One of the more underrated sports broadcasting developments in recent years has been the side-by-side coverage that has come to auto racing telecasts. Unlike football or basketball or baseball, there is continuous action in auto racing that happens during commercial breaks. The cars don’t just magically stop like a Saved by the Bell episode, so we can take a Zack Morris timeout and see some ads only to restart again after the break. So as a way for fans to not miss any of the action, and still get their commercial fix, the networks invented side-by-side coverage to show both at the same time.
It’s a win-win because fans don’t have to miss any action and the networks get to greatly increase the chance that viewers will actually watch ads instead of channel surf.
Another sport that features continuous action is golf. (All you non-golf fans are probably laughing at that sentence, but it’s true.) In a typical golf telecast, there’s always something happening all the way around the golf course and if a big shot occurs during a commercial break, you’ll see it on tape when the broadcast returns.
For NBC’s Ryder Cup coverage this year, the network is going to try something new and debut side-by-side coverage during a golf tournament for the first time. NBC is calling the coverage during commercial breaks “Playing Through,” which is a clever golf pun for the technique.
— Martin Kaufmann (@Golfweek_Marty) September 20, 2016
According to Golf Digest, about a third of the commercial breaks will feature the side-by-side coverage, with most of them taking place in the latter stages of each day’s action.
The Ryder Cup isn’t a traditional tournament, with only four matches on the course at a time during the first two days of the event and 12 singles matches on Sundays. This continuous coverage is pretty cool for golf fans, but I do wonder how the logistics will work for a telecast. Without any sound, it’ll be difficult for the side-by-side box to jump around to a number of different golfers during the break while providing proper context. Although, if there are detailed graphics that are able to communicate what’s going on to viewers, they should be able to follow along. However, if the telecast decides to just stick with one group, there could be a lot of walking around, getting yardages, and reading greens.
This is a nice innovation for the Ryder Cup and I can imagine golf fans will be very receptive towards being able to see more shots from the event, in lieu of full-screen commercials. And if it’s successful at this week’s Ryder Cup, it’s hard to imagine side-by-side coverage not becoming a staple of golf coverage throughout the year.