Monday, May 23, 2011

NHL Camera System

NHL camera
All the rage right now is the talk about the Phoenix Coyotes and everything Gary Bettman is trying to do to keep them there. Something about bonds expiring, lawsuits, I don't know. One of the big reasons for keeping them there is that the Phoenix/Glendale/Tempe/etc area is reportedly the 14th largest American TV market and you would be giving that up to move the team to Winnipeg which is the 8th largest in Canada (or 110th or something in America numbers). The problem is it doesn't matter how big something is, if it's not being used then it's pointless. According to this, LA and Anaheim are in the bottom 5 for TV ratings, but have one of the biggest markets in North America, maybe they get away with that by charging $100 a ticket. Hockey is one of the greatest sports to watch live but for some reason it hasn't translated well to watching at home.

 On that note, I can't figure out why NFL is so watchable. On paper it should be horrendous. Commercials every few minutes, most snaps go absolutely nowhere, constant replays, annoying banter but there I am for 9 hours a Sunday watching it even when I am getting updates on my laptop for fantasy. Part of it can be attributed to that circus I discussed used to surround each play, which the NHL should look at adopted but to a much lesser extent. There are a million things people could be doing at any given moment, give them a good reason to stay tuned in, or else why am I wasting my 2 hours watching this. 

Aficionados will tell you it is selling out the sport to try to cater to TV audiences (aka casual fans). Look what Fox did with the joke that is the glowing puck to try to ramp up viewers and help them keep track of what was going on.
Glowing Puck
(would this make George Lucas cream in his pants?)
It was at least something to help though. If the sport is to prosper in this day and age it needs to hit that virtual audience, and when your best market is Pittsburgh at 105,000 homes that's saying it needs another "glowing puck" type jump start but this time maybe think of something successful, and not just for the advantage of a new idea but incorporating things that actually work in the real world. 

One simple way to do this is change the camera angle setup. Something relatively small that even the purists could approve that would revolutionize the way it is watched from home. Right now you have a fixed camera at mid point panning back and forth with a couple quick cuts every once in awhile in one of the corners. The cuts do nothing for me but disorient since they only last a split second, and the fixed position keeps the viewer removed from the action in other areas. Have you ever seen an exciting hockey movie where it was just filmed from one spot the entire time? 

Well how does this differ from actually being there in that spot where the camera is if it is so good to watch live? The biggest difference is field of view controlled by you. Not only do you have a wider field actually being there but you are drawn to things that get your attention: Line changes, off puck hits, coaches yelling, women, score board shenanigans, Boston music blaring, etc, so you are constantly entertained by at least something in your chosen field of view. Right now watching from home is like having so-so tickets, wearing a dog cone on your head and having someone control your neck for you. It tries to emulate what basketball does, but the problem with that is the players and puck are in constant motion around a much larger area of play. 

Why not put a camera right above the ice. Invest in that zip line technology the NFL uses on kickoffs and sometimes replays, or have it follow a track from the ceiling/scoreboard. Make it reminiscent of one of the greatest hockey video games ever.
NHL 94
I know I could watch that game for hours and sometimes had to if there were 3 of us playing with time at full length periods. But think about every virtual hockey experience you have enjoyed, hasn't it always been from an angle right above the action looking vertically? You have bubble hockey, that magnet hockey game, and console hockey. Horizontal games like Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel still were looking at it from above but they still pale in comparison to NHL 94 and 95. 

Why hasn't the NHL at least tried something like this, the idea, the setup as been around for 20 years? You get to see the puck, you get to see all the movements by the goalie, and you get to see plays developing. Create an experience for the fan at home that you wouldn't get in the arena, shouldn't that be the goal?
Football/Basketball/Soccer, et al, get a pass on this since they move at slower paces, with larger tools of scoring so it's a little easier to film it from the side. But with something as fast as hockey you need a system that can focus on where the puck is with good contrast but also keep you in tuned to what else is going on.
You could even just stick a camera on a guy suspended from the rafters, that might be additional entertainment. See how it looks in a couple extended cut shots mixed in with what you are already doing. If people don't like it stop it, it wouldn't cost that much to do. It's just an idea. Maybe the complete whiteness of ice wouldn't look good on TV, would it be good for 3D? 

I could also be pulling this for this because my parents season tickets for UW hockey when I was growing up were right at one end of the coliseum, the very top row, so that is how I had to always watch the game. But it always made it entertaining.

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