Your Announcers and Open Thread For Rangers-Penguins

Pittsburgh vs. NY Rangers, 7:30 PM ET, VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play:
Joe Beninati
Color: Billy Jaffe
Reporter: Bob Harwood

VERSUS President Jamie Davis Out As Part of NBC Sports Changes

From John Ourand of Sports Business Daily :

The new-look NBC Sports Group will begin to take shape tomorrow, and it will have a decidedly NBC Sports look. NBC is expected to put out a release Wednesday detailing some of the changes it is making, according to several sources. Spokespeople for NBC and Versus did not return phone calls for comment, but sources said that Jamie Davis has been told that he will be leaving Versus after a two-and-a-half-year stint as President.

It is not known where Davis will land or if he will take another job within Comcast. But Davis, who joined the channel in September ’08 after a stint as ESPN Star Sports Managing Dir, is well-liked by Comcast brass. It is believed that Davis’ responsibilities will be shared by NBC’s coordinating producer Sam Flood (production) and Exec VP Jon Miller (programming). Sources say Jon Litner, who will remain Comcast SportsNet President, also will assume some responsibility at Versus.

Davis was integral in growing the network, and Ourand notes that VERSUS posted a record $60 million in revenue, but NBC clearly wanted something new. If Sam Flood, who runs NBC’s hockey coverage, has a key role in running VERSUS, hockey fans will find it rewarding.

 

Here’s the First Lady’s PSA For Hockey

PTM Interview: TSN’s Steve Kouleas Talks That’s Hockey 2Nite, Which Premieres Tonight

Steve Kouleas comes off exactly the way you’d want the host of a nightly hockey show to appear to be, especially in Canada, where such content is devoured with a fervor unlike any other sport: excited, well-informed, opinionated, and clearly passionate about the game. After spending many years with The Score, he returns to his former home at TSN to host a nightly hockey show on TSN2, which is positioning themselves to be more like “The Deuce” and less like an alternate feed.

I spoke to Kouleas in anticipation of That’s Hockey 2Nite’s premiere, which is tonight at 11:00 PM ET. It airs in that timeslot every weeknight.

Puck the Media: You were at The Score for 13 years, before that you were at TSN. What drew you back to TSN?

Steve Kouleas: I think it’s one of those situations where you always dream of playing for the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, or Dallas Cowboys. So, even when I left, part of the original plan was “Someday, son, you’ll be back,” so you go and do your thing and get your reps, and use your ice time to the best of your ability and you realize what your skill set allows you to do.

Then, things changed over at The Score, they changed their philosophy, and the fact that TSN2 is really building themselves up, it was a natural fit. There was a time when you’re working away, you’re happy where you are you just keep things going, but in the corner of your eye, you’re always eyeing the big channels and the big places – Canadian or American. People always say “things happen for a reason.” I’ve actually lived by that philosophy, I think you make your own situation.

It all kind of fell together: TSN2 building into a major power. Naturally, it’s Canada, so a hockey show will work. There’s kind of a marriage, a perfect fit for both sides.

PTM: How easy is it to take the call where they ask you to host your own hockey show five days a week?

SK: [laughs] It’s kind of being like Conan, but instead of going from The Tonight Show to cable, going from cable to The Tonight Show. It was a great call to take. I guess now, in North America or around the world, I’m the only person in the last 10 years to be paying his mortgage by doing a hockey show at night. So I guess I had to be one of the contenders.

I came in and we did our thing and it went very well. At that particular point, I thought “you know what, you just want it more than anything in the world.” When it was finalized, I was extremely happy, but it’s great when you’ve kind of trained for your life. I mean, were all failed hockey players, so in the beginning I wanted to be captain of an NHL team. When you go to plan B, you want to be the next Dave Hodge or Foster Hewitt, depending on your situation. When this came up, and the opportunity was there, it was a natural fit. I’m just happy to do it.

Put it this way, for the last five months, I’ve been at home watching hockey anyway, so I might as well do it at work and go on and talk about it after.

PTM: What I’ve been doing at my website recently is keeping track of the new nightly hockey show in the States as well as On the Fly to notice trends and see how they differ. How do you hope to come out and be different than On the Fly and be different from what’s out there already?

SK: Everybody has their own philosophy, they do different things. I am Canadian, but I feel like I’m kind of an American broadcaster. I think what the Americans do with football and prime time is the best way to handle it. Highlights and breakdowns, opinion and analysis and arguments. If somebody says “when Crosby gets back, I wanna play Crosby and Malkin and Staal on the same line,” we have to push that. Why? Why them together? Why not Malkin and Staal together? I think the debating factor, and it’s always about entertainment.

Rick Jeanneret told me “we’re entertainers.” So I think information’s important, highlights are important. We’re gonna’ have extended highlights. It’s easy to tell you “Penguins won tonight,” but why did they win? “They won, because as we show you here … ” and sometimes, you speak and not everybody can understand it, like Shakespeare. You need to appeal to the lowest common denominator and to push even your viewers at an elite level, because people are watching who are experts, and people are watching who are just learning the game.

I’m big on the analysis, the extended highlights, the debate, the arguments. Kind of pushing the envelope. I don’t if how those other places do it, I don’t think so, but I think that’s one of the reasons were so successful. At the old place, the people said “you know what? I can relate to the show, and it’s real.” What’s real about a show is “how did two guys get an assist on a goal that should’ve been unassisted” and you show it and you talk about. Not just about the CBA or the PA.

I like to think that, in a way, it’s real, and it touches all the big issues hockey fans want to know about.

PTM: Is the goal to hit the ground running from the start, be an attention getting show from the start? Or just balance that and getting into a groove as a nightly show?

SK: We discussed that philosophy not too long ago, but I think whether you’re a fan of Seinfeld or Two and a Half  Men to Cheers going back, the first show kind of sets the standard. You take it up a few notches from there, so you’ll always be better in months two and three and four, and in year two and three, as opposed to right off the hop. I think we do want to hit the ground running with interactive highlight packs, where I’ll be speaking as well as Matthew [Barnaby], during the pack. It isn’t just I speak/he speaks. You can push your analyst always with agreeing or disagreeing with what he says.

On the first night, we’ll be bringing out all our bells and whistles and gadgets, and tell people what we’ve got. There’s kind of a buzz around here. It’s kind of funny, it took until the last year or so for everybody to get involved in nightly hockey shows, you’d think that’s something that would happen at the beginning of time. Actually, it never did until the early 2000′s, and then our show was gone as they changed formats. This is going to be, hopefully, the standard and there’ll be a lot of different things we can promise but one of them is passion, energy and entertainment.

PTM: It seemed kind of strange to me, that until the early 2000′s there was only a nightly hockey show in America, and not in Canada.

SK: It did to me as well, but now were up and running. TSN2 is going to be a major player. It’s great when you have the Leafs on one channel and Crosby/Ovechkin on the other, and then going into a hockey show. I mean, that’s must-see TV during the NHL season, so we’re very excited.

PTM: I noticed that you guys are going to have Kerry Fraser on the show every now and then. You don’t see too many referees go into TV work, what do you think he’ll bring to the table?

SK: I think it’s one of those things, we spend so much time in our business talking about calls, but nobody’s ever had a referee’s side of the story. Why was the call made, what was discussed in the meeting, in terms of what is and isn’t reviewable, what about positioning, experience? I think it’s perfect because he’ll be able to do it either from home or in studio on a specific call during that night, or what people complained about over the last couple of weeks.

It’s one of those situations where he’s not going to be on every night. He’ll be on when there’s controversy, and then on set nights. He’s been officiating in the NHL since the late 1970′s, so he’s gonna give us great perspective over the years and I’m sure some great stories to boot.

PTM: So it’ll be like when FOX has former NFL head of officiating Mike Perreira, where he sort of buzzes in on every controversial call. He’ll just comment whenever there’s something controversial as far as on ice issues.

SK: Yeah, and I think I’m surprised it took until now for Americans to do that with football. I think it’s perfect, because you want to know, for example, a high stick goal. They’re never overturned, usually the call on the ice is the one that stands, you can’t get a camera angle that really makes a difference, and Kerry will take us through video review.

All those kinds of things that we assume, but we don’t know until we have a referee in, and he’ll give you perspective about [whether or not they make] “even up calls” if they made a mistake, or do they like the two-referee system? Is there a rule they want changed? Have you ever made a call depending on your own interpretation of the rule, not necessarily what the league wanted, stuff like that I think will be fascinating, interesting.

Let’s be honest, there are rules in the rulebook that even the most avid hockey fan doesn’t understand. Like the rule about goaltender interference: no goal, no penalty, faceoff outside [the zone]. He’ll be there to explain that. I think it’s something that we all need. You know what? If Gordie Howe stayed late for practice because he wanted to learn different things about hockey when he was 52 and playing for Hartford, then surely as hockey fans and broadcasters and players, we can always learn more about the game and the rulebook by listening to people who’ve been there before.

PTM: You mentioned how much of a real dream this is for you to come back to TSN. The show’s airing in the 11PM slot, which is where sports networks sort of put building block programming, what networks want to build their network on. What’s it like to be the building block for this sort of fledgling network?

SK: It’s an unbelievable feeling, sometimes I just look in the sky and say “God, thank you very much,” I’m truly blessed. I talk to my American friends too, and say “hey, we live in the two greatest countries in the world.” Just by being born here, were so lucky and you look around the world and everything there is, and we get a chance to get up in the morning and have a Starbucks or Tim Hortons, and then go online and read and talk about hockey. Then go into work and do those kinds of things. I feel privileged and honored, and as I told the brass here, I promise I won’t let you down, and I’ll bring energy and passion to the table each and every night, and that’s what I’m going to do. I feel truly blessed.

VERSUS Draws 1.5 Million For the All-Star Game, 1.1 Million For the Skills, 624,000 For the Draft

NEW YORK, N.Y. (February 1, 2011)—VERSUS, the exclusive cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), scored on Sunday night by earning its most watched NHL All-Star Game in the network’s history. The telecast on January 31 averaged close to 1.5 million viewers and peaked at nearly 2.0 million viewers from 6:45-7:00 p.m. ET.

 

Compared to the 2009 NHL All-Star Game, this year’s telecast saw a 36-percent increase in viewership (1,481,000 vs. 1,087,000), while household ratings grew 33 percent (1.2 HH rating vs. 0.9 HH rating). The network also saw increases across all the key male demographics: Men 18-34 (up 35 percent), Men 18-49 (up 27 percent) and Men 25-54 (up 37 percent). Additionally, the All-Star Game telecast propelled VERSUS to the No. 1-rated cable network among Men 18-34 and No. 2-rated cable network in the country among Men 18-49 and Men 25-54. VERSUS was also the No. 1 rated cable network in several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.

 

AVERAGE VIEWERSHIP FOR ALL-STAR GAMES ON VERSUS SINCE 2007:

2011 1,481,000

2009 1,087,000

2008 852,000

2007 691,000

*No NHL All-Star Game in 2010 due to Vancouver Olympic Winter Games

 

The Honda NHL SuperSkills® competition on Saturday night averaged 1,183,000 viewers on VERSUS, making it the most watched SuperSkills competition on cable since 2003 (1,127,000 viewers on ESPN). VERSUS saw significant gains in ratings and viewership over the 2009 SuperSkills competition. Average viewership increased 35 percent (1,183,000 vs. 875,000), while HH ratings jumped 43 percent (1.0 HH rating vs. 0.7 HH rating). The telecast also made VERSUS the No. 2-rated cable network in the country among Men 18-49.

 

Overall, the SuperSkills on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday combined to average 1,340,000 million viewers, up 35 percent from the combined average in 2009 (993,000 viewers) and a whopping 81-percent increase from the combined average in 2008 (740,000 viewers), marking the best All-Star Weekend in the network’s history.

 

The debut of the NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft on Friday night was also a success with fans as the telecast averaged 624,000 viewers, up 107 percent from the 2010/11 NHL regular-season average on VERSUS (302,000 viewers).

 

NHL ALL-STAR WEEKEND ON VERSUS A “CROSS-CHANNEL” PRIORITY FOR NEW NBCUNIVERSAL: The NHL All-Star Game on VERSUS was selected as the very first “cross-channel priority” for the new NBCUniversal. A “cross-channel priority” is a program or initiative that has been identified by John Miller, chairman of the NBCUniversal Marketing Council and head of The NBC Sports Agency, to receive broad promotion across NBCUniversal’s numerous platforms. It’s a process that NBCUniversal has employed for years for big events such as the Olympics, NFL Kickoff, movie premieres (i.e. Despicable Me), and the launch of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Theme Park in Orlando. With NBCUniversal now including Comcast’s media assets as well, the cross-promotional capabilities are larger than ever. The new NBCUniversal has 20 channels and more than 40 websites to use to promote its “cross-channel priorities.”

 

VERSUS, part of the NBC Sports Group, prides itself on super-serving passionate sports fans across all platforms (VERSUS.com, VERSUS on Demand and VERSUS HD). Now in more than 75 million homes, the network is the cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), IZOD IndyCar Series, Tour de France and Professional Bull Riders (PBR). VERSUS also airs NASCAR, NBA, UFC, college football and college basketball programming. The network is home to the best outdoor programming on television and airs original programs not available anywhere else, including The T.Ocho Show. VERSUS is distributed via cable systems and satellite operators throughout the United States.

 

EXCLUSIVE: VERSUS to Air the 2011 World Hockey Championships

Were a little sketchy on the details and games that will be shown, but this is pretty big news. A VERSUS network spokesman confirmed to Puck the Media that the network will be airing select games from the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championships, held this year in Slovakia, from April 29 – May 15.

The network has no schedule set as of now, but one would have to think a primary focus will be Team USA, which will feature many NHL players who are not participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which VERSUS will also be covering wall-to-wall during these two weeks, which tend to coincide with the Conference Semi-Finals. The participation of NHL players has been a lightning rod for controversy recently. However, don’t expect there to be any conflicts with any potential Stanley Cup games that would air on VERSUS, as the tournament is held in Slovakia, which has a seven-hour time difference with the east coast of the US.

The United States is competing in Group C, with Sweden, Norway, and Austria. Their games are as scheduled (All times ET):

  • Sunday, April 30 – vs. Austria, 9:15 AM
  • Tuesday, May 2 – vs. Norway, 9:15 AM
  • Thursday, May 4 – vs. Sweden, 1:15 PM
  • The Gold Medal Game takes place on Sunday, May 15 and would be at 1:30 PM ET.

In the past couple of years, the World Championships have bounced around between NHL Network and Universal Sports. There’s a chance the latter may still be involved with the tournament. In fact, it’s entirely possible the agreement to get games on VERSUS is a product of the NBC/Comcast merger, as NBC of course maintains ownership of Universal Sports. Regardless, it’s a solid coup for VERSUS, as they continually mark their territory as the home for important hockey, both in the NHL and abroad.

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