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I noticed recently that someone posted a blog about the problems Versus has as a TV production, and I was going to simply comment on his blog, but I figured this is info that many people here might be interested in, so why not share it with anyone who cares.

The problem expressed about Versus was that their camera work is shot too tight, and moves too much, which does not allow fans to watch the majority of the offensive zone, and also hurts the refresh rate of current LCD HDTVs. First off, my problem with Versus is that very few providers have Versus in HD right now. I have Time Warner Cable, and I just found out that Versus HD is going to be added soon, but there was no date as to when that would happen. Personally, if the NHL was on ESPN2, I think a lot more people would be able to receive it in HD, as almost anyone who had HD cable or satellite automatically receives ESPN2 HD.

In regard to the camera work, the problem is that Versus rarely gets the "A" camera crew when they come to a location. To give me a little bit of credibility, I work on the TV broadcast of one of the NHL teams, so I have some direct experience with this issue. With TV Productions, every member of the crew is not traveled into a location, it would cost way too much money. So what happens with an outside company (rather than a local or regional channel like FSN), they must call local crewers to get camera operators, audio workers, tape guys, etc. More often than not, the local crewer is calling the workers that have already been crewed by the local FSN, so they have to go further down the list to find guys for Versus. For instance, in LA, if the Lakers and Dodgers play on the same night as the Ducks playoff game, most of the best workers will be already booked on Lakers or Dodgers because they were crewed months in advance, while the Ducks playoff game was not crewed until the playoff schedule was released, which is usually a few days before the first game. This tends to lead to a scramble, in which anyone who can do the job will be crewed on the show, leaving Versus with less experienced workers. In somewhere like LA, where there are a lot of good TV production workers because there are so many teams and shows, this isn't much of an issue, because the "B" and "C" crews are still pretty good (most of them have likely been on hockey all year anyway, as most of the best workers are placed on the highest rated show first, which in LA would be Lakers, then Dodgers/Angels, then Clippers, then High School Football, and so on... Hockey is usually near the bottom in local ratings). But say the Carolina Hurricanes or the Columbus Blue Jackets make the playoffs, if the "A" crew is already working another show that night, Versus is going to get stuck with far less experienced people because the "A" crew in those places probably works just about every production available each day.

Hopefully all of this makes sense, as I guess when you aren't in the business, it is a little difficult to understand, but I'm doing my best to explain myself as best as possible.

So now that I've established why Versus is not getting top of the line workers whenever they come into town, you should understand why the games look like they do. If we want to talk strictly about camera work, there are a couple of issues. First off, as those of us on this site know, the majority of people do not watch hockey (I know it's a fact, but I still cannot understand why). Because of this, the odds are that a top camera guy does not watch much hockey, if any at all. However, that camera guy can still be crewed on a hockey TV production, and while his/her skills may be better than others, they will run camera like they would a basketball game, baseball game, soccer game, etc. Those of us who watch a lot of hockey know how we like to see the game, and why. Those who don't watch hockey assume you always want to be looking at the puck. That is the one thing I hear the most from people who don't like hockey, is that on TV, it's too hard to follow the puck. What I say is that it isn't a matter of watching the puck. You can rarely see the ball in football when a guy is running with it, but the fact is, you can tell by watching the guys on the field who has the ball, and what he is doing with it. Same goes with hockey; if you watch how the players react, you can always tell where the puck is. Furthrmore, hockey die-hards want to see how plays develop, the subtle moves that players make with a puck, and how people react away from the puck. Unfortunately, the average camera guy isn't a hockey die-hard, let alone a hockey fan. So he/she is going to focus on trying to keep the puck in the center of the frame so that everyone watching on TV can see the puck as much as possible. Thats why you tend to see the camera get faked out on a blocked slap shot. The camera guy anticipates that the puck is going to go towards the goal, and then when it deflects the other way, the camera guy has to pan way back. Now granted, I know it isn't easy to look through a view-finder on a camera, follow the play, and continue to stay focused, but it is their job.

What I have heard is that the NHL is trying to fix the camera work on all of the hockey broadcasts by having training programs for all the camera operators who work hockey often. I don't know how well these programs have succeeded, or how many people actually attend, but it is a good idea by the NHL.

All in all, basically what I am trying to explain in this blog is that Versus is not a group of like 30 guys who travel to each city together, and work together constantly. There is probably a producer, director, graphics person, EVS/tape operator (runs the replays and puts together the packages on the players), assistant director, and the announcers. That is all that travels, otherwise it gets way too expensive. Also, the main camera that you watch most of the game is typically not run by the best camera operator, because it isn't the most difficult camera. Basically, he/she just has to follow the action. The guys with the hand-held cameras in the corners, or the people who shoot the tight shots are usually the better operators. That is just the way things are done.

If people want a better broadcast by Versus, what people might want to do is convince Versus to travel one camera guy with them to run the game camera wherever they go. This will provide some continuity, which I think is the biggest issue people have with the Versus broadcast.

I personally think Versus has improved each and every year, and is much better than many of the local FSN or Comcast broadcasts. Lets just get hockey on HD in as many households as possible. I think that will improve the TV broadcast immensely.
May 16, 2008 1:00 PM ET | Delete
Excellent blog! Thanks for the insider info. You made a comment that I brought up in the other blog regarding Versus; does the relatively unavailability of VS. HD also play into account with the camera operators. If the camera operator knows that most people aren't getting the signal in a 16:9 ratio he might be more inclined the "follow the puck" as if he were broadcasting in standard def.
May 16, 2008 1:10 PM ET | Delete
Interesting article and thanks for the insight. As a layman, I'm surprised that at least part of this problem can't be addressed by having directors exert more control of the shots that the cameraman is taking. What this also serves to point out is that the Vs. announcers REALLY need to spend more time calling the game and less time rambling on with anecdotes and trivia.
May 16, 2008 1:15 PM ET | Delete
Nice job, very informative.
May 16, 2008 2:45 PM ET | Delete
Great blog. Here in Buffalo, we have a fantastic broadcast crew, from the announcing to the production, as well as all home games carried in HD on Time Warner. TW also carries Vs. HD, which is nice. So I wonder: How many teams have local dedicated crews during the regular season, and is it possible to arrange to use those same crews come playoff time? I understand your point about cities with other sports going on during this time of year, and the "A" crews get booked for other games. But is there any way to get the (hopefully) better trained local crews committed to playoff hockey games over early season baseball and/or the NBA? I much prefer Sabre playoff games broadcast by our local crew on MSG over the national broadcasts on Vs. or NBC. My solution: get the major cable networks in the U.S. to carry TSN and CBC (especially in HD). Perhaps as part of a sports tier. For $4/month TW offers a sports tier; couldn't they negotiate to add in TSN and CBC, even if it would be a few bucks more a month? Between those networks, they do most of the playoff games, and have at least 3 excellent crews as far as I can tell, including Jim Hughson, Bob Cole, Mark Lee, and Harry Neale.
May 16, 2008 4:13 PM ET | Delete
This is an outstanding post. I too have some good familiarity with broadcasting crews from some personal experience, and your post is right on. Thanks for sharing with everyone.
May 16, 2008 4:54 PM ET | Delete
duxcup07, I don't think the HD/standard def problem is something camera men think about. We are still in an age where very few of the NHL games are in HD, and on top of that, I would guess that on a regional FSN game broadcast both on HD and SD, only 10-20 percent of the people watching are watching in HD (most probably don't have HDTVs, and many probably don't have cable packages that include FSN HD, or they don't know where to find it). Unfortunately, the greater majority of people that watch hockey on TV do not care. They just want to see the game. Enthusiasts are trying to watch every aspect of the game, analyze different things, and be enlightened on things they may not know by the replays and commentators when they watch a game on TV, and HD makes this 1,000 times easier. But for every person like this, there are probably 9 other people out there just wanting to see if the team they like scores, and who got the goal, and who ended up winning the game. Getting back to camera men, as well as answering someone else's question about directors: the directors do have camera meetings before games where they explain what they want done, and how they want things shot. However, just because a camera guy is told something doesn't mean he is capable of doing it at a high level. Furthermore, for all we know, Versus directors may want things to be shot tight, and follow the puck, leading to a lot of camera movement, and less ability to see things going on away from the puck. It's all a matter of what the channel and the directors want. The only thing I can say is if you want things done differently, try to find a way to contact Versus via e-mail and express how you feel. Unfortunately, TV is based on ratings, and if more people like the tight shots and following the puck, and get frustrated and change the channel when things are shot differently, Versus is going to cater to them, rather than the die-hard fan.On problem I see with the NHL is they want to be a top 3 or 4 TV sport. They want as many people to like them as possible, which is why they dumb things down sometimes, and try to cater to casual fans. The NHL, however, may be better off trying to be like NASCAR or UFC and make things as enjoyable as possible for big-time hockey fans. Big time hockey fans are better at converting people to hockey than people who flip on the TV or read about hockey in the paper. Passion about hockey has helped me bring about 8-10 people in my life into the sport, and they are not die-hards and converting others, and raising kids to love hockey.
May 16, 2008 5:11 PM ET | Delete
Honestly, the only thing about the camera work that pisses me off about VS is, when a guy makes a pass, too often we see his reaction as he skates to the bench. That's fine, but I want to see where the pass went and what the teams are doing to react to that pass, not the look on the face of the guy who made the pass.
May 16, 2008 5:25 PM ET | Delete
That is the choice of the director, and no one else. I don't mind it when the player dumps the puck into the zone to change, because you aren't missing anything. But you are right, when it is a real pass, that is a horrible choice by the director.
May 16, 2008 9:00 PM ET | Delete
First of all, great post. I would think the frame size of the main cam would also be chosen or adjustable by the director.... anyway.... When the play is inside the offensive blue-line, say on a power-play, the camera should barely have to move. It blows my mind that a cameraman would frame a shot where they would have to pan the camera in order to show the player shooting, and the result of the shot, which, when a shot is traveling at 85 mph, by the time the camera actually gets panned over, the rebound or goal has already happened and you have to wait for a replay to see it. It's poor operating, combined with poor directing. But, you do sometimes see it on TSN and CBC as well. Just not as much.
May 16, 2008 11:39 PM ET | Delete
As much as the blame is being out on the camera operators, I think we should put more of a concern on the producers of this broadcast. He is the guy who chooses which camera is used if I am not mistaken. ESPN was and ABC were the best with this expect for that stupid behind the net cam for the power play. VS finally figured it out this playoffs and it still annoys me, especially when the puck is at the point along the boards. The camera could be better but most of what we see on the screen is being chosen by the guys in the truck. They need to figure out how to broadcast the game more than the camera guys in my opinion.
May 16, 2008 11:55 PM ET | Delete
Nice blog ... thanks for the info. From the announcers to the cameras, I really cannot stand VS or NBC! But there is one cool thing about Versus HD that happens every once in a while ... they have one camera shot that looks like you are sitting on the front row of the upper bowl, which happen to be my regular seats. It is almost as if you actually at the arena! Other than that ... give me Ralph and Razor on FSSW-HD any time!
May 17, 2008 5:56 AM ET | Delete
I have Verizon FIOS, and no Versus HD for us...:(
May 17, 2008 1:14 PM ET | Delete
Some background here too and you definitely illustrated well several of the camera/broadcast issues facing televised hockey. I think that time, experience, and continued expansion of HD will help. Getting back on ESPN would be a quantum leap for the NHL. Whether we like or dislike ESPN, the network along with HD and improved regional broadcasts is vital if we're going to see TV viewership increase substantially.
May 18, 2008 8:24 AM ET | Delete
Great blog - very informative. Thanks. My issue is not with the camera work, but with the directors themselves, like JSaq mentioned above, when there's a pass or a hit in the corner they immediately go to the closeup, not considering that the play is now elsewhere. Save the closeups for replays...give us the whole rink between the whistles.
May 18, 2008 6:59 PM ET | Delete
Excellent blog. This is a topic that many people have an issue with and you did an excellent job of writing a coherent explanation of how a hockey broadcast is run. In response to some prior posts, I am never really a fan of close-ups. Even within a play, it throws me off when the view is changed. It throws off the whole flow of the play and more often than not causes the viewer to miss some thing going on somewhere else on the ice. There is a reason that games are shown where you can see the entire zone, in order that you dont miss anything around the play.
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