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Reviewing CBS’s broadcast of Super Bowl 50

Breaking down CBS’s less-than-stellar broadcast of the Broncos’ win over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 and more Media Circus.

In the end, the scoreboard in sports television is ratings. CBS can claim it had a terrific NFL season given its regular-season NFL telecasts averaged 19.1 million viewers, a 2% increase over last year. It can also claim success for its pregame show given it averaged 4.0 million viewers in 2015, up 5% over 2014 and the highest viewer average for the show in 18 years since CBS re-acquired the NFL in 1998. If you want to talk playoff ratings, CBS can really boast. The AFC Championship Game between Denver and New England drew an eye-popping 53.3 million, the second highest AFC Championship Game viewership ever behind the 2011 game between the Steelers and Jets (54.9 million).

But this has not been a good year for CBS’s NFL coverage if you judge a sports network on critical reception of its top NFL team, especially via social media. The network’s top analyst (Phil Simms) and rules analyst (Mike Carey) have endured the kind of social media criticism usually reserved for Chris Berman calling an NFL game.

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While you are never as bad or as good as your social media reviews, Simms has had an uneven year at best, and Carey has come off far too often as lacking self-assurance on camera, which is counter to how he was as a referee. Ideally, Carey’s job evaluation should not be based on whether he predicts accurately what the officials will do but rather the quality of his own evaluation. The reality, of course, is that Carey’s predictions have missed so often that he’s become a prisoner of that.

So there was a lot at stake on Sunday for CBS’s top broadcast crew and Denver’s 24–10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 did the broadcast no favors—a pair of stout defenses making it miserable for both offenses, especially so for NFL MVP Cam Newton. The game had 17 penalties, six turnovers and less than 300 combined passing yards.

Viewers have been spoiled the last eight years with mostly quality games (sans Super Bowl XLVIII), but this game had zero flow. Nor did the broadcast. CBS has had much better days, including excellent work at the AFC championship. Super Bowl 50 felt mostly jarring as a viewer, highlighted by a lack of replays and audio issues. Social media was flooded with complaints about hearing someone in CBS’s production truck counting down to a commercial on multiple breaks as well as the broadcast feeling too graphic heavy throughout and especially at the game’s end.

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Regarding replays, here was one example: Simms offered a curious line with just under six minutes left in the third quarter when Newton was intercepted by safety T.J. Ward on a pass intended for Ted Ginn Jr. Said Simms: “He threw it so hard that Ted Ginn could not make the catch.”

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That was a curious assessment by an analyst about an NFL wide receiver who has been in the league since 2007 (and has had previous drop issues) and the CBS production staff failed (or maybe saved) Simms by not giving us a close-up of the play. Viewers saw a long-distance angle of the throw and the broadcast never came back to the pick after a commercial break. So was it Newton’s throw or a receiver not making a play?

What else? CBS inexplicably aired multiple full-screen graphics about Peyton Manning on the game’s final play instead of showing Manning himself. Given it was likely Manning’s last game in the NFL, it’s a call CBS will regret when it sees the tape. 

Simms had a mixed broadcast at best. For example, where he could be prescient foreshadowing a third quarter pass to Denver wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, he also referred to Panthers cornerback Robert McClain as McBridetwice

Like a man with a lifetime of losing lottery tickets, Carey first came on the air with 7:16 left in the first quarter when Carolina coach Ron Rivera challenged the official’s ruling of an incomplete deep pass down the middle of the field to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. After a long break, Carey was brought in. He praised the challenge—I happened to think he was right —and said if he was in the booth he would reverse the call. “If I was in the booth I would reverse this to a catch,” Carey said. Naturally, the call stood. We never saw Carey again.

Not all was bad. The graphics change—similar to NBC’s Sunday Night Football—looked very clean, and CBS director Mike Arnold had a beautiful, tight shot of Newton mouthing a prayer prior to taking his first snap of the game with Jim Nantz explaining why he said it. The broadcast had its best sequence of the night for Newton’s fourth-quarter fumble, including immediate replays from above, a close-up shot and a third replay. CBS then came back to more replays after a Carolina timeout. Simms and Nantz pointed out that Newton seemed to avoid diving for the ball.