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Thread: Figure Skating Broadcasting

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    Figure Skating Broadcasting

    [DISCLAIMER: I am American and I am only familiar with how figure skating was/is presented in the US. I'm not sure how it worked/works in other countries. Any info on international broadcasts would be fascinating.]

    Back in the glory days of ABC/ESPN coverage, there were SO many fluff pieces about the skaters' personal lives, struggles, successes, training, etc. As I got older, they were kind of annoying, but ever since NBC took over, I've really missed them. I felt like I "knew" the skaters back then through the fluff pieces. We can have a whole other discussion about whether they were overdramatic, framed accurately, etc, but my point is that they made the skaters seem more real to casual viewers. Now, it's like, just show the skating and NOTHING else. It's highly unlikely that any casual viewers can even name the skaters after the competition. The coverage just feels SO rushed nowadays, so impersonal. There was a certain intimacy about ABC/ESPN coverage that is completely missing from NBC.

    Something else I've been wondering about for a while is why every network showing the GP uses the ISU feed now. ABC/ESPN had their own crew, with a director, producer and who knows who else. Terry Gannon would always thank them by name at the end of the broadcast. On NBC, it seems like there's no crew, just commentators. Are broadcasters "required" to show the ISU feed now? Is it a rights issue? Sometimes the ISU's choice of camera angles is just strange. (Example: the overhead shot right at the beginning of Chan's GPF LP ) IIRC, Olympic broadcast camera angles are left up to the individual networks involved. Correct me if I'm wrong.

    So, what changes need to be made to make figure skating broadcasts more watchable for the casual viewer? My suggestions would be (1) bringing back fluff pieces, (2) explaining IJS better, (3) using NO overhead shots, and (4) showing more skaters (if you see the earlier groups, you get a much better sense of how good the top tier skaters really are). I know this is all wishful thinking, but we can dream, right?

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    I will agree about the "no overhead" shots - they were distracting and didn't show the spin to its best advantage, However, given the limited time of the broadcasts I would rather see more skaters than fluff pieces. (I also would not want to have to sit through Dick Button and Peggy Fleming ever again.) If you've watched any of the Johnny/Tanith/Tara broadcasts they DO explain the IJS - or at least Johnny and Tanith do. They've been very thorough in their explanation of why a skater would gain or lose points on spins, jumps and the dance steps......and in the case of losing points, have explained what they could have done to keep the points. I've found it very educational.

    I do wish our coverage was better in the US. But until the hours allotted are increased, I don't see anything much changing. My next gripe will be the Olympic coverage that is always so disjointed and usually the last skater in the competition is shown right before they go off the air for the evening. So you're stuck in front of the TV watching events you're not interested in as they parse out the skating competition throughout the evening.

    But - it all comes down to lack of coverage which has probaby engendered lack of interest which has then come full circle on lack of coverage.

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    Quote Originally Posted by noskates View Post
    I will agree about the "no overhead" shots - they were distracting and didn't show the spin to its best advantage, However, given the limited time of the broadcasts I would rather see more skaters than fluff pieces. (I also would not want to have to sit through Dick Button and Peggy Fleming ever again.) If you've watched any of the Johnny/Tanith/Tara broadcasts they DO explain the IJS - or at least Johnny and Tanith do. They've been very thorough in their explanation of why a skater would gain or lose points on spins, jumps and the dance steps......and in the case of losing points, have explained what they could have done to keep the points. I've found it very educational.

    I do wish our coverage was better in the US. But until the hours allotted are increased, I don't see anything much changing. My next gripe will be the Olympic coverage that is always so disjointed and usually the last skater in the competition is shown right before they go off the air for the evening. So you're stuck in front of the TV watching events you're not interested in as they parse out the skating competition throughout the evening.

    But - it all comes down to lack of coverage which has probaby engendered lack of interest which has then come full circle on lack of coverage.
    As we've both written on other threads, Johnny and Tanith are the best things to happen to figure skating broadcasting in a while (I wish Universal Sports wasn't subscription-based and so expensive, but oh well). It would be great to see more skaters (and I see your point about doing that instead of fluff pieces). It's true that it's all ultimately a time issue. The GPs go for an entire weekend and they have to broadcast them in less than two hours. Crazy, but that's how it is. Your last sentence is the sad truth.

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    News

    Breaking news for U.S. viewers:

    Castelli/Shnapir (!!) and Wagner are at the Today show this morning, per tweets from @USFigureSkating.

    Yes, NBC is giving air time to an American pair. May wonders never cease.


    (Tonight all three skaters are performing in NJ in Disson's "Tribute to American Legends" show, so they already are "in town," so to speak.)

    At approx. 8:45 am ET, Wagner will appear/perform live on Today.

    ETA, Castelli/Shnapir taped a performance to air on Today on Christmas Day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skatingfan4ever View Post
    So, what changes need to be made to make figure skating broadcasts more watchable for the casual viewer? My suggestions would be (1) bringing back fluff pieces, (2) explaining IJS better, (3) using NO overhead shots, and (4) showing more skaters (if you see the earlier groups, you get a much better sense of how good the top tier skaters really are). I know this is all wishing thinking, but we can dream, right?
    These are all excellent suggestions, and I would welcome them for the same reasons you gave.

    I would extend "no overhead shots" to add "no closeups during the program". Up to the start, fine. At the end of the program and beyond, fine. But during the program... NO! Time and again the directors switch to a closeup that... just doesn't work. We miss a skater's choreographed movements, in favour of their bootlaces. Or a momentary glimpse of their face as they whizz by.

    When will directors realise, skaters are performing constantly with every part of their bodies. So we need to see the whole skater. Even if a skater is "not doing anything interesting", we need to see that too, to understand how that may affect their overall performance scores compared to more "active" skaters.

    Also, choreography is aimed at the judges - it is not meant to be seen from above. Those overhead angles just don't look good, they suck.

    I get the feeling many directors are wet-behind-the-ears, fresh out of their "media studies" degrees, and still think that closeups and odd angles like overhead... are somehow "exciting" and "dynamic". They are probably the same directors who think that interviews, cooking programs, whatever... should be shot with shakey hand-held cams moving all the time, with such extreme close-ups that the camera sometimes can't even focus. It's not "dynamic". It's not "exciting". It's not "Down With the Kids". It's a rubbish gimmick that's been over-used to the point of irritation and inducing motion-sickness. Bah!

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    Just wanted to third the notion that Johnny has been a great commentator. If I can't have Boitano, Johnny is a close second when it comes to knowledgeable and thoughtful commentating. Can't comment on Tanith, as I haven;t seen her. Tara is not as bad as I would have expected and I have no problem with her.

    I would, of course, like to see more skaters, but I would also like to see more disciplines. Dance? Pairs? Hello? Some of us want to see good skating, not Americans skating.

    Given the time and other limitations, I would like to see an end to the "post game interview" and better use of that time. Once you see a performance, I think it's pretty easy to guess what the canned skater response will be. Those bits add nothing to the broadcast.

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    Geez, the close-up shots drive me crazy. They are at their worst at the start of a program, especially in ice dancing when the skaters usually do something to set the scene (well...you know what I mean). Do we get to see whatever move the skaters are doing? Heck no - the camera is usually practically up the nostrils of the better looking skater. I know that I can easily do without the sob story sections of fluff pieces that we have to see/hear over and over throughout the Olympics (the speed skater whose sad story carried him through 3 Olympics comes to mind). It's nice to learn a little bit about the athletes but broadcasters always seem to get carried away. I'd rather see more skaters, less fluff.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skatingfan4ever View Post
    [DISCLAIMER: I am American and I am only familiar with how figure skating was/is presented in the US. I'm not sure how it worked/works in other countries. Any info on international broadcasts would be fascinating.]

    Back in the glory days of ABC/ESPN coverage, there were SO many fluff pieces about the skaters' personal lives, struggles, successes, training, etc. As I got older, they were kind of annoying, but ever since NBC took over, I've really missed them. I felt like I "knew" the skaters back then through the fluff pieces. We can have a whole other discussion about whether they were overdramatic, framed accurately, etc, but my point is that they made the skaters seem more real to casual viewers. Now, it's like, just show the skating and NOTHING else. It's highly unlikely that any casual viewers can even name the skaters after the competition. The coverage just feels SO rushed nowadays, so impersonal. There was a certain intimacy about ABC/ESPN coverage that is completely missing from NBC. ....
    Not diminishing your point ... but a bit of good news is that the NBC Olympics website has some fluff videos.
    OTOH, the bad news is that the videos there are very poorly organized. I suppose the deliberate -- but maddening -- intention is to encourage browsing of the site and to rely on serendipity to bring content of interest to an individual viewer's attention. Some of the fluff videos feature a hodgepodge of athletes from a number of different sports, but seem to be categorized under only one sport. For example, a video under the heading of Alpine Skiing actually might include figure skaters and other non-skiers as well. The videos are not tagged with the names of the athletes who appear in them. And the videos are not dated. Very hard to tell which videos are newly posted and which are not-so-new.

    Quote Originally Posted by skatingfan4ever View Post
    ....Something else I've been wondering about for a while is why every network showing the GP uses the ISU feed now. ABC/ESPN had their own crew, with a director, producer and who knows who else. Terry Gannon would always thank them by name at the end of the broadcast. On NBC, it seems like there's no crew, just commentators. Are broadcasters "required" to show the ISU feed now? Is it a rights issue? ....
    My guess is that $$$ is one of the issues, and perhaps the overriding issue. I assume that a limited budget also is the reason that the NBC anchor and analysts do not travel to the GP events and that they are never shown on camera even in a studio setting. (I was otherwise occupied during the Skate America coverage, which I assume was an exception to my previous sentence.)

    Quote Originally Posted by noskates View Post
    ... I do wish our coverage was better in the US. But until the hours allotted are increased, I don't see anything much changing. My next gripe will be the Olympic coverage that is always so disjointed and usually the last skater in the competition is shown right before they go off the air for the evening. So you're stuck in front of the TV watching events you're not interested in as they parse out the skating competition throughout the evening.

    But - it all comes down to lack of coverage which has probaby engendered lack of interest which has then come full circle on lack of coverage.
    Again, don't mean to diminish the point here, but .. ironically, it is the popularity of figure skating (its relative popularity among casual viewers of Winter Olympic sports) that is the reason why the last skaters in the starting order are not shown until the end of Olympic primetime coverage. NBC naturally is trying to hang onto your eyeballs and everyone else's as long as possible. That's how the network pays its bills.

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    I don't know for certain why they are using the ISU feed, but it's probably a cost issue and NBC thinks the ISU feed is good enough. I think they'll have fluff pieces for the Olympics, but I think the reason they don't have them on NBC now is the producers believe people aren't interested. People like fluff pieces about champions / potential champions. Right now there is no American that's a lock for a medal. No American man is going to even probably come top 5 in Sochi and realistically the best Americans can hope for is maybe Wagner manages to hold off Lipnitskaia or Kostner for a Bronze (maybe Gracie is a wild card, but I doubt it). That storyline is just not terribly exciting to people.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RobinA View Post
    I would, of course, like to see more skaters, but I would also like to see more disciplines. Dance? Pairs? Hello? Some of us want to see good skating, not Americans skating.

    Given the time and other limitations, I would like to see an end to the "post game interview" and better use of that time. Once you see a performance, I think it's pretty easy to guess what the canned skater response will be. Those bits add nothing to the broadcast.
    ITA with both of these points!!!

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    As a one time sports broadcaster (though never fs), let me say:

    1. NBC for instance doesn't place enough emphasis on their coverage to make it any good. There is a certain amount of prep work needed for the audience, familiarity and consistency in coverage etc. that is needed to make a broadcast feel like a "must watch" event. Think about sporting events that are well received by the public...they are broadcast regularly, more or less at the same time, have pre game and post game shows, commentators that have staying power and over the years are either loved or hated or both...but they've got to have that voice and the instinct to know when to talk and when to shut up.

    Sporting events are a ritual for the public. Unfortunately here in the US, coverage is inconsistent and doesn't lend itself to mass appeal. From the bad or changing commentators to the things always being irregularly broadcast early on weekend mornings or afternoons, to no real prep work or story lines being weaved in...just feels like "this is niche audience programming only". NBC tries very hard to make figure skating comps feel like you are watching a random bowling or billiards match at 11 a.m or 12 noon on a Saturday. There is no gravitas to any of it at the present time, probably because the best ladies aren't American they just don't care.

    2. There needs to be more prime time programming and an effort to make it more of a spectacle. No significant demographic group is seriously watching anything they show on Friday or Saturday night, so I don't see why they can't just show major competitions live and in full in primetime. As a major Olympic sport on a channel that pretty much only broadcasts Olympic sports, you would think they could make a better effort to showcase what they've got.

    3. Another problem seems to be the commentating. Tom Hammond from recent years isn't an all time great or anything, but I thought he did a solid, professional job for his role. The new guy I've seen just a couple times and he's a little out of water so far. He will often say things that just make me think "why is he talking about that? Or going for that angle with those words?" I think he lacks a penchant for saying anything useful a lot of the time.

    Scott and Sandra...I actually thought Sandra did a good job when she didn't get too political, which sadly was too often. Her and Scott had a unique ability to make the entire competition seem like a fait accompli, often ridiculing the other competitors in the process. They also couldn't stop talking throughout programs and it could really lessen the artistic impact of performances. Instead of saying just the right thing at just the right moment to accentuate the broadcast, they would often just talk and talk and talk.

    Compare the NBC presentation to British Euro sports (the gold standard) and you'll see what I mean.

    4. Camera angles...I think there are times when close - ups are optimal, for instance when a skater briefly comes to a near stop in their program. I'm thinking of Yuna's Scheherezade at 09 world's at center ice, the camera cut to a closeup of her for just a moment and this was well received by me.

    But you are right, the closeups are no good when a skater is really moving and the overheads are no good except maybe during spins.

    The camera angles sometimes chosen are often not the best for the choreography either. If you compare broadcasts from the same program you will often see one that captures the right angles for the choreography and one that doesnt...This could be outright laziness on behalf of the production crew or simply a lack of talent, in either case it makes you question why they get to keep their job. Production work is tedious and often boring, but not especially difficult provided you are a hard worker and care about your job and have a good eye for that sort of thing.

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    I really hope they will have some fluff pieces from Sochi. I would particularly like to see Johnny chat with the skaters --and not just from the USA, but from around the world. He knows so many of them personally--in singles as well as in pairs and dance--and has a terrific rapport with a lot of them. Some of the funniest stuff from Artistry on Ice last summer was all the goofiness on and off the ice between the skaters--such as this epic photo: http://instagram.com/p/aVLg4fBhQI/
    Or this cute vine with Nathalie, PChan, Stephane, and Aliona: https://twitter.com/johnnygweir/stat...36224537403392

    With Johnny's personal connections with the skaters they could really have fun and give us more insight into the personalities of the skaters. That would help the general audience to connect better with the skaters when they take the ice.

    Just my two cents...

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    Figure skating broadcasting.

    Australia.

    Once every four years, with occasional highlights packages of Worlds, Euros, 4CCs and (oddly) US Nationals if you're lucky enough to afford pay TV. The once-every-four years is usually commentated by idiots, and presented poorly.

    Seriously. Why do you think we were jumping up and down with excitement over the livestream of Nationals?

    I loathe hearing people in the US et cetera whinging about their lack of coverage or blah blah blah. You actually get it. Be grateful.

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    It's the director who directs the cameras. Whichever network has the rights to the OWG (NBC in Sochi) is the network that provides the feed for all the other networks which have selective editing w/hand held cameras for other features such as interviews etc. I have been in the truck with the director who is not in the arena but directs the camera from her visuals inside the truck. The director usually goes to the final practices to block out certain highlight moves to direct which camera he/she wants to use for a particular shot.

    I doubt very much that British Eurosport was actually at most of the GP events and were watching the TV feed from their studios.

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    You may have been referring to someone else Konas, but my comment about British EuroSport being the gold standard was primarily about the announcers themselves. I don't know how they produce their telecasts but I have seen that at times different networks have the same camera work / feeds and other times they are different. Generally British EuroSport seems to be better when there are differences so either they do better prep work on location or they have the choice to direct off site from different feeds in which case they have a talented director with a good eye.

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