NFL RedZone keeps its eyes on the games -- all of them
Nov 22, 2012 (Los Angeles Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Rocking back and forth as his eyes dart from left to right, Scott Hanson looks like a nervous punt returner desperately searching for an opening to run through.
But instead of a free safety gunning for his head, Hanson is contending with trying to watch nine football games at once while simultaneously listening to producers barking in his ears and reading notes being waved in front of his face from two researchers.
Oh, and he's doing all this on live television.
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Hanson is the anchor of NFL RedZone, a cable network designed for the fan who just can't be satisfied watching one game at a time. Every Sunday for seven commercial-free hours, RedZone hopscotches around every game in search of action. Hanson is the channel's ringmaster, taking viewers from blowouts to nail-biters and trying to provide a narrative to what otherwise might seem like spending an afternoon in a sports bar next to a drunk guy with a remote control.
"It's like reading several books at the same time," Hanson said. "You have to put a bookmark in it and remember where you are."
Helping guide Hanson is a team that resembles air traffic controllers more than they do producers. Each game is a jet and the producers follow it from takeoff to landing and scream out progress reports to each other, and then executive producers Kent Camera and Jonathan Kaplan make the call on what game to cut to for an update.
"We'll get you where you have to be," Camera promised.
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Hanson's perpetual motion persona is a source of much humor inside the Culver City-based NFL Network.
"He's so nuts he makes coffee nervous," cracked NFL Network lead anchor Rich Eisen.
Watching RedZone is no easy task. The dizzying speed with which it jumps from game to game can give one motion sickness and eye strain. Often it is showing two and sometimes three games at once. Earlier this month, RedZone debuted its "octo box," which showed eight games at once.
Kaplan likens RedZone to playing the old arcade game Frogger. It was clearly built for younger viewers who are already in the habit of watching TV while surfing the Internet, texting a friend and making lunch.
Although it is in its fourth year of operation, many Angelenos are getting their first taste of RedZone's addictive powers now that Time Warner Cable, the area's largest pay-TV provider, is carrying the channel, which was launched by the National Football League as a companion channel to its NFL Network.
The high-energy Hanson, who also hosts two shows on the NFL Network and has been with the channel for six years, was the obvious choice for the job.
Since satellite broadcaster DirecTV has the exclusive rights to the NFL's Sunday Ticket package that gives subscribers access to every game from start to finish, RedZone was the league's way of throwing competing pay-TV distributors a bone and giving them an extra incentive to carry the NFL Network.
For some football fans, RedZone, which costs as little as $5 a month for a subscription, is a much better deal than Sunday Ticket, which runs $199 per season.
"I'll blow an entire Sunday sitting on the channel," said Jeff Katz, a Palms resident who dropped Sunday Ticket as soon as he could get RedZone. "I'm getting a grand guided tour around each game. I haven't remotely missed Sunday Ticket. It is the single best entertainment value I have."
The channel is catnip to hard-core football fans, but particularly those who play fantasy football, because one of RedZone's gimmicks is to show every touchdown in every game (hence the name RedZone). This season it has even been displaying updated fantasy statistics throughout the day on the bottom of the screen.
Because RedZone has no commercials and is operating only on Sundays during the football season, the NFL does not have its audience measured by Nielsen.
However, the lack of commercials and once-a-week schedule are not the only reasons RedZone isn't measured. The NFL is very sensitive to any perception that RedZone is siphoning away potential viewers from CBS, Fox and Sunday Ticket. The league not only won't disclose how many people are watching, it won't even say how many homes get the channel across the country. Industry estimates put the latter figure around 40 million homes.
Cable operators say the channel is quite popular.
"We've already seen a meaningful increase in the penetration of our Sports Pass tier since the addition of RedZone," Time Warner Cable President Rob Marcus said on a recent call with Wall Street analysts.
A DirecTV spokesman acknowledged that RedZone has had a "minor impact" on the Sunday Ticket sales. It is probably no coincidence that the $199 price for Sunday Ticket this season is the cheapest it's been offered in a decade.
RedZone executive producer Eric Weinberger notes that Fox's and CBS' ratings have been on the rise for the past few seasons and downplays the idea that any of the league's other rights holders might have concerns about RedZone.
"This is a complementary experience for the networks and fans, not an adversarial relationship," Weinberger said.
Hanson's only adversarial relationship appears to be with his bladder. Not only is he on his feet for pretty much the entire seven hours he is hosting RedZone, he also gets at most one bathroom break. His pre-show beverage is a pink concoction that is a mixture of water and pomegranate-flavored SoBe Lifewater.
"My fantasy football team name is 'The Iron Bladders,'" he said.
Food, however, is a luxury. After breakfast at 7 a.m., he has to ask permission to take a bite out of a sandwich.
"On several occasions I've done updates mid-chew... although I challenge our audience to determine when they've ever noticed," he said.
For all the time Hanson spends in front of a camera on Sundays, viewers rarely actually get to see his face once the games are on. "I shouldn't even have to wear a tie on this show."
'NFL Red Zone'
Where: DirecTV 703
When: 10 a.m. Sunday
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