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FOX Sports Production Decision May Cut Older TVs Out of Info Loop

Monday, August 30, 2010 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 9:29 PM, under ,

Panama City Beach, FL (Aug 30, 2010) - Just over a week ago I was flipping through the television channels and came to the FOX Sports MLB Game of the Week on local affiliate WPGX FOX 28.  As I started to watch, I noticed that the in-game score "bug" was severely cut off, so severely that I could not tell who was playing.  Yesterday, the same thing happened on the NFL on FOX pre-season game.

At first I wondered if it was because I was watching on an older television set with a 4:3 display ratio and the graphics were just badly laid out.  I was half right, and the real reason signals a sea change on how FOX Sports is covering games, and how other networks may (or may not) cover sporting events.

"About a month ago, first with Saturday MLB and now with NFL preseason games, we began formatting our picture in 16:9, not 4:3 as everyone else still does, " said FOX Sports Senior VP of Media Relations Lou D'Ermilio (pictured left) in an e-mail to Eye on Sports Media.  "We’ve pushed the graphics further out, though we’re moving them out to the edges somewhat slowly to ease the transition.  Sunday, they were all the way out."

Why is FOX Sports choosing to do this now?

"It’s not just about the graphics," said D'Ermilio. "Our feeling is that the time is finally right to fully produce in 16:9 given that more than half the homes in the US are watching on 16:9 monitors.  One hasn’t been able to buy a 4:3 TV in about 7 years.  Producing and presenting in 16:9 allows directors, who have basically had to confine their framing to essential action at mid-screen, to present an additional 25% of what 16:9 cameras are shooting to HD viewers.  This is good news.

That still leaves out a large number of homes who still have older televisions that display in a 4:3 ratio. Won't this cut these viewers out of the information/stats loop? The answer is "not necessarily."

"SD viewers with 4:3 sets such as you also benefit via letterboxing, which is accomplished by some technical magic on our end and an adjustment made by distributors, with whom we have been working very closely," continued D'Ermilio. "Traditionally, SD viewers see images that are 33% smaller than an HD viewer.  Now, they get to see the same image as the HD viewer by us using a “letterbox” (or FOX Widescreen) picture.  They now get to see what’s happening on either far side of the screen when before they did not."

This explanation, however did not explain why I was not seeing a letterbox version. For a number of FOX Sports viewers, especially those unable to just go out and buy a new TV in this dopwn economy, this may be their experience as part of the transition "growing pains."

"We have found that some local stations and distributors have been slow to get up to speed with what we’re doing, and we’re trying hard to isolate which ones we need to contact," said D'Ermilio.

Change is never easy, and it will be interesting what kind of feedback FOX Sports will get from viewers with older sets. In a worst case scenario, they could indeed find viewers with older sets getting frustrated and just turning the channel. As with all things, only time will tell.

Of course, they could just center their bug in the center top or bottom of the screen like the other networks, and no one will really notice.

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