What Do You Do Without Versus?

You can check me off as a complainer, a hockey TV complainer.

Plenty of people have options to fit their TV viewing habits.  We have all heard the complaints about who get’s Versus, who doesn’t have the NHL Network, and who has to wear an aluminum hat just to get a hockey game.  I don’t really fit any of those categories (except the tin hat, but that is a fashion statement).

My issue is that I am rarely in control of my television “situation.” I travel for a living, all around the nation, and the variety of viewing scenarios can get pretty ridiculous.  I would say, they are usually imposed on me.  For instance:

For the next day or two, I am in Oklahoma City.  The apartment here does not have Versus.  It does have good internet, so if the Bruins game that will be joined in progress is available on NHL Gamecenter, I can watch that from “home.” Otherwise, it’s off to a bar in downtown OKC (aka Bricktown) were I will be the only hockey fan around. Oh joy, the hordes of people who would rather watch NBA playoffs, poker, or anything else.

A few weeks back, I was in East Lansing.  My hotel seemed to have Versus until right before we got there, but had since changed to the Big Ten Network (what a trade off). If I disconnected the cable and plugged in my TV Tuner, I could get the CBC (but not on the TV provided by the hotel, go figure).  Versus was available elsewhere, but the CBC on my 13″ Macbook did the trick. Gamecenter was useless, thanks to internet that was slower than Blair Betts getting up from a Brashear check (ZING!). Oh, yeah, five weeks of this.  Whoo-hoo!

In Tempe, AZ, we had the NHL Network.  When it first came out, I looked at their schedule and lambasted the station.  Now, I miss it like it was my first puppy dog. We also had FSN Arizona with it’s spotty broadcast schedule.

The past year has been nothing but frustration with broadcast hockey.  In a few days, I’m headed to Denver for three weeks, where I will have crappy internet, probably horrible cable, but a Czech hockey bar accessible from the light rail.  As great as they are, I still have to go somewhere and pay for other services to watch hockey.

So what does all this mean?  Where am I going?  Am I just using this as a forum to bitch?  Well, yes and no.

With all the complaints being leveled at Versus for not having their collective backsides in order to be showing us the maximum amount of hockey available, we should feel lucky we even have a national provider.  But if that national provider is not able to get hockey into the homes, there should be less restrictions on who is blacked out and who is not.

I still don’t understand how teams can blackout local areas from watching hockey online, especially when the product offered (gamecenter) is a paid for service.  What is the difference from watching the commercials on my computer and watching the commercials on a television?  All a blackout does is make me watch a game other than the one I wanted to.  I’m sure the cable companies are happy to keep blackout practices in place, but as those restrictions have been lifted in some areas, we all get a taste of what can be, and we want more.

If this sounds like a call for the NHL to jump back to ESPN, it isn’t.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more coverage on a national scale, and ESPN is the ready made choice.  But I would rather Versus and the NHL work together to get better deals for distribution on more basic cable packages.

We are living in a world of new media, where the internet is an emerging content delivery system, but I still have to hunt, beg, borrow and steal just to watch a sport that is desperate for attention?  Something isn’t right. If I can have so many great free options for hockey content, from blogs to podcasts, live internet “radio” to real time scores, why do I have to be restricted so heavily by services that I pay for?

And if the question comes up, which would I rather do, watch a game on the computer or on the TV, the TV wins every time.  Some of us don’t have the option.

What are your horror stories? Mine include not having Versus at my apartment in Tampa last year during the playoffs, and having to go to the hockey bar (Hattricks), when they were actually open, to see any hockey.  How about you?

Update: I have no idea who said it, but one of the announcers on NESN during the Bruins broadcast mentioned that the next Bruins game would be on Versus, and told those who did not get Versus to “Write Gary Bettman” about it. Which made me laugh, because I can not remember the last time Bettman listened to the fans.  He even has a radio show specifically designed to take calls from the fans and tell them that he thinks differently from them.  What a league.

Podcasting: The New New Media

Hockey blogs are everywhere these days.  The structure of the hockey blogosphere is coming into focus as a pyramid, with the big four at the top of the pile, trickling down into the base of the rest of us.  Along the way, as the pyramid widens, the field spreads out, and things open up a little. I could go further into links being like sacrifices cast down to the waiting masses, but I think the analogy is breaking down already.

Not so (yet) with podcasting.

Podcasting shouldn’t be a foreign object for those of you who read this blog.  You are all media junkies, right?  For the uninitiated, podcasting is like radio or tv on a hard drive, or over the internet.  A person records an audio or video podcast, puts it online, and the world if free to download it and watch.  They come in all shapes and sizes, and all sorts of styles.  The difference (to me, at least) between just putting some media online and podcasting is that podcasting requires frequency.  It has to be done often enough to warrant return visits, or be a limited series.  Most podcasts can be downloaded, but some are initially done as live streams.

The history of podcasting is shorter than the history of blogging, and hasn’t established itself as a hardcore medium yet, partially due to some misconceptions.  Such as, you do not need an iPod to listen to a podcast.  Almost anyone with a computer hooked to the internet can download and listen.  Here is a page I made explaining the basics of podcasts.  There’s even some funny stuff there.

The issue for me with podcasts is that a culture does not exist in the audience yet of regularly downloading and listening to podcasts.  The first thing I do in the morning after grabbing my coffee is open up the laptop and see what blogs my feedreader has updated.  It’s easy, it’s right there, and it’s ready for me.  The key word there is yet, since habits are easy to form when you want something.  How long ago was it that the RSS feed was completely off the radar?

Listening to a podcast can also be a bit of a commitment.  I try to keep my podcast short, around half an hour without bogging down too far into a topic that we make people want to tune out.  Some podcasts border on 2 hours long, while some can be as short as two minutes.  Sifting around for the shows that fit your lifestyle should be half the fun.

Podcasting is going to be more and more important to the hockey world at large.  As more and more people buy portable mp3 players (you may not need one to listen, but it makes life easier), they are going to be looking for more content to fill them, and people who don’t care to subscribe to a satellite radio service or have a commute involving public transit have hit the jackpot of free content (did I mention that most podcasts are free?).

To me, podcasting is to blogging what blogging is to writing.  It’s the next step in the mainstream acceptance of online media.  And before you laugh at that last sentence, take a moment to think about where we are now in online media acceptance, thanks to the top of the pyramid.

From the polished to the slack, there are all sorts of podcasts to fill your needs and time.  A brief look around the Podosphere (did I just coin a term?):

Puck Podcast – Excellent show from the west coast.  Plenty of guests to keep you informed.

The Blueline – A monologue worth listening to.  Smart hockey talk every week.

The Crazy Canucks – You saw them on the bus ads, now listen to what they have to say.  Good roundtable style podcast.

The Program – Chris Wassel (who will be contributing here this week as well) hosts.  Call in live to join the party.

Kings World – 2 LA Kings bloggers doing it weekly.

Face Off Hockey Show – Live on Wednesday nights.

Avs Hockey Podcast – The name says it all.

Of course, I have to plug The Rink, a podcast I do with Tom Luongo.  More like a radio show, once a week, (twice when possible), Tom and I talk hockey and not much else.  As often as possible, Tom and I get guests from around the hockey blogosphere to join us.  And hey, if you are a blogger, and interested in joining us for a chat, drop us a line from the site.

There are a lot more hockey podcasts out there.  Fire up google or itunes and start looking around.  Some teams have “official” podcasts, but most of the podcasts out there are like the blogosphere: independent.  If one podcast doesn’t suit your tastes, check out the next one.  They vary not only in size and style, but also sound quality.  You may find something that you want to keep tabs with. You could plug in your iPod at night before bed, and wake up with new content every morning if you wanted.

Remember, you don’t have to be excluded from solid hockey talk just because you don’t fit into the local radio schedule, or have satellite radio.  In this economy, free doesn’t suck.

Viva la Podolution!!!

Thus ends my stint here as a fill in contributor. Thanks for putting up with me.  I doubt Steve will make the same mistake again, but I have to say that I enjoyed myself.  I had been wanting to do a liveblog covering the Versus coverage for some time now, and this was a great way to do it.  It never seemed appropriate for my blog.

Steve is in tonight with a liveblog of the Versus Islanders vs. Flyers broadcast. Stick around.

Liveblog!!! Madness! Covering Versus Coverage

Be here tonight, at 7:27 PM, as I kick off the Versus broadcast of the Buffalo Sabres vs the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Web 1.0 liveblogging in effect, as we count the commercials, make fun of Brian Engblom, and live the Versus Crosby media explosion.  Comments will be open.

7:27 PM (all times Eastern):  Welcome aboard. Spelling be damned, it’s time to liveblog.  Thanks for stopping by.  And hey, thanks for watching hockey.  You have other options, but they aren’t worth your time.  You know,  like Monday Night Football (which isn’t worth it), or a rerun of Lost (which I don’t understand).  Or even The Santa Clause 2.

Nope,we are switching on Versus, just in time to see a baseball player hit in the junk with a pitch.  Yep, this is going to be a good night.  Live from Indianapolis, this is a PtM guest liveblog.  Quake in your boots.

7:29 PM: The Contender?  Wans’t that on ESPN4?

7:31: Darren Eliot and John Forslund on tap tonight.  Not the Joey B. show, but still, should be decent.  If they can stay on topic.

7:33: First commercial break , and I’m already sick of bad rock music.  Between Versus and the Marines, this should be a loud night.

7:35:  And Versus reminds me that Joe Sakic will be out for the Red Wings/Avs game next Monday.  At Hockey Central, we get Eddie O along with the Monkey (Kieth Jones), the Hair (Brian Engblom), and the Stiff (Bill Patrick).  Eddie isn’t shouting, and therefor, will not get a word in edgewise.  Why do sportcasters shout at us?  ESPN is the worst, but htey crank the music under the highlights so loud, they have to.

7:38: Verizon commercial.  I used to work with that guy.  Really, like several months ago.

7:40: For being zoomed out this far, the camera sure is jerky.  High angle, but someone needs to have a talk with that guy.

In an effort to save Steve the screen real estate, click below to see the rest of the liveblog.

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Subsidizing the Papers: Bad Call

Poor Steve, he has no idea what he has gotten himself into.

Hello from the field.  For those of you that don’t know me, I’m James “Tapeleg” Gralian.  I run a little blog called Jerseys and Hockey Love, and have a podcast called The Rink.  I was going to kick this guest hosting thing off by telling you the real reason Steve had to be away, but then I saw the other, more classy talent he picked to guest host, and I thought better (Steve, your secret is safe…).

First off, be here tonight for an old school live blog (none of this interweb 2.0 stuff for me, folks) of tonight’s game on Versus.  I won’t be covering the game so much as covering how Versus broadcasts the game.  Commercial counts, analysing the analysis, and Brian Engblom’s hair: in or out.  Tomorrow, Steve is going to be liveblogging the Islanders vs. Flyers game.  I’m sure he will be much more interesting then I am.

But this is what I want to talk about now.  Paul at Kukla’s Korner turned me on to a post by Chris Botta at NYI Point Blank.  Here’s the hook:

According to Long Island Business News, Newsday will eliminate the category of “sports columnist,”  potentially affecting mainstays such as Shaun Powell and Johnette Howard. Shaun, for one, has been a major proponent of the Lighthouse Project in the newspaper. The photo desk is expected to take a major hit, with 13 photographers likely to lose their jobs.

According to Newsday, the travel budget is expected to be cut.

I understand there are far greater issues here, but I recommend that Newsday and the Islanders broker an appropriate travel arrangement that’s beneficial for the newspaper and maintains the coverage of the team. Just as the Islanders travel with their radio and TV broadcasters on the private team charter, beat writer Greg Logan and any other assigned Newsday writers should fly with the team to and from games. (Needless to say, the Post and Daily News should be welcomed, too).

Compelling, right?  Nobody wants to see people lose their jobs, especially in this economy, when writing gigs can’t be easy to come by.  Hell, I don’t want to see people lose their jobs.

But this is a horrible suggestion, from many angles.

First, any team that pays for it’s media talent just bought the press.  Television and radio hosts are often employees of the team.  In Denver, the team’s owner also owns the cable station that the games are broadcast on.  And in that case, they can put anyone they want on there, and get away with it just fine.  There are no illusions as to who is running the show.  Also in Denver, there is one newspaper are two newspapers run by the same company.  Things are so “integrated” (ie: non-competitive) that one paper is published on Saturday and one paper is published on Sunday.  I couldn’t even make that up.  So much for independent media.  Now, would you take an entity like that and feed it money from a covered subject?  Me neither.  If a politician fed money to the New York Times, they would be burned at the stake. Every time I think about this, I think of the financial ratings agencies paid by the big financial houses to rate the investments that knocked the economy down a few pegs. That worked out well, eh?  Or better yet, anyone see a good side to ESPN infusing newspapers and newspaper people with cash for “Around the Horn?”

Second, who are we talking about here?  We are talking about sport columnists.  The most critical thing a sports columnist does is be critical of a team, while maintaining access to that team.  Minus the access, that’s basically the blogosphere.  The sports columnist’s job is going away anyways, since we now have ten sports columnists per team online, and even though they do not have access, there isn’t enough of a difference in quality to warrant what is basically newspaper welfare.  Sorry, this doesn’t get me riled up.

Third, do we really need the media on the plane with the team?  We have the media in the stands, in the dressing rooms, at the practices.  What else do we need?  The airplane is a place the players should be allowed to be away from the media for a little bit.  What happens if there is an interpersonal incident at the flight?  Do you ask a beat writer to leave that out?  Are the flights off the record?  Should the flights be on the record?  Does a hockey player need to have a record every moment of every day?

When you subsidize a columnist, you compromise his objectivity.  When you subsidize a beat writer, you compromise his integrity.  And even if the person is a true professional, the ink on the checks come from the team, one way or another.  It still looks bad, and perception is enough to make it reality in this case.

This is Mr. Botta’s second to last paragraph:

NHL teams can laugh, pooh-pooh the idea, have a screw-the-media attitude, declare the-team-is-the-team nonsense (yeah, like those Dallas guys who anonymously ripped Avery)…and, well, in a few years they can be nostalgic about the days when newspapers used to cover hockey games on the road.

Or, they can have a thoughtful discussion about why this is a bad idea.  And his closer:

I’m real sorry for what’s going on at Newsday. Let’s hope everything possible is done before anyone else gets hurt.

I hope so too.  But hey, I like nostalgia.