The new era has begun: communications giant Rogers has started it’s 12-year odyssey as Canada’s broadcaster of NHL hockey. Out with some old, in with some new. It’s early days yet, but already there are changes aplenty for hockey fans to digest.
Some interesting additions include a “Sky-Cam” which resembles the NFL’s up-field play-following angle. A moving camera suspended on a cable gives viewers different shots at different times and can follow the play. Then there’s “Ref-Cam”; a camera mounted on the helmet of … you guessed it, a referee. This puts the viewer at ice-level.
The new host of the 62-year old Hockey Night in Canada franchise that airs Saturday evenings is George Stroumboulopoulos, or Strombo. Prior to jumping to Rogers Strombo had a successful gig as a talk-show host on CBC, and even had a bit of a tryout with CNN. He’s very good with people, bright, witty, fast on the uptake, and a big hockey fan. Unfortunately so far he looks a bit like a fish out of water on HNIC. Perhaps he’s a victim of his past success, interviewing a wide range of guests on a variety of topics. But now that his audience has been narrowed-down to one focal point – i.e. hockey – and the others on the program, including panelists, analysts and assorted guests, are hockey “experts” of one sort or another, Strombo seems out of place. I fear that no amount of hockey knowledge he may have, which is substantial and will continue to grow, will help him lose the jock-wannabe image. On his debut he came off as an entertainment guy masquerading as a hockey guy. Only time will tell.
But Strombo isn’t the biggest problem facing viewers by a long chalk. Nope, the biggest adjustment is trying to find which channel is airing your game! It used to be so simple: in Montreal Hockey Night in Canada was on the local CBC channel every Saturday, if the powers that be decided to cater to market size instead of game quality, they would broadcast the Toronto Maple Leafs’ game nationally – no matter how poorly the team was faring. No problem, other games were available regionally in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and so on. But they were on the same old CBC channel, you didn’t need a decoder ring to find your team. There was also always the option to watch the Canadiens game broadcast in French, thereby avoiding both Don Cherry and the Toronto-centric play-by-play team. During the week, games were on one of maybe two sports channels, and again always available in French. Watching the Habs did not require any research.
Rogers now presents NHL games on six English-language channels. If you don’t consult your local listings, something that was never needed before, finding just one of the stations airing hockey is a good start. From there you can learn where your team’s game is being presented. It’s a bit like home room in high school, you went there first, got the latest information, then went off to classes. But once you’ve got the location of your game you just have to hope you actually get the channel! Last Saturday I tuned-in to HNIC on CBC and found out that my game was on CITY-TV. I’m not a huge television viewer, aside from sports and Coronation Street, my set usually provides a background of CNN. What and where is CITY-TV and why is my team’s game there?
This ability to watch numerous games on several channels is wonderful for ‘hockey’ fans, but sifting through them looking for the Habs can he a pain in the ass if you’re a ‘Habs’ fan. Hockey fans love the game and will soak-up as much about it as possible. Habs fans just want to watch the Montreal Canadiens play, they (we?) really couldn’t care less about the Edmonton Oilers game against the San Jose Sharks. So long as I can watch my Canadiens without having to do too much research, I’ll be a happy camper.