For overlapping doubleheaders, ESPN needs to ditch the overlapping coverage

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For its first foray into the concept of the overlapping Monday night doubleheader, ESPN and ABC tried to placate the audiences of each game by providing maximum information about the other game. In the future, maybe the better plan would be to give less. A lot less. Maybe nothing at all.

When it comes to prime-time, fans are accustomed to watching one game only. Many prefer it. The overlapping doubleheader is aimed at least in part at reducing the total time commitment from six hours to, roughly, four. But there’s a better way to balance the interests of those who want to consume two games at once and those who prefer to invest a full six hours (or more) by watching one game at a time.

That’s the biggest piece of unsolicited (and perhaps unwanted) advice that can be given. ESPN and ABC should aspire to preserve the ability of viewers to watch each game without spoilers. The games should be self-contained, not simulcast.

On Sunday afternoons, highlights and scores and other information from other games are routinely shared, even though much of the audience is watching only one of seven, eight, or nine contests. That’s what the viewers are accustomed to.

Thirty years ago, fans craved the ability to know what was happening in other games, and the only way to get that information (short of calling a 976 line) was to watch whichever game(s) were being broadcast in the local market. (CNN Headline News was the first network to flash scores of in-progress NFL games at the bottom of the screen, making it — for a year or two — a must-stop destination for fans who wanted to know what was going on in a game that wasn’t available on TV.)

The experience on Monday night (and in prime-time generally) has been far different. Fans are used to watching one game at a time. Many prefer it. With two games being televised nationally, there’s no reason to keep the folks watching one game constantly apprised of whatever is happening in the other game. People who want to watch both games will find a way to do it. Whether they have a pair of televisions or a TV and a laptop or tablet or phone, it’s not nearly as difficult and expensive as it used to be to watch two games at once.

So the goal should not be to keep the audience of one game fully informed as to the progress of the other one, but completely uninformed. The score bug for the other game, which is very distracting, should be dumped. Also, there’s no need to ever show both games at once. Cutting the screen in half to show what’s happening in the other game takes away from the primary game. And there’s definitely no reason to show highlights from one game in the other game.

Scott Van Pelt is great. But when watching Vikings-Eagles, I don’t need him to show me and to tell me about the highlights of the other game — especially when, on at least one occasion, he was narrating highlights from Titans-Bills over the action of Vikings -Eagles. (It’s not his fault. He was doing his job. But someone higher up needs to ask whether this is a job that should be done.)

Last night was an experiment. ESPN presumably will tinker a little, or a lot, with the presentation of the game. Hopefully, ESPN will consider the value of letting fans who want to watch one game at a time do so, without any spoilers.

There’s no purpose served by potentially enticing the viewer to change from one Disney-owned network to the other. The viewers are already tuned in to one of the games. There’s no reason to try to get them to flip. There’s every reason to let those who are willing to invest six straight hours in watching Monday Night Football to do so without knowing anything about the other game until they watch it.

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