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A Few Thoughts

Here’s a few thoughts to get 2012 started.

  • Overall, the folks at NBC did a decent job with the Winter Classic. Sure, there was Mike Milbury’s verbal gaffe but things went pretty well. They did a nice job showing the warm ups although the audio kept dropping out on some of the mics. Fortunately, those problems were fixed as the telecast went on. There were some great visuals and sometimes the audio was too good as there were plenty of expletives overheard. The new NBC graphics are solid. They certainly reminded me of ESPN.
  • Some of the minuses include the so-called “NHL Pregame” that took over the 1 PM slot. Let’s call it what it was – a repeat of NBC Sports: A Storied Journey. That’s a fine documentary but there’s little hockey involved. We were also treated to a promo video hyping the London Olympics, something that doesn’t go with hockey what so ever. This led to a short discussion about the Vancouver games. It seemed awkward, even if it was filler.
  • Another minus were some of NBC’s talent. Jeremy Roenick was there, at least for a little bit. I realize he was in town for alumni purposes, among other things, but he was barely utilized on the telecast before heading back to Stamford for the game on NBCSN. And I know they want this to be a big “event” but Bob Costas and Jim Cantore add little to the broadcast. Costas is a fine host but so is Liam McHugh. McHugh works the NHL all year-long, he deserves the TV time. It seems kinda rotten to demote your regular host just because this is labeled a special event. Costas wasn’t even around for the early filler programming, as Mike Emrick helmed the studio. As far as Cantore goes, there isn’t much that he says that anyone couldn’t figure out by looking at the flags or a radar.
  • Moving on to the new NBC Sports Network, Cold War on Ice was terrific. CBC had a two-part movie on the Summit Series a few years ago, but they or TSN would be wise to pick this up. Unlike NHL 36 which was a letdown, Cold War was riveting from start to finish. With all the delays and scheduling shuffles, viewers might’ve missed this, but its appointment viewing for any hockey fan. This was a very good way to kick off the new NBCSN even if it was for a very niche audience. And, if you haven’t read it yet, check out Puck Daddy’s eulogy on Versus. It’s a funny summary and shows just how far the network has come from its OLN days.
  • Backtracking a little bit, the Versus coverage of the Winter Classic Alumni Game was a little shaky. The unique collaboration was an improvement over last year’s coverage which was tape delayed and completely chopped up. Jim Jackson and Kevin Weekes were their usual selves although there were a few times that Jim seemed lost and Weekes seemed to lean on cliches a little too much. Al Trautwig brought his dramatic flair to the proceedings. The real negative was Steve Coates. While at times he was humorous, he was also a mess. Many times he failed to identify who he was interviewing and just starting joking and chatting with them. That would be fine if we knew who he was talking to. This happened repeatedly, and as a relatively younger viewer, I didn’t always know who these people were. Thank goodness that graphics were usually shown at some point. Coates was just too silly and didn’t cut it.
  • While NBCSN got off to an ominous start with the delayed game, things didn’t go much better for NHL Network. A key to NHLN’s new look was their coverage of the World Junior Hockey Championships. It was promoted heavily in promos, including some featuring former Team USA players cheering this year’s team on. With USA bombing, the hype is largely over for this tourney and NHLN will lose some eyeballs. At least their Winter Classic coverage was pretty good.
  • And while the WJC were disappointing in the States, TSN is hauling in huge crowds. The first three Hockey Canada games averaged 2.3 million viewers. The tournament continues to get larger each year. With the TV rights expiring in 2014, you have to believe that Hockey Canada will be bringing in some serious dollars, just from broadcasting alone. That doesn’t count any other revenues like rink advertising as Hockey Canada is a partner with the IIHF sharing virtually all of the tourney’s revenue streams.
 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in NBC, NHL, NHL Network, Ratings, Television, TSN, Versus

 

The Updated NBC Winter Classic Schedule

In an ominous sign for this year’s Winter Classic and the launch of the new NBC Sports Network, the game’s start has been delayed. This means a shuffle in NBCSN’s much hyped opening day. From a NBC Press Release –

The 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers from Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which was scheduled to air tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET, will now start at 3 p.m. ET on NBC to facilitate optimal game conditions, the NHL announced today. NBC Sports will still begin its live Winter Classic pre-game coverage at 1 p.m. ET with live interviews, features and other content.

The NHL said in a statement that the revised start time is based on tomorrow’s weather forecast and should offer optimal game conditions for players and fans.

NBC’s coverage of the Winter Classic will be hosted by Costas, a 22-time Emmy Award-winner. He will be joined by NBC Sports Group studio analysts Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick for coverage on NBC and post-game coverage on NBC Sports Network. NBC’s game coverage will be led by Emmy Award-winner Mike “Doc” Emrick (play-by-play) Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Pierre McGuire (inside-the-glass reporter).

The NBC Sports Network (currently VERSUS) will still launch at 4 p.m. ET with a special edition of NBC SportsTalk leading into a Winter Classic post-game show at the conclusion of the game.

The new NBC Sports Network will continue with hockey-themed programming at 6 p.m. ET with the premiere of Cold War on Ice: Summit Series ’72 produced by Ross Greenburg. The documentary focuses on the hockey series played in 1972 between a team of Canadian NHL all-stars and the Soviet Union national team during the height of the Cold War.

Cold War on Ice will be followed by NHL Live at 7:30 p.m. ET and the Vancouver Canucks hosting the San Jose Sharks at 8 p.m. ET. NHL Live post-game and NHL Overtime will end the NBC Sports Network’s first day.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in NBC, NHL, Television

 

MSG Goes Dark On Time Warner Cable

To no one’s surprise, MSG has gone dark on Time Warner Cable. That leaves most of New York state without access to the Sabres, Rangers, Devils and Islanders. In response, TWC is offering a free view of their sports pack to its customers, although that means little to fans of their local teams. From Multichannel News

Time Warner Cable, maintaining that a deal had been in reach before the programmer demanded a “whopping” increase and refused to negotiate further, is offering its subscribers a month-long freeview of its sports package in the wake of the removal of MSG and MSG Plus from its lineup.

The nation’s No. 2 cable operator and MSG Media couldn’t reach a new license fee agreement as their contract expired at midnight on Jan. 1 and the two regional sports networks, which carry New York Knicks NBA games, as well as the NHL’s New York Rangers and Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres, are not currently available to Time Warner Cable’s 2.3 million video customers in the New York DMA and in upstate New York.

“Despite agreeing to the asked for 6.5% price increase on rates that MSG themselves deemed as fair market rates just last year, MSG reneged on the deal and instead, demanded a whopping 53% increase and refused to negotiate further,” Mike Angus, senior vice president, content acquisition, for Time Warner Cable, in a statement.

“We hate that our customers have been put in this terrible position, and MSG has offered no credible explanation as to why they suddenly need a 53% increase over last year’s rates. Perhaps after renovating the Garden they are looking for New York sports fans to fund renovations of the Forum they recently purchased in Los Angeles. Who knows, but if they have substantial new funding needs, that’s what banks – not our customers – are for. We hope the fans will remind MSG that in these economic times, no one can afford to pay 53% more for their channel.”

In announcing the disconnect on Dec. 31, MSG Media president Mike Bair expressed his own disappointment.
“All we have asked is for Time Warner Cable to value our programming in the same way as other TV providers — nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately, they rejected every offer we made to them for almost two years. In the end, they were simply not interested in conducting serious negotiations on behalf of their customers and instead spent their time grossly mischaracterizing our positions to the public. We certainly hope Time Warner Cable returns to the negotiating table and reconsiders our good faith proposals.”

Both sides have launched websites to keep customers updated on any future negotiations and for PR purposes. Time Warner has launched www.twcconversations.com/MSG which points out that many games are available on national channels. Meanwhile, MSG has launched two websites. The first one, keepmsg.com focuses on the New York City area, while keepmysabres.com is targeted towards the Buffalo region.

 

Hockey Producer Doug Sellars Dies

Here’s some sad news. Longtime hockey producer and sports television executive Doug Sellars has died. Sellars had been ill for a little while, and if you’ve watched any Fox Sports Net telecast over the past few days, you probably heard the broadcasters mention him and his illness.

From a CBC press release –

The world of sports broadcasting has lost one of its finest and most talented leaders. Doug Sellers passed on Friday and his extended CBC family is mourning the loss.

“While unfortunately I didn’t know Doug personally, I understand he had a wonderful disposition, and his calm and kind way made him a gifted leader, respected by everyone who had the pleasure of working for him. On behalf of Doug’s many friends at CBC, I extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to his family,” said Kirstine Stewart, Executive Vice-President, English Services, CBC.

Doug began his career at CBC in 1985 working on Hockey Night in Canada.

Two years on, he produced the Grey Cup Game at just 27 years of age. In 1989, Doug was promoted to Head of Sports Production, where he oversaw all CBC Sports properties, including several Olympic Games and two Commonwealth Games. A multiple Gemini Award-winner, Doug went on from CBC to Fox Sports, where he worked his way up to Executive Vice-President, Fox Sports Media Group.

Sellars joined FSN in 2000 and was in charge of all production for the various sports networks under the FSN umbrella. In August 2011, Sellars was promoted to EVP of Fox Sports. This expanded role put Sellars in charge of production for all of Fox Sports’ programming. Sellars regularly made it onto The Hockey News’ most powerful people in hockey list. While Sellars wasn’t on this year’s list, he was ranked as high as number 32 in 2006. Condolences go out to his friends and family.

(editors note: The original CBC press release misspelled Doug’s last name as you see from the above quote. They sent out a correct release this afternoon. Apparently this misspelling is common so I have decided to leave it uncorrected due to many people searching for info using that spelling)

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in CBC, Fox Sports, NHL, Television

 

MSG, Time Warner Fight Rages On

The New York Rangers are posting some nice ratings gains but that momentum could be coming to an end. With a carriage deadline fast approaching, MSG and Time Warner Cable do not appear to be in serious discussion. From Variety –

MSG Network and Time Warner Cable seem ready to duke it out to a bitter year-end deadline, with New York sports fans pawns in the battle between the host of the Knicks, Rangers, Sabres, Islanders and Devils and the New York area’s major cable operator.
The two sides have “not had any recent, meaningful discussions” MSG Media president Mike Bair said in a statement Wednesday; their carriage deal expires Dec. 31.

A Time Warner Cable rep said “negotiations are ongoing and we are still hopeful.” But insiders acknowledged that while the two sides talk every day, contact hasn’t been fruitful.

Losing MSG on TWC would be a big blow to the New York hockey teams as Time Warner is the dominant carrier in both New York City and Buffalo. While the Sabres are overshadowed in this battle, their ratings are among the highest in the league and this dispute has the potential to drag them down. TWC controls virtually all of Western New York so this dispute has a wide ranging impact throughout the entire state.

MSG has been urging viewers to find alternative carriers. Unfortunately, one alternative isn’t available as MSG isn’t carried on Dish Network after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement back in October 2010. It’s likely that some Dish customers moved to TWC to get MSG and now they are again twisting in the wind. TWC claims they will not pull the plug on MSG, but you never know in these PR campaigns. Hopefully, the two sides can come up with a New Year’s miracle.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in MSG, NHL, Television

 

Thoughts On NHL Tonight and Other Stuff…

It has been awhile since I did an opinion piece in bullet form, so the time has come for one.

  • The much ballyhooed NHL Tonight made its debut last night. It had its new soundtrack and modern looking intro. Besides that though, nothing really changed from NHL On The Fly: Final. It was basically a flashier version of OTF. I was concerned about that, and indeed it seems like NHLN is just trying to update its image and use the vaunted program name to grab some eyeballs.
  • Now, not everything was bad about it. The show moved fast and it was updated throughout the night. Kevin Weekes and Billy Jaffe were solid as always and David Amber kept things lively. But let’s face it, fans were expecting something new, and this didn’t cut it. They did use the actual calls on some highlights and I’d still like them to do that during all game packages. But the graphics and style were stale which was a bit of a disappointment on its first night.
  • The good news is that as I mentioned before, there is new programming on the way. This will be slowly rolled out and should go full speed once NHLN gets its new studios in Stamford. Their Winter Classic coverage should be interesting although I’m not a fan of then cutting off TSN’s WJC intermissions to go to Philadelphia as they plan on doing. TSN is number one and NHLN should be showcasing them, not hyping the league’s special event.
  • Going back to the WJC, I thought NHLN did a decent job of covering the blowout by USA over Denmark. The new graphics looked pretty good and I’d like to see them in use during NHL games. Matt Rosen was solid although I’d prefer to see Gary Thorne or JP Dellacamera come back to the mic. I like Dave Starman, I think he’s very knowledgable and is one of the top college analysts. Rob Simpson was as good as one can be in a rather thankless reporter role. I’d still prefer TSN’s coverage but I understand the want of USA Hockey to have their own cheerleaders.
  • Moving on to CBC, Canadian Sports Media Blog has the news that Nabil Karim has moved on to join TSN. This comes at a bad time for the CBC as Mike Milbury is only expected to make sporadic appearances from here on out as NBC starts ramping up their NHL coverage. CBC has been decimated with departures over the past year and this makes it worse. Karim wasn’t an essential part of the HNIC team but he was important when it comes to their digital strategy.
  • Milbury’s move leaves a much larger hole, no matter how you feel about him. They could move Glenn Healy to the studio and try someone else between the benches. Both Greg Millen and Cassie Campbell have done it before. Or they can go down to two analysts as the main desk as they did before. Less chatter might be a good thing. And of course, they could go the TSN route and find themselves an ex-coach to join the network. Either way, CBC is lacking in the personnel department compared to where they stood many years ago.
 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in CBC, NHL, NHL Network, Television, TSN

 

Milbury Case Dismissed

Via The Boston Herald –

Ex-Bruin Mike Milbury will not face any charges and his case over an alleged confrontation in Brookline with a boy following a peewee hockey game earlier this month has been thrown out.

Milbury’s legal team announced this afternoon that a clerk magistrate at Brookline District Court has ruled there is not enough evidence to move ahead in the case.

Milbury addressed the media right after saying the incident was just “an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

When asked when he will be back on the air as a hockey analyst, Milbury said he was saving his voice for “Christmas caroling.”

His attorney, Mark Berthiaume, said the magistrate ruled there was no probable cause to take the next step in court.

“Mike and his family are are happy to move on,” said Berthiaume. “Mike will be returning to work on the air very, very soon.”

The parents of the alleged victim have left court refusing to speak to the press. Their attorney, John Burke, said the parents are “disappointed” in the ruling.

“They are concerned about the message this sends because they believe that their son was assaulted,” he added.

Milbury is expected to be back in usual spots on TV as a result of this decision.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in CBC, NBC, NHL, Television, Versus