NHL Network Needs Drastic Improvement
At the latest National Broadcasting Society convention that just ended on Saturday, attendees were allowed to take a tour of the MLB Network studios, as well as get an opportunity to talk to its top talent, Greg Amsinger. Not only was Amsinger one of the best sources of professional savvy, but he shed light on what makes other specialized networks fall flat.
MLB Network prides itself on always having something to talk about or someone to talk to about a certain subject. They make it known that they have to be a 24/7, 365 channel for baseball fans. It is truly a shame that the NHL Network is not that for hockey fans.
One could argue that since Major League Baseball has a lot more money to pump into creating magnificently spectacular studios and hiring top-end talent, as well as bringing in characters of the game that can easily transition to broadcasting, that they have it just fine.
Truth is, the NHL Network can do the same thing with what they have. The NHL Network's executives need to take a look at the industry leader and make some dramatic changes. Here are some I propose to making the channel significantly better.
1. Stop showing re-runs
This is the NHL Network's largest and most evident flaw. During afternoons, the NHL Network will re-run a game from the previous night. I imagine these segments likely don't have great ratings during the season. The worst part is that these re-runs persist into the summer and they encapsulate the entire programming grid, as if to say the Network cannot get anyone to come in during the summer and talk about hockey.
If the NHL Network were to create a show to discuss where every team stands, and its needs in free agency and at the draft, that idea alone takes up 30 days of the summer. One for every day for an hour. The Network could still use its underwhelming standard desk set to film this show.
The MLB Network does something similar during the Winter Meetings where many team GMs discuss trades. That is a pretty big deal in baseball. Why doesn't the NHL Network capitalize on free agency or the draft in this manner? It makes zero sense to keep showing game re-runs.
2. Content, content, content
Even if the show has horrible analysts, just produce something original. (subliminal message: hire me) NHL Live drops off the face of the planet during the summer, meaning there is zero forum for hockey discussion on the network or on the airwaves. People are starved for analysis.
Instead of having an hour-long NHL Tonight that re-runs forever and ever about huge events like the draft or the awards, roll out continuous coverage. NHL Net is not bold enough about live television. The best analysis comes when the cameras are rolling. Editing takes all of the fun out of it.
The point is, there are thousands of hockey players out there. Profile some of them. Produce future watch segments. Interview big names for an hour-long show. Do something, anything, to prevent a whole summer of stale hockey games of which the entire world knows the result.
3. Improve flagship program, NHL Tonight
If NHL Tonight is running live during the night, the control room folk decide to re-run the same segments over and over again as opposed to keeping the conversation going. The show continues to be borderline unwatchable until it becomes its normal re-running self to be shown late at night and into the morning hours.
What this show needs is a touch screen. The MLB Network has about three of them in its studios that can bring up large graphics and diagrams that show important statistics including home run spread, stadium specs, trends, etc. The interactivity of this is beyond important.
The analysts stumble over their words when the play is happening live to explain it. So why not use this touch screen as a base to show what is exactly happening? TSN does it all the time. Even NBC Sports Network has it. Why doesn't NHL Net?
NHL Tonight is stuck with talking heads. Nobody can watch people talk for hours. They need visual aids, and not just full-screen graphics. Get a touch screen. Money well spent.
4. Analysts must relax and talk about their game
Amsinger brought up an excellent point to which I responded in kind, "cough cough, NHL Network, cough cough." Too often, hosts will lead analysts into what they should talk about, and that limits the answer.
In one instance, a former teammate of a star player sat alongside Amsinger, and instead of him saying "what did you think of that play?" he let the player come back from showing the highlight and say something along the lines of "I told him back in the minors he could hit home runs like that."
That is real content. People love real. That point hit home when Amsinger said it.
Too often NHL Tonight is uptight fluff. It can get downright awkward when people like Anson Carter, Mike Johnson, Kelly Chase, Jamie McLennan or Marty Turco step up to the mic. They need prodding to answer questions and points when they should be knowledgeable enough to talk about the game that they played.
Kevin Weekes, easily the best (dressed) analyst on the network, should be giving lessons. No question he holds the title for the most real analyst on the network. He never shies away from great analysis that other players may be too intimidated to say about players they played against.
Let them talk. Let the host be the devil's advocate. Get the analysts riled up. This is all good television, and facets of why MLB Network is so successful.
The point is, the NHL Network needs help, and a lot of it. Other networks have figured out that having programming on all the time draws in viewers. If the NHL is serious about becoming a well-respected big-four sport, its flagship network needs to reflect that.
Money may be the biggest issue that holds the network back from making these improvements, but some of these improvements do not cost much. It would only a bit more work over the course of a year.
Work that I would sure as hell be willing to do. You hiring?
Stay tuned to TheCheckingLine.com for more on your favorite teams. Follow Jordan Kuhns on Twitter (@jckuhns)