January 29, 2013

Editorial: Save plugs for break in action


---- — The Baltimore Ravens were driving toward a crucial score in the National Football League American Conference Championship game against the New England Patriots. Fifty million Americans were watching.

The combination of legendary Coach Bill Belichick, legendary quarterback Tom Brady and a flagging Patriots defensive unit were trying desperately to hold off the surprising Ravens.

Suddenly, the tension was broken when play-by-play man Jim Nance interrupted the action with this piece of advice: “Don’t miss tonight’s episode of ‘Hawaii Five-0.’”

After a brief description of the episode’s plot, it was back to the business at hand, for which the 50 million fans were tuned in.

Many of the 50 million had to be wondering why CBS had chosen that moment to put in a most unwelcome plug.

The answer is obvious, if frustrating to true fans. The network had a captive audience at a time when a plug would do the most good. That audience was riveted to television screens. At few other times during the year, except for Super Bowl Sunday, can that large a collection of viewers be counted on.

But doesn’t that kind of opportunism annoy us as real fans of something other than “Hawaii Five-0?”

Understand that this opinion comes from a news outlet with a genuine appreciation for the importance of advertising. Those ads are the heart of any news or entertainment organization. Without them, there would be no organization.

But, in this case, timing is everything. Couldn’t CBS save those plugs for between-action moments, when the paid ads run? The fact that the plugs are aimed at putting money in its own pockets is not lost on the savvy viewer.

Nance and his on-air partner, retired New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, had been expertly narrating the action on the field, only to have the spell short-circuited, momentarily, by the promotion for the cop show.

It’s not that CBS doesn’t have a perfect right to plug anything it wants during its televising of games. After all, it had paid a hefty $622 million to air the three hours of close combat. Next year, the same rights will cost $1 billion.

The network had to sell some very expensive advertising to realize a profit — and it will. But football fans have a right to expect that the network that carries that game and has ballyhooed it for weeks has a respect for its importance and the hold it has on its viewers.

Let’s not be naïve: Any network would crave contact with 50 million viewers.

But can’t it spare us the self-serving plugs until there’s a legitimate break in the action?