Column: All-thriller, no-filler RedZone may be too irresistible for NFL’s own good


By Phil Rosenthal - Chicago Tribune



The NFL has figured out how to make its games irresistible on TV.

The problem is it involves not watching games on Fox or CBS on Sundays.

RedZone, NFL Network’s eight-year-old pay channel, is everything a fan could want and can become all they want after a while.

Today’s RedZone coverage recalls the old days when early-round NCAA basketball tournament coverage on TV used to switch from buzzer-beater to buzzer-beater because not all games were easily accessed by fans.

RedZone skims Fox and CBS game coverage as if deftly working a remote control. It offers a way to follow all the games at once without having to watch any of them, the perfect approach to a sport that has spent recent years convincing fans to embrace fantasy football at the expense of team allegiance.

Why should fantasy-team owners spend three-plus hours with only two NFL franchises (or even just four if games are going head to head on TV where they live) when they’re figuratively and literally invested in players scattered over several teams and multiple games?

Even for those who don’t go in for fantasy football, the appeal of flitting from one big-game situation to another to another in real time — live or within seconds — is undeniable. There’s rarely a dull moment, merely the occasional chance to catch your breath.

Besides, a 31-3 Bears loss — a pantsing so uninteresting that Fox switched away to other games in many markets — is less difficult to get through if watching six other early games simultaneously.

Each football Sunday from noon to the end of the last late-afternoon game about 7 p.m., RedZone makes sure viewers see the best of whatever is going on around the league at any given moment while sparing them almost all of the stuff that bores them to tears.

RedZone has little use for huddles, replay reviews and timeouts, and there are no commercials, save for an omnipresent logo for presenting sponsor Amazon Prime.

As soon as it appears a football game RedZone has dropped in on is about to pause for one reason or another, the channel bolts for another game where something either just happened, is happening or is about to happen.

Then it’s back to the first game or somewhere else where there’s consequential action.

Or maybe a split screen showing multiple games at once, if the situation warrants.

Or a scoreboard to show how things are going overall, while fantasy stats roll across the bottom of the screen.

There is no need to talk about storylines because, for the most part, there is no story to follow. If there is, RedZone’s Scott Hanson talks over the CBS or Fox game announcers to give the quick summary.

Hanson, RedZone’s host, is by design a man of few words. He sets the scenes in transitions, offering just enough context for viewers to know what they’re parachuting into, then lets the game announcers take over.

His role is that of a tourist guide, saying what his audience is being shown and why it matters, then letting you experience it as if you’ve been watching that game all along.

Just as important, the RedZone crew knows when to linger, as when Michael Crabtree and Aqib Talib laid into each other in the Raiders-Broncos game. RedZone let the melee play out and was there when CBS presented video from an earlier confrontation between the two.

Mostly, though, it’s bang, bang, bang. It’s third and fourth downs, scoring plays, goal-to-go situations, great runs, incredible catches, just-misses and turnovers.

The only real downside is once you’ve grown accustomed to its pace and thoroughness, it becomes difficult to watch an ordinary NFL telecast in the ordinary way again. It will seem slow and relatively action-free.

Sports Illustrated may have overstated things a wee bit when it once called RedZone “the greatest invention in the history of mankind.”

Even in football, it may not quite be on par with the forward pass and office pool, but it’s awfully good.

For those worried about declines in viewership of NFL telecasts on Fox and CBS, it actually may be too good.

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By Phil Rosenthal

Chicago Tribune