Outdoor Games, Olympics on Tap for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada Crew

A year ago, as leaves turned and the weather grew colder, as Thanksgiving turkeys were stuffed and eaten (both north and south of the border), NHL arenas across Canada and the U.S. remained dark. They would stay closed until January 2013.

Now, armed with a new collective-bargaining agreement, the NHL is back for a full season, and CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada is in the thick of it.

“It’s been really a lot of fun, very exciting to get into a full season with the popularity of the league continuing to increase, even here in the hotbed of the NHL in Canada,” says Trevor Pilling, head of sports production for CBC Television. “It’s a really good time to be a hockey broadcaster.”

This season, CBC will broadcast not only a full slate of NHL regular-season games but the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Final, and four of the NHL’s six planned outdoor games (one as primary broadcaster). The network will also be host broadcaster of hockey and curling at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in February.

The 4K Question
Throughout the 2012-13 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, CBC tested 4K on its broadcasts by incorporating a 4K camera into the complement and experimenting with the feed offline.

“It’s not as obvious how to utilize that technology in storytelling in hockey as it is for something like football, when the line and the catch are such an important part. Having those [4K] tools are natural fit,” says Pilling. “Hockey isn’t quite the same in terms of how the sport works. Undoubtedly, the better picture quality people are always looking for, but, in terms of how it enhances the broadcast, we’re still working on how to do something that really is of value to the viewer and not just doing something for the sake of having a gimmick.”

Although 4K tests will continue this season, Pilling has found that a manned HD camera benefits the broadcast more than a locked-off 4K camera.

Hockey Night in Canada has always been an innovator, from the first replays to HD to 3D,” says Pilling. “We pride ourselves on being innovators, but we also want to make sure that we’re creating value for the audience and not just doing new technology that doesn’t ultimately enhance the broadcast.”

Telling the Regular-Season Story…
CBC continues to deploy a similar camera complement to years past, including of ultra slow motion. The biggest change that fans will notice is the revamp of Hockey Night in Canada’s iconic intermission reports: Coach’s Corner during the first and Hot Stove during the second. Hot Stove has been moved to the pregame in order to keep the second-intermission focus on the game.

“We found a way to give viewers Hot Stove as well as a little bit of information on the games they’re watching: some analysis, some breakdown of their games, and some highlights from around the league,” says Pilling. “Our whole focus here [is] stars, stories, and events. We’re focused on the stars of the game, the stories that surround them, and the big events that we work on in conjunction with the league.”

The network also plans to roll out the same fleet of trucks, with CBC Mobile Productions, Dome Productions, and Mobile TV Group handing the majority of the schedule.

… With Plenty of Special Events in Store
In April, the NHL announced six outdoor games for the 2013-14 season. With plans to televise four of them, CBC already has several broadcast enhancements in mind. Details have not been finalized, but the network plans to experiment with low-angle cameras in the arena boards.

“That is one of the great opportunities for us this year [with outdoor games], because you’re not constrained by the same cement walls that you have in your arenas that you’re in on a day-to-day basis,” explains Pilling. “You’re able to work with the league to say, hey, let’s try this in this circumstance.”

CBC will work alongside primary broadcaster NBC for the much anticipated Winter Classic at the University of Michigan, which fell victim to last season’s lockout, as well as the outdoor games planned for Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium. CBC will be the primary broadcaster for the outdoor game slated for BC Place in Vancouver, which features two Canadian teams: the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators.

In February, CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada crew will travel to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics; the network has been tapped by OBS to be the primary broadcaster for both hockey and curling.

“We are very proud to be the host broadcaster for hockey,” says Pilling, who will be on the ground in Sochi for nearly the entirety of the Games. “We feel that that speaks to the quality that OBS [is] expecting out of hockey coverage. … It’s a nice source of pride for us.”

Not to be forgotten amidst four outdoor games and the 2014 Olympics, CBC will travel to Lloydminster, a town that straddles the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, for its annual Hockey Day in Canada on Jan. 18. All seven Canadian teams will be in action, with remote broadcast locations set up across the country.