Super Bowl Loser? The Web
For years now, the prophets of popular culture have been extolling the wonders of interactive television, which would give viewers access to greatly expanded multimedia content. The much-talked-about "convergence" of TV and the World Wide Web is making interactive TV a reality. So during Super Bowl XXXII, I decided to see just how far down the road we are. I used my Sony Corp. WebTV to flip with just a click of my remote between NBC's broadcast of the game and a clutch of Web sites offering updated game fare.
NOT QUITE. The first thing I discovered is that the technology still has a very long way to go. I was never able to get the home page of www.superbowl.com, the official National Football League site run by IBM, to load in my WebTV. But that wasn't much of loss. By the time Jewel sang the National Anthem, the site, which was supposed to offer such goodies as the opportunity to choose alternative camera shots and hear audio from the press box at Qualcomm Stadium, had apparently all but collapsed. Even when I tried using my computer, pages were taking 10 minutes or more to appear.
Content on the sites I did browse varied widely. NBC should have had the inside track. But its online efforts lagged far behind CBS Sports' cbs.sportsline.com and ABC Sports' corporate sibling, espnet.sportszone.com. NBC promises a new MSNBC Sports site in time for spring's National Basketball Assn. playoffs, but its Super Bowl effort was lame. Long after the CBS and ESPN sites had posted details of the Green Bay Packers' opening scoring drive, MSNBC was leading with a pregame Reuters story. The site, which had little beyond brief summaries, continued to limp badly throughout the game.
As the game wore on, www.superbowl.com worked faster on my desktop computer. But the multiple camera views turned out to be nothing more than postage-stamp-sized stills of the field and were hardly worth the trouble. NBC was quick to offer different replay angles when they shed light on a play.
One problem with efforts to enhance televised sports events is that the broadcasters already drown you in statistics, replays, diagrams, and commentaries between plays. There just isn't much for a Web site to add, though ESPN's Java-based GameCaster offered the hard-core fan the best and timeliest data during the game, with statistics and charts that nearly kept up with scoring drives and other live action.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that while I browsed Web sites, I wasn't watching the game. Unlike most recent Super Bowls, this game was more exciting than anything on the Web, or even the fate of the Budweiser frogs.
FUTURE SPEED. A few online features gave a glimpse of where the technology could lead. AudioNet (www.audionet.com) offered play-by-plays in a variety of languages, though both the French and German broadcasts failed (and none worked on WebTV). Someday, very high-speed Net connections will replace the static alternative camera shots on the NFL site with full-screen video. But once that happens, viewers are likely to discover why directors get paid so much to pick the best shot.
After the game, the Web presented a flood of statistics, summaries, and analyses in video, audio, and text. Within minutes of the Denver Broncos' dramatic victory over Green Bay, you could find the information you once couldn't get until the next morning's paper, if then. TV still does a much better job than the Web in conveying events as they happen. What today's Web does best is coming in after the fact with fast, in-depth information that fills in the blanks.