Tuesday, April 25, 2006

OLN Playoff Coverage Is Improved

When OLN won the NHL TV rights I think they were a bit suprised. They expected that eventually the TV rights would return to ESPN and they had no serious shot at obtaining them. They were not ready for good telecasts. The early TV broadcasts had horrible production values. Most local hockey broadcasts have significantly better production values then OLN did. Further, OLN didn't seem to embrace the hockey coverage as the highlight of their programming package. They only showed games on slow nights (Monday and Tuesday). They did not do a good job of updating other games throughout the league that they were not airing. OLN had a pretty poor schedule of programming with second rate shows like Survivor reruns in prime time on non-hockey days. Thedy could have improved their programming by showing more nights of hockey. This would have gone a long way to establishing OLN as the hockey network in the United States. I do not know why they did not do that.

In the playoffs it has been another story. OLN is finally embracing hockey. They show multiple games a night. They show games essentially every night. They keep fans updated with the other games they are not broadcasting. They show classic games when there is no game underway. They have hockey postgame shows. The production values are improving. They use other feeds, such as CBC for "bonus coverage" when the game they are showing has concluded and other games are still underway. This is starting to look like the OLN I hoped we would see. I hoped that it would be a channel that could totally devote itself to hockey because it lacked other big time programming.

Of course there are still problems. The biggest one is that OLN games are still not shown on the Dish Network. People who have the Dish Network with full Center Ice hockey packages still cannot see OLN games. This creates a stupid scenario, where certain games of a series (which are not shown on OLN) are available to watch and the other games in the series (which are OLN games are not).

The quality of the OLN broadcasts have significantly improved for the playoffs. I hope they keep that up next season in the regular season. They still have stupid political and business arangements that alienate fans (where it appears neither the Dish Network nor OLN can win) and that needs to be fixed (it should have been fixed months ago - actually it should never have happened in the first place). I think over the longer term NHL games on OLN could work out very well if OLN allows itself to become the NHL network and centers their programming all winter around NHL games like they have in the playoffs. I don't know why this wasn't the plan from the beginning of this season.

NOTE: The day I wrote this, the NHL announced that OLN and the Dish Network finally have a settlement. OLN games will be shown on the Dish Network after being blocked for the regular season and the very early playoffs. Thanks to David Singer at the Ice Block for the pointer. This is a good thing for hockey. Shame it took so long. The real test for OLN will be during next season's regular season. Will coverage more resemble the 2005/06 regular season or the playoffs?

OLN and Echostar (DISH Network) signed a deal on Monday. Subscribers are getting all OLN games now.

Monday-Tuesday night games were just as much the league's idea as OLN's - OLN wants national exclusive rights to games. If things are still planned the same, the NHL plans on having one US game on a Monday night to highlight.

OLN embraced hockey from the beginning, they just had almost no time to put it together and have a good product. Now that they've had time, they're really starting to do a good job, it's vastly improved - and this may mean something to the other leagues they're trying to woo to the network. It really doesn't feel all that different from when the NHL went to ESPN2 when that was just starting.
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