Baseball's wild night a pivotal day in media use

Boston fans watch TV coverage of the Red Sox playing the Orioles. Millions followed four games live on many devices.
Boston fans watch TV coverage of the Red Sox playing the Orioles. Millions followed four games live on many devices. (ELISE AMENDOLA / Associated Press)
Posted: September 30, 2011

Wednesday night, as the world knows, was sacred in the Church of Baseball.

But it was also a monumental media moment.

Baseball: It was the last day of the season, with much in the balance. Four games were crucial; three turned out to be historic blockbusters.

Media: Millions sat with TV remotes in one hand, flipping among numerous channels - ESPN, MLB, CSN, YES, TBS - and handheld devices in the other hand, using phone apps, such as MLB.com At Bat 11, following four games at once, with a variety of real-time commentators, blogs, charts, graphs, and play-by-play accounts.

It was a night of split screens (especially beautiful at ESPN and MLB), quick cuts, breathless updates, lightning stats, video replays, the very best media can offer.

It lasted into Thursday morning. At the end, millions shared the shocked joy of the Tampa Bay fans, the glum depression in Atlanta and Boston, the improbable sprint of the St. Louis Cardinals, a record-setting season for Philadelphia, in a night of exaltation, disappointment, and clutch homers.

Matt Richtel, media blogger for the New York Times, calls Wednesday night "a moment when cynicism took the night off, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone without either a smile or a tear - or a sense of awe - in a usually prepackaged world."

And millions followed it all live, switching back and forth across media platforms and thousands of miles, to be there as it happened.

This is the way we live now. We do this all the time, and not just with sports: We media-multitask for elections, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Osama bin Laden, the royal wedding of Kate and William. We have come to expect it. We can connect to human experience in places around the world, instantly, simultaneously, at speed and depth. And we use what we find as social intercourse, to share with our network of friends and acquaintances.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, says "media multitasking with multiple devices is common now, especially for younger people. You can watch TV with your laptop or smartphone next to you, tweet friends about developments, send text messages." A Sept. 26 Pew survey suggests that most of us use a salad of Internet, newspaper, TV, and other media sources daily.

We do not just sit and absorb passively - we use it as the currency of talk and friendship. "Media use," says Rainie, "has become a real contact sport. It's not just consumerism, it's a conversational experience. Sports and other events are not just passive entertainment properties - they are interaction starters now, a big part of how you shape your image in this networked world."

Emotions

Increasingly, we are brought into the lives of  many people in many emotional situations. The mute shock of first responders on 9/11; the stoic grief of Japanese victims of tsunami and earthquake; the delight at the rescue of the Chilean miners; the triumphs and questions of the Arab Spring; the ragtag heroism of the former rebels of Libya.

"Clearly," says Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at Penn, "the potential for people to be more connected and more informed, to get information in a more timely fashion about culture and society, is greater than at any point in history."

And so is our ability to connect with people - at least, potentially. We could be enlarging our emotional neighborhood.

Delli Carpini, coauthor with Bruce Williams of the coming After Broadcast News, a study of how people get their information, says media-multitasking "involves an emotional connection. So it could expand the numbers and kinds of people whom we feel connected to, have empathy for, whom we feel we know."

Sports is especially good for that, says Richtel. "Sports has literally kept TV alive. You can record Seinfeld and other shows to watch later - but sports, you still need to watch live. There's an element of the unknown that means that sports, although it's very much big-market entertainment, involves an emotional roller coaster that is in fact genuine."

 

Connections

Those moans in Atlanta when the Phillies turned that final double play - they were real. Those glad shouts when that final homer cleared the fence in Tampa - they were really glad.

"For all this talk of individualized, customized media," says Richtel, "there's enormous emotional value in being connected to events."

One who thinks the multimedia-multitasker is faster, smarter, and more engaged, in depth, is Tim Kurkjian, baseball commentator for ESPN. "I can simply not believe how quickly people are getting their information now," he says. "I was sitting next to the Red Sox dugout [Wednesday] night in Baltimore, and a guy had the Yanks score even before it was put on the scoreboard."

When Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira hit a grand slam in Tampa, "you could hear a palpable response in the Baltimore crowd well before it even went up on a scoreboard. That tells me people are getting their news and info really fast, too fast for TV, from whatever they're holding in their hands, from a lot of different sources."

For Kurkjian, "there's no doubt" people are hooked in, more knowledgeable, more understanding. "By and large," he says, "it's a very good thing."


Contact staff writer John Timpane at 215-854-4406, jt@phillynews.com, or

@jtimpane on Twitter.

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