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Is the Alternate Broadcast Doomed?

Kyle Koster
Dave Kotinsky/GettyImages
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Another ManningCast graced televisions last night as the Cleveland Browns clobbered the still-hungover-from-the-Super Bowl Cincinnati Bengals. Peyton and Eli Manning are undeniably affable and they add value. Basic production has improved tremendously since last year and everyone involved feels more comfortable. To be clear, it's a very good product driven by two of the biggest names in their sport with a legacy surname and maximum push from both Omaha Productions and ESPN. All of which makes us wonder: is this the peak of alternate broadcasts? And if so, doesn't that portend bad news for everyone else who is shifting eggs into this basket only to discover the ceiling isn't particularly high?

To be perfectly clear again, the ManningCast is a major success. But it's also uniquely constructed to succeed and is impossible to recreate. Reception online and from other sports-media nerds has been overwhelmingly effusive. Yet they aren't exactly re-inventing the wheel or inventing something new that others can copy, despite the effusive praise.

It may not be the perfect conduit but allow me to share what I think is an instructive snapshot. Last night Peyton revealed that his dream ManningCast guest would be Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. And he wants them during the game.

This is an idea pulled from the back of the refrigerator and nuked in the microwave for 30 seconds. It's not revolutionary at all. FOX has been interviewing players in the dugout during the World Series. Broadcast booths have been conversing with miked-up players for multiple years while they field grounders or catch fly balls. If the dream ManningCast content is talking shop with Tucker as he stands around on the sidelines, that's fine. I'll just continue to be nonplussed and amused by those who seem to be bending over backwards to bow at the feet of this project as though it's some sort of iconic event. More importantly, I'll continue to be baffled that sports-television production feels at times like when the Always Sunny gang saw fishermen passing the same fish back and forth.

Whatever novelty there was in alternate broadcasts has worn off a bit and is not a renewable resource. If the best one — and make no mistake, this is the best one — looks and feels like this, what chance do the others have? It's not a pleasant question yet it feels like a fair one. Is this all there is in the world of second-screen options? Is this what the future will look like? And is the future just an endless array of palatable inventory meant to drive up total eyeballs, repackaged a thousand times over?

Time will tell.

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