"Televised Sporting Event Completely Obscured by On-screen Graphics," read a headline in last week's issue of the satirical journal The Onion. There's more than a kernel of truth to the parody. The amount of TV screen devoted to action coverage is disappearing at an alarming rate. "We used to believe you only showed one thing at a time, but the viewing environment has changed," says Neil Goldberg, who produces NASCAR broadcasts for Fox. "Today's audience is visually processing several things at once."
This month Fox introduced a new, more intrusive version of its scoreboard graphic on baseball broadcasts: A heavy black stats bar is seen at the top of the screen for much of the telecast. Combine that with frequent in-game summaries and out-of-town scores, and it's easy to understand why some fans are feeling the squeeze. "It can become a blizzard of numbers," says Tim Scanlan, ESPN's coordinating baseball producer, "but with the Internet, viewers are accustomed to getting every stat on demand."
Fox in particular has taken the more-is-more idea to extremes. On NASCAR telecasts this year a two-tier ticker runs across the top fifth of the screen. When a drop-down bar spotlighting an individual car's stats is added, along with a bottom-screen banner on the driver, graphics cover more than half the screen. "Motor sports fans are knowledgeable," says Goldberg. "We feel they can assimilate all we give them. After all, they've been watching Bloomberg for years."