Sunday, October 10, 2010

The times they are a-changing.

"You'd better start swimming, or you'll sink like a stone."
- Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are a-Changin'"
I grew up in the 1960s, and as a result of my childhood, I believe that television should be free. However, the prevailing notion is that we pay for TV now, and have since the late 1990s. My cable bill used to be $9.95 a month, and for that princely sum I got a push-button box with a lot of the same channels that I got for free, plus something called PRISM that carried Phillies, Sixers and Flyers games - commercial-free.
Fast-forward to 2010, and I have invested in a high-definition television and pay $120 a month for cable TV, but I derive much more pleasure from it than I did when I paid ten bucks a month. It's strange how time changes our viewpoint.
One of the many things I enjoy about the expense is something called NFL Red Zone, which in some ways defies description. Forced to describe it, I would tell you that it shows every score of every NFL game every Sunday. It is expertly hosted by Scott Hanson, who doesn't seem the least bit phased by the onslaught of as many as 10 different games going on at once, and somehow holds the thing together. He and the gang take us seamlessly from one game to the next, sometimes with 4 screens at once (the famous quadruple box) and we somehow get to see every time a team scores. It's the magic of television.
The pre-show video starts with music that makes one think that "Ben Hur" is starting, or some head of state is prepared to walk in. Each crescendo moves onto the next, until the fateful moment of "NFL Red Zone will begin in 0:00" comes, just as the start of the games come. Then, a robotic set of video screens ensues and we are prepared for an onslaught of football unlike any that preceded it. (hyped enough for ya?)
When there are days like today, when the Eagles and Phillies are on at night, the NFL schedule blends together into a mish-mash of games that seem like one big game, since I don't bet on them. I do, however, have a fantasy team (that is presently 4-0) and it's important to me to know what's going on from one minute to the next, even though it's impossible for me to do anything about it. That's the beauty of the Red Zone channel.
It was a stroke of genius (if genius is defined by decisions on TV) to have cable compete with the dish and those people who subscribe to the NFL package so that they can see meaningless moments of games they care about. Why not show meaningful moments of games that everybody cares about? That's where the genius come in.
Oh - did I mention that there are no commercials? Just when you think you can get up and take a whiz or grab another beer, you're whisked away to yet another game-breaking situation and you are forced to remain seated. It's a nice form of torture. Meanwhile, the guys at Fox or CBS think they are showing you a "game break" when the rest of us saw it five minutes ago. They aren't watching NFL Red Zone.
One of my fantasy-life goals is to someday own a sports bar. With the increased scrutiny of alcohol and its effects on driving, I'm not sure that is a worthwhile goal. However, if I did happen to own one, I can't see the point in tuning into a particular game at the exclusion of others when there is a channel that shows us every game and every score. I'd call it the Fantasy Sports Bar, since you could follow all your fantasy football players at once, just by watching the Red Zone channel.
Suffice it to say, if you are a fan of the NFL and aren't paying for this thing, you're missing out on something very cool.
They break-in on the network's coverage so it doesn't matter if your favorite team's game isn't being broadcast. It's on the Red Zone channel. Yes, it does add to the already-costly cable bill, but some things are worth paying for. Since I already have several shopping channels and a few Spanish-language channels built into my cable bill, it's nice to pay for something that I can actually use.
What a concept.

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