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John Shannon Answers NHL Fans’ Broadcasting Questions

Several weeks ago, Kukla's Korner asked hockey fans to submit questions and comments to John Shannon, Sr. Vice President of NHL Broadcasting. After your enthusiastic response, Mr. Shannon addressed as many of your concerns as possible, and you can find his response below. This will be an ongoing monthly feature on Kukla's Korner. To ask a question or make a comment regarding NHL broadcasting of games, please follow this link. In about a month or so, Mr. Shannon will respond to them.

Note: Please be advised some reader questions were edited due to length.


Questions from Trent W., Edmonton, AB. Canada:
I have Bell Expressvu NHL Centre Ice.  They show a number of HD games in the package.  How is it determined which HD games and up in this package as there are still many HD games out there that they don’t have ever air such as MSG HD, Comcast HD. HDNET games?

Response:
All of our Centre Ice partners carry select games in HD.  They select games based on their satellite capacity.  Feeds like MSG and CSN Some feeds are not easily available and are very costly to add as part of the Centre Ice package.  We do hope to add them at some point.

HDNET is about to launch in Canada.  DO you know if HDNET games will be broadcast in Canada or does TSN/CBC rights not allow them to air?  When do you expect the next Canadian broadcasting rights deal to be announced?

Response:
HDNet’s Canadian service does not have the right to carry HDNet’s US games.  You are correct – CBC and TSN are the exclusive national rightsholders in the English language. There is no timetable on the Canadian tv deals.

Question from Brad:
What is the status of the NHL Network in the United States.  There had been some talk of it debuting this fall, but that obviously doesn’t appear to be happening.

Response:
The NHL is in the process of preparing for the launch of the NHL Network for sometime in 2007.  We hope to be carried on all major distributors in the US.

Question from Jay P, San Jose, CA:
I understand why Center Ice blackouts occur when a local RSN is showing a game. But why do they continue a blackout when the local RSN is NOT having the game on their network? For instance last Monday the Sharks game was blacked out on the Center Ice feed even though the local RSN was not showing the game. Seems like you could sell a few more $149.00 packages if fans knew that they could watch their hometown team even when the local RSN was not showing the game.

Response:
Jay, the key word for CI is “out of market”. NHL Center Ice is an out-of-market package designed to bring you games from outside your local viewing area.  As an out-of-market NHL Center Ice cannot generally deliver the in-market game whether the in-market team is televising or not.

Question From Alice, Connecticut:
I live in Connecticut, about 75 miles from NYC. My cable company carries MSG, so, in theory, I have access to all Rangers games that MSG broadcasts.  What earthly purpose is served by blacking out some percentage of games, just because of where I live? (I’m talking about games actually on MSG; I understand that if a Rangers game is bumped to FSNY, I won’t get it, even though I don’t like it.) What’s worse, the league somehow can’t get the correct information to Comcast or to the newspaper sports schedule listing, so the Comcast channel guide shows a Rangers game, but what’s actually on MSG is a Boise State football game. Furthermore, if by some fluke a Devils or Islanders game is on MSG, it’s totally random whether it will be blacked out. It’s not enough to say “subject to blackout”. If you want to grow the game and encourage fan loyalty, you’ve got to end such fan-unfriendly practices.

Response:
Alice, in short, each club has an exclusive television territory in which to televise its local games.  The area where you live in Connecticut is outside of the Rangers exclusive television territory and into an “outer market” area.  Because of the popularity of the Rangers in Connecticut and the fact that the MSG Network footprint extends beyond the Rangers exclusive television territory, 50 games are distributed in the market.

Including the national telecasts of the Rangers, about 60 to 65 Ranger games are available to you.

Question From Jay:
My question is along the same lines, in that if the VS channel in the States has a game on, why is it not on the CI package?  I understand it’s broadcasting rights, but if your trying to grow the game than it should be available.  What if my local provider doesn’t have the VS channel.  CBC has broadcasting rights and the game is still on the CI package, why not VS. It’s not like the people that get the CI package are stealing something, we pay for the package, we should be able to see the games.  After all last year in the playoffs VS showed the CBC game and telecast on VS so it couldn’t be on the package.  Kinda doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Response:
Versus has exclusive national rights in the US.  The NHLCI package, as an out-of-market package, does not have the right to distribute games that are otherwise exclusive to a network in your market.  Similarly, CBC games are not available in NHLCI in Canada in markets where the game available on CBC.  All of the out-of-market packages generally operate this way.  The general rule of thumb is that NHL Center Ice delivers to you games that would not ordinarily be available to you in your market (regardless of whether the network is carried by every distributor in the market).

Question From Troy M, Cleveland, OH.:
I live in Cleveland and have NHL Center Ice.  Why am I blacked out from seeing games from both the Penguins and the Blue Jackets?  I understand the purpose of blacking out Blue Jackets games since they are broadcast locally on FSN Ohio, but Penguins games are not available to me in Cleveland.  Can this be corrected?

Response:
The Pittsburgh games are blacked out in your market on NHL Center Ice even though your cable system does not carry FSN Pittsburgh because you are in the local television territory of both the Pittsburgh Penguins & Columbus Blue Jackets.  Since your cable system does not carry FSP, NHL Center Ice has to black you out of Penguins games.  We ask that you continue to call your cable system and ask that they carry FSP.  You have every right as a customer to lobby your cable provider to add FSP. The NHL has also made Fox Sports aware of this issue in Ohio and they are willing to work with the cable systems in question.

Questions from Kent A., Cottonwood, AZ:
This past September the Pens played back to back exhibition games in Canada broadcast on FSNP. The first game was blacked out on DirecTV to me here in AZ. I called DirecTV and was told that they have nothing to do with the blackouts. The next night I was not blacked out. Am I to believe that the league blacked out the first game or did DirecTV incorrectly black it out? There was a blackout issue across all carriers during the preseason and it was fixed.

Last night on DirecTV TSN had the NHLCI feed of the Sharks at the Red Wings. At the same time DirecTV made available the FSNDetroit feed on channel 95 in HD. I believe all CI subscribers but those in Detroit were blacked out of the HD broadcast. My question is since I am a CI subscriber & have paid my good money to see these games, why does TSN (or any other local feed chosen by CI) determine what I watch instead of me?  It seems to me that TSN or any other provider for NHLCI has already been paid by me & should not have additional power over me. Very aggravating!

Response:
NHL Center Ice selects feeds based on our experience of what is most appealing to Center Ice subscribers.  As such there is a strong preference towards Canadian feeds.  If space allows, some providers carry both feeds of a game and allow Center Ice subscribers to choose which they watch. This is not done for every game, but we ask our Center Ice carriers if they have capacity to carry both feeds to please do so.

Question From Jim, Colorado:
My question has to do with the relative quality of game broadcasts between networks.  Many fans have observed, for example, just how much better the picture and audio quality are on CBC HNIC broadcasts (particularly in certain arenas, like in Edmonton or Toronto).  When compared with many of the regional sports network broadcasts in the US, especially, these CBC broadcasts are superior in terms of camera placement (closeness to the ice), crispness of the picture, and the audio, which really seems to capture the atmosphere in the building.  What are the main reasons for these differences, and can anything be done to employ those superior broadcast methods in all of the other arenas around the league.  It makes a HUGE difference in the level of excitement for the viewer.

Response:
Jim, thanks for your note.  As the former Executive Producer of HNIC, I believe some of what you say is true.  Some buildings, in both countries, just have better camera positions.  We are trying over the next year to examine all camera positions and fix the problem positions, as well as create a broadcast standards book that all teams can follow in order to improve all aspects of the broadcasts.  Over the next few years, our hope is to create a foundation for all broadcast that allows for fans who are new to the game to understand better, all the while respecting that hardcore fans such as yourself can still be as passionate as ever.

Question From Mike, Idaho:
Please tell Versus to keep their camera zoomed out more.  Even when watching on HD, their camera is frequently zoomed in so far you cannot see plays developing or get a good feel for what is happening on the ice.  It is pretty bad that the NHL’s national television carrier does a worse job than most of the RSNs in showing a game.  Last year, they started out bad but were doing OK by the end of the playoffs.  This year they seem to be starting badly again.  Also please make DirecTV give us a choice of feeds to watch of a game like Dish Network does, I really miss this since I switched over this year.  For instance if MSG and FS-BA are showing a game of the Sabres and Rangers, I should get to choose which channel I want to watch since they are all up on the satellite anyway.  Dish lets you do this, DirecTV does not and they easily could.

Response:
Mike, I think you’ll find that Versus has improved its camera use in the last few months.  As a point of information, we at the NHL have launched a Game Certification Program that will allow us to standardize how the game camera works in all buildings in both countries.  As far as you thoughts about the dual feeds on Direct, I will pass it on to the proper folks at Center Ice, but believe it has a great deal to do with satellite band width.

Question From Brian, New York:
Mr. Shannon,
Is the NHL planning an online similar to MLB’s MLB.tv?  I am out of area alot and have no way to watch the Rangers.  I know there are alot of fans out there in similar situations who would pay for an online service that broadcasted NHL games, so is there one in the works?  And if not, why not?

Response:
The NHL is exploring the launch of a version of the NHL Center Ice package on NHL.com in the near future.  Please continue to logon onto NHL.com for any announcements.

Question from Blake:
Why is there no nightly NHL highlights show on in the United States? You would think this would be important for the game here and VS. would be the perfect network for it.

Response:
We agree with you about a nightly highlights show.  This is something we continually explore with our partners.

Question from memlaw, Memphis, TN:
The 10/24 INHD broadcast of the Versus Channel’s NJ/PGH game was blocked or scrambled here in Memphis.  The cable provider, Comcast, had no explanation.  Is there any reason the NHL would be blocking a NJ/PGH hockey game in Memphis?

Response:
From our standpoint, there is no reason why this game would be blacked out anywhere in the US.  My guess is a possible glitch at the cable system, which happen in another market earlier in the season.

Question from Dan, Los Gatos, CA:
I hope you can answer this honestly but I think the NHL hugely miscalculated Comcast’s desire to make a new sports channel. OLN, now Vs, has lost out on NASCAR, NFL and MLB bids to make it a legitamate network destination for sports viewers. While as a fan I’m pleased that Vs treats Hockey with respect, how is the sport supposed to grow on such a lowly regarded cable channel. It feels like the late 1980’s Sportschannel decision all over again.

Response:
You know Dan, I think you might be a little too quick to judge.  Versus is definitely committed to the NHL.  They are very good partners to help grow the game.  It isn’t much different than when the NHL was key to the early years of one of those other sports channels that has grown to be a sports leader.  As a league, and fans, we sometimes have to be patient to grow the sport.

Questions from Bill, Atlanta, GA:
1.  I’m pleased with the number of HD games shown on DirecTV channel 95 so far.  Last year, the number of DTV 95 HD games dwindled to near zero as DirecTV seemed to opt for NBA HD games instead.  Will we see the same phenomenon this year?  If so, I’d say you are falling off pace in your effort to boost broad HD availability of the NHL. NHL Center Ice is working closely with our carriers to ensure the maximum number of HD telecasts that they have the capacity to carry.

2.  The hotel-room availability of Vs. and the RSN’s is virtually non-existent.  This is a slight frustration during the regular season and a huge frustration in the post-season.  Is there any hope on the horizon for us regular travelers in the States?  Do our numbers even make it on to your radar screen, or are they perceived to be so small, it’s a “don’t care”?

Response:
We care.  Both Versus and the RSN aggressively pursue the hotel business. We also recognize this void and are exploring launching a streamed version of NHL Center Ice on NHL.com that subscribers may be able to access remotely when traveling.  Please continue to log onto NHL.com for announcements. Bill, as a constant traveller I have now been finding the Center ice package as part of the Lodgenet TV system in some hotels.  I am told by our own people that this will be growing.  Commissioner Bettman has made “institutional” access to VS, a priority this year.  But it does take time.

Question from Darrell, St. Louis, MO
I am an avid Red Wings fan that lives in St Louis MO. I have purchased the Center Ice package for several years. My problem is when I am watching the games on Center Ice and i have to watch the opposing teams broadcast because the Center Ice doesn’t show the FS Detroit broadcast and it is blacked out in my area. I really appreciate watching the games but missing the “hometeam” broadcast is really bothering me. Is there anything that can be done so I can when I purchase my Center Ice package I get to watch and hear the Redwing network?

Response:
NHL Center Ice selects feeds based on our experience of what is most appealing to Center Ice subscribers.  As such there is a strong preference towards Canadian and home team feeds.  If space allows, some providers carry both feeds of a game and allow Center Ice subscribers to choose which they watch.  This is not done for every game, but we ask our Center Ice carriers if they have capacity to carry both feeds to please do so.

Questions from Tapeleg, Colorado:
1) Can the NHL act as a mediator between the NHL network (who owns this, by the way?) and VS. to perhaps gain some of the nightly recap broadcast, and is VS. even interested in such a thing?
2) Is the NHL holding back any content for the anticipated launch of the NHL network?

Response:
We are exploring the possibility of a nightly highlight show with our partners.  In addition, we are planning to launch the NHL Network sometime in the near future.  The Network will contain a regularly-scheduled nightly highlight show.

Question from Bonnie, New Hampshire:
Mr Shannon, I cannot even begin to tell you how bummed I am that Sirius is not allowing a live feed to the NHL.com page of Don and Zigs show. I listened everyday last year, loved it and learned a lot about hockey and players. I so enjoyed it I bought my brother a Sirius set up for his birthday last March…

Response:
Bonnie, that problem has been solved.  The show is back on NHL.com

Question from EJ, Carrboro, NC:
I’ve enjoyed Yahoo’s webcasts of certain games.  How long will it be before all games are available online on a nightly basis?  I know you don’t need my editorializing, but growing a niche sport in today’s media landscape requires a strong online package.

Response:
The NHL is exploring the launch of a version of the NHL Center Ice package on NHL.com in the near future.  Please continue to logon onto NHL.com for any announcements.

Question from Joe P., BC, Canada:
Will the NHL be releasing classic games and classic playoff series on DVD for consumer purchase?

Response:
Joe, we always looking for way to market the game, whether it be the present or vintage game.  Watch NHL.com for details on exactly what you are asking about.

Question from Brent, Belleville, ON, Canada:
Here is a concern for you (the NHL that is). If I cannot watch my home team, then I will not watch at all, I will not go see a game, I will not buy hockey collectibles, clothing, jerseys, hockey cards, nothing!  I will not buy/read hockey magazines or news and will refuse to absorb any hockey media or branding/advertisments aimed at hockey ‘consumers’/fans.

If I cannot watch the Toronto Maple Leafs, I am out!

I live in Belleville, Ontario canada but am told that I am in the ‘Ottawa Valley region’ yet I am 3 hrs away from Ottawa have no interest in the senators and never will.  Last year I had supper ready, beer, friends over and the pregame show was great and I was ready for the NEW NHL, then the tv flipped to golf or wrestling because of a blackout.  I didn’t watch another game all year because I so upset. [...]

Response:
Brent, there appears to be something wrong here with your postal code.  If you are deemed in Ottawa territory, then you should not get Leafs TV, but should be able to see the Leafs on NHL Centre Ice (unless it is a national telecast).  The fact that you are in Ottawa territory and also blacked out of the Leafs on NHLCI sounds wrong. Brent,  please supply me with your e-mail address so we can look into this for you.

Question from Greg W., Moose Jaw, SK, Canada:
Mr Shannon,
I frequently listen to the NHL.com pickup of radio station broadcasts for games that are not covered on local TV. Why doesn’t NHL.com pick up all of the TV broadcasts too and feed them through the NHL web site? Make it pay-per-view if you have to, but at least give us access to watch as many games as possible on our computers. Whether or not the local networks carry the games, you should be able to market it directly to us. High speed internet should be able to do a decent job of carrying the streaming.

and…

Question from Roberto B., Brazil:
Hi Mr. Shannon,  I would like to know if the NHL is planning to launch online broadcasts on his site like MLB.I live outside North America and there are a lot of fans like me that can’t watch any hockey at all and it’s difficult to keep a passion for this game like we have when you can’t watch it.  Myself and a lot of fans around the world will gladly pay for a package of NHL games streamed on NHL.com. Thanks.

Response to previous two questions:
The NHL is exploring the launch of a version of the NHL Center Ice package on NHL.com in the near future.  Please continue to logon onto NHL.com for any announcements.

Question from Joe, Germany:
Dear Mr. Shannon,
As an NHL fan in Europe I feel neglected by the NHL. There is a huge NHL fan base in Europe, but we are not able to watch NHL games on the internet!  The broadcasts at YAHOO are for US residents only. The NHL sold the internet broadcast rights for Europe in a package with the TV rights to NASN, a tv broadcaster that has no intentions to broadcast games on the internet.  We European fans do not want to watch for free, we are even willing to pay if we only had the chance to receive some games here. Why is it that the NHL does not seem to care for its fan base outside of North America?
Regards, Joe.

Response:
The NHL is exploring the launch of a version of the NHL Center Ice package on NHL.com in the near future.  Please continue to logon onto NHL.com for any announcements.

Question from Joe M., Columbus, OH:
Thanks for taking questions.  I have the NHL Center Ice package so I can see my Buffalo Sabres play, and I am just curious, as to what the criteria are for which teams announcers subscribers get to hear.  There have been 10 games, and to my knowledge, 2 have been on VS, and of the remaining 8, we have only heard Rick Jeneret once.  Last night, the Islanders announcers were the worst I have ever heard, they barely spoke about the action on the ice, and when they did, the play by play guy acted like he was bored out of his mind!!  It is apparent that Jeneret is arguably the BEST play by play guy in the NHL, why on Earth would you not allow the fans to hear him, instead of announcers that, well, for lack of a better term, SUCK?  I cannot imagine that it is good for TV ratings and commercial slot sales, to have your audience listening to the broadcast via the internet, and just watching the TV does it?  LET US HEAR RICK!!  HE IS THE BEST!!!!.....and consequently, so are the SABRES!!!

Response:
NHL Center Ice tries to take all of the different announcers from around the League throughout the season.  We will continue to carry many MSG (Buffalo) telecasts – stay tuned!

Comment from Michael C., California:
If you want to attract more fans to the NHL, than the obvious fix is not changing the game, but regulating the quality of the broadcast.  FSW is crap, they shove way too many commercials down our throats or worse, they cover half the screen with these pop-up ads right in the middle of play.  Anytime a scrum develops after a save for example they ALWAYS zoom into the goalies eyes for what seems an eternity before slowly going to where the action WAS.  They picture on my 50” HDTV is like watching a game when Gordie Howe was a rookie.  The NFL and MLB get it.  They don’t dare sacrifice quality to save a few bucks.  FSW announced that they will televise 10 Kings games in HD, if they can do 10, they can do em all.  And bring Buccigross to VS, and ban that biased idiot Brian Heyward from doing another game, EVER.  Last year he actually said this during a Ducks/Kings game “I hope Penner drops his gloves and gives Avery a real beatin” That is classless.

Response:
Michael, we are constantly working with our teams, rights holders and the announcers to improve the product.  Thanks for you note.

*Edited 11:08 am EST

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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