NHL play re­turns with new-look TV broad­casts

Times Colonist - - Television -

The NHL re­turned on the week­end with new-look tele­vi­sion broad­casts that in­cluded slick yet sub­tle changes, creat­ing a fresh vis­ual prod­uct that was no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent at times.

With no spec­ta­tors in at­ten­dance at Toronto’s Sco­tia­bank Arena or Ed­mon­ton’s Rogers Place due to the COVID-19 pan­demic, large screens and lights around the lower bowls cre­ated a look that was part tele­vi­sion stu­dio and part video game.

NHL-branded tarps cov­ered empty seat sec­tions and “aug­mented au­dio” was used to repli­cate a crowd soundbed. The over­all re­sult found a bal­ance be­tween splashy and fa­mil­iar.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing here is how COVID is es­sen­tially creat­ing the op­por­tu­nity and the en­vi­ron­ment in which broad­cast­ers can try things a lit­tle bit differentl­y,” said Mike Naraine, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor with Brock Univer­sity’s de­part­ment of sport man­age­ment. “[They can] add a cou­ple more pieces to the pie that they wouldn’t tra­di­tion­ally … [do] for fear of os­tra­ciz­ing the au­di­ence.”

The hub for­mat of 12 East teams play­ing in Toronto and 12 West teams meet­ing in Ed­mon­ton will take some get­ting used to now that play has re­sumed.

Same goes for ex­te­rior b-roll and pre-game locker-room shots.

View­ers tun­ing into the open­ing game be­tween Carolina and New York watched a panoramic shot of the Toronto sky­line from above the Gardiner Ex­press­way. Def­i­nitely not the usual scene-set­ter ahead of a Hur­ri­canes-Rangers matchup.

In­side the down­town arena, Carolina play­ers gath­ered out­side the Toronto locker-room for stick taps and fist bumps. A Hur­ri­canes ban­ner was po­si­tioned over the large Maple Leafs logo on the wall.

The days of rink­side re­porters lean­ing over the boards for in­ter­views dur­ing warmups have gone the way of the hand­shake. NBC broad­caster Brian Boucher was at ice level, but pro­vided com­men­tary from a Plex­i­glas­con­tained area be­tween benches.

EA Sports is help­ing with sim­u­lated crowd noise and pro­duc­ers tried it early by adding it dur­ing the na­tional an­thems. The odd in­clu­sion was quickly for­got­ten once the ac­tion be­gan as the au­dio bed meshed nicely with the play.

The NHL over­sees the “world feed” for each game with 32 cam­eras. Sport­snet ex­e­cutes the feed in Ed­mon­ton and NBC, the U.S. right­sh­older, han­dles the Toronto end.

In­ter­mis­sion in­ter­views were done Zoom-style to avoid un­nec­es­sary in-per­son in­ter­ac­tion.

Sport­snet of­fered some mi­nor dif­fer­ences for the open­ing game be­tween the Oil­ers and Chicago Black­hawks. Cam­era an­gles seemed more var­ied and in-arena screens were fea­tured more of­ten.

The road team felt the love in both venues. Faux cel­e­bra­tions — re­gard­less of which team scored — in­cluded blar­ing horns, en­hanced cheer­ing and im­ages of team sup­port­ers whoop­ing it up.

Sport­snet ex­ec­u­tives have said the net­work plans to use the “Ji­taCam” and its 360-de­gree ro­tat­ing arm more of­ten. The cam­era pro­vides un­usual an­gles from its hang­ing perch un­der­neath the main score­boards.

“Do­ing it well will be the thing that peo­ple re­mem­ber and then it could be the cat­a­lyst to project the league even fur­ther, both in Canada and par­tic­u­larly in the United States,” Naraine said.

Ed­mon­ton will host both con­fer­ence fi­nals and the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal, which could last into early Oc­to­ber.

NHL-branded tarps cover empty seat­ing dur­ing the Oil­ers’ play­off game against the Chicago Black­hawks in Ed­mon­ton on Satur­day.

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