Since launching in 2007 in the United States, the NHL Network has lagged behind in distribution and viewership as compared to its three other league-owned channels. NFL Network originally had difficulty gaining distribution, but now is carried by all of the major cable and satellite providers. MLB Network had the biggest launch for a new channel getting agreements by bundling with its MLB Extra Inings out of market pay per view package. And NBA TV has been able to get a tie-in through Turner Sports and the NBA League Pass package.
For NHL Network, it's been a constant struggle. When it launched in the US, the NHL signed long-term contracts with cable and satellite providers allowing them to place NHLN on sports tiers which hurt growth. According to Sports Business Journal, negotiations with Time Warner Cable are expected to bring NHLN to digital basic putting on an equal footing with its three league-owned brothers. However, that is just one of several major hurdles for the network.
In addition, Sports Business Journal says league partner NBC Sports Network has picked up more live games and shoulder programming than anticipated. And when NBCSN airs live games, NHL Network goes into taped programming which again hurts ratings points.
Since a relaunch in 2010, the channel has improved its production values and increased original programming (NHL Live, NHL Tonight). The network has also hired additional on-air talent and all of this has helped to raise the channel's profile among hardcore fans, but it still has yet to translate into increased viewership.
Also during the lockout, unlike NFL Network and NBA TV which covered their league disputes, NHL Network remained silent and stayed in taped programming until a week before the truncated 2013 season began.
For NHL Network, there's a lot of room for improvement. While it has come out of the dark ages and its studios no longer look as if they're originating from broom closets, the taped programming needs updating. Airing more live games will help and it would behoove the network to carry the entire CBC Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader instead of just one game.
Now that the league is in its offseason, live programming is taking the summer off. This hurts the network compared to its brothers as MLB, NFL and NBA all manage to fill their schedules with live studio programming and original documentaries, features that have been sorely lacking on NHL Network. If the league wants to keep its fans updated, NHL Tonight should be on 52 weeks a year instead of 44.
Plus league officials need to get the channel off the dreaded cable and satellite sports tiers otherwise viewership will remain low. The NHL sees better days ahead with a full season and long-term labor peace it expects to see more eyeballs for its outdoor games in January and March, but again, those contests will be carried on its other broadcast partners.
So NHL Network remains last among its league-owned brethren. It has a long road ahead to catch up. And right now, the other three channels are hundreds of miles ahead.
Well I can get the nhl network on my cable company BUT I have to pay extra for it. Sorry when I can get MLB NFL NBA networks free I am not going to pay extra for the nhl network.
NHL On The Fly with the broadcast highlights were awesome, and separated NHLNet from the others. I'm not sold on theWeekes/Tappen/Johnson combination either. I know those guys do a fair amount of work on HNIC/TSN, but I am not impressed with them either watching them on the Center Ice Package.
They do really need to pick up both games of the HNIC doubleheader as well, that's just a piss poor job - work it out with DirecTV or whatever you need to do.
The original programming, and the lack of it, is lame as well. There is about a million games they can show from minor - AHL/ECHL to pro, as well as college and junior levels as well but they won't make the commitment. Like their "partner" NBCSN, the lack of a journalist or insider really hurts and their is hardly any good substance to the highlight shows or whatever that call in/radio show is they do. Hradek is ok, but does not really add much. The Arena cam, or whatever it is from the scoreboard, that sucks too - its ok to interview a guy in a hallway.
I think it all boils down to the commitment from the league itself, which it is lacking and the league should be embarrassed.
I just wanted to add one more thing. The most disappointing day in NHL Network history had to be the morning the lockout ended. I was so excited there was going to be a season that I wanted to celebrate. I must have flipped on NHL Network dozens of times that day and all they were showing was reruns. All it would have taken is one person to flip a switch to TSN and they could have live all day coverage of their own sport about to start again.
Well written article. I agree with many points including carrying both games of Hockey Night In Canada. The network went downhill for me starting with the move of NHL Live from noon to 5 p.m. It used to be a cool little show with Don LaGreca & E.J. Hradek in a time slot when there was no live programming on the other sports channels. Now I forget to watch it plus they hardly even take calls anymore. NHL Tonight went downhill, too, with staff changes as mentioned above and now they talk over the highlights too much instead of broadcasting the exciting game calls. When they show game replays, it is often the same NBCSN feed as the night before instead of making it more interesting with a local or Canadian feed. And while getting NHL playoff games is a plus, they should actually have access to more since putting games on CNBC makes no sense at all. The good news is from what I hear NHL Network Canada is much worse since they rarely get live games because of all the coverage on other networks up there.
I've been watching NHL Network since it was picked up by Comcast in September 2007. The network still has a lot of growing up to do. The one thing I loved about what was then titled NHL On the Fly: Final (now NHL Tonight) was that the host of the show (usually in those days, Dan Pollard, Todd Lewis, Brian Duff, or, very rarely, Jim Van Horne) would allow the viewers to see the highlights of each game with the actual commentary from the network they got the highlights from, then, after the highlights finished, they brought up the stats page, and then, the on-set analyst would break down the important plays of that game, and then, they'd move on to the next game. Now, it's the typical ESPN formula of host gives commentary of each highlights, with analyst immediately breaking said play down. Kathryn Tappen ends up getting way behind in this manner. I'm not really sold on Tappen, either. Her questions during those Cisco NHL ArenaCam interviews aren't well structured. For someone who's supposed to be the face of the network, at least, as someone who didn't play they respective sport they are covering, Tappen is no Eisen/Winer/Vasgersian. I don't deny her being a fan of the sport, since she's covered hockey before the NHL Network, but she needs a lot of improvement in some spots. I miss David Amber, as well as those mentioned above, Duff especially. I also hate that they dumped awesome shows like Classic Series. Now, during the offseason, it's just NHL 36 reruns, and rerunning every single game from the most recent playoffs 40 million times. The network's slogan is, "Where the NHL gets hockey." Then, make a damn commitment to the sport 24/7/365. I love the integration with TSN. That needs to continue all year-round, especially in the two months where there is no NHL hockey being played. And, I, too, want both HNIC games EVERY SATURDAY, not just every now and then. Hell, when HNIC does the occasional tripleheader, give us all three.
Surprised about the NHL Hall of Fame wasnt on NHL Network. I don't want to bash hockey but hockey is a tough draw. I think as far as drawing and popularity goes its NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.
I've also heard from some people that NBATV isn't really that great. I think that the NHL should have original programming like documentaries. The NHL has a long, great history that they should capitalize on.
Funny. I seem to recall the NHL airing a bunch of Canadian Minor League Hockey matches during the strike, so saying they aired continual reruns is way out of bounds.
NFL Networks real problem was the fact that cable outlets like mine Comcast in Chicago wanted them a part of their Sports Package! Kind of difficult imo if not offering Sunday Ticket which as we all know is exclusive to Direct TV!
The NHL Network has allowed itself to become a parody of what it thinks a 24 hour sports network should be. It has a new set- even though it's so bright it can cause seizures and shows no highlights in the background even though it has pretend HD TV's everywhere. It has the perky blond host- even though I believe Kathryn Tappen knows hockey she will never get a chance to prove it because the NHL Tonight has no set pace. It's like a game of hot potato and she can't wait to toss the damn thing to someone else. Then they even went so far as to hire a bunch of new faces just to spruce the place up a bit- The problem with that is now no one gets to stand out and become known as 'That guy or gal from the NHL Network". They are all "hey didn't you used to play for some team and get released or fired?"
Having stated all of the aforementioned obvious to everyone problems, it is what happened today that goes to prove my theory that this network, if you can it that, will never make it without a complete change of philosophy. Earlier the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2013 was announced everywhere except on the NHL Network. I tuned in at announcement time and saw nothing. I read the scroll, still nothing. Yet when I opened up Twitter there it was all over my page from every hockey scribe I follow. A few minutes later the "announcement" was made, on the scroll, at the bottom of the page, of the network that is made exclusively for the NHL.
Maybe not having any live programming on for a couple of months is a good thing. I liken it to that bad breakup we've all had with someone we thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives with only to find out that they just weren't that into you. You still want to know how they're doing, but maybe it's best for everybody if you start seeing someone else as soon as possible. Then after that breakup you can call and ask your ex out for a drink. Besides, does anyone really care what happened in 2006 anyway? They don't even show any of the great games in NHL history...
Not only that but their documentaries suck big time. NFL network brings you shows like Top 10, America's Game, and other great NFL Films programming. MLB has Prime 9 and MLB Countdown as well as good original programming like when they do their top 20 baseball games of all time. NBA tv has Open Court and great player docs with great production value. The NHL network's docs and original programming looks like something from the 60s.
NHLN choice to be 1080i a huge error in planning. While hockey can overcome the challenges of being a horizontally-broadcast sport in an interlaced format when aired on generally high-bandwidth NBC local affiliates, it suffers greatly when aired that way on a lower-bandwidth cable net. Throw in that most regional sports nets actually originating the coverage are 720p and you have one terrible-looking sports network.
NBATV has the same issues, though crisp images are less important when the ball is so much larger than a puck. MLBN got it right; they're 720p.