Category Archives: Canadiens

What TSN broadcast tonight instead of the Canadiens’ home opener pregame show

The Canadiens aren’t the best hockey team in the world. After losing most of their preseason games and all but one* of their regular season games so far, that much is obvious. But where the team excels is in its ceremonies. And the biggest one of those (at least when there’s no obituary or jersey retirement) is the home opener.

TSN, in the first year of its five-year regional rights deal and only the second broadcast under this deal, had a great few minutes of go-Habs-go content they didn’t even have to produce.

Except they didn’t air any of it. A couple of short clips of two player introductions (one without audio) and the national anthems. I’m not sure if there was a technical problem (more on that later), but there were 10 minutes of player introductions that didn’t make it to air. Instead, here’s what TSN2 showed tonight:

7:00-7:30 pm: An episode of TSN’s That’s Hockey. Mostly panel discussions, but includes some pregame hits from reporter John Lu, including a quick chat with Karl Alzner. Ends with a 20-second wide view of the Bell Centre with no audio — instead we hear host Gino Reda saying the Canadiens game is next.

7:30: Promo IDs, intro montage and intro theme.

7:31: Tessa Bonhomme begins the regional broadcast over video of players in the dressing room and introduces Pierre LeBrun.

(Meanwhile, pregame ceremony at Bell Centre begins with introduction of Canadiens staff.)

7:32: TSN airs pre-recorded discussion with the broadcast team of John Bartlett and Dave Poulin.

7:34: Bonhomme presents graphic showing Canadiens lineup.

(Pregame ceremony introduces head coach Claude Julien.)

7:35: Prerecorded video of Lu interviewing Claude Julien.

(Pregame ceremony begins introducing players.)

7:36: More discussion between Bonhomme and LeBrun in studio.

7:38: Bumper to commercial break with five-second video of Charles Hudon coming onto the ice during player introductions as Bonhomme mentions puck drop coming next. Ads.

(Pregame ceremony ends with introduction of captain Max Pacioretty.)

7:40: Return from commercial break with 25-second video of Jonathan Drouin being introduced “just moments ago”. Video switches to live shot of Bell Centre as Bonhomme awkwardly throws it to Poulin. What follows is 25 seconds of no one speaking until Brigitte Boisjoli begins singing the national anthems. (There’s no graphic or announcer statement to identify her to TSN’s audience, just muffled audio of arena announcer Michel Lacroix.)

7:41: This.

The audio switches a few times between sources that are obviously not in sync, resulting in echoes and jumps during both anthems. Throughout it all you hear booth audio, including some breathing sounds.

7:43: Starting goaltender introductions, listing of officials.

7:44: Puck drop.

Considering what happened with the anthems, maybe it was a technical issue that prevented TSN from getting proper audio from the ceremony. But either way, we expect better from TSN. A lot better.

RDS, of course, broadcast the entire ceremony.

*Correction: I forgot about their win against Buffalo. The Canadiens are 1-3, not 0-4.

The Athletic Montreal unveils most-star lineup of contributors, launches Monday

The Athletic, an expensive experiment into whether people will pay for quality sports journalism, is getting more expensive.

After its recent announcement that it’s expanding to Montreal in both English and French, and to every other Canadian city with an NHL team, it has announced a full lineup of staff and contributors, led by editor-in-chief Arpon Basu.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Staff

  • Arpon Basu is the editor in chief. The former managing editor for LNH.com, he introduced himself last month.
  • Marc Antoine Godin is the senior writer and managing editor at the French version of the site, Athlétique. He was a sports writer at La Presse since 2000, and at Presse Canadienne before that. Godin introduces himself here.
  • Emna Achour is the associate editor of Athlétique. As a freelancer, she’s worked for the NHL, the Rogers Cup/Tennis Canada, reported on the IIHF World Championship and did research for a KOTV documentary on the Canadiens’ 1970s dynasty.
  • Marc Dumont is an editor and primary Laval Rocket reporter. Dumont is a popular guy on Twitter and contributor to and managing editor of the Habs blog Eyes on the Prize.

Contributors

  • Mitch Melnick, who presumably shouldn’t need introductions but is the afternoon host at TSN 690, is moving his day-after blog The Good The Bad and The Ugly to The Athletic. He introduces himself here.
  • Olivier Bouchard will write a similar column in French. He’s a contributor to LNH.com and the guy behind En attendant les Nordiques.
  • Serge Touchette, former columnist for the Journal de Montréal, and the lockout website Rue Frontenac, “will be writing a weekly column for the French site about whatever he wants.” So probably the Canadiens, but expect some baseball in there as well.
  • Robyn Flynn will be covering the Canadiennes de Montréal CWHL team. She’s a producer at CJAD and host of weekly hockey show Centre Ice on TSN 690, and has been actively following and reporting on the Canadiennes for years. (Dumont and Achour will also cover the team for the French site, Basu says.)
  • Lloyd Barker will be writing weekly about the Montreal Impact. Barker is a former Impact player and commentator in several media including until recently a regular column in the Montreal Gazette. Barker’s columns will be translated into French.
  • Joey Alfieri will be writing weekly about the Montreal Alouettes. Alfieri is a contributor to TSN 690 and several other outlets. His columns will also be translated for the French site.

The lineup is pretty impressive, and certainly anyone who listens regularly to TSN 690 will recognize most of these names. It’s also nice that women’s hockey is going to be covered on a regular basis by a professional journalist, which we haven’t seen much up until now.

Will that be enough for people to pay $10 a month or $70 a year for a subscription? We’ll see. The Athletic is funded mainly by reader subscriptions (it has no ads) but is still going through startup financing, so it’ll be a while until we know if this business model works.

But it’s apparently working enough that the founders of the site are doubling down on their investment, so that’s a good sign.

The Athletic Montreal launches Monday, Sept. 11.

TSN 690 to broadcast some Laval Rocket games

TSN Radio 690 has become the official radio broadcaster of the Laval Rocket, the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League farm team, which is moving to the new Place Bell starting this season.

Okay, so that’s not so impressive, since there aren’t exactly a lot of other English-language sports talk stations desperate for the rights.

But this means TSN 690 will be broadcasting some Laval Rockets games on the air. Currently the plan is to broadcast Friday home games.

Sean Campbell has been named play-by-play man for these games. Mike Kelly, who has experience at TSN, NHL Network and Leafs TV, will do colour commentary.

The broadcasts will start with the Oct. 6 inaugural game against the Belleville Senators, and will likely end with the final home game on April 13 against the Toronto Marlies. The following matches are tentatively scheduled for TSN 690 broadcast, but that can change:

  1. Friday Oct. 6 @ 7:30pm vs Belleville
  2. Friday Oct. 13 @ 7:30pm vs Binghamton
  3. Friday Nov. 17 @ 7:30pm vs Lehigh Valley
  4. Friday Nov. 24 @ 7:30pm vs Utica
  5. Friday Dec. 8 @ 7:30pm vs Toronto
  6. Friday Jan. 12 @ 7:30pm vs Hartford
  7. Friday Jan. 26 @ 7:30pm vs Manitoba
  8. Friday Feb. 16 @ 7:30pm vs Hershey
  9. Friday March 9 @ 7:30pm vs Belleville
  10. Friday April 6 @ 7:30pm vs Springfield
  11. Friday April 13 @ 7:30pm vs Toronto

If TSN sticks to that, it’ll represent 11 of 76 regular-season games, or 14%, and 11 of 38 home games, or 29%.

Playoff games are obviously a possibility, but at least for this season might be more of a theoretical thing the way the Canadiens’ farm team has been playing lately.

Can Brian Wilde make independent Habs reporting work?

Updated with details of the new project below.

Would you pay $4 a month to hear Brian Wilde talk about the Canadiens?

That’s the question Wilde put to his Twitter followers today, proposing to become an independent hockey reporter supported directly by his audience through subscriptions. He’ll go ahead if he has enough interest, with a launch in August/September.

With almost 1,000 votes to the Twitter poll in two hours, the results are split, with 56% saying yes. But that doesn’t mean 560 people are guaranteed to sign up and remain subscribed.

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It’s official: Canadiens regional games move to TSN

Two weeks after rumours began spreading, TSN and the Canadiens have confirmed that the Bell-owned broadcaster has picked up the team’s regional English-language television rights from Sportsnet as of the 2017-18 season.

The team has also renewed its English-language radio deal with TSN 690. According to the station, that deal is for five years.

The press releases about TSN’s deal are intentionally vague on details. They speak of “a slate” of games, so it’s unclear if it will be broadcasting all the games it’s entitled to or if, like in the days of the “TSN Habs” channel, it will only broadcast a selection. On one hand, every other Canadian team has all 82 games a year broadcast in English, and the Sportsnet/NHL deal caused TSN to invest far more in regional broadcast rights. On the other hand, Canadiens games are also broadcast on RDS, so not every game needs to be broadcast in English.

The press releases also don’t specify how long the TV deal is for. I’ve asked TSN for specifics and will update if I hear back.

Also unanswered so far is what channel the games will air on. TSN5 is used by the Ottawa Senators, so some sort of overflow channel will need to be used when both the Senators and Canadiens are playing, at the very least. (By my count, there are 15 regular-season games that the two teams play simultaneously — but not against each other — that aren’t part of the Sportsnet national windows.) That, and on-air hirings, will be answered closer to the start of the season.

The deal will give TSN TV rights to all Canadiens preseason games, and up to 50 of the team’s regular-season games, mostly those that don’t air Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday nights. Saturday night games, special games like outdoor games, and all playoff games stay with Sportsnet.

The deal will also mean far fewer nationally-broadcast Habs games, limited to only Sportsnet’s national broadcast windows. All TSN Habs games will be blacked out outside the Canadiens broadcast region.

UPDATE: Sportsnet has released its national schedule, which includes 32 Canadiens games. That’s 10 more than TVA Sports gets for some reason. Sportsnet’s picks include:

  • 4/4 games vs. Toronto
  • 3/4 games vs. Ottawa, including the “NHL 100 Classic” game on Dec. 16
  • 1/2 games vs. Winnipeg
  • 2/2 games vs. Edmonton
  • 0/2 games vs. Calgary
  • 1/2 games vs. Vancouver
  • 4/4 games vs. Boston
  • 2/2 games vs. Nashville
  • The first ever Canadiens game in Las Vegas
  • All playoff games

That leaves TSN with:

  • All preseason games
  • The Canadiens’ season opener
  • The Canadiens’ home opener
  • A game each against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver
  • Both games against Calgary
  • The Vegas Golden Knights’ visit to the Bell Centre

UPDATE (Sept. 15): TSN has announced its Habs broadcast schedule and broadcast team.

Could Canadiens games be moving to TSN?

UPDATE (May 30): Pat Hickey confirms the deal with his sources

UPDATE (June 13): The move has been officially announced.

We still have a ton of hockey games on our network, between … we have regional coverage of the Senators and the Leafs and the Jets and I think there’s another one on the way this year.

James Duthie may be regretting letting that one slip. Duthie, the TSN television host, said this during an appearance on the Sports Illustrated media podcast last week with Richard Deitsch, after being asked how the $5.2-billion Sportsnet-NHL deal has affected his network.

He didn’t elaborate on what “another one” means, but the process of elimination makes it pretty clear: Every Canadian team but one has English-language television rights locked up until at least 2020. The remaining team is the Montreal Canadiens.

In the months after the blockbuster deal for national NHL rights was announced in 2013, TSN and RDS scrambled to lock up whatever regional rights they could from individual Canadian teams. RDS paid a rumoured $1 million a game to buy rights to the Canadiens in French until 2026 (the same year the Sportsnet/TVA Sports/NHL deal expires), and Bell Media secured English and French TV and radio rights to the Ottawa Senators, also until 2026.

Before the 2014-15 season, Sportsnet announced a three-year deal for regional TV rights to Canadiens games. That deal expires this summer.

Sportsnet’s regional coverage of Canadiens games gets an average audience of 168,000, according to figures Sportsnet gave me a few months ago.

Previously signed contracts with the Jets (TSN), Flames (Sportsnet), Oilers (Sportsnet) and Canucks (Sportsnet) continue until at least 2020. Here’s how it breaks down per team:

Team English TV French TV English radio French radio
(National) Sportsnet (2026) TVA Sports (2026) N/A N/A
Vancouver Canucks Sportsnet Pacific (2023) None Sportsnet 650 (2022) None
Edmonton Oilers Sportsnet West (2020) None Corus/CHED (2020) None
Calgary Flames Sportsnet West (2020) None Sportsnet 960 (2020) None
Winnipeg Jets TSN3 (2021) None TSN 1290 (2021) None
Toronto Maple Leafs TSN4 None TSN 1050 None
Sportsnet Ontario Sportsnet 590
Ottawa Senators TSN5 (2026) RDS (2026) TSN 1200 (2026) Unique FM (via Bell)
Montreal Canadiens Sportsnet East (2017) RDS (2026) TSN 690 Cogeco (2019)

I don’t have end dates for the Maple Leafs regional rights contracts, but because team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is controlled in equal parts by Bell and Rogers, it has split its rights to Leafs and Raptors and Toronto FC* games down the middle, and there’s no reason to believe that situation would change any time soon. When the current MLSE was formed, there was also a 10-year extension to Leafs rights that should go until at least 2021.

With all the other teams locked up, the Canadiens would be the obvious choice here. The only other possibilities would be buying out an existing Sportsnet contract (which is extremely unlikely) or getting Canadian regional rights to the Detroit Red Wings or Buffalo Sabres, whose 50-mile zones extend into this country. (Bell TV already has the latter and distributes Sabres games in Niagara Falls, though it doesn’t produce its own broadcasts.)

It’s unclear if this is a done deal or if TSN is just really confident it can secure the rights to Canadiens games (its majority owner Bell is a minority owner of the team).

Asked about Duthie’s comment, TSN’s official response was very brief: “We have no comment (on this) at this time.”

I’ve asked Sportsnet and the Canadiens for comment, but haven’t heard back from either yet.

Logistical issues

If TSN does secure Canadiens rights, it wouldn’t be the first time. Before the 2014 deal with Sportsnet, which ensured that all 82 games would be broadcast in English for the first time, TSN carried a selection of Canadiens regional games on a special channel (that was available to Bell subscribers but not Videotron ones). Since then, TSN scrapped team-specific channels and put its regional games on one of its five TSN feeds.

With TSN already carrying Ottawa Senators regional games, this would present a scheduling problem, since the two teams’ regions are identical. They could share TSN5, but there would need to be an overflow channel for times when both teams are playing (much like Sportsnet uses temporary Sportsnet One channels when Flames and Oilers games conflict). TSN could just create a TSN6, or a temporary channel, or some other deal.

Another thing to consider is that such a deal would drastically reduce the number of nationally broadcast Canadiens games. Because Sportsnet was both the regional and national rights holder, it could upgrade regional games to national ones, and last season broadcast 44 of 82 regular-season games nationally. If the Canadiens sell regional rights to TSN, Sportsnet could be left with as few as 22 games (mostly Saturday nights), and all the ones carried on TSN would be blacked out west of Ottawa.

Then there are other issues like on-air talent (John Bartlett would probably be out of a job if Sportsnet lost Canadiens games, but that’s no guarantee TSN would want him back).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Nothing is confirmed yet with either network and probably won’t be until an announcement is made.

Technically, the Canadiens’ English-language radio rights could also be up for grabs, but since Bell owns the only two English talk stations in the city, it’s highly unlikely they’ll leave TSN 690.

(Hat tip to Derek Climan for spotting Duthie’s remark.)

* CORRECTION: As a commenter points out below, TSN now has full rights to Toronto FC games.

Chantal Desjardins, P.J. Stock among cuts at Sportsnet

Rogers Media today finally confirmed what’s been reported, that George Stroumboulopoulos has been let go as host of Hockey Night in Canada and Ron MacLean will return to the big chair on Saturday nights.

But also changing is a lot of other jobs in Sportsnet’s hockey broadcasting team, both national and regional broadcasts. Among them, in-game analyst Glenn Healy, studio analysts P.J. Stock, Billy Jaffe and Corey Hirsch, and regional game studio hosts Leah Hextall (Flames) and Chantal Desjardins (Canadiens).

Desjardins mainly hosted the regional Canadiens broadcasts from the Toronto studio, but would also work as a rinkside reporter during some national broadcasts.

Desjardins and Stock worked together at CHOM before getting jobs at Sportsnet. In 2010, they hosted the morning show with Pete Marier after Ted Bird left the station. Marier was also let go this past week.

The Globe and Mail reports Sportsnet will be airing national pregame shows instead of regional ones before regional hockey games, which would reduce the need for staff.

UPDATE: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman offers a tribute to his dismissed colleagues at the end of this column.

Sportsnet admits it’s using Canadiens Saturday night games as subscription bait

If you’ve been paying attention to the scheduling of Hockey Night in Canada, you might have noticed that Canadiens games are more likely to be on Sportsnet this season, whereas last season they were more likely to be on City.

This season, of the 13 Saturday evening games that have aired so far, plus the next one (Feb. 27 against the Leafs) that has already been assigned, six were put on Sportsnet, two on City and six on CBC or CBC and City. Of those six, three are games against the Maple Leafs, and two were nights the Leafs weren’t playing. Only once, on Oct. 17 (in the middle of their season-opening hot streak) did the Canadiens go on CBC and bump the Leafs to another channel (in that case, City), which caused plenty of frustration from Leafs fans who had been used to just owning CBC on Saturday nights.

The Leafs’ dominance on CBC is nothing new. The same thing happened last season. And it makes sense. The Canadiens have stronger ratings overall, but if you discount francophones who will watch those games on TVA Sports, the Leafs are the more popular team on English television on Saturday nights. And so Rogers gives them the network with the largest overall reach.

But what’s changed this year appears to be the order of priority when it comes to channel assignments. It used to be CBC > City > Sportsnet > Sportsnet One or 360. But now it appears Sportsnet has moved to the No. 2 spot on Saturday nights, to the point where City has on some weeks had either simulcasts of the CBC game or an all-American matchup.

I asked Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet, about this during an interview I did for a Gazette story that appears in Saturday’s paper about the difficulty in finding live sports online.

“We want to put whatever games we can to the widest distribution,” he said.

But Moore, who noted he’s a Habs fan, admitted that the scheduling strategy has changed this year, and “the second best game has moved to Sportsnet and the third best game has gone to City.”

“That’s simply for a subscription play,” he said.

What does that mean? It means Rogers is putting that second-best game, whether it’s the Canadiens or Senators or Jets, on Sportsnet as a way of getting more people to subscribe to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet gets 72% of its revenue through subscriptions (75% if you also count Sportsnet One, 360 and World), and only 23% through advertising, according to figures from 2013-14 submitted to the CRTC. And as the CRTC mandates channels be offered on a pick-and-pay or small-package basis as of March 1 (and both as of Dec. 1), it’s in Sportsnet’s best interest to protect that subscription revenue.

It’s a balancing act from a capitalist perspective. Lock the games down too much on expensive specialty channels and you risk losing fans. Put too many games on free TV and occasional fans won’t bother subscribing to your sports channels because they don’t need them.

For a company that spent $5.2 billion on a 12-year deal with the NHL, finding that balance on the sport’s marquee night of the week is very important.

“It’s not so much a science as it is a feel,” Moore notes of how Saturday night games are assigned. That’s the big reason why channel assignments are only announced a week or two in advance, except where it’s a Canadiens-Leafs game, because that’s obviously going on CBC.

Had the Canadiens continued on their hot streak instead of plunging into the toilet with the rest of the Canadian NHL teams, we might have seen the Canadiens on CBC more often.

Will we see more subscription plays during the playoffs? The math changes then, with audience increasing and ad revenue becoming more important.

But at this rate they might not have to worry about it, because none of the seven Canadian teams are in playoff position (they’re all among the bottom nine teams in the league right now).

“It would be really interesting to see what happens between now and NHL trade deadline,” Moore said, a glimmer of hope in his voice that some miracle would save the postseason audience his company paid so dearly for.

14 quirks about the Canadiens’ schedule and NHL on TV and online

The Canadiens begin their 2015-16 regular season on Wednesday night. And I’m told that among the most requested things of the sports department is a schedule of what games will be on what TV channel during the season.

So in Wednesday’s paper, I’ve replicated a chart I did a year ago that lists all 82 regular-season games, and an accompanying story explaining to Quebecers how to watch the Canadiens on TV or online.

There’s also a separate story, online only, explaining to people who live outside the Canadiens’ broadcast region how they can see all 82 games.

I’ll let you read those stories to get all the details (if you have any more questions, let me know). The gist of it is that there haven’t been many major changes for this year — still 40 national Canadiens games in English and 22 in French, and you still need five channels in English and two in French to watch all of them.

In researching these stories, and through a series of emails with Rogers PR, I’ve learned a few bits of trivia about NHL TV rights and the Canadiens’ schedule in particular.

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Breaking down the Canadiens 2015-16 TV broadcast schedule

Last week, Sportsnet unveiled its schedule for Canadiens TV broadcasts for the 2015-16 season.

The good news is that there’s little change from last year. All 82 games will be broadcast in English, and 40 of those games are national.

The bad news is that there’s little change from last year. The other 42 games are still regional, inaccessible to those west of Belleville, Ont., unless they fork over big money for NHL Centre Ice.

Actually it’s somewhere between 40 and 42 games, because some of those regional games involve other Canadian teams (which means they’ll be available in those regions): Both games against the Vancouver Canucks are regional, one of two games against the Calgary Flames, and one of four games against the Ottawa Senators. Both games against Edmonton, both games against Winnipeg, and of course all four games against Toronto are national.

Regional games for the most part are on Sportsnet East, but like last year, they’re using City Montreal as a backup when Sportsnet carries baseball or NFL football in the fall. A total of 11 games are planned for City Montreal, the last one on Dec .17.

For national games, a similar situation to last year, with 10 Wednesday night games on Sportsnet and 20 Saturday night games to be decided on a week-to-week basis. (Expect Leafs games on CBC and Canadiens games on City again.) There are also two Thursday night games in October on Sportsnet 360. No games are scheduled for Sportsnet One.

Rogers Hometown Hockey continues this season, but moves to Sportsnet from City now that Rogers has decided to go back to imported dramas and comedies on Sunday nights. The six Sunday night games are all national.

Broken down by time, 39 games start at 7pm Eastern, 30 at 7:30pm, three at 8pm, three at 9pm, two at 10pm and two at 10:30pm. The only afternoon games are the Winter Classic at 1pm and the two Super Bowl matinees at 2 and 2:30.

TVA/RDS share unchanged

On the French side, it’s still 22 national games plus all playoff games for TVA Sports and 60 regional games plus all preseason games for RDS.

Like last year, the national games in French include all Saturday night games plus the season opener. But because the Canadiens are playing in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, that gets added to the national roster in both languages. This means TVA Sports will have 20 Saturday night games instead of 21. (There’s a Saturday afternoon game, which is national in English as part of Hockey Day in Canada, but remains regional in French.)

TVA Sports put out its NHL schedule in June. It’s posted here.

No announcements have been made for changes to NHL Centre Ice or NHL GameCentre Live.

 

TVA Sports to expand to three feeds during NHL playoffs

tvasports3

When TVA Sports launched, people wondered if it could fill 24 hours. When it acquired NHL rights, it had to expand to two channels even though it only really had scheduling conflicts on Saturday nights.

Now, with the NHL playoffs coming, and TVA having rights to all playoff games, Quebecor has decided to add a third feed to the service.

TVA Sports 3 will come online on April 15 on Videotron, Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Telus Optik TV. It will be free to all subscribers who have TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 in their packages. (Some subscribers have TVA Sports but not TVA Sports 2, and probably won’t get this new channel.)

In the two weeks leading up to that, from April 2 to 14, TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 will have a free preview. (There’s only one Saturday night Canadiens game in that span, the season finale against the Maple Leafs.)

The most interesting thing about TVA Sports 3 is that it’s a temporary channel, and will be removed at the end of May, when the first two (three?) playoff rounds are over and there aren’t any more scheduling conflicts. That doesn’t mean it can’t return in the future, though. There’s a lot of sports out there.

If you only have TVA Sports, by the way, there’s probably no need to worry. They haven’t put any Canadiens games on TVA Sports 2, and there’s no reason they would start now. (RDS only moved a regular-season Canadiens game to RDS2 once, and that was during the World Series.)

Yes, it’s necessary

TVA Sports 3 is needed because there are situations, especially in the first round of the NHL playoffs, where two channels isn’t enough. Last year, TSN had to give away a playoff game to Sportsnet because it had the Raptors on the main network and it couldn’t put two simultaneous games on TSN2. (Now that TSN has five channels, that’s no longer a problem.)

The NHL tries to schedule the playoffs so there is as little overlap as possible, but when western conference teams play 8pm or 9pm starts (because many teams are in Central or Mountain time zones), you can have three going at once.

And jokes aside, TVA Sports does have rights to other sports. It has some Impact games, some Blue Jays games, some NFL games and some tennis events. It still has a long way to go to catch up to RDS, but it’s working on it.

Some context

Three channels might seem like a lot, but there’s a long list of sports channels in Canada owned by Bell and Rogers:

Bell (English): TSN1-5, ESPN Classic, plus minority stakes in NHL Network, Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and CTV and CTV Two can air sports programming

Bell (French): RDS, RDS2, RDS Info

Rogers (English): Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet 360, Sportsnet One/Vancouver/Oilers/Flames, Sportsnet World, OLN, plus minority stakes in Leafs TV, GOL TV, NBA TV, and City, OMNI and FX Canada can air sports programming, plus its deal with CBC for hockey

And on top of that there’s NFL Network, MLB Network, Golf Channel and others with English programming that TVA could pick up the French rights to.

Don’t expect Canadiens on TVA

Since the TVA NHL deal was first announced, people have been asking about Canadiens games on the main TVA network. Rogers even assumed it would happen in some early schedule mockups, and TVA never ruled out the possibility.

The press release isn’t clear, but seems to imply Canadiens playoff games will be on TVA Sports. Remember that Quebecor spent a lot of money securing these rights, and no NHL team draws francophone audiences nearly as much as the Canadiens. If they’d gotten all 82 Canadiens games, then a Saturday night free-to-air game might have made sense, but as it stands it needs Canadiens fans to subscribe to the sports channel.

Things might change if the Canadiens go deep in the playoffs. Most if not all Canadiens playoff games should be available for free in English on CBC or City, so casual fans jumping on the bandwagon might decide to forgo a TVA Sports subscription and just watch the games in English. If the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup final, TVA might decide that advertising revenue for such a huge audience outweighs the potential gains in temporary TVA Sports subscriptions.

Guzzo and the unnecessarily sexist “hockey widow” promotion

Last week, I went to see Xavier Dolan’s new film Mommy at one of the Cinémas Guzzo megaplexes. I go there because it’s not far from home, and because it’s inexpensive (at least on Tuesdays), but also to send a bit of a message to Guzzo’s owner that some people do actually want to see arty homegrown films.

Executive VP and public face Vincenzo Guzzo has been repeatedly on record as calling for Quebec films to be more mainstream, more feel-good, more accessible to the general public. He feels that, more than anything else, is what is keeping homegrown cinema from becoming more popular.

And though he could present his ideas with more tact, he’s not wrong on that point.

I like Guzzo because he’s the little guy, a local entrepreneur trying new things in an industry dominated by the Cineplex Odeons and Famous Players of the world, even taking them to court to try to break the oligopoly. And he speaks his mind and is accountable to the public, unlike the heads of those other cinema chains whose names we don’t even know.

But being the little guy also means saying stuff that is foolish, poorly thought out or downright stupid.

Before the screening of Mommy, I saw an ad for a new promotion: Hockey widows, the women left alone while their husbands or boyfriends watch hockey games, could get discounts on tickets at Guzzo.

It seemed like a good idea, though perhaps a bit sexist in its message. Surely there are hockey widowers out there, or other reasons why people might want to go out during a hockey game.

On the website, Guzzo specifies that the deal doesn’t apply Tuesdays or during afternoons (when prices are already discounted). And it says “Ladies only!”

That seemed unnecessary to me. Why impose such a by-definition sexist requirement? What’s the purpose of applying this discount only to women?

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The NHL season begins, and fans are just as confused as ever

Tonight, the new era of NHL broadcasting in Canada dawns, as Rogers presents its first regular-season games under its new $5.2-billion, 12-year deal with the league. As is tradition, the first match in Canada will be Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs. But while in past years this match was on CBC and RDS, tonight it will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

The change in TV channels is only part of the new reality. For the first time in a decade, RDS will be blacked out west of Belleville, Ont., during its 60 regional games (as it was, or should have been, during the preseason games). This has annoyed not only Habs fans in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, but places like northern Ontario, which has a lot of francophones. (I discussed the blackouts in a radio interview with Radio-Canada aimed at that audience.)

And the new rules for the NHL GameCentre Live streaming service have even me confused.

In an effort to help clear up some confusion about NHL games on TV, Saturday’s Gazette included a full-page calendar of all 82 Canadiens games and where they will air in English and French. That page is reproduced as a PDF on Hockey Inside/Out. I also created a printable version that fits on three 8.5/11-inch sheets of paper. And there’s a separate schedule for out-of-market viewers, which provides information on NHL Centre Ice and GameCentre Live availability.

And on top of all that, there’s this downloadable electronic calendar of Habs games listing their TV channels. (Once it loads, just go File -> Save As and save it to your computer, then use your preferred calendar program’s import function.)

This big chart was in the same paper as Brendan Kelly’s big feature on the new way to watch the Canadiens on TV, which includes Rogers admitting that getting programming information to fans will be a big challenge for this first year.

Rogers has recently posted a page on its website that gives some information about regional blackouts for GameCentre Live for the seven Canadian teams and the Buffalo Sabres, whose region extends into Niagara. It provides some additional information about shared broadcast regions and how many games will require Sportsnet subscriptions. And it has a page about the special $60 deal that offers just the French-language regional Canadiens and Senators games that air on RDS on its online streaming service.

For NHL Centre Ice, which fans in southern Ontario and western Canada will need to watch Canadiens games, we’re learning that most providers in those areas are offering a $60 RDS-only package, which means Habs fans in Toronto and Vancouver will get to pay just $10 a month or $1 a game to watch the 60 games that are being blacked out on RDS.

And the regular TV schedule has changed slightly, with two more games being moved from Sportsnet East to City Montreal to accommodate the baseball playoffs on Sportsnet.

There are other things that are still unclear, though. And I’ve just sent Rogers another list of questions that I’m hoping they can answer. It seems late in the process for such information to be unclear, and if I’m not entirely sure about some of it, you can imagine how confused your average fan must be.

The good news is that this situation shouldn’t repeat. Most of the rules will be the same next year as they were this year, and people should be used to the new reality relatively quickly. We’ll have another 12 years until this system dramatically changes again.

In the meantime, for tonight, the game is broadcast nationally in both languages, and the game begins at 7pm. On Thursday, the Canadiens play the Capitals at 7pm, and that game is national in English on Sportsnet 360 and regional in French on RDS. (Don’t ask me to explain that logic.)

TSN 690 names Dan Robertson as new Canadiens play-by-play announcer

Bell Media announced on Monday that it has selected its new play-by-play man for Canadiens games on TSN 690: Dan Robertson, who called QMJHL games for Eastlink.

Robertson replaces John Bartlett, who is leaving to be the play-by-play guy for regional games on Sportsnet.

Sergio Momesso stays on the broadcast team, doing analysis.

Robertson was one of a few people brought in to call preseason games (he did the Sept. 25 game against the Avalanche). Program Director Chris Bury tells The Suburban’s Mike Cohen that Robertson’s demo was impressive, and that the staff seemed to be unanimous in support of him.

Robertson is on Twitter, though his handle to changed from @EastlinkDanR to @DRTSN690.

UPDATE (Oct. 25): CTV Montreal did an interview with Robertson.

Why is RDS/TSN/Sportsnet blacked out? NHL regional TV rights explained

TSN blackout

Even though I’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject of NHL regional rights and in particular how Canadiens fans have to deal with them for the first time, there’s still a flood of questions, usually the same ones, from people who suddenly find themselves staring at a screen saying a hockey game is not available in their region.

The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, except for broadcasts on RDS. Until this season, the network had a special deal with the Canadiens and the National Hockey League that allowed all 82 regular-season games to be broadcast nationally without restriction. This is the exception rather than the rule. Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators games in English have been subject to regional blackouts for years now.

It’s caused so much rage that RDS has posted a page — in both French and English — explaining how the blackouts aren’t its fault.

Am I affected?

The Canadiens broadcast region. Map via Shaw Direct

The Canadiens broadcast region. Regions in green can will not experience blackouts on RDS, TSN5 or Sportsnet East. (Map via Shaw Direct)

If you’re used to watching Canadiens games on RDS, you’ll no longer be able to do so if you live west of eastern Ontario (officially, a line connecting Pembroke and Belleville). This is the Canadiens/Senators broadcast region. It includes that corner of eastern Ontario, plus all of Quebec and all four Atlantic provinces. In Toronto, the Prairies, B.C. and territories, you’re out of luck. Because RDS carries only the regional games, you won’t see a single Canadiens game — or any NHL game at all for that matter — on RDS this year.

During the first preseason game on Tuesday night, some people reported being able to get RDS un-blacked-out outside the Canadiens region. Some had the HD feed blacked out but the SD feed not. This should not be relied upon as a stable loophole.

If you’re not sure what region you’re in, you can put your postal code into this website, which will show which teams’ region you’re in. Any team not on that list will (or at least should) be blacked out in your region.

For fans of other teams, this post explains their broadcast regions and how many games will be broadcast regionally and nationally.

Who is to blame?

The big change isn’t so much that Rogers has spent $5.2 billion on a wide-ranging deal for NHL rights in Canada. It’s the emergence of a competitor to RDS, TVA Sports, which has sublicensed the rights to national games from Rogers. RDS picked up the regional rights, but that doesn’t give them the rights to broadcast these games nationally. They’d love nothing better than to do so, but they can’t.

So who is to blame? Rogers? Quebecor? Bell? The Canadiens? Your cable company?

No, it’s the National Hockey League.

The NHL, like other sports leagues, sets the framework for television rights deals. And part of that framework forces most of the regular-season games of any team to be broadcast only within that team’s designated region. Or, looking at it the other way, it prevents other team’s broadcasts from entering that team’s region.

The purpose is simply to protect that team’s territorial rights and market. Basically, if you live in southern Ontario, the Leafs own you, and they want you to be a Leafs fan, not a Canadiens fan. You might think that’s ridiculous, but that’s nevertheless the logic.

(Be glad that the NHL doesn’t also follow the NFL’s rule that blacks out local games when a team has not sold out a home game. Though since the Canadiens always sell out, that wouldn’t affect them.)

What can I do about it?

So, you’re a Canadiens fan in southern Ontario, Calgary or Vancouver who wants to watch all 82 Canadiens games, and you don’t mind what language it’s in. Well, here are your options:

  • Learn to live with watching only half the season. Rogers is broadcasting 40 of the 82 Canadiens games nationally in English, plus all playoff games, including all Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday night games, and all games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins. (The 22 games broadcast nationally in French on TVA Sports are included in those 40.) You’ll also see when the Canadiens play the team that owns your broadcast region. I break down which games are which here. If you live in the Jets, Oilers or Flames regions, you’ll see the games against those teams too. People in Saskatchewan will get a total of 44 Habs games all told.
  • Buy NHL Centre Ice. This is the official way to get around the regional blackouts, and it’s what distant fans of other Canadian teams have had to do for years. Details of this service haven’t been announced yet, but it will be offered by your cable or satellite provider for about $200 for the season or $35 a month. They might also offer a special deal for just the French Canadiens and Senators games from RDS for $60. NHL Centre Ice blacks out any game that is otherwise broadcast in your region, so you’ll need to get Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360 to watch national games on those channels. Contact your TV provider for details.
  • Buy NHL GameCentre Live. Similar to NHL Centre Ice, GameCentre offers a way for people to watch out-of-market games. GameCentre is a streaming service, to watch the games online or on mobile or tablet apps. Because it’s delivered on the Internet, it’s offered directly by Rogers, not by your TV provider. You can subscribe to it here. It’s $200 for the season (with a $180 early bird special). Rogers has also promised a special deal for $60 with just the RDS Senators and Canadiens regional games. GameCentre Live used to have the same rules as Centre Ice, blacking out any game available to you on TV. But Rogers is making all of its nationally broadcast games available on this service. It’s also making in-region regional games available, but only if they’re on Sportsnet and you’re a Sportsnet subscriber. This requires authentication with your TV provider, which means they need to be on board as well. This means that Senators games, French Canadiens games, Jets games and some Maple Leafs games that air on TSN and RDS are not available in-region on GameCentre Live.
  • Listen to blacked out games on the radio. Blackout rules don’t apply to the radio, so you can listen to the livestream of TSN Radio 690 from anywhere in the country.
  • Get an illegal bootleg stream online. There are various ways to get access to Canadiens games through third parties that illegally rebroadcast the games online. I won’t provide instructions here, but you can find them.
  • Move to Montreal. I’m just saying, that’s an option.

One thing that won’t help is to start a petition, yell at your TV provider or insult Rogers, Bell or anyone else on Twitter. Believe me, the broadcasters would love nothing better than to do away with blackouts that annoy viewers, deprive them of advertising revenue and complicate scheduling. But they can’t, because despite those billions of dollars, the NHL is still the boss.

But if it helps you emotionally, go ahead.