Tuesday, October 10, 2006

 

Let's

"All they're showing us is how much they don't know."

ESPN's straightforward approach is in part deliberate. Network executives have instructed announcers to avoid complex analysis, people involved in the production say.
--The Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2006


I thought on a day off for the Oilers that I would talk about a couple of hockey broadcast issues that I've had dancing around in my head. Cool? Cool.

1) Let's eliminate the intermission interview. Heck, let's get rid of all the interviews with hockey players. What purpose do they serve besides filler? When was the last time you heard an interviewer ask an intelligent, thought-provoking question during a 1st period intermission interview? When was the last time you heard a player give back something other than a rote, clichéd answer? "Jean-Claude, were you happy to get that 1st period goal?" "No, our team likes to be down by two goals going into the 2nd period, Scott. We feel it really helps motivate us as a team. So we'll work on preventing ourselves from scoring for the next game." The questions are leading, general, and non-investigatory. The answers are obvious, and benign. So why bother? Exposing the players to the public in such a way may have made sense 50 years ago (though I doubt it), but today, it just doesn't.

2) Let's also move to one announcer for a game, similar to what is done with soccer in the UK. There's no reason why the main announcer can't add necessary commentary. The "colour" that is added now is usually the regurgitated drivel of retired players, and is often times distracting. Jim Hughson, Gord Miller or Chris Cuthbert can give me all the "colour" I need.

3) Speaking of distracting, let's have more silence in hockey broadcasts. Why the need to fill every moment of time with noise?




See? Like that.

4) Let's eliminate the fantasy update information. Every league is different, and anyone who needs to be told that Jaromir Jagr is a mandatory first-round pick needs more help than you could possibly provide. Give me injury updates and game-time decisions, and leave it at that.

5) Let's fill all of this now empty-space with intelligent commentary, pointed questions, and sound statistical analysis. The problem in all of this is that Canada's hockey broadcasters are treating the most intelligent and devout hockey audience in the world like they are, well, the majority of Americans living outside of the Original Six cities, Philly, Buffalo, and the state of Minnesota. That, or they've just become extremely lazy in their production efforts. The quotes at the top of this post are about ESPN's horrid U.S. coverage of World Cup 2006, but they could as easily apply to hockey broadcasts in Canada. That's really sad, because whereas the excuse for soccer coverage in the States is that the general population is mostly uninterested in, and uneducated about, the sport, no such excuse exists in a country where the sport is the national religion.

I'm sure MSM apologist James Mirtle will come to the defence now, as he is wont to do, but to my mind there is simply no excuse for the poor state of hockey broadcasting in Canada today. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part fans in Canada are being fed a repetitive, derivative, and boring product. Much of the blame falls on the CBC, which unfortunately still gets to broadcast Hockey Night in Canada. A fatter, more bloated sacred cow does not exist in this world. But TSN, despite having excellent announcers in Miller and Cuthbert, isn't much better. And I won't even get into Sportsnet. I actually enjoy The Score's coverage for some reason, despite its formulaic approach. But all in all, I've had enough. I tune out the pre-game stuff now, skip intermission coverage, and am getting closer and closer to the point where I turn down the volume and watch entire games in silence. I read free coverage from smart, funny, connected, and progressive bloggers about 95% percent of the time, and find their coverage to be superior to anything I see, hear or read in the MSM about 97% of the time. So what's there to do when you love a game, love watching a game, and love reading about a game, but the broadcasting stinks, the "colour" stinks, and the print and television coverage stinks? Let's just ponder that for a while.

Comments:

If we take out the player interviews, we won't get classic smart ass answers like Legace's "I feel like hanging myself" I think it would be so much better if players would just say what they feel instead of being PC.

I agree with not having a colour guy as I'm sick and tired of hearing the same old comments about players, sometimes the same one 3 or 4 times in a game. On the other side though, I love to hear Pierre MacGuire almost have an orgasm over a nice line change :)
 


The colour guys should be like golf announcers, quiet, almost whispering.

Why is it that the colour guy, who is usually screaming for no reason (unless he's Harry Neale, in which case he's asleep), gets his mic volume turned up loud, while the arena noise and ice-level noise is so quiet that it's barely audible? I want to feel like I'm there, with the sounds of the screaming fans, the skate blades carvning out snow, even the sound of a stick blade slashing a guy's glove. I don't want it to sound like I'm sitting next to some loud, obnoxious guy in a bar.
 


I'll take the contrarian view and suggest that all your complaints will melt and vanish if you watch a CFL broadcast and then go back to the hockey game. Chris Walby makes just about anybody else in any sport look like a particle physicist.

Best example (of many) from the weekend: with Saskatchewan bottled up in its own end against Toronto, punter Luca Congi takes the snap and falls to one knee behind the goal line, and Steve Armitage declares that Congi has "conceded the point." Think of it--this man has been broadcasting Canadian football since the 1970s and he doesn't know what a safety touch is.
 


Let's just ponder that for a while.

See? It is a thinking woman's/man's blog.

And I was mocked.

Thanks for another great post, Andy.
 


Regarding point two...

Anybody who has had the ability to tune into the Dodgers since they were in Brooklyn knows what a pleasure colour-free, intelligent calling of a game sounds like. But in a country that has a president who needs to speak at a grade six level to get his message across you're likely never going to see the current formula change.

In the meantime, I too have turned down the volume for hockey and baseball... that is until the comfortable voice of Vin Scully comes wafting through my computer speakers each night from April thropugh September.
 


I live in the US and have to get NHL Center Ice package to watch oilers games... on off nights I'll sometime surf through the other games... some of those are far, far, worse than CBC. One game (Tampa probably) I just couldn't watch for more than a couple minutes before... the entire play-by-play was replaced by conversation about when the color guy was a kid playing hockey... etc...

On the contrary I watched a lot of oilers games on sportsnet last year and thought Ferraro did a great job in that role. My favorite quote of the season had to be one game where Markkanen came playing the puck really fast (often into danger) rather than ever freezing it and Ferraro said "Markkanen's playing this game like he's got a cab waiting outside."

Final note... watched a couple minutes of the SJ/CGY games last night. I like that no matter what impact it does or does not have on the oilers I never fail to enjoy watching the Flames lose badly... hehe
 


I agree that the resounding need for insightful and interesting hockey coverage is being underseved by the mainstream contemporary media.

I pretty much have to rely on independent blogs such as this one for any true measure of worthwhile punditry.
 


1) Eliminate the interviews: Hell yeah! I've been on a kick for this for years.

2)One announcer: Fine, as long as it isn't Bob Cole. There's only so much 'the Ottawa goalie makes the save' you can stand.

3)My mute button is so worn down, unless you know its the mute button you can't read it.

4)&5) Combine all this stuff (along with McGuire) into an intermission package with analysis and opinion.
 


Another point..

Lets not hire Cassie Campbell just because she has previous hockey experience and is pretty.

Her two intermission interviews with Lupul and Tanguay (I think) were terrible. (I wanted to put a metaphor there but I couldn't think of anything terrible enough.)

After one month of broadcast school, I would've looked like a seasoned vet in comparison.
 


Speaking of Calgary suck (we should be, at least), any comments on the fact that Calgary has scored a mere 4 goals thus far--2 of these goals being scored when the game was already well out of reach?

Are Iginla and Tanguay only going to score to break shutouts near the end of games?
 


If I hear Barry Melrose's voice again I may vomit.
I think Kelly Hrudey would be better if he still wore his classice headband when...kina like an NHL Rambo.
Better yet, let's bring back that flaming puck that FOX had a couple years ago. That's a joke!
 


Because I work in the sports media, I'm a MSM apologist? When have I ever stuck up for crappy hockey broadcasting? I don't even work in freaking television.

Graby, you've written a lot of just plain dumb stuff on this site, but here's a chart topper.

If you want to throw out garbage like that, at least have some substance behind it.
 


Doesn't Matt post on this site anymore? Or has he given up on the Shames too?
 


Funny thing, but the best hockey game I ever watched on tv was the Salt lake City Olympic final between Canada and the USA.

I was in London England at the time, and as a result was obliged to watch brit announcers going at a game that, they obviously had little foreknowledge of. it was brilliant!

Dry humour, and generally off the wall comments about what was REALLY seemingly going on, instead of the usual boring mindless drivel of the north American "experts".

So, in fact, I have to agree totally with the original poster
 


I am a Habs fan, and I must say that one of my most pleasureable hockey viewing experiences was watching the 2002 playoffs while Radio-Canada's on-air "personalities" were on strike. They just broadcast the game with the ambient rink sounds, and then played highlights with no commentary during the intermissions.

I think part of the problem with existing broadcast teams is the fuzzy distinction between "colour guy" and "analyst." Most commentators tend towards the former - not, I think, because they are condescending to their supposedly ignorant audiences, but because they themselves have nothing insightful to say. It is a surprisingly rare ability to be able to pick up on key trends/matchups/etc. in real time, and it is a skill that, disturbingly, even many former NHL coaches appear to utterly lack.

People mock Pierre Macguire's bombastic excesses, but I am occasionally startled when he mentions something about the game that I have not noticed for myself. This is only remarkable because in twenty years of watching Harry Neale et al, it has virtually never occurred.
 


Mirtle - you should be though
 


Maguire is a very colourful colour guy, but his wife dresses him funny.

Ferraro is still close enough to the players to occasionally have a bit of inside info that was unknown.

Rick Bowness was the best colour guy I have ever seen, He only lasted a short time as he was very technical (too technical?). Extremely educational.

For the most part, the rest fall into the "don't say anything at all" category.

mo
 


Mirtle - you should be though

I should be a media apologist? Not sure what you're getting at here.

I actually haven't watched a ton of the CBC coverage so far, save for things like the Satellite Hotstove. The one thing that I did like was the headliner piece they did on Dominik Hasek, if only because you learned a little bit more about a player I figured we already knew everything about.

I see a ton of out-of-market games, and the unfortunate thing is that the broadcasts at many of the regional networks in the U.S. are very poor — especially in comparison to what's 'the standard' here.
 


I was just razzing you, James. You just have this uncanny ability to show up and defend a reporter or a media outlet whenever when complain about them. I certainly never meant to offend you. But aside from my teasing you, what do you have a problem with in this post? It seems like everyone else is in agreement that hockey broadcasting is pretty sub-par.

And I think BDHS was saying you should be on television.
 


Soccer commentaries are the best in spanish. A beautiful language too.

I don't want the player interviews to end. That's when you get to see them the sweatiest.

Yeah.
 


Commentary? Ha! I'd settle for an Edmonton-Calgary game broadcast nationally in high definition, rather than the current low-def widescreen. Can't the CBC get a truck west of Thunder Bay? Maybe borrow TSN's?

I can hit the mute button, but I can't sharpen the broadcast. Low def hockey games are a travesty.
 


I thought CBC was showing games in Hi-Def? Are you saying they only do it out east?
 


But aside from my teasing you, what do you have a problem with in this post?

Like I said, I haven't seen a ton of the CBC games. I did watch Sportsnet's broadcast of the Leafs vs. Panthers last night, and that was just so-so. There's a heckuva lot of sameness about the way Canadian networks are doing games these days.

As for defending other print journalists — like Grant Kerr, when you said he'd made a mistake that he didn't — I think someone has to. It's getting to be an awfully tiresome blog trait to 'blame the media' for everything.
 


I hate Chris Cuthbert's voice. I just can't stand it. I'm pretty sure that he doesn't have any testicles, because his voice goes up like a school girl's every time something exciting happens.
 


CBC only has one high definition truck at the moment, although they said they were planning on having two for later in the year.
 


I'm in Minnesota and I've been watching out of market games on Center Ice.

I saw my beloved Los Tiburones bury the Flames last night, and the announcer team that did that game for Sportsnet was about 5,000x better than 80% of the broadcast tandems that televise games in the U.S. (especially in Bettman wet dream markets like Nashville, Tampa, etc.)
 


Agreed that the strike-broadcasts were a fantastic development. Forced out of the dependancy on the voice-over, it brought the game back to life.

Surprised you didn't mention a great Alberta phenomenon: watching the television broadcast paired with the radio play-by-play.

As for the broadcast style/content I'm always impressed when I stumble into a t.v. broadcast where the play-by-play detail is such that you feel like it must be for radio. Does a hockey game need colour commmentary, whether it's provided by a single or dual broadcasting team? Barely. And what colour is given often talks over the action on the ice, leaving the announcers struggling after the fact to explain a giveaway or a goal scoring opportunity.
 


How about muting the TV and turning on 630 CHED and listening to Rod Phillips?
 


The obvious discrepencies in lag time between the Radio and TV, and even larger lags between Internet, Radio, and TV has made tuning into Rod at the same time a wee bit trying on the nerves. Especially when we we put a soft one into the chest of the opposing goalie and five seconds later Rod throws out his usual "He RRRRRRRips a drive and OH.... What a spectacular save."

I love the 'grandpa' like qualities of hearing Rod on the radio, but, sadly, he just seems to be out of touch with the play, one step behind, and incapable of putting names to numbers. Sacrilege I know, but he has fallen to Harry Neale Syndrome and it's time to let Morley run the show.
 


On television, James.

You should be on television.
 


Surprised you didn't mention a great Alberta phenomenon: watching the television broadcast paired with the radio play-by-play.

I have a hard time listening to Rod Phillips, which is why I don't do the radio/tv thing. I know I'm alone on this one, so I won't even try to convince people. I just find him too exciteable. It's too hard on my nerves.

As for defending other print journalists — like Grant Kerr, when you said he'd made a mistake that he didn't — I think someone has to. It's getting to be an awfully tiresome blog trait to 'blame the media' for everything.

If Kerr is the guy that used the word "journeyman" incorrectly, I still stand by it. But I don't care to get into it again. I can agree to disagree. As for the "tiresome blog trait to blame the media for everything," I have to disagree. I wasn't blaming the media for "everything." I was arguing that the programming that they do for hockey broadcasts is uninventive and unintelligent. That would cover CBC, TSN, and Sportsnet, who all broadcast games. Do you think most of the colour guys are fantastic, James? Do you see a value in the questions and answers that are given between periods? If so, I'm willing to listen. But I think the real problem, and it's equally tiresome, is that the main-stream media has an utter lack of respect for most bloggers. And by bloggers, I mean people who don't have a journalism degree. The MSM want the medium all to themselves. They are an elite class who can't come to grips with the fact that the written word has been democratized. I'm not saying that is you, because you are of both worlds and put out excellent product on your blog. But I think that as a whole, the MSM treats bloggers like they are the retarded younger brother that they have to tolerate, but secretly want to euthanize. And just as the MSM has a right to defend it self from attack, so too do the bloggers. And so the gloves come off.

Ultimately, I'm a fan. I think like a fan, and I write like a fan. So, too, will I complain like a fan. And that is all this piece was.
 


This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 


I'm with Andy, I'd like to see one of our national broadcasters experiment with a UK-soccer style broadcast. Most of the leading play by play guys (ie, NOT Bob Cole) are pretty sharp and add a lot of colour and analysis to their commentary anyway.

I expect, without knowing, that the broadcast booth is crowded because that's the way it was in the radio days when you need to keep the chatter going constantly. On TV, it's lass important to have a guy telling you what's happening all the time. And everyone has their name on their back now, so it's less important (particularly with bigger and bigger HDTV screens) to even tell us who has the puck.

There are lots of sounds during a hockey game that are nice to listen to: crowd noise, pucks bouncing off boards, people bouncing off boards, the scrape of skates on the ice, etc. There's no one calling the game when you are actually in the building. It's nice during a TV broadcast to get some statistical gems and anecdotes, but the chatter could be reduced by 60% or more and I'd be 60% or more happier.
 


Yeah, the colour/analysts are mostly annoying...too many ex-goalies as well, with Healy and Millen topping that brutality list. I can't listen to Millen at all anymore (the carnage from Millen incessantly beating a topic to death is gruesome). Thankfully he's not on the West crew anymore...at this point.

As already mentioned, at least there's a mute button. Directors butchering broadcasts with camera choices though...unfortunately we're stuck with their love of the corner camera during live action...

If I could change three things about hockey broadcasts, here's my list:

1. Stay exclusively with the centre ice/main camera during all live play. Save the other angles for replays, etc. Perspective is completely blown by frequent camera changes during play. There's entirely too much happening on the ice to have the camera jumping around. The other cameras are useless outside of replays...

2. Put a slight blue-tinge/hue in the ice instead of pure white. White was a good colour for black & white TVs, but we're way beyond that now. White is too stark for colour TV, never mind HD. Watch an HD football game. Then HD hockey. White ice has no definition, especially compared to the green of football fields. A little colour would enhance broadcasts (snow, ruts, etc might even show up well). I realize the league tried a bit of blue last year, and it didn't take. Problem was, they went with orange blue lines for no reason. Drop the orange. It was awful. The blue tinge though? Looked fine to me...aside from the hideous orange lines...

Related to this, for all the hockey purists out there, hockey ice wasn't always white... From the CBC production "Hockey - A People's History", ice was originally grey. It was changed to white. No reason it couldn't change for TV once again.

3. Ensure that all HD hockey broadcasts have properly encoded 5.1 audio, with announcers only on the centre channel. Most HD on CBC is done this way, but occasionally 2.0 crops up (particularly on TSN). The benefit of this 5.1 configuration is that it's possible to unplug the centre speaker...thereby muting the analysis and whoever else might be talking...leaving nothing but game noise and crowd noise emanating from the other speakers. It's a beautiful thing. As more people get HD, I can see centre speakers getting a rest during most sports broadcasts. This feature might even drive record sales of HD cable/satellite boxes along with audio recievers. ;-)


So, that's my list. Nothing too original there I suppose...but tell me that implementing those items wouldn't enhance the presentation of hockey on TV. Seems an obvious improvement to me.

- Rod
 


Fantastic suggestions, Rod.
 


It is pretty easy, sitting in the rocking to chair to turn down the sound. If everything in this realm is viral, as the geeks say, it is, then how about some discussion on what constitutes relevant analysis. Can there be any given the subjective nature, eh bias of the viewer.
 


The benefit of this 5.1 configuration is that it's possible to unplug the centre speaker...

Rod, you are on my Christmas list! I gotta do this Sunday night to remove John Madden from my life.

First the CBC needs HD. Then we can fix everything else. I ought to write a letter to the NHL every time I see a low def "national" hockey broadcast, but, alas, I'm just too lazy.
 


If you ditch the interviews, then that will destroy the Gene Principe drinking game. That's when you get to take a shot every time he asks someone how they "feel". Careful though, sometimes you're bagged by the third period.
 


If you ditch the interviews, then that will destroy the Gene Principe drinking game.

Fantastic! I must try this out.
 


If everything in this realm is viral, as the geeks say, it is, then how about some discussion on what constitutes relevant analysis. Can there be any given the subjective nature, eh bias of the viewer.

Nit, you wouldn't happen to be a philosophy major, would you? I'm having horrible flashbacks to my 4th year seminars. Given the subjective nature/bias of the reader, can we even agree on what you mean by the words "relevant" and "analysis", or is even language incommensurable?
 


Given the subjective nature/bias of the reader, can we even agree on what you mean by the words "relevant" and "analysis", or is even language incommensurable?

Oh God no...please don't start employing Derrida/Deconstruction speak around here.

*shudder*
 


Did you hear that?








That was the sound of thousands of hockey fans going 'Huh?'
 


I got the joke...
 


Oh God no...please don't start employing Derrida/Deconstruction speak around here.

Oh, I agree. Glad to know I'm not the only phil. boy around here, though. I'll make sure to slip in more references to the Platonic Forms in the future.
 


More HD tomfoolery--Bettman quoted in the Wall Street Journal today, in an otherwise completely weasel-like interview:

...there's no place where the picture differential between conventional television and HD is greater than in hockey. Particularly, it's the sound, but also it's the quality and most importantly the wide aspect ratio, because our game is played horizontally and it's played incredibly fast.

Even the Weaselcommish gets it right once in a while.
 


"it's played horizontally"

As opposed to...Jumpsies? Speed tree climbing? Rocket ball?
 

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