Less is more with NHL TV broadcasts, and the fan experience

For one reason or another, producers who oversee NHL game coverage think that you want to watch hockey as intimately as possible.  They try to find new ways to get you into the game and make you feel like you are sharing the bench or sharing the ice with other players and stars.

Perhaps it's because producers compare the telecast of hockey to that of the NFL or Major League Baseball:  Two sports with numerous pauses that give those in charge of running a telecast the chance to build drama or seek out drama where none exists.

The extreme-close-up where you get to look at the sweat pouring off a pitcher's face, the "sky-cam" football angle that shows you what's going on from the field of play?   It's all supposed to be more intimate; it's supposed to make you want to watch.

Yet every time the networks - NBC, ABC before it, then Fox before that; Versus, and ESPN before it on cable TV - try to re-create this intimacy while covering an NHL game, they ruin one aspect or another of their broadcasts and coerce fans to tune out.

I hate to break it to you, NHL television producers, but the fixed-camera system is actually your friend.  You draw in viewers by showing the competition that's being played, not by trying to oversell and micromanage the broadcast.  The fan experience, for a TV viewer, is hurt when you try to do more with a production than you need.

Broadcast distractions started with numerous jump-cuts during games televised on ESPN.  At least, that was my first experience of irritations in coverage akin to nails-across-a-blackboard.   While any sports production from a national sports channel tends to have infinitely more camera angles at their disposal than a local broadcast...  Well, it doesn't mean you have to use them all during play.

Jump, jump, jump, jump to different perspectives, and missing out on the actual play while trying to orientate to a constantly shifting viewpoint.  Seriously, if fans want to watch rapid fire jump-cutting from angle to angle while the action is going on live - they'd be better off with one of the Jason Bourne movies, or perhaps something directed by Michael Bay.

This isn't saying multiple camera angles at TV's disposal is a bad thing.  Certainly not for replays.  Heck, they're an outright necessity when a play needs to be reviewed in-house or in the war room in Toronto.  The fact remains, we don't need to see them all, live, during play.

Loyal fans want to see the game.  They want to see what's happening across the entirety of the ice as a play develops.  That's an aspect that High Definition television and the 16:9 aspect ratio has bestowed upon us and improved the overall experience with...   Yet cable and broadcast networks (past and present) have fixated on trying to wow you with individuals on ice, breaking continuity of what you're focusing on to accentuate what they think you are focusing on:  One single player, one single part of the ice.

Let's be honest, there's too much happening on ice for everyone to be focusing on the exact same thing.  There are things going on away from the play that draw our attention away from the puck carrier:  Maybe a grueling hit, a stare down leading to a fight, or a player limping off injured...

Jump cutting around or ill-timed close-ups during play are only two gripes.  How about those "innovative" camera angles?

While cameras mounted to the glass at each end give a unique vantage point, using those cameras for entire shifts ruins the traditional perspective that fans expect-- the view from the sidelines.  Replays involving this behind-the-net angle are great and fine.  But, please, not live action coverage.  It's much too easy to get lost from the odd angle.

While I'm on the subject of novelty angles, let me take to task cameramen-on-ice covering the super-skills competition during the All-Star game festivities.  It used to be that you could behold the abilities of players, doing what they did best.  In recent years, you've gotten to watch player backs and little else during the break-away challenge:

I mean, really - if you want to reflect the fan experience, why are we seeing this from such a poor angle where we can't even enjoy what we're watching?

That was 2009, try the 2008 challenge on for size:

You can get motion sickness watching that.  Why tune in for that crap?  For a marquee event that is supposed to highlight and celebrate the league's best players, how does this faux-innovative angle accentuate the skill that got these guys to the All-Star weekend in the first place?

This goes for the jump-cuts and the ill-timed-zooms as well:  How do they draw in viewers when those viewers can't follow what's happening?  How does breaking continuity of the telecast enhance the experience?  How does it draw in casual fans, or those new to hockey?

News flash:  it doesn't.

You don't have to re-invent the wheel in order to cover hockey on television.  Really, it's the truth.

Less is more.  Keep it simple, stupid.  Give us the game as it airs, and throw the intimate camera work when it's not going to interrupt, disorientate, or confuse.  That's how I want to experience hockey on TV.  Much like I'd experience it in the arena.