Visually speaking, the upcoming 2020 NHL playoffs will likely look very much the same. There will be more cameras than for a regular-season game, but that’s typically true for the playoffs. There will also be new camera locations in areas once occupied by fans in the stands, but for the most part, it will be status quo as far as the look of the game itself. The biggest unknown will be the sound for the broadcasts.
“Every week we meet and discuss what we think we should do, how can we do it. And what’s been nice is there have been real life examples of how to do it,” said Robb Corte, Sportsnet’s vice-president of NHL production. “And so every Wednesday, when we meet, we get all the feedback as to what worked, what didn’t work, which has been extremely helpful.”
According to Corte, play-by-play and color will be doing so remotely, and direct access to players for interviews simply isn’t going to happen.
“Right now, access to players is not happening,” Corte said. “So those positions don’t really make sense in the current environment. Our preference is to have play-by-play and colour at the venue. But where we sit now based on safety issues and number of people allowed in the venue, the answer’s no.”
However, the absence of fans in the building will also provide opportunities for sounds that aren’t typically available.
“One thing that’s going to be more prominent are the sounds of the game: skates, bodychecks, pucks hitting posts, things like that. That you’ll see obviously augmented. Without crowd noise there, you’re able to hear that a little bit more.”
And yes, you’re right. That could be dangerous.
“There’s obviously the danger that some colourful language will come out,” Corte said. “So that’s a tricky one. And that’s one that will require many, many levels of approval. As a broadcaster, we’re obviously concerned about bad language being on the air. There’s obviously a concern from the league and the NHL Players’ Association as well.”
As far as simulated sounds, Corte says that can be jarring for viewers staring at empty seats, but “it does provide an additional soundtrack to the game. That one is being worked on pretty heavily.
Visually, we will see far fewer team-specific camera angles.
“It’s going to be an Olympic-style broadcast, meaning it’s a heavily resourced broadcast with multiple cameras that will be available to all the rightsholders,” Corte said. “The feed will be what we call neutral broadcast, meaning that when a play happens all the coverage will be around everybody involved in the play.
“So the difference is, if you’re watching, say an Edmonton Oilers broadcast, you tend to skew to the Oilers. You might use more shots of the Oilers players involved in the play. And when you’re doing a neutral broadcast, you show everybody involved because it has to be applicable and the coverage can’t be biased.”
In a ‘big picture’ sense, we could get a unique view or two of the game, but for the most part, the overall look and feel of the visual aspects of the game will be very much the same. Sound is the wildcard, and from various reports, planning is still being hammered out.
The playoffs begin four weeks from tomorrow (Saturday).
By Jon Sorensen