the better. Officials will now use a tablet on the sidelines to review plays rather than a booth in the corner, which should cut down on how long a review takes, so long as there are no connection issues. The seconds it saves won’t really be noticed by the end of games, but the boring, tension killing jog to the replay machine won’t be missed.
The move from five to four breaks per quarter is a great one. Breaks will now be a little longer, as the total running time of commercials won’t change, but the game will flow a little better. The frequency of the annoying score, break, kickoff, break, start of a drive sequence will be reduced, though it won’t disappear entirely. Now you’ll have more time to do whatever it is you do during breaks. Or will you?
Last fall, just as TV ratings went into a tailspin, the National Football League invited fans into a lab designed like a living room. Technicians asked them to watch games, tracking their eyes, heart rates and skin response. They saw different ad formats, including split screens with commercials on one side and the field on the other.
NFL water carrier Ian Rapoport sent out a trial balloon over the weekend.
Watching the British Open and this split-screen commercial comes on. I imagine we'll see this in the NFL's future pic.twitter.com/JptO0T1eEY— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 22, 2017
Split screen commercials for football is going to be awful. It’s a method of delivery that works in motorsports and golf, but the nature of football doesn’t mesh with split screen. There are no scheduled stoppages in a race or a golf tournament, the only options to insert commercials are to either completely break away from it or to split screen it. (For some FIA championships there’s a third option: pay for the world feed, which comes with perks, but that’s not an option with the NFL.) Given those two choices, split screening is the optimal solution.
But the NFL has plenty of built in stoppages of action: every change possession, every time out, every review, injuries, and at the end of every quarter. Only when there are long drives does a broadcast have trouble fitting in all the breaks, which is why you get kickoffs sandwiched between breaks.
It might not seem that bad now, but just wait until a game you’re interested in goes to break during play and a key event in it happens while the game is taking up just a third of your screen so the broadcaster can get another ad for an erectile dysfunction pill. But don’t worry, if it’s a score or turnover you’ll get the replay of it right before they go to break again. Hopefully it won’t be overturned on review while in break.