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Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

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Naturally Less Exciting? Visual Production of

Men's and Women's Track and Field Coverage
During the 2004 Olympics
Jennifer D. Greer Ph.D. , Marie Hardin Ph.D. & Casey Homan M.A.
To cite this article: Jennifer D. Greer Ph.D. , Marie Hardin Ph.D. & Casey Homan M.A. (2009)
Naturally Less Exciting? Visual Production of Men's and Women's Track and Field Coverage
During the 2004 Olympics, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53:2, 173-189, DOI:
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Published online: 08 Jun 2009.

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Naturally Less Exciting?

Visual Production of Mens and
Womens Track and Field Coverage
During the 2004 Olympics
Jennifer D. Greer, Marie Hardin, and Casey Homan
This study analyzes visual production techniques in NBCs 2004 Olympic
track and field coverage using Zettls applied media aesthetics approach.
Track and field coverage is worthy of analysis in relation to gender because of
the sports perception as gender-neutral in comparison to other sports such
as gymnastics (feminine), or U.S. football (masculine). Mens coverage was
presented as more visually exciting than womensit used more shot types,
camera angles, and motion special effects per minute. These differences may
contribute to perceptions that womens sports are inferior or naturally less
interesting than mens, reinforcing men as the symbolic authority in sport.
When Canadian writer Binks (2004) suggested on the CBC Web that the media
should increase airtime for womens hockey, the comment prompted swift reader
reaction. One wrote, bluntly, Womens sport will always have difficulty succeeding
in the entertainment world because fourth and fifth rate mens sport is still better
(Binks, 2004, Letters, para. 5). Another reader gave Binks the brutal truth. There
is not much interest in watching most womens sports : : : Womens sport may not
have the intensity level of the mens sports, may be slower paced or not on the
same skill level. This may be hard to swallow for some people, but its the truth
(Binks, 2004, Letters, para. 5).
These comments reflect the attitude that womens athletics are naturally less interesting than mens (Hallmark & Armstrong, 1999). The truth is, however, that sport
delivered via mass media involves far more than action by athletes. Commentary and

Jennifer D. Greer (Ph.D. University of Florida) is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of
Journalism at the University of Alabama. Her research interests include media effects, media credibility, and
gender and diversity issues.
Marie Hardin (Ph.D. University of Georgia) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and
Associate Director for the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at The Pennsylvania State University.
Her research interests include ethics and diversity issues in sports media and the experiences of women in
sports journalism.
Casey Homan (M.A. University of Nevada) is a Business Development Lead at Lexem Strategy in the
Washington, D.C. area. She previously had worked as a program analyst for the Defense Information
Systems Agency. She worked as an intern in broadcast news sports departments while in college.
2009 Broadcast Education Association
DOI: 10.1080/08838150902907595

Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 53(2), 2009, pp. 173189

ISSN: 0883-8151 print/1550-6878 online


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Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009

visual production combine to project the sports experience to viewers, as explored

to varying degrees by scholars since the 1980s (Duncan & Hasbrook, 1988; Higgs
& Weiller, 1994; Messner, Duncan, & Cooky, 2003; Messner, Duncan, & Jensen,
1993; Messner, Duncan, & Wachs, 1996). Clarke and Clarke (1982) describe the
mediated viewing experience, Between us and the event stand the cameras, camera
angles, producers choice of shots, and commentators interpretations (p. 73).
This study focuses on what happens between us and the event, in relation to
gender, by examining visual production techniques in a mediated sporting event.
Studying production techniques can show how sport is constructed as entertaining;
doing so with an event that features men and women in the same activities sheds
light on how coverage may be constructed differently depending on the gender
of the athletes (Borcila, 2000; Higgs & Weiller, 1994). Focusing solely on television production techniques is a deviation from past studies that have examined
commentary as prime in the framing of athletes (Billings & Angelini, 2007; Billings
& Eastman, 2003; Eastman & Billings, 2001; Messner et al., 1993). However, the
power of visuals in a medium defined and remembered for its images (we watch
TV) cannot be overstated, The picture is the story (Fitch & McCurry, 2004,
p. 107).
This study examines NBCs 2004 mens and womens Olympic track and field
telecasts through Zettls (1999) applied media aesthetics approach that examines
the amount and type of coverage as exhibited through visual production. The study
asks if the visual production frames the events in ways that would present them
as equally visually exciting. Visual excitement is understood to be the result of
the production of events using techniques that can enhance viewers emotional
engagement and visual stimulation. Implied is the idea that an event can be presented in ways that encourage perceptions of it as one that is active, interesting,
and entertaining (Hanjalic, 2006; Sandomir, 2004). Production of sports events may
either challenge or reinforce the commonsense idea that womens sports are
naturally less entertaining than mens (Hallmark & Armstrong, 1999).
The Olympics provide an ideal venue for this study. They showcase men and
women competing in many of the same events in the same venues almost simultaneously, thus removing many external factors that could lead to different production
choices based on gender. Further, the Olympics are among the most-watched events
in the world; the 2004 telecasts reached 3.9 billion people worldwide (Global TV
Viewing, 2004).

Literature Review
The relationship between sports and media is so interdependent that Jhally labeled
it the sports/media complex (Jhally, 1989, p. 70). Scholars have indicted the
sports/media complex for reinforcing masculine hegemony, defined as the takenfor-granted system of gendered power relations reinforced by the ideology that
(White) men are, and should be, naturally at the head of the socio-economic



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hierarchy. It is built on the understanding of masculinity as the place of symbolic authority in contrast with femininity, which is defined by lack (Connell,
2001, p. 33). Mens symbolic authority is represented through less coverage of
womens sport and through presentations of womens sport within traditional gender
boundaries; both devices symbolically annihilate female athletes (Hargreaves, 1994;
Pedersen, 2003; Tuchman, 1978).

Marginalized in Coverage
The marginalization of women in sport media seems almost universal. This trend
is apparent in childrens media (Cuneen & Sidwell, 1998; Lynn, Walsdorf, Hardin,
& Hardin, 2002), daily newspapers (Eastman & Billings, 2000; Pedersen, 2003),
sports magazines (Bishop, 2003; Salwen & Wood, 1994), and major programming
on ESPN and CNN (Eastman & Billings, 2000; Shugart, 2003).
Studies of televised Olympic Games consistently show similar patterns. Analysis of
NBCs 1996 Olympic track and field coverage found that men were featured twice
as often as women (Higgs, Weiller, & Martin, 2003). A comparison of the 1996
and 2000 Olympics by Tuggle, Huffman, and Rosengard (2002) showed that men
received more coverage than women overall; womens coverage actually declined
between 1996 and 2000. In the 2002 Olympics, mens events were featured twice
as much as womens, also a decrease in parity from 2000 (Billings & Eastman,

Framing Within Gender Boundaries

Masculine hegemony is reinforced through the way sports are mediated. Women
are presented as naturally less suited for sport through coverage that emphasizes
their differences from men. Discursive themes present women as weaker, more
prone to emotional outbursts, and less able to handle the stress of sports (Borcila,
2000; Hall, 1996). Further, female athletes are sexualized (Bernstein, 2002; Shugart,
Perhaps most influential in the trajectory of feminist critiques over the past decade
of televised sports has been the work of Messner and colleagues (1993, 1996, 2003).
Messner et al.s 1993 study examined the quantity and the quality of basketball and
tennis broadcasts through commentary and production. The analysis focused mostly
on commentary, pointing out the ways female athletes were encoded (see Hall,
1980) in ways that diminished their athleticism in comparison to men. Although
they did not cite Halls seminal work on encoding/decoding of televised messages,
Messner and colleagues analyses rely on Halls assertion of the power in the
moment that a raw event becomes a communicative eventladen with the
hierarchy of social relations.
Studies of Olympic television coverage have extended the links between masculine hegemony, gendered language, and the general encoding process in sports

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Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009

production. An examination of 1996s coverage found contrasting presentations of

men and women as illustrated by a feature on Jackie Joyner Kersees marriage and
her husband-coach; a narrative on Michael Johnson, in contrast, focused solely
on his athletic talent (Higgs et al., 2003). This finding was supported by Eastman
and Billings (1999), who found that 1996s Olympic commentators emphasized
the athletic victories of men, and the family life and attractiveness of women.
Borcilas (2000) analysis of gendered language and stereotypical images in the
1996 Olympics found that female athletes were depicted as more vulnerable to
injury, more emotional, more prone to stress, and less focused than male athletes.
A practice of commentators in 2000, found in two studies, was the comparison
of women to men in descriptions of excellent performances, but not the reverse
(Billings & Eastman, 2002; Weiller, Higgs & Greenleaf, 2004). Most recently, Billings
and Angelini (2007) found that male athletes were mentioned more frequently and
depicted as more courageous than were female athletes. Researchers have found
exceptions to this pattern, however. Billings & Eastman (2002, 2003) found that
Olympic commentators more often attributed wins by men to athletic skill in 2000,
but more often attributed wins by women to skill in 2002.
Masculine hegemony also is reinforced through emphasis on sports considered
gender-appropriate. Such sports allow for traditional images of femininity (Koivula,
1995; Tuggle & Owen, 1999). Team sports with an element of body contact,
such as basketball, hockey, and football, are deemed masculine. In contrast, sports
focused on individual performance and judged on aesthetics, such as gymnastics
and figure skating, are rated as feminine (Koivula, 2001; Pedersen, 2003). Media
provide more coverage of women in feminine sports because of the emphasis
on traditional feminine ideals such as grace and glamour (Brookes, 2002; Vincent,
Imwold, Johnson & Massey, 2003). A study of newspaper coverage of interscholastic
sports found that girls in neutral or feminine-appropriate sports received more
coverage than girls who participated in masculine sports (Pedersen, 2003).
A range of individual sports that do not involve body contact, but are not judged
by aesthetics (i.e., running, golf, tennis), have been rated as neutral in experimental studies involving youths and college students; researchers argue that such sports
do not incorporate physical tasks that have been culturally co-opted as masculine
or feminine (Koivula, 2001; Riemer & Feltz, 1995). It is important to note, however,
that sports often considered gender-neutral are not; they still involve the use of
skills and attributes that favor men. For instance, speed skating and downhill skiing,
both seen as gender-neutral (Angelini, 2008), allow men to become the benchmark
for excellence because they require strength and speed.
Many track and field events are considered gender neutral because they allow
athletes to perform in ways that do not blatantly violate gender norms; e.g., women
are not in physical contact or lifting heavy objects and men are not judged on
aesthetics. Shot put, discus, and javelin, however, are examples of track and field
events not accepted as gender-appropriate for women because they emphasize overt
displays of strength; female Olympians in these events generally do not appear
during prime-time (Tuggle et al., 2002). Coverage of 2000 Olympic events involving



physical size, force over an opponent, or unpenalized body contact featured mostly
men; mens sports involving power or contact received greater coverage than the
same types of sports for women (Tuggle et al., 2002).

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Media Aesthetics and Sport

Masculine hegemony in sport is reinforced when mens and womens events are
produced in ways that present womens sport as inferior in entertainment value
(Messner et al., 1996). Decoding visual presentations of sporting events, however,
is complex. Zettls (1999) approach to understanding visuals, called applied media
aesthetics, can provide a useful approach to doing so. Zettls approach includes
investigation of basic contextual image fields of television and film. Although Zettl
examines several areas, this study focuses on three: two-dimensional space, threedimensional space, and four-dimensional space.
Two-Dimensional Space: Field of View. The two-dimensional space involves the
way camera shots present the world to television viewers. This field of view relates
to how close or far away an object on screen appears; Zettl (1999) identified five
labels for fields of view: extreme long shot, long shot, medium shot, close-up,
and extreme close-up. The extreme long shot is a distant view that establishes
the landscape; people appear as tiny figures (Millerson, 1990; Zettl, 1999). The
extreme long shot also takes a rather detached, impersonal attitude, surveying
the scene without any sense of involvement, according to Millersons (1990,
p. 118) instructional text on television production. The long shot is not as distant;
it establishes location and allows the audience to follow the purpose or pattern of
the action (Millerson, p. 103). The medium shot ranges from full-length to midshots of the subject, where the shot frames only one person (Millerson, 1990; Zettl,
2003). Close-ups concentrate the audiences interest on a particular athletes face or
features (Millerson, 1990). An extreme close up is even closer to the subject (Zettl,
2003). These shots frame an entire face or focus on a body part or object. Close-ups
seem psychologically and physically closer to the viewer than a long shot; close-up
shots invite more viewer involvement (Bucy & Newhagen, 1999).
Three-Dimensional Space: Point of View. The depth that can be created by the
camera relates to three-dimensional space, which deals with the point of view (Zettl,
2003). The power in point of view is illustrated by Metallinos (1996): Looking up
at a tall building, a person feels the power the building exerts by being taller,
bigger, and more dominant. Conversely, when we look down from the top of a
tall building, things look smaller, weaker, powerless (p. 226). The same is true
when point of view is provided through the camera lens (Zettl, 1999). When a
camera looks up, the subject seems more powerful and authoritative than when
the camera looks at the subject straight on. Conversely, when the camera looks
down, it diminishes importance or significance of the subject (Millerson, 1990;


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Zettl, 1999, 2003). Camera angle has been linked to viewer perception through
various experimental studies (Drew & Cadwell, 1985; Mandell & Shaw, 1973).
Four-Dimensional Space: Time and Motion. The basic structure of television is the
moving image; thus time and motion are two crucial contextual aesthetic elements
and are determinants of other elements (Zettl, 1999). The basic unit of television,
the video frame, is always in motion (Zettl, 1999). Motion can be manipulated;
examples include the use of real time or varying degrees of slow motion. An
event is considered in slow motion when normal time is slowed and an object
appears to be moving through a denser medium than air (Millerson, 1990; Zettl,
1999). Slow motion can be used to prolong the agony of getting somewhere
or to demonstrate an athletes skill (Zettl, 1999, p. 240); it is considered a very
significant technique for reinforcing a visual message (Metallinos, 1996). Slowmotion shots were used equally for mens and womens track and field events in
the 1992 Olympics (Higgs & Weiller, 1994), but were used more for women than
men in 1996 (Higgs et al., 2003).
Several technologies have introduced new types of motion in sports broadcasts:
rail-cam, simul-cam, and stro-motion. The mobile tracking camera (rail-cam),
first used during NBCs 1996 Olympics telecasts, offers a offers a side-angle view
of moving athletes from a remote-controlled tracking camera sliding on a chestlevel rail positioned just at the edge of the track. Viewers follow the event at the
athletes pace and can track their relative positions (Gallagher, 2002). Simul-cam
allows viewers to observe athletes position and style comparatively by placing two
or more athletes on the screen at the same time, even when they might have run
in different heats (Dartfish, 2008). The stro-motion effect allows viewers to see an
athletes movement in time and space by mixing video images into a frame-byframe sequence (Dartfish, 2008). The moving object is perceived as a number of
static images along the objects trajectory.

Putting it All Together: Visual Excitement

Researchers studying sport and gender have assumed that the components of
visual production as explained by Zettl matter in terms of engaging viewers. For
instance, studies by Messner and colleagues (1993, 1996, 2003), Hallmark and
Armstrong (1999), and Bissell and Duke (2007) incorporate discussions of production techniques as significant in relationship to athlete gender. Each study is
based on the idea that camera shots, angles, graphics, and slow motion relate
to viewer interest. Research supports this assumption (Hanjalic & Xu, 2005). The
patterning of shot lengths is a popular tool filmmakers use to create pace; directors
use a sequence of shorter shots to create a high tempo of action development,
and longer shots are used to deaccentuate an action (Hanjalic, 2006, p. 92).
Fewer camera shots, longer in duration, have the camera focusing on one person or
object for an extended time, which Millerson (1990) asserts is less interesting than

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a rapid succession of images. Meyrowitz (1998) argues that selective use of closeups, medium shots, and long shots can reshape [emphasis added] the perceptions
of both fictional and nonfictional sequences (p. 96). Drew and Cadwell (1985)
concluded that varying the camera shots prompted viewers to rate a news story as
more credible, while Bucy and Newhagen (1999) found that production qualities
of staged political events impacted perceptions of viewers.
Zettls work, including the dimensional fields, has been used in research on televised visuals. For instance, Baym (2004) incorporated Zettls two-dimensional space
concept when analyzing news coverage of Watergate and Clintons impeachment.
Baym tracked close and extremely close shots of Clinton and concluded that this
led to a more intimate presentation of Clinton. Burch (2002) also relied on Zettls
dimensional fields in an analysis of aesthetics in an Indian soap opera, and explained
that the use of these fields by producers helped maintain the programs popularity.
Studies not directly linked to Zettls concepts have demonstrated that presentations of news and sports on television have demonstrably quickened the pace
of telecasts through shorter camera shots, the use of time/motion technologies,
and multiple on-screen graphics, presumably to enhance viewer interest (Barnhurst
& Steele, 1997; Choi, 2002). Hanjalic reminds us of the role of the producers
assessment of events in decisions about field of view, point of view, and other
aspects in the depiction of an event: The director of a live broadcast responds to
interesting events. In particular, a relative increase in the shot change rate can be
expected at times of interesting or unusual events as the director attempts to show
all aspects of such events in a limited period of time (2006, p. 92).

Visual Excitement in Production of Sports

Krein and Martin (2006) found little published research focusing specifically
on production techniques in sports telecasts; they assert visuals are foundational
to understanding the power of the telecasts. Some research, however, has linked
the dimensions of production described by Zettl to sports telecasts. In an athletic
broadcast, more shot variation leads to perceptions of a more exciting event (Higgs
et al., 2003; Millerson, 1990). Studies of mens and womens NCAA basketball
games during the 1990s found that mens games used more variety in shots, creating more excitement, and a more appealing presentation (Hallmark & Armstrong,
1999; Messner et al., 1996). Hallmark and Armstrongs (1999) study follows earlier studies (Duncan & Messner, 1998; Shenker & Armstrong, 1990) that found
marked differences in the variety of camera angles in the broadcast of a mens and
womens championship basketball game. Hallmark and Armstrong (1999) found
few differences in the number of shots but far greater use of on-screen graphics in
the mens championship game than the womens. They documented other subtle
differences, such as longer duration of certain shots in the womens games, which
could impact perceptions of excitement. Also, in a recent study assessing camera
shots in womens beach volleyball telecasts, Bissell and Duke (2007) found use of


Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009

angles (often down) and close-ups that objectified the chests and buttocks of players,
which, they argued, diminished the athleticism of women.

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Research Questions
Although a number of studies have examined ways commentary reinforces masculine hegemony in sports, few studies have examined visuals in sport broadcasts.
Olympic track and field broadcasts provide an excellent venue to examine visuals:
the events are among the most popular at the summer Olympic Games, the events
are ones in which women have gained attention for their athleticism (Brookes, 2002;
Higgs et al., 2003), and the events have been considered gender-neutral except
for a few that involve overt displays of strength (Pedersen, 2003; Riemer & Feltz,
1995). In the 2004 summer Olympic Games, the United States was represented
by 61 male athletes and 52 female athletes in track and field events (excluding
the marathon); men competed in 23 events and women competed in 21 events.
Given this distribution, overall coverage for U.S. prime-time broadcasts on NBC for
men and women could be relatively equal in terms of length of coverage. The first
research question tests this assumption.
RQ1 : How do mens and womens track and field events compare in terms of
running time and prime-time hour?
The remaining research questions examine Zettls concepts directly by examining
visual production broken into two-, three-, and four-dimensional fields.
RQ2 : How were mens and womens track and field events framed through the
use of two-dimensional space (field of view)?
RQ3 : How were mens and womens track and field events framed through the
use of three-dimensional space (point of view)?
RQ4 : How were mens and womens track and field telecasts framed through the
use of four-dimensional space (time/motion)?

Track and field was defined as coverage (live or taped) of any competitor in any
event occurring within Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens during the Olympics (August
1329, 2004); thus, marathons were excluded. All types of coverage were included:
narrative, live event, taped interview, medal ceremonies, highlight segments, studio
commentary, and live interview. Prime-time was defined as 7 p.m. to midnight
(EST).1 A total of 62 hours of prime-time coverage (excluding opening and closing
ceremonies) was broadcast during the 2-week period covered by this study; nearly
10 hours were devoted to track and field events.

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Production techniques used in this coverage were analyzed through content

analysis. Content analysis attempts to decode a message; it has been used to quantify
the prevalence of the masculine point of view in popular culture (Strinati, 1995,
p. 195). The results of content analysis, however, must be understood within their
limits. Content analysis, for instance, cannot uncover intentions of producers or
answer questions of why the content looks the way it does. Also, it does not account
for the ambiguous and sometimes contradictory nature of gender-related media
representations. Even so, this method is useful for illuminating patterns in media
representations (Strinati, 1995).

Categories for Coding

The Olympic track and field telecasts were broken down into segments for coding.
The segments were determined by any shift in type of coverage within track and
field events (live coverage, a narrative package, a taped interview, a live interview,
studio commentary, a medal ceremony, or a highlight segment), by a commercial
break, or by a shift in coverage to another Olympic sport. A segment was defined as
the time between each shift in coverage. Segments were divided into two groups:
those focusing on male athletes and those focusing on female athletes. If both male
and female competitors were featured, segments were classified by the gender that
received a clear majority of screen time. Ten segments gave equal time to male
and female competitors. Because comparing coverage of men and women was the
key question in this study, these segments were not included in the analysis. Other
variables recorded were date and time of the event, running time in minutes and
seconds, type of event, type of segment, field of view, point of view, and use of
special motion effects.
Segments were then further broken into specific shots within each segment. The
specific time of each shot was not recorded; coders simply tallied the number of
shot types in the variables used to measure the three major constructs: field of view,
point of view, and time and motion. The total segment time was divided by the total
number of shots in each category to approximate the average length of shots within
a segment for comparative purposes. Tallies were marked each time the camera
shifted for field of view and point of view. This allowed the coders to capture both
the total number of shots of each type in the segment as well as the presence and
absence of each. For motion, real time shots were not talliedcodes simply noted
use of special motion effects.
For two-dimensional space, the number of each type of field of view shot was tallied: extreme long shot (landscape shots, forcing viewers to survey action from afar),
long shots (often used at the start of a scene to establish the location), medium shot
(a shot framing only one person), close-up (attention on a subjects head/shoulders),
extreme close-up (concentrated on an object or body part). For three-dimensional
space, point of view was defined according to Zettls (1999) classifications: high
(looking down on the subject), eye-level, and low (looking up at the subject). Fourth


Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009

dimensional space was coded by tallying each time a special motion effect was used.
These included slow motion, rail-cam, simul-cam, or stro-motion.

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Three coders examined the taped segments, with 20% of the time recorded
(roughly 2 hours) used to check intercoder reliability. This study used the target-rater
method of comparison or the agreement of all coders with a rater who provides
the true rating (Hubert, 1977). To control for agreement by chance, intercoder
reliability was computed using Cohens kappa. While there is no firm agreement
on acceptable kappa levels, Capozzoli, McSweeney, and Sinha (1999) argue that
values greater than 0.75 represent excellent agreement beyond chance while
values between 0.40 and 0.75 represent fair to good agreement beyond chance
(p. 6).
In this study, 19 variables were used. Six classification variables (gender, type of
coverage, event, date, prime-time hour, and start and end time) all were reliable at
least 0.87, indicating excellent agreement. Coding on variables within the dimensional categories was slightly less reliable. Because the range of choices was high
(some segments contained more than 30 shots) and shots were distributed across
variables in a category (such as high, eye-level, and low angles), when coders
disagreed on placement of one shot, it could affect the tallies for other choices in
the category. Still, kappas for these 12 shot variables were well within the fair to
good agreement levels as defined by Capozzoli et al. (1999). The lowest was .55
(extreme close up), the remainder were in the .60 to 1.0 range.2

The nearly 10 hours of prime-time coverage devoted to track and field events
was broken into 253 segments. After the 10 segments that gave equal coverage to
male and female athletes were removed, 243 segments totaling 578 minutes and 1
second were content analyzed. The longest segment was 14 minutes 37 seconds;
the shortest was 8 seconds. The average segment length was 2 minutes, 19 seconds.
The largest percentage of track and field segments, 89 (35.2%), occurred within the
11 p.m. prime-time hour; the least number, 36 (14.2%), aired during the 8 p.m.
hour. Sixteen of the 24 possible track and field events aired during prime-time.3

Tests of the Research Questions

The first research question explored differences by gender on running time and
prime-time hour of the broadcast. Of the 243 segments, 161 (66.3%) focused on

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male athletes, and 82 (33.7%) focused on female athletes. Therefore, the ratio was
1.96 mens segments to every 1 womens segment.
For running time, mens segments totaled 351 minutes, 23 seconds, compared
with 226 minutes, 48 seconds for womens segments. Men received 55% more
coverage than women based on running time, meaning that for every one minute
of womens coverage, men received 1 minute, 33 seconds of coverage, for a ratio
of about 1.5:1.
Crosstab analysis found no significant differences between coverage of male and
female athletes by prime-time hour; both were aired most frequently in the 11 p.m.
The second research question examined differences in the two-dimensional space
or field of view. Because total running time and number of segments were so
lopsided in favor of male competitors, this analysis compared the average number of
shots of the five field of view variables per minute of coverage within a segment. For
example, if a 2-minute segment had 15 long shots, it would average 7.5 long shots
per minute. This allowed comparisons to be made by gender despite the overall
dominance of the mens coverage. As Table 1 shows, the per-minute average of
every type of shot was higher for mens coverage than womens coverage, however,
it was significantly higher only for long shots (t D 2.16) and extreme close-ups (t D
A new variable was created by summing the average shots per minute of each
type to create an average total number of shots per minute. This was done to show
the variety of shot changes by gender that might lead to the impression of one as
more visually exciting. As noted above, coders marked every time there was a
change in the field of view. Mens coverage (M D 12.47 shots per minute) had
significantly more shot changes in the two-dimensional space per minute than did
womens coverage (M D 9.61, see Table 1). This meant that after an opening shot,
the field of view changed 11 to 12 times per minute for men but 8 to 9 times for
The third research question examined the three-dimensional field or point of view.
As with the two-dimensional element of shot type, camera angles were analyzed

Table 1
Field of View Shots Used in an Average Minute of Coverage, by Gender









*p < .05


Close Up

Total Shots




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Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009

by average segment to control for the greater total running time for men. Eye-level
shots were the highest per minute for both men (M D 6.87) and women (M D 4.48),
but the number per minute was significantly higher for men than women (t D 2.24,
df D 226.98, p < .05). No significant differences were found in the total number
of low or high angle shots by gender.
Finally, with an eye toward examining visual excitement, a new variable was
created by totaling the number of high, eye-level, and low angle shots per minute
for men and women. A t test indicated that mens coverage used significantly more
angles per minute (M D 11.65) than womens coverage (M D 7.43, t D 2.62, df D
238.53, p < .01). Again, after the opening shot, the point of view shots for men
changed between 10 and 11 times per minute and only 6 and 7 times per minute
for women.
The final research question looked at the fourth-dimensional space of time and
motion. Stro-motion technology and the simul-cam, relatively new technologies in
2004, never appeared in the telecasts. Rail-cam use for men occurred twice as often
per minute (M D 1.19) than for women (M D .64; t D 1.61; df D 66; p <. 05). Slow
motion uses showed the same pattern. Men averaged almost four slow motion uses
per minute (M D 3.88), nearly double the womens average of almost two uses per
minute (M D 1.82; t D 2.036; df D 140; p < .05).

Discussion and Conclusions

A participant in Bucy and Newhagens (1999) focus group summed up the influence of televisuals on viewers: Thats the power of television : : : the pans,
the close-ups, the dissolves, the cuts, I mean the editing. Those things all create
an emotional impact as youre watching it (p. 205). The emotional impact
created via production is key in perceptions of mediated sports. Sports viewers seek
excitement. Viewers not cognizant of the ways visuals are constructed may decode
womens sports in the way they were encoded: as less exciting and entertaining than
mens. Womens sports, at least those studied here, carry visual markers that could
make them appear as less than in comparison. This study found that coverage of
male athletes used more of everything: more time, more segments, more variation
in field of view, more variation in point of view, more slow motion, and more use
of rail-cam.
These findings may be explained by factors not directly related to gender ideology
in relation to sports. The U.S. men in the 2004 Games won more than twice as many
medals as the U.S. women; certainly, news values dictate that winners (if they are
male4 ) get a greater quantity of airtime. Thus, although the 2:1 ratio of segments
devoted to male competitors could indicate a gender-related bias this may not be
the case. The medal counts may also explain why more time was devoted to mens
events. However, U.S. womens role as finalists in most of the track and field events
warranted coverage on NBC. Further, medal counts alone do not drive coverage;



witness NBCs focus on the 2004 womens long jump, where Marion Jones, a 2000
medalist plagued by rumors of drug use, competed but did not place.

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Hegemonic Values in Production

Medal counts cannot alone explain the visual production techniques that could
leave the impression that mens events are more exciting than womens. The differences very likely are related to gender, given the consistency of these findings
with those in past studies. The events were the same for men and women, negating
the argument that differences in the physical landscape or in logistics surrounding
the events warranted contrasting production. Because events took place in the same
venue and often within the same several hours, it is highly unlikely that the differing
visuals are a product of different production crews, as has sometimes been argued
to justify the diminished quality of womens sport presentation (Duncan & Messner,
It seems as though Hanjalics observation, that it is the estimation of the producer
about the raw event, is key to speculating about production differences found here
(2006). As the authors point out, sports have been a primary site for maintenance
of natural power relations in U.S. culture that privilege men, with the inferiority
of women in sports being an integral, taken-for-granted ideology. The decisions of
producers on how to frame mens and womens events might be based on their
(unconscious) adoption of this prevalent ideology.
Furthermore, although track-and-field events are generally perceived as genderneutral, thus, warranting equal coverage, they may be seen as ultimately favoring
men. While these events do not transgress traditional gender boundaries in their
aestheticthat is, they do not involve the force or contact in masculine sports,
or the performance qualities in feminine sportstrack-and-field ultimately is not
gender-neutral. The strength of men at elite levels allows them to be considered
the benchmarkthrough faster times, and longer jumps, for instance. Thus, there
is reason to rationalize inferior coverage of women even in sports deemed neutral.
Therefore, the only sports in which women may be expected to receive equal (or
greater) production treatment as men are the sliver of sports considered feminine,
such as gymnastics or figure skating.
Another reason producers may use to rationalize differences in coverage of
womens sports is ratings, or the number of viewers these events receive. Heavy
reliance on ratings in decision-making about TV sports coverage suggests that the
fate of womens coverage is in the hands of fans; if fans watch, women get more,
and if fans dont, less coverage is justified. Ironically, however, the circular nature of
the production-reception relationship complicates that equationmaking producers
accountable for decisions by fans. A less exciting presentation generates low viewer
demand; that, in turn, rationalizes decisions by gatekeepers not to increase quantity
or quality. Thus, the symbolic annihilation of women/symbolic authority of men in
sports continues, justified by the interplay of producers and fans.


Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media/June 2009

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Further Research
The results of this study are limited by its scope: It involved visual images of
athletes in one sport during one Olympic Games. Obvious is the need to expand
study of Olympics visuals to other sports and venues, and to incorporate elements
such as on-screen graphics. Another useful approach would be to follow Bucy and
Newhagen (1999), and incorporate viewers to further interrogate how they perceive
production in mens and womens mediated sports.
An innovation of this study is its use of Zettls applied media aesthetics, which
offers a systematic way to study visual production of sports coverage. Additional
studies of sports media televisuals using Zettls approach would help build a body
of research that exposes patterns in production that the industry could address.
Research exploring the attitudes, beliefs, and values of the producers themselves
would also be useful, as would basic studies of how the gender of producers is
related to visual production decisions. It is vital that such research and activism
continue to interrogate practices that minimize women in sport, for this will allow
sports viewers to eventually receive mediated events that are naturally fair and,
perhaps, interesting.

1 This adds 2 hours to the traditional definition of prime-time. However, Olympic evening
broadcasts often stretch to these hours on certain days (Sundays/peak event days).
2 Intercoder reliability also was checked by calculating Krippendorfs alpha. The 19 variables were reliable at alpha levels ranging from 72.6% to 100%.
3 The eight events that did not air were the heptathlon, 3,000 meter steeplechase,
10,000 meter, 20 kilometer racewalk, 50 kilometer racewalk, shot put, discus throw, and
hammer throw. For men, the event receiving the most coverage in prime-time was the 100meter race, shown in 25 segments (15.8% of the total mens coverage). For the women,
the 200-meter race received the most coverage, with 16 segments (19.5% of the womens
4 Lont (1995) aptly describes the representation of women in sports media: It is more
common to find a story about a male who lost than a female who won. Binks (2004), for
instance, tells the story of the 2001 Canadian womens world championship in curling that
received only a mention at the end of a story about the failure of male curlers to qualify for
the world tournament.

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