NFL fans and commentators were again divided on Thursday night, only this time it wasn’t about players kneeling during the national anthem. It was over a camera angle.
Thursday Night Football’s matchup between the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers looked an awful lot like a video game. That’s because the broadcast’s primary angle was from SkyCam, a moving camera attached to wires that hangs about 15 feet over the field. The fact that it looked like a video game was part of the appeal for the NFL.
It offers a view from above and behind the quarterback, allowing the viewer at home to see things as their favorite passer might. It also quickly follows behind the action as it unfolds rather than the wider side angle traditionally used, which offers a fairly static view of a large portion of the field, with the action unfolding horizontally on the screen.
Take a look:
Fred Gaudelli, NBC’s executive producer of Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football, told ESPN the move was “an experiment” to see whether fans like it.
True to form, NFL fans sounded off on Twitter. Reactions were mixed and, this being football, pretty fiery.
One fan called it “wonderful” and requested the NFL keep SkyCam “as the primary view for all broadcasts forever.” Another said the angle was “a nice touch to see how plays develop.” Another said: “I need skycam in all sports. This would be great for NBA games, too.”
ESPN senior writer Mina Kimes tweeted that the camera “makes it easier to appreciate players’ talent and harder to gauge the outcome of every play,” adding that she suspected “neutral observers like it more than fans.”
The fans who hated it, though, really hated it.
One said the SkyCam will “get me to stop watching football. Make camera angles great again!” Another tweeted to NBC, “enough with the overhead camera. We get it, you’re edgy. Go back to the camera that shows the whole field.” A third called it “beyond lame,” adding, “Please just stop. If I wanted views like this I’d play Madden 14.”
The SkyCam isn’t new, as many users suggested, but has been part of the NFL’s arsenal of cameras for years.
It was first used in the 1984 Super Bowl between the Washington Redskins and the then-Los Angeles Raiders, as Wired noted. But it wasn’t used consistently in the sport’s coverage until 2001, when it became a mainstay of Sunday Night Football for replays and highlights.
Using it for an entire game, though, created a completely difference experience for viewers.
Breaking down the pros and cons of the SkyCam, the Ringer’s Danny Heifetz argued it’s most useful during running places. With the classic sideline view, “running backs make breaking through piles of lineman look like a magic trick,” he wrote. The SkyCam offers a blunt view of the linemen, allowing the viewer to see holes open for the running back to capitalize on.
But that same view, he noted, makes it difficult for a viewer to determine how many yards are gained on each play. The sideline view makes it easy to count yardage, since fans can see the entire field and the small white hash marks marking each consecutive yard. With the SkyCam, other players often obscure the hash marks.
The view also creates problems on passing plays. It allows viewers to watch wide receives run their routes from the perspective of a quarterback. But once the ball is thrown, the camera must zoom in on the receiver, following his post-catch route. That movement can become confusing for the eye to follow, especially considering that it can move faster than 25 miles per hour.
If the NFL decides to use SkyCam as a primary angle more often, it will be one of the bigger developments in the sport’s presentation — but probably not the last.
The NFL is constantly seeking new ways to deliver its product. It is even studying virtual reality technology to create a 360 degree viewing experience for fans at home, something the NHL has already done, ESPN reported.
For now, though, we have SkyCam.
“Football essentially has been covered the same way from the first day it was covered,” Gaudelli told ESPN. “The game itself has been covered a certain way, and I think this is a chance to slightly break away from that.”
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