Tag Archives: Hockey Night in Canada

How would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada?

Hockey Night in Canada begins its 2017-18 season tonight. And that means another 26 Saturday nights where fans complain about what channel their team’s game is being shown on.

When Rogers acquired national rights to the NHL in 2014, the plan was to give Canadians more choice on Saturday nights, to make use of the multiple Sportsnet channels as well as CBC and City to let a Canadiens fan in Moose Jaw, a Leafs fan in Corner Brook and a Flames fan in Sarnia watch their team’s games. This differed from the previous system, where CBC split its network geographically and decided for each station which NHL team it wanted viewers to see.

The downside to this new system is that not all games are free. With as many as seven Canadian teams playing on a Saturday night (though the HNIC schedule never has more than five games on any night this season), only three broadcasts are on free over-the-air channels: early games on CBC and City, and a late game on CBC. And generally Rogers respects a pecking order: Leafs almost always get priority on CBC, and the Canucks generally get the 10pm game if they’re playing then.

Though it has in the past put Habs games on Sportsnet to try to drive subscriptions, so far this season it looks like the Canadiens are headed to City on Saturdays, except when they’re playing the Leafs. Mind you, Sportsnet is busy with baseball playoffs, so it may not be an entirely altruistic move. But even if it stays that way, that means the Senators and Jets get moved to Sportsnet channels, along with the Oilers and Flames.

Scheduling Saturday nights is so delicate that Rogers doesn’t pick channel assignments before the season except for the first month. Instead, the assignments are chosen a week or two in advance. That way, a team that is getting popular later in the season, or faces a highly anticipated matchup, might get a more prominent channel than one that’s fading.

So, confident in the knowledge that you know better than they do, how would you schedule Hockey Night in Canada? Give it a shot below.

The rules

Create your own procedure for scheduling Hockey Night in Canada games. The rules have to involve all seven Canadian teams, and should be applicable to as many as three early games (7pm) and two late games (10pm).

The rules are subject to the following technical abilities and limitations:

  • The CBC network can be split geographically, but only with 14 stations: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Fredericton, Charlottetown Halifax, St. John’s and Yellowknife. If you split the network, assign a game to each station.
  • The City network can also be split geographically, with stations in each Canadian NHL market except Ottawa, which is a retransmitter of City Toronto and can’t carry a different game.
  • OMNI, which carries Hockey Night in Punjabi, has stations in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. If you ask nicely maybe you can convince Montreal’s ICI to join.
  • Most people don’t get out-of-market CBC, City and OMNI stations, or if they do, it’s not in high definition.
  • Sportsnet can be split up between East (Montreal, Ottawa), Ontario (Toronto), West (Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton) and Pacific (Vancouver). Most people now do get the four channels, but some still only have their local one, or just the local one in HD.
  • Sportsnet can’t always be monopolized for hockey. The baseball playoffs are on right now, and the main Sportsnet channels are showing that tonight, so they’re not usable for HNIC. There are also Toronto Raptors games to consider.
  • Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet One are also available, but can’t be split geographically. They have fewer subscribers than the main Sportsnet channels.
  • The Sportsnet One overflow channels, Sportsnet Vancouver Hockey, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Oilers are also available, though they’re not distributed outside their teams’ regions and not everyone gets them inside their regions either.
  • FX Canada is available (Rogers’s original plan was to use it for a U.S. team matchup), but it doesn’t have many subscribers and its audience doesn’t overlap with sports lovers very much.
  • Any channel with both an early game and a late game has to have a plan in case the early game goes past 10pm. Do you stick with the early game and join the late in progress? Do you start the late game on a backup channel?

There are also economic considerations to take into account:

  • Like it or not, the Maple Leafs are the biggest draw on English TV. Your biggest ad revenue will come from the Leafs game.
  • As someone who spent $5.2 billion on NHL rights, you want to drive subscriptions to Sportsnet, particularly for teams like Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal where you don’t have the regional rights to those teams’ games.

And finally, you need to keep it relatively simple. If you split the CBC, City and Sportsnet networks and what channel a team’s game is on varies by city, you risk making it so complicated for people to watch that they just give up.

So how would you make it work?

My suggestion

Here’s one plan I would offer for consideration:

  • Go back to splitting the CBC network geographically. All seven NHL markets get their local NHL team. The other seven stations could have viewers decide which team they want. (Windsor getting the Red Wings would be great if possible.) Markets where the local team plays at 10pm ET get an early Leafs or Canadiens game but cut to the local team when their game begins.
  • Put the Canadiens on City coast to coast. Just cuz. Consider putting a late game on City, too, if there’s more than one that night.
  • Split Sportsnet: Senators on Sportsnet East, Leafs on Sportsnet Ontario, Flames, Oilers or Jets on Sportsnet West and Canucks on Sportsnet Pacific. Offer local pregame and postgame shows on those channels.
  • Sorry, Jets, you get bumped to Sportsnet One if there aren’t any free channels up the food chain.
  • If you don’t need it to show a full game, turn Sportsnet 360 into an on-the-fly channel checking in on various games at key moments. Maybe even do split-screen. See what works. It can also be used for pregame and postgame shows while the other channels are showing early and late games.
  • Use the Canucks/Flames/Oilers SN1 channels for alternative feeds of some sort when those teams are in action. Star cam, goalie cam, shaky ref cam? Go nuts.
  • Keep HNIC Punjabi going, but don’t limit it to Leafs and Canucks games. Mix it up a bit. Consider translating into other languages (Mandarin, Italian, Arabic) through partnerships with Canadian broadcasters in those languages.

So for tonight, it would work out like this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • OMNI 7pm: Leafs. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet: MLB playoffs.
  • Sportsnet One: Leafs, followed by Oilers/Canucks.
  • Sportsnet 360: Senators, followed by combined Sens/Leafs/Habs postgame show.

If Sportsnet were available, it would be this:

  • CBC 7pm: Leafs, Canadiens or Senators, split regionally. 10pm: Oilers/Canucks or Jets/Flames, split regionally.
  • City 7pm: Canadiens. 10pm: Jets/Flames.
  • Sportsnet East: Senators, followed by Senators postgame
  • Sportsnet Ontario: Leafs, followed by Leafs postgame
  • Sportsnet West: Jets/Flames pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet Pacific: Oilers/Canucks pregame, game and postgame
  • Sportsnet One: Other programming until 9:30pm, followed by Montreal postgame
  • Sportsnet 360: Live look-ins across the league

The big advantage is that every market gets their local team. The big disadvantage is that it’s more complex, and there’s duplication. (Montreal gets the Habs on both CBC and City, for example.) I’m not sure it’s much better than Rogers’s current system for anyone living outside their local team’s market.

But maybe you have a better solution. Go ahead and try. Offer your suggestions in the comments below.

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.

National Post explores HNIC production trailer

Hockey Night in Canada production trailer graphic from the National Post

Hockey Night in Canada production trailer graphic from the National Post

The National Post’s Graeme Hamilton has a feature piece on the behind-the-scenes technical production of a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. It focuses on what happens inside the high-definition trailer (specifically, the rapid change of camera angles and the rush to get instant replays on air).

It includes the graphic above, which looks at the layout of the trailer and the positioning of the dozens of cameras in a given arena.

Hockey Night is dead. Long live RDS

So there you go. CBC’s Hockey Anthem Challenge winner, out of almost 15,000 entries submitted, is Colin Oberst’s Canadian Gold. The one with the bagpipes. Hockey Night in Canada made a big thing about it, with loud congratulations from Don Cherry. And Oberst takes home a $100,000 cheque.

UPDATE: CBC has posted the announcement, new theme and a season intro montage in Quicktime format.

With the new theme comes new intro graphics as well. This season, rather than go the classic route of showing hits, goals and saves, CBC has gotten its computer graphics department on overdrive, recreating classic moves so they could look at them from impossible angles (even simulating Bobby Orr’s Stanley Cup-winning goal, which created the best sports photo of all time). Unfortunately, this kind of computer animation still has a long way to go, and it just ends up looking like they’re showing scenes from EA’s NHL 09 video game.

Meanwhile, on RDS, the original Hockey Theme reigns. They paid a lot more for it, and their re-recording doesn’t sound as good as the most recent CBC version, but it still sounds better. It’s still the one with that special place in our hearts.

Real Canadiens fans have been watching RDS for years now. Even Leafs fans have moved to TSN or Rogers SportsNet. Many people I know turn to CBC to watch the opening theme and switch to RDS for the play-by-play.

Now, with the hockey theme on RDS, does Hockey Night in Canada have any purpose anymore?

Time to vote for something important

There are now just a few hours left to vote for one of the five semifinalists in the CBC Hockey Anthem Challenge. Sadly, Hockey Scores is not one of them.

In order to help you visualize them, CBC has set the songs to video of the HNIC opening (even including the “Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland” voice intro). In all of them, the absence of the old theme is jarring, especially next to familiar video.

Here are some thoughts of mine off the top of my head for the five semifinalists. I’m not a music expert (but I know a few who will no doubt chip in), so don’t take these as gospel because I have no clue what I’m talking about.

(Warning: CBC forces you to watch the same stupid Bell ad before each video. Sorry.)

1. Ice Warriors (by Gerry Mosby): A complicated melody, but without any climax. It sounds like a good part of a song, but it’s missing the rest. Even as a fan of rock music, the guitar really threw me off. It belongs in a 70s album, not on the Hockey Night theme.

2. Sticks to the Ice (by Robert Fraser Burke): This one builds energy, and the professional arrangement is a huge improvement over a 13-year-old on a piano. But it’s still lacking. Just when you think it’s going to hit you hard, it sulks back into a melody that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

3. Eleventh Hour (by Graham McRae): McRae is a skilled composer, and this one doesn’t lack for energy. He seems to really get the point. CBC’s orchestral recording of it seems a bit muted though, especially compared to McRae’s original. The melody in this one is my favourite, but that doesn’t necessarily seal the deal.

4. Let the Game Begin (by Christian St. Roch & Jimmy Tanaka): This contribution from two Montrealers echoes the original in a non-copyright-infringing way. Similar use of instruments. It is very successful at building energy and anticipation, and best of all it doesn’t waste any time getting there (this is, after all, a minute-long intro, not a three-minute song). It has punch, but the theme gets a bit repetitive. Still, if your goal is to find as close to the original as possible, this is probably the one for you.

5. Canadian Gold (by Colin Oberst): I like this one, not so much because I think it’s better than the rest but mainly because it’s so different. It’s the only one I think that comes out swinging after it gets going, and has that feeling of raising an army to defeat the enemy. It doesn’t sound like it’s holding anything back, and it’s not as repetitive as the others. It’s also more upbeat, almost to the point of cliché, which I think will appeal to less hard-edged hockey fans. But I could do without the bagpipes.

All five are works worthy of praise, and the CBC chose well. I don’t think any of them nail it 100%, but they surprise me with their quality (I had earlier suggested the contest might not be worth it). The fact that there were close to 15,000 entries is kind of astonishing.

Voting closes at 11:59pm Tuesday. Two finalists will be announced Thursday, and then the winner will be on the Hockey Night in Canada premiere on Saturday.

CTV’s new Hockey Theme

CTV has released its re-recording (with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) of the Hockey Theme (i.e. the ex-Hockey Night in Canada theme), which will be used on RDS and TSN hockey telecasts starting Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, respectively.

Here it is (MP3). TSN also has a story with video about the new theme.

Perhaps I should wait until it actually goes on air, or maybe it’s just my computer, but it sounds like elevator music compared to the rough-and-tumble CBC version.

The press release, which says it “revisits the original 1968 version” also gives plenty of praise for how awesome they think it is:

We’ve taken great pride in blending the heritage of the song with the best digital technology available, creating a stunning rendition sure to resonate with hockey fans across the country.

Colour me unimpressed.

CBC’s awful hockey theme contest

40 years ago, when composer Dolores Claman was given the task of coming up with a theme to a hockey broadcast, she envisioned the music you’d associate with Roman gladiators wearing skates (assuming you could imagine such a thing in the first place). The theme she came up with became synonymous with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada for 40 years, and has become this country’s unofficial second national anthem.

Then, in June, all that changed when CTV announced it had acquired the rights to the theme from its original composer, who was still involved in contractual disputes with CBC over the terms of its license.

The CBC, left with its pants around its ankles, dusted off Plan B: Run a contest to find its replacement.

A contest to replace the most epic song in Canadian history. No problem.

The CBC’s Anthem Challenge, which has been promoted endlessly in order to drive up interest, has been surprisingly successful at doing so. Thousands of submissions each take a legitimate shot at being the theme’s successor, mostly by trying to copy it with slightly different notes.

Some come close to what you’d expect the winner to sound like, but are still missing that punch that truly gets you ready for a hockey game. They might sound more appropriate for a Megaman level than a hockey show.

Others miss the beat entirely, spanning the range of genres from cheesy ’80s sitcom themes, elevator music, electronic music, pop songs, even cheesier pop songs with lame lyrics, Randy Bachman, and other types of music entirely inappropriate for a hockey show theme.

Some include annoying personal introductions, others repeat the same chords over and over, or include sounds of people cheering.

Considering all these people got paid exactly $0 for the submissions, they’re not bad.

But these were the most popular ones. Imagine the ones that sucked.

The big question I have here is: Is this the kind of thing that should be trusted to Joe Schmo next door? Claman was a professional, not some person they picked off the street. Why should we think that amateurs would do a better job this time, clinging to the faint hope that maybe they might be the one lucky one out of thousands to win the $100,000 grand prize and get all the fame and glory that comes from not having the right to play your own song because you’ve signed away the copyright?

It’s perhaps partly to prove this point that a member of Something Awful posted “Hockey Scores,” a collection of random annoying sounds designed to sound as bad as possible, and encouraged others to vote for it. Because Something Awful is so powerful, the song rocketed to the top, where it sits as the most popular, most viewed and most commented entry.

That has garnered the attention of mainstream media, its blogs and even the CBC itself, which points out that the number of votes is not the only factor it must use according to the rules in determining the semifinalists that will be presented to the nation in October (though it will likely be the determining factor in choosing finalists from those semifinalists, and then the winner from the finalists).

But little of that coverage is mentioning the larger issue: When rich media organizations “crowdsource”  something that’s going to make them a lot of money, expecting people to work for free, they’re just begging to get a bunch of crap.

Something Awful just helped the process along a bit.

The contest continues to accept entries until Aug. 31. Semifinalists will be aired and voted on by the public in the beginning of October.

UPDATE (Aug. 9): The Globe has a piece on the contest, which of course includes not a single link to all the entries it talks about, nor the contest itself.

That’s one small DUNT for a woman…

In addition to being mocked on the Colbert Report, the Hockey Night in Canada theme situation has also made the New York Times.

As a side note, I’ve noticed that mainstream media websites, when talking about the Hockey Night theme, have been linking to a version of it on YouTube which was clearly infringing on copyright. Later, when some of these same media websites talked about the Colbert Report talking about the Hockey Night in Canada theme, they linked to another YouTube video, which was also infringing on copyright. (Both those videos have since been taken down.) Is it appropriate for media websites to be promoting content they know to be infringing on other people’s copyright?

UPDATE: Scott Moore, the executive director of CBC TV sports, has a post up about the HNIC theme and the responses he’s gotten about it.

The theme that wouldn’t die

After being dead, then maybe-not-dead, then absolutely positively dead (as I tried to explain previously), the Hockey Night in Canada theme is once again maybe-there’s-hope, as the CBC brings in a lawyer to maybe hammer out a new deal.

It shows, I think, that the CBC vastly underestimated people’s connection with the song, and wants to do everything it can to save it.

UPDATE: Looks like it’s closer to dead again. CBC negotiators aren’t very optimistic.

UPDATE: CTV has just announced it secured rights to the song and plans to use it on TSN (and RDS). Wow.

UPDATE (June 12): Thank you Stephen Colbert. (CTV owns the Canadian rights to the Colbert Report through the CTV and Comedy networks, so he’s actually being half-serious about licensing the song.)

End of an anthem


Sad. (UPDATE: Or not?)

(Need an emergency fix?)

The fact that politicians are getting involved in this (if only by commenting out loud) really gets me. Yeah, we’re emotionally attached to it, but it’s not as if the Parliamentary Library is burning down here.

UPDATE (June 6): It’s over. Negotiations have fallen through and CBC is launching a $100,000 contest to find a replacement. Good luck with that.

Some suggestions for replacement songs. Or, if you haven’t given up yet, the inevitable Facebook group. Or two. Or three. Or four. Or five. Or six. Or seven. Or eight. Or nine. Or ten. Or … holy crap! There are 204 other groups for this! Plus the HNIC fan page, and the petition to bring in that Stompin’ Tom song instead.

UPDATE (June 7): Really? CBC ices Hockey Night theme? The puck’s stopped here? These are the best headlines you could come up with?

Nosiree Bob

Just as the St. John’s Telegram sings his praises (the article is reprinted in today’s Gazette), comes the unconfirmed-but-they’re-really-sure-about-it news from the Globe that the CBC is phasing out veteran play-by-play announcer Bob Cole. This will be his final Stanley Cup broadcast, though he’ll stay on for regular-season games next year.

Listening to tonight’s game, it’s hard to challenge the decision.

Hockey Night in Kanata, anyone?

Hockey Night in Toronto

The Globe and Mail (or at least columnist William Houston) seems to have joined the expanding chorus of people who think that Hockey Night in Canada should drop the Toronto Maple Leafs as its default team, since it’s second-last in the Eastern conference and playoff prospects look weak.

It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg situation with the CBC and Toronto. They show the Leafs nationwide because the Leafs have the stronger fan base. But the Leafs’ fan base is largely a result of national telecasts.

I’m not in a position to say what team fans in Winnipeg, Halifax or other non-NHL towns should be watching, but I think the CBC should at least concentrate first on making sure NHL cities can watch their home teams — particularly Ottawa and Montreal. Sometimes the CBC splits its network up so that happens, but it should be for every Saturday where two Canadian teams are playing.

It’s not like cost is such a huge issue — HNIC is a huge money-maker for the CBC. And even then, I don’t care too much about the quality of the broadcast. Hell, they could simulcast RDS unedited and I’m sure cable-less Montreal fans would be perfectly fine with that.

Houston’s right: Ottawa is the dominant Canadian team at the moment, and it’s going to go much further toward a Stanley Cup this year than Toronto could ever hope to go. At some point CBC is going to have to make the switch.

UPDATE: Wow, it actually worked this time. That was fast.