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.