2014-15 NHL Season Preview: NBC Sports Expands National NHL Reach With More Western Productions
Consider the 2014-15 season NHL television’s Manifest Destiny. Thanks in large part to the Los Angeles Kings, who have won the Stanley Cup two of the last three years, and the exceptionally dominant lineup of teams in the Western Conference, the league’s national-broadcast partner NBC Sports has its eyes to the West.
“We will be doing a lot more West Coast games this year as we discover that we can broaden the scope of hockey,” says Sam Flood, executive producer, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “We have more Wednesday doubleheaders during our Wednesday Night Rivalry, which has been a home run in terms of ratings success. Now we’ll follow it up with a West Coast game of equal importance. This helps us grow the footprint of the NHL and showcase the talent of the NHL in the right way.”
That means tacking a second game onto NBCSN’s already popular Wednesday Night Rivalry slate — as the network will do when the puck drops on a new season tomorrow (Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings).
In the Versus era and the early days of NBCSN, it wasn’t uncommon for the programming slate to include a West Coast game, but it was typically a skinned version of the existing production by a Comcast SportsNet regional partner. Now those games get the full national NBC treatment. According to Flood, this expansion is part of the network’s continuing effort to grow the national visibility of the hockey, a sport that excels regionally but faces obstacles on the national sports scene.
“What we’re trying to do with Wednesday Night Rivalry is making the hardcore hockey fan realize that, just because [their] team isn’t playing that night, they need to watch Wednesday Night Rivalry,” says Flood. “If you’re a true hockey fan, it’s more than just your team.”
On the production and operations end, NBC Sports will ease itself into the new campaign, juggling its primary mobile production facilities (NEP Broadcasting’s custom-built ND5 and ND6) with Notre Dame football. The typical Wednesday-night or Sunday-afternoon game (NBC’s marquee windows) features an average of 15 cameras, the vast majority Sony systems equipped with Canon lenses.
According to Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations and production planning, NBC Sports, NBC Sports Network, and Golf Channel, the production team uses a Grass Valley Kalypso 3.5M/E switcher in the truck, along with a ChyronHego HyperX3 for graphics, a Calrec Artemis Beam digital console for audio, and a file-sharing EVS XT3 workflow for record and playback connected with the NBC Sports facilities in Stamford, CT.
NBC, which used plenty of advanced toys during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, will dial back on the emerging technologies until later this year. That includes pulling back on 4K and the Evertz DreamCatcher except for selected games until playoff time rolls around again.
“[4K] works well in hockey,” says Coordinating Producer John McGuinness. “Just the way hockey is covered, you’re following the puck, and there’s a lot of action that happens away from the puck. If all your cameras are following the puck, you can occasionally wonder what happened behind the play. We usually have [the 4K camera] in our high end zone, and, with the 4K, you can zoom in. We really like it for that.”