SBD/Issue 17/NHL Season Preview

NHL Center Ice Online Package Off To Rough Start

The NHL's new online version of its Center Ice out-of-market package streamed two regular-season games last night, and while the video ran smoothly, many of the program's features did not function as intended. The package, which is priced at the same $169 ($149 before October 9) as the TV version, offers the ability to watch four games at once, a fantasy stats tracker and access to game highlights and video archives. A free preview of Center Ice is being offered through October 9 both on TV and online.  Last night, however, the Canadiens–Hurricanes game remained unavailable online long after the puck dropped on the TV package.  After closing and opening the screen several times, the picture finally appeared with about 12 minutes left in the first period. Game stats did not appear until the end of the first period, and even then the stats were only for the Hurricanes; fantasy stats did not appear at all. The online feed was also about 50 seconds behind the French-language RDS telecast on the TV package. The Senators-Maple Leafs online feed began promptly, but was about 35 seconds behind the TSN telecast on the TV package. The game stats tab was operational during the game and updated about every two minutes. The Ducks-Red Wings and Stars-Avalanche games were both blacked out online and on the TV package because Versus televised those games nationally.  At the end of both the Canadiens-Hurricanes and Senators-Maple Leafs games, the TV package signed off shortly after time expired, but the online versions streamed post-game coverage. In the case of the Senators-Maple Leafs, the online version aired the first ten minutes of TSN’s "SportsCentre."

Online Version Allows Users To
Watch Several NHL Games At Once
VIDEO QUALITY: While a new NHL ad touts the availability of more HD games on the TV package, the online version suffers from the same issue that hampers standard definition TV coverage -- it is difficult to follow the puck, particularly on slap shots or long passes. When viewing multiple games at once on the program's mosaic mode, this observer found the screens to be too small to follow the action and that the full-screen mode makes the picture much grainier than in normal view. Expanding the screen size also causes a hesitation in the video, causing users to miss some of the action. NHL Interactive CyberEnterprises President Keith Ritter said while the bandwidth on the site is currently not sufficient to stream games in HD, he hopes the league will be able to try it at some point during the season. The online package is part of the league's emphasis on technology and new media, and Ritter said it offers fans the convenience of accessing games on a computer anywhere and features such as the mosaic mode that are unavailable on the TV package. "The Center Ice TV product is a very strong, well-accepted product in the marketplace and we wanted to make sure we didn't do anything to undercut that product," Ritter said. "We felt the value in what we're offering is you're seeing the game you wouldn't ordinarily have access to, so that doesn't change whether it's online or on TV."

MAKING PROGRESS: The new online package debuted during the preseason and the NHL, along with partner NeuLion, has worked to root out many of the issues before the season started and said that they will continue to make improvements. "When this thing started a couple of weeks ago I wouldn't even have called it beta, it was alpha," Ritter said. "We were just trying to see if we could make things like the mosaic work at once." He noted, "The volume of complaints from day one to day seven went from about 100 to 2."

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