The NHL Network will drop the puck on the 2010-11 season tonight on the verge of completing a host of production and operations enhancements. These include a origination and transmission center at Comcast Media Center (CMC) in Denver, CO, a TeamCam system that will soon be available at every NHL arena, and a fully redesigned New York City studio that is already being used for the network’s daily news and talk show, NHL Live.
“We’re extremely excited for the start of the season,” says NHL Network VP of Programming Bob Chesterman. “NHL Live and NHL on the Fly have new start times (5 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET, respectively), and we’ve got a lot more in the works this year.”
Keeping NHL Teams in the Loop
NHL Network’s new master control center at CMC delivers network’s HD and SD broadcasts, including multiple live games at once, and features new graphics and live ticker capabilities. In addition, the league is working with Cisco to build out a comprehensive MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network, which allows multicasting among NHL arenas, the U.S. and Canada NHL Networks, and league operations.
These advances will allow the NHL Network to receive a profusion of feeds directly from each venue, including clean and dirty home and away feeds, postgame melts, overhead-video-board shows, TeamCams, and, eventually, in-net cams for officiating purposes (to determine whether a puck crossed the goal line).
“Last year, we didn’t have the visibility into some of the arenas that we wanted and have now for hockey operations,” says NHL CTO Peter DelGiacco. “Building out this infrastructure allowed us to put together some very cool time-synched applications that allow us to [receive multiple feeds from the arenas].”
NHL Network Reaps the Benefits
As a result of this infrastructure and the master control, NHL Network can now take a clean feed and insert its own branded graphics for live game telecasts, which were previously dirty feeds featuring graphics from the RSN producing the game.
“With the new master control, we will finally be able to put our own graphics on the games,” says Chesterman. “We will still use their announcers, but we will now have our own graphics and branding.”
In addition, during live games, the NHL Network will now have the ability to show an out-of-market game in the markets of the participating teams. Previously, live games were blacked out entirely in those markets, with no alternative game.
TeamCam in Operation, With More To Come
The MPLS network will also allow NHL Network to use the newly installed TeamCams at NHL arenas this year for live look-ins, morning skates, pregame skates, and pre- and post-game interviews with players, coaches, and beat writers. Rolled out in selected venues (including Vancouver and Tampa Bay) for the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Playoffs, TeamCams are currently installed at more than 20 NHL arenas and are expected be in every venue by November.
“We are still rolling out and testing to get all 30 teams up and running,” says DelGiacco. “That will take us a few weeks into the season, but, for the most part, we have everything up, and it’s working right now.”
The TeamCam system features a Sony BRCH700 robotic camera mounted to the bottom of each arena’s center-hung scoreboard.
“At each arena, we put a rack worth of equipment that allows us to get the feeds out of the arena,” says DelGiacco. “There are two fibers coming back to us: one does control and one does video. Our control points in New York and in [Toronto] can then control any of the cameras on the network.
“We also developed some software that allows you to pick which arena you want,” he continues. “And there are a few presets in terms of camera control: one side of the rink for morning skate, an interview spot next to the bench, and so on.”
NHL Live Gets a Facelift
NHL Live, the daily headlines program hosted by Bill Pidto, Deb Placey, and E.J. Hradek, moves to a new timeslot (5-7 p.m. ET) and will air from a redesigned studio inside the NHL Powered by Reebok store in New York.
“The redesigned set really gives us a better look and feel,” says Chesterman. “We have enhanced the technology and monitors, and there are more options to shoot in the studio. It is not always just two people sitting at a desk; we can move them around.”
Partnership With NBC Sports Group
Even with all these production enhancements, the most high-profile project of them all has not even arrived yet. As part of the 10-year, $2 billion rights deal that the league landed in April, NBC Sports Group will construct an entirely new studio for NHL Network at its Stamford facility. It will serve as an example of the network’s growing partnership with NBC Sports Group.
“[NBC Sports Group] was our partner before, so there is some continuity there,” says Chesterman. “But, obviously, the stakes are higher [following the new rights deal], and everyone is working closer together. Whenever we can share resources or content, we make the extra effort to do that.”