Covid, Mirror Neurons, and the Long Shadow of the Post Game

This is the second in a four-part blog series guest-authored by video tech expert Brian Ring. Sign-up to our upcoming Live Webinar at FutureOfTV.Live! (Ring’s next #FutureOfTV Survey is dropping on October 9, 2020.)

By Brian Ring


The first regularly scheduled NBC broadcasts commenced during the 1939 World’s Fair. The David Sarnoff-led Radio Corporation of America sponsored the exhibition, and one of the first-ever sports telecasts was a Major League Baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

According to, this two-camera production had key elements of today’s modern broadcast, including
play-by-play, post-game interviews with players and a Red Barber wrap-up summary of the game -- even if no replay machine had yet been invented to rapidly cue-up highlights.

As history tells it, it wasn’t until the legendary Roone Alredge took the helm at ABC in 1961 that the entertainment value of sports television began ramping up in earnest.

Roone instructed camera crews to focus on facets of the game other than the action on the field. Six cameras were in use by then and Roone pushed for them to be capturing emotion -- a close-up of a coach after a dropped pass; the “beaming expression” of a halfback that just scored a seventy-yard touchdown. “In short,” Roone wrote in a now-famous memo, “WE ARE GOING TO ADD SHOW BUSINESS TO SPORTS!”

And he did.

He mixed three discrete personalities in a broadcast booth that would come to define both live game production including pre- and post-game shows. Howard Cosell’s hard-charging opinions would stir the pot. Former Cowboys QB Don Meredith would keep things light. And Frank Gifford nailed the play-by-play.

Producer Dennis Lewin described it to TV historians this way:

"The three created, for want of a better phrase, 'watercooler' talk. Every Tuesday morning people all over the country would say, 'Hey, did you hear what Howard said to Don, or what Don said to Howard, what was said about this coach, what was said about that player?' It created a whole different atmosphere."

Today, of course, the idea of sports as entertainment is yesterday’s news. The rise of SportsCenter, highlight shows and playful or edgy segments filled with personality took sports TV from an inexpensive form of live production -- after all, the fields were already well-lit and the competition was the content -- into the most expensive, technically advanced form of programming.

But the rise of social media has changed some of these dynamics. In particular, recaps, highlights and sports clips are everywhere to be found on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Indeed, in 2016, then-President of the FOX Sports National Networks felt he had to justify these studio shows to an audience of industry professionals at a sports conference.

He said: “I think the studio shows cast a long shadow, because it’s sexy to write about. People say interesting, incisive things that lead to further coverage. So I think that shadow extends way beyond immediate ratings impact.”

But as we struggle with covid’s social isolation and the disappearance of the watercooler more generally, it strikes me that the post game is powerful for two deeper reasons.

One, far from having run its course because too many highlights are available on Twitter, my take on social media and sports is that its great strength is also a weakness. What I love about sports Twitter is seeing amazing highlights I wouldn’t have caught otherwise, tripping over LOL comments, or keeping myself generally sports-informed. 

What I don’t love is attempting to use Twitter to catch-up on a game I missed. What a rabbit hole! It’s far too scattered and fragmented an experience, and it doesn’t deliver the video deep-dive I’m looking for to catch-up on the storylines that matter for me.

Highlight reels, expert analysis, coach and player interviews, this is the gold that gets mined in sophisticated rapid-turn workflows that are critical to keeping hometown fans engaged at a level that is both meaningful for them but also key to getting them to tune-in to the next game.

And today there are ever more pixel feeds and slow motion speeds, data sets to augment reality and social media personalities to make sports stories as captivating as ever.

The post game is absolutely critical for helping media companies maintain and focus consumer attention on their core product.

But there’s another long shadow that the post-game casts which seems particularly important during covid.

As TV has done from the time it entered our living rooms, it’s keeping us company.

Maybe more so than we think. There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest the fascinating presence of mirror neurons in our brains. Experiments show -- for example -- that certain neurons fire in the brains of monkeys both when a monkey performs an action and also when the monkey watches someone else perform that action. 

This is complex science and I don’t mean to suggest Kelli Johnson and Shawn Estes of NBC Bay Area are my best friends. But, they’re good ones. And most of all? When it comes to cueing up the biggest plays, angles and perspectives -- they’re magic at the wheel.

But regardless of any specific link between these special neurons and the feeling that these studio stars are in our living room, sports chatter that features the very best angles, highlights, sounds and fan content is the lifeblood of sustaining and extending media audience relationships.

Dynamic Media Orchestration is critical for enabling rapid-turn workflows. To understand why REACH ENGINE is trusted by the biggest sports leagues, teams and networks, visit this FOX Sports case study featuring a solution orchestrating thousands of near-live assets along with partners Telestream and Aspera. Or, set a meeting with Art Raymond today.

Brian Ring is principal analyst at Ring Digital llc, a revenue growth consultancy that uses consumer surveys to understand changing viewing behaviors, inform client product strategies and execute go-to-market thought leadership for video innovators serving TV providers, networks, studios and broadcasters around the world.  


Let’s Connect

REACH ENGINE does your heavy lifting, so you can focus on creating more.