Early Returns on NHL’s new TV Package
Fancy new gadgets and personalities matter little if no one can see it
Where are all the games?
What’s Happening: Almost two months into the NHL’s US television makeover has given solid insight into the new direction. Fresh with personality, new sets, and fancy cameras, ESPN and TNT have come in hot with a revamped viewer experience.
Even with some familiar faces from the NBC days, early returns suggest that both ESPN and TNT allow more personality, which is great news for the audience. Having NHL legends like Wayne Gretkzy and Mark Messier be a part of it doesn’t hurt, either.
But are all the personality and cosmetic changes enough for the game to grow?
Middling Returns: Do you grow an audience with personality or on-ice product? This is the conundrum the networks seem to be pondering.
In a recent New York Times article by Jonathan Abrams, TNT’s chief content officer and executive vice president, Craig Barry, stated that the network’s first priority isn’t growing the game but enhancing the viewing experience for the already devoted hockey fan.
Starting off by appealing to your existing audience is a logical first step, but certainly the networks are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Having Charles Barkley on for TNT’s opening night was a huge winner, but since they’ve settled in, the pre-game, intermission, and post-game shows on both networks thus far have seemed like more of the same, jazzed up with fancier sets.
Growing the game takes months, even years. You don’t get chemistry like the NBA on TNT crew overnight — and both networks have engaging personalities to get to that level — but the first third of the season has shown they’re not quite in mid-season form.
One overwhelmingly positive aspect was noted by TNT’s Barry, who said that the network is shooting for an enhanced in-game viewing experience through use of smart technology with faster, sharper cuts and better camera angles — akin to how Canadian networks broadcast hockey. U.S. broadcasts have long focused too much on following the puck and thus missing the bigger picture. With all players in view, the game’s strategy comes into play for the viewer, an integral aspect to growing interest in the game. Canadian networks get this right, and if TNT wants to apply a similar tactic, it’s a step in the long-needed right direction.
If you build it, they will come: When talking about Major League Baseball, current Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson once said “this isn’t the try league, it’s the get it done league.” And while good intentions are welcomed, NHL networks must put the product in a place to be seen. To date, that hasn’t happened.
ESPN and ESPN2 rarely, if ever, air an NHL game. ESPN’s streaming platform ESPN+ has most games, but that costs extra. For TNT, they own Wednesday nights, but a quick look at the schedule shows the vast majority of start times after 10PM eastern time — eight out of 10 thus far.
Football and basketball reign supreme in the US, but all the gadgets, camera angles, and personalities won’t matter if you don’t give the product itself a chance. That means giving the average fan a chance to find the games on a channel they already get in a desired time slot.
Early returns show that ESPN and TNT certainly have the gumption to make it work, but tweaks are needed.
How would you rate the NHL’s new U.S. TV product so far?
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