Ratto: Ask the kids what they want to watch, you idiots

What to make of the unorthodox broadcast of Bears vs. Saints on Nickelodeon

Nothing inspires misplaced confidence more than than adults trying to figure out what kids like. They don't know. They've never known. They never will know. It is the Jim Mora incantation from 1989: "You really don't know, because you don't know what we're trying to do, you guys don't look at the films, you don't know what happened, you really don't know. You think you know, but you DON'T-KNOW, and you never WILL, okay?"

Which is why the rave reviews for the Nickelodeon presentations of the Bears-Saints playoff game Sunday are just as ridiculous as you suspect they are. The reviewers are all adults, too, and what they think, good or bad, has no bearing.

You may not have bothered to watch yourselves, since the Raiders and 49ers missed the playoffs together for the 13th time in 20 years, and you weren't going to be all that keen about other people's slime or hamburger heads. That's fine, too. Unless you were nostalgic for the old Nickelodeon, you weren't going to bother.

But it happened anyway, and there are no ratings numbers yet available to tell us how it went over in the basic metric of how much money did CBS make off the deal. There are also no indicators of how many kids actually liked it, since the secondary goal was for the NFL to hook children into the game before they have a real chance at an informed choice. It's a bit like the old cigarette ad strategy of getting them while they're young — effective, yet creepy.

Everyone gets to make their own choices within the limits of health and safety, and getting children into the concussion factory of football is a problematic notion on its face. We won't actually know the effects of the Nickelodeon games on the target audience until the target audience is buying their own sets, or the brain implants that will replace television in 10 years.

But we can say this right now. The adults aren't going to get it.

It has been a worry of sports purveyors both on the supply and demand ends that the kids aren't watching any more, and while there are lots of reasons given depending on your social and/or political bent, one that everyone agrees on is that the games are too long to hold their attention. They have their own entertainment in their hands, a phone, and of all the things having a phone teaches us, how to develop a short attention span is among the top two.

Thus, the notion that pixelated slime negates this problem is sort of, well, stupid. At least it seems that way to most normal folks — 180 minutes of everything is more than most kids can bear without a teacher standing over them, and nobody is hiring tutors to keep the kids watching Jaguars-Jets. As adults, we might have found the game stripped of its pomposity a self-evident delight (and it is, since all broadcasts have the same three people calling the action, explaining it and then analyzing the explanations), but

Still, the NFL has to try something to power the next generation as the current and past ones aren't providing the proper growth curves for the business model, and since the networks are wholly bullied subsidiaries of the NFL, Nickelodeon is the next model to try. And maybe it's a brilliant strategy in the long run — if, given our collective COVID behaviors, there is a long run for anything.

But adults are the last people anyone should want to hear on the subject, so if you have a Nickelodeon-aged child, ask them if they'd like to watch the football game again. Or if they wish that Warriors-Pacers were brought to them by Daniel Tiger. It doesn't matter if the answer is yes, no or just the standard blank expression kids usually emit when asked something not in their immediate wheelhouse. Theirs is the only answer that counts.

In other words, the top-down model of fathoming children is nonsensical. Adults telling other adults what they think is not true audience participation. When the kids get control of the remote, that's when we'll know if this is a good idea or not, and we know an adult would rather have Child Protective Services take the children than relinquish the remote. My guess is that we are going to find out that the children's true choice is not green slime but Red Zone, and that that only happens after you winnow out the millions who can't be bothered to start in the first place.

But what do I know? I'm an adult.