2014-15 NHL Season Preview: Comcast SportsNets Embrace Their Inner Peacock, Take NHL Coverage Inside the Glass

It has been a fast four years for the Comcast SportsNet family since the NBCUniversal merger was completed in January 2011. As the NBC Peacock becomes a more prominent presence — both on screen and off — CSN networks in Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, DC; and the San Francisco Bay Area continue to find new synergies to help both NBC’s national and local coverage.

“The most significant advantage we have is being part of the same family that produces the NHL at the highest level, the most marquee events,” says Jon Slobotkin, VP/executive producer, live events, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “Not only being tied to the national-rights holder here but also the fact that we have access to personnel and facilities that we would not have otherwise. And it works both ways: because the regionals are embedded with their teams every day, in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Washington, we can help the national networks with that.”

He notes that NBC Sports Group’s facility in Stamford, CT, which opened just last year, has become “a beacon” for CSNs to enhance its own technology, production power, and research. He also reports that NBC and the RSN group are currently developing a system to share research and graphics platforms.

“The great advantage we have is access to great hockey minds both in terms of on-air and the people that prepare the games,” he says. “With the Stamford facility, so many people are now together under one roof and seeing each other face-to-face rather than just sending an e-mail. People can come together and discuss everything from game coverage to how to promote each other. Being with everyone everyday has really made the difference.”

Inside the Glass Goes Regional
Perhaps the most obvious Peacock-icity on Comcast SportsNet telecasts this year will be a major emphasis on the Inside the Glass ice-side element that has become a staple of NBC and NBCSN NHL coverage in recent years. This year, CSN Philadelphia (analyst Chris Therien for Flyers coverage), Washington (Alan May for the Capitals), and the Bay Area (Jamie Baker for the San Jose Sharks), will use an analyst in the Inside the Glass position for the majority of home games as well as for away games when available (CSN Chicago’s venerable Eddie Olczyk will remain in the booth for Blackhawks telecasts).

“The Inside the Glass position has always greatly enhanced our coverage when we have had the opportunity to do it, and [NBC Sports Group Executive Producer] Sam Flood is the true mind behind that,” says Slobotkin. “We are really excited about taking that position, which [illuminates] what is happening at ice level rather than [from] the broadcast booth, [which] can be so far removed.”

NEP Truck in Line
NEP Broadcasting’s whirlwind of acquisitions in recent years has also helped create new efficiencies for CSN regionals. In 2008, NCP, the CSN Philly truck provider, was brought under the NEP umbrella. That deal was followed by NEP’s acquisition of CSN Chicago mobile-unit provider Trio Video in 2012 and CSN Bay Area/San Francisco truck provider MIRA Mobile this year (Comcast operates an in-house truck for its CSN Washington games). Add the fact that NEP trucks also serve NBC and NBCSN’s national game telecasts, and the synergies become even more apparent.

“Our partnership with NEP is always an advantage, because they have great technical minds,” says Slobotkin. “Look at things like adding a 4K cameras and big-ticket items like that, which is not something that regionals can do on a daily basis. But, if there are opportunities on the national feed, that becomes a possibility, and having the same vendor means having the same discussion and finding new efficiencies that you may not have realized otherwise.”

Specialty Cams, Virtual Graphics Add National-Game Feel
All four NHL-rights–holding CSNs boast an ultra-slo-mo camera system for home games this season as part of its 10-camera-minimum complement. In addition, each RSN has a unique robotic-camera position, including an overhead ice shot in Chicago and center-ice speed shots and behind-the-glass cams behind the nets in Philadelphia, Washington, and Bay Area.

Beginning in early 2015, CSN Chicago, Philadelphia, and Bay Area will have RedBee Media’s Pierro 3D technology at their disposal for in-studio analysis. Meanwhile, CSN Washington has brought aboard ChyronHego’s Paint system for Caps virtual telestration.

“We are currently in the process of installation and training on all that,” says Slobotkin. “That will be a significant enhancement for the way our games are covered.”

With two CSN-based teams — Blackhawks and Capitals — playing in the NHL’s highest-profile event, the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, and the Sharks playing in the NHL Stadium Series outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21, Slobotkin and his team can’t wait for the puck to drop on this season.

“We will be able to do full blanket coverage with our news and digital departments, as well as, of course, pre- and post-game,” he says. “Even though we are not doing the games, the whole perspective of what the regionals provide and NBC provides become a beautiful symphony of how everything comes together.”