The concept behind the Red Zone channel is simple. On Sunday afternoons, when as many as nine NFL football games are being played at the same time, the action on the screen cuts to any game where a team has driven to within the opponent's 30-yard line. If a score is imminent in more than one game, the channel cuts from one to the other in rapid-fire succession. The pace can be frenetic, and a split screen is often used.
Watching a football game the traditional way can be leisurely, with time between plays to get a snack or pace around the room, depending on a fan's commitment. But the Red Zone is an onslaught of play after play after play, many for touchdowns. And because it's offered now only by pay services like DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse, there are no commercials to interrupt the action. A Dallas blogger calls it "football concentrate injected directly into your soul."
But some say TV innovations like this make the couch and clicker a more attractive option than spending hundreds of dollars for parking and tickets to see the actual games in person. Last year, 22 NFL games were blacked out in their markets, meaning they didn't sell out and therefore weren't broadcast on TV, a five-year high. So far in 2010, four have seen a similar fate, including one in San Diego, a perennial playoff contender.
The NFL has always spurred TV innovation, be it with Monday Night Football, onscreen graphics or the overhead camera. But now the league might secretly be wishing for a little restraint.