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CA • United States • 2009 Years Old • Male
For so many reasons, I want to love Versus.

You know, the network formerly known as OLN. The network that stepped in to the NHL's rescue when ESPN wanted to cut back games to a very small number, as well as put all of them on ESPN2.

And they did so many things right at the start. They added Mike Emrick -- aka Doc -- as a play-by-play man. Emrick's enthusiastic call of New Jersey games is one of the best in the league.

They hired the classy and knowledgeable Bill Clement as a studio host. They showed two games most weeks, most of them in high definition. They promised the NHL as a base of a growing all-sports network.

Where did we go wrong?

Today, Versus still employs good talent. It is the production that leaves a lot to be desired, and that is an area in need of immediate change.

To start, the Versus camera work has been nothing short of awful in the playoffs. Cameramen seem obsessed with keeping the puck in the middle of the frame, which causes a litany of problems.

The best way to watch hockey on television is not to watch the puck -- it is to watch the play develop. Much like watching the game in person, the action away from the puck is often as important as who has the puck. Being able to visualize if someone is wide open in the slot is more important than seeing who has the puck in the corner.

With HD, there is no need for compromise. As HDNet proves, good camerawork allows the camera to remain virtually stationary once the puck enters the offensive zone. With the crispness of HD and the shape of an HDTV, it is more than possible for the viewer to see the entire offensive zone at once.

Instead, Versus zooms in to the point you cannot see both shooter and goalie in most cases. As a result, instead of seeing the shot and a save, you're watching a blurred puck in transit, not really understanding what was involved in the save (or the goal).

To top it off, all non-tube HDTVs -- and tube HDTVs comprise a very small percentage of all HDTVs -- have a slower refresh rate than traditional tube televisions. The result is continual blurring whenever the camera is in motion. And as long as keeping the puck in the center of the screen is the main goal, the camera is in constant motion.

It is not that I am watching on an old model or one with a particularly slow refresh rate. I spent five years researching HDTVs before purchasing one, checking data on refresh rates and spending hours at electronics stores watching hockey to see which was the best.

After more time than I anticipated, the decision was a HDTV that was also more expensive than I anticipated -- but by all accounts, it was the best available in terms of refresh rate.

Yet even on this model, blurring is a major issue on Versus broadcasts, as the camera simply moves too much. Zoom out, show us more of the ice, and utilize slower camera movements. In other words, emulate HDNet.

When fans are unable to see what is happening because of the camerawork, the announcers do not come to the rescue. By now, it is clear the producers are telling Versus play-by-play men to eschew traditional play-by-play, instead telling stories and anecdotes during the play.

The result is incredibly annoying. For those who enjoy the analytical part of the game, the way to watch hockey on television is to watch the play develop and allow the announcers to tell you who has the puck. Without the second part present on Versus broadcasts, the way the game is viewed has to be changed.

I know -- when you're there in person, there's no play-by-play man. But you also have control of what you watch -- you are not at the mercy of questionable camera work -- and many fans still choose to bring a portable radio to hear the radio play-by-play while they are at the game.

Even Emrick, who is great on the Devils games, tells too many stories. It is obvious he is simply doing what he is told to do -- which is a shame, since at his best, he is one of the top play-by-play men out there.

Joe Beninati has a very different style -- he is more low-key, similar to a baseball announcer. The passion often seems missing from his voice, even after a big goal -- and like anyone working on a Versus broadcasts, the stories and anecdotes are distracting.

Still, do not blame the play-by-play men -- they are simply doing what they are told.

With any luck, Versus will realize the errors of their ways. If not, there is reason for their low regular season television ratings. In the playoffs, fans have no choice -- watch Versus or watch no hockey at all.

But in the regular season, Center Ice offers dozens of games each week from which to choose. And if Versus wants to improve their ratings, making the game easier for the die-hard fan to follow is essential.
Filed Under:   Versus   TV   NHL  
May 15, 2008 8:29 PM ET | Delete
Great blog! I wholeheartedly agree but I think think the problem with the camera work is that a majority of the nation (at least those with cable) don't get Versus in HD hence the standard def camera work.
May 15, 2008 9:56 PM ET | Delete
In fact, the anecdotal blather is so pervasive that we aren't even told who is getting a penalty or what the infraction is quite a bit of the time, or that "we'll sort this out for you during the break." Obviously, the cameraman is not aware that most fans know the sign language for the various penalties if only given a chance to actually see the officials call.I also don't appreciate the lengthy and irrelevant interviews while play is going on with, most recently, some cage-fighter in the stands or congratulatory talk with Guy about the new grandkids. The problem is that Versus thinks this chatter rates an in-screen insert which only succeeds in blocking out more of the viewer's field of vision for the game...
May 16, 2008 2:02 AM ET | Delete
OLN, haha. But, yeah, i totally agree with you.
May 16, 2008 8:30 AM ET | Delete
i've even turned off the game and even muted it at times because the annoucers are so bad. Doc is a good play by play man but his best years are behind him, he's turned too corporate
May 16, 2008 8:32 AM ET | Delete
Excellent post. It's funny/coincidental that I was listening to XM204 yesterday and someone from Philly posed a question regarding this to Bettman. The exact thing occurred during last night's game that he was talking about. No national anthem (I think it was the duet of "God Bless America" with Kate Smith, very powerful) shown, an intermission preview during a scrum in one of the corners after the whistle that you could barely see and incessant chatter from the horrific commentating (Joe Bennanati and Daren Eliot). My cable network finally got VS HD which looks excellent on my plasma HD set, but before in standard def the camera angles were atrocious. Can't say that I'm a fan of Bill Patrick, Englobm or Jonesy at this point either. Bill Clement did a much better job at the helm. Is Doc Emrick the only guy calling nationally televised games that has passion in his voice anymore?
May 16, 2008 8:36 AM ET | Delete
The problem with most network hockey announcers in the US is that they think they can call a hockey game the way they call a baseball game where the action is slow and leisurely, either that, or they think they get paid by the word. Although the real problem may be that the network producers who instruct the announcers on how they want the game called really don't have a clue as far as hockey goes. Perhaps I'm spoiled, having started watching hockey with Hall of Famer Gene Hart calling the Flyers games and continuing with Jim Jackson now. Both of those gentlemen are pros as far as calling a hockey game. Probably because they called games on radio, where it's necessary to actually describe the action. The true test of a good announcer is when you know exactly what's happening even if you walk into the next room or look away from the TV.And would someone please get rid of that constantly grinning cow, Christine Simpson........she's absolutely worthless
May 16, 2008 9:42 AM ET | Delete
When Versus first started their NHL coverage, I laughed so hard I cried. Their timing was off (they stepped all over their breaks and tosses) and their shots suuuucked. I have to admit though, they are far and away better than when they started...but I have to agree they have a world of progress to make.
May 16, 2008 3:02 PM ET | Delete
I think the best play-by-play and color guys are the ones who are also doing the radio broadcast. They know they have radio listeners who need the play-by-play, not stories. Rick Jeanneret here in Buffalo is one of the best. I am sick of Doc Emrick and hearing "cage", "drive", "off the rink", "man-power advantage", "wall", and the rest of his phrases that make no sense. It's the net, a shot, out of play, power play, the boards, etc.
May 16, 2008 3:06 PM ET | Delete
Please just give me TSN and CBC in HD. Two posts going on about this problem, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself. But that is the answer. Get the U.S. cable
May 16, 2008 4:06 PM ET | Delete
I hate watching Versus NHL broadcasts. CBC, TSN and RDS all do a better job than VS. Bring back the NHL to ESPN.
May 16, 2008 7:30 PM ET | Delete
Wow -- great comments everyone, and thanks for the comments! I agree with so much here, but I'll just focus on a few. The intermission preview during the scrum Thursday might have been a new low for Versus. The announcers with no passion are frustrating -- you feel like saying "give the job to someone who cares!" And it is so true -- a good play by play man tells you what's happening so if you have to leave the room, you still know what is happening. I still have not heard or seen the Kate Smith/Lauren Hart "God Bless America" -- unbelievable. From all accounts, it is incredible to see -- come on Versus, show it! If you must, delay the start of the game two minutes to get the Verizon Wireless or Enterprise Rent-A-Car ad in there. And muting... yep, I've done that too -- but I miss the sounds of the game. I will say though -- I can follow the game better in a bar with no sound than at home with the sound on -- a sure sign the play-by-play is simply distracting. Regarding the HD... I get the games on HD, but I still don't like the VS camera work. To get VS HD, you need the 3 LNB Dish Network dish or the new 5 LNB DirecTV dish. Cable, I suspect it varies by market.Great comments again -- my question to everyone -- it seems virtually all the fans are on board -- change is needed. But how do we go about voicing our opinions? Mass emails to Versus?
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