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From Sochi 2014 to the NHL: A Sneak Peek at CBC Coverage

From the Olympic Games to Saturday night’s beloved Hockey Night in Canada, it’s safe to say that the CBC is highly influential in Canadian sports broadcasting. We caught up with Trevor Pilling, Head of Programming at CBC Sports and Hockey Night in Canada, last week to learn a little more about what we can expect in 2014

From the Olympic Games to Saturday night’s beloved Hockey Night in Canada, it’s safe to say that the CBC is highly influential in Canadian sports broadcasting. This was solidified this morning when it was announced that the NHL and Rogers reached a 12-year, $5.2-billion broadcast deal that would see CBC keep Hockey Night in Canada, in what marks the largest media rights deal in NHL history and the largest in Canadian sports media history. We caught up with Trevor Pilling, Head of Programming at CBC Sports and Hockey Night in Canada, last week to learn a little more about what we can expect from both Sochi 2014 Olympic coverage and the future of NHL coverage.

What can Canadians look forward to from CBC in terms of Sochi 2014 coverage?
A myriad of different types of programming. Of course, the sport is the core of what the Olympic Games are, and there are more metals, more minutes of competition, and over 15,00 broadcast hours, which is more than ever before for the Winter Olympics. It’s streamed on every platform, so it’s on your desktop, tablet and mobile. We’ll see innovative and new camera angles, virtual graphics and everything you’d come to expect from a modern sport television presentation, but I think what’s really notable is that context around the athletes and the competition, the story, that CBC will offer that will hopefully hit you in your patriotic heart. If not, you can tune in simply to see how the sport plays out.

So we can expect a strong focus on the back-story along with the sport?
It’s all about stories. We like to tell the stories of the athletes and to think in terms of what really inspires the story. It’s not just people skating around in circles. It’s about the context you bring to it. You have to think that someone’s life could change today for better or worse. A dream, opportunity, goal of a lifetime will be played out today before literally billions of people, so it’s a responsibility that you take seriously. This is people’s hopes and dreams, but at the same time it’s entertainment and you need to inject entertainment around all of that sport.

How do you plan to tell these stories?
What makes the Games different now is that you can get them anywhere. We consume content differently now than in the past. So, if I want to know about a specific athlete, I can quickly Google them, see what their personal bests were before, but can also find out a lot of information through what we’re offering and our stories. It involves dealing with the amount of information; it’s about having the stories well-placed within the broadcasts. It’s about building story arches across the whole Olympic Games, so some are very short, some are longer. The men’s hockey story is longer because that gold medal is awarded on Day 16, so it involves a story arch that plays out through the course of the whole Games. When it’s something that happens in the first day like Mark McMorris’ slopestyle snowboarding, that’s a very different, shorter story arch. So we look at all of these different athletes’ story arches and those of all the top contending Canadians and internationals and figure out how we’re going to lay out the stories as we broadcast around the clock essentially for the 18 days of the Games.

Are your stories all going to centre on the athletes directly?
Not entirely. This could also mean stories of Russia, because that’s another thing that I think is unique and interesting about the Olympic Games… that it’s happening in a far off land, in the middle of the night. When some of us were kids, watching live via satellite from the other side of the world was something that was exciting. We take that for granted nowadays, but there’s some mystique that can be found in the Olympic Games. So it’s the entire context.

What’s the biggest broadcast challenge in working with events that take place so far from the Eastern Time zone?
Well, that’s one of the things that I can’t move. We can’t change the time, so it’s how you program smartly around it. Live sport begins at midnight Eastern here in Canada, but that’s only 9pm Pacific, so that’s still Pacific primetime. So we want to make sure, for example, that when we were allowed to offer our input on the curling schedule, that Team Canada played first thing in the morning in Russia. That’s prime time in British Columbia and out West, where there is a lot of love for the sport of curling. So while there are challenges inherent in that time zone difference, there are also opportunities. When you look at primetime, now we are able to really try to take the story to the next level.

How so?
With primetime, we can take the story further; whether you bring athletes into the studio to discuss their performance that day, or have their family come in, or they do a phoner with the family back in Canada, or you’re able to dissect a story and add more illustration and things to enhance the story. Even things like music. We will use a lot of music in our primetime show in an attempt to tell stories in a different way. The advantage of the time zone difference is really what you’re able to do with primetime – and now people expect it live, and they expect what they want when they want it – so that’s why we hit all the platforms and distribute wider than ever and then still provide it around the clock.

Can you tell us a bit about the actual sport coverage?
We will rebroadcast the sport in its entirety so that if you didn’t have a chance to watch it you will still have a sports experience and be able to see how it played out. We are not pretending it’s live, obviously, but we’re not giving you the result before it happens either so that you can still have the joy of experiencing a win or the agony of defeat. Something we’ve learned is that the more people know the results during the day, the more they are likely to tune into primetime, which is counter-intuitive to us. We used to think that when people knew the results they wouldn’t watch, but it’s turned out to be the opposite. That’s where social media is going to be another tool that we are going to be able to harness differently than we’ve ever been able to before.

What are you most excited for?
Well, I am excited for the Canadian performances. I am excited to see these athletes, who I think are the best and brightest of Canada; you know, people you can hold up as a role model to your children. They represent so much: really hard work, having goals, hopefully obtaining them through fair play and doing it the right way to represent our country. When it comes to sport, we know there are going to be a lot of great moments. I am really excited for the beginning of the games, when Mark McMoore competes. I come from the Prairies originally, so to see a Prairie kid competing in snowboarding is kind of cool. We’re really excited to see that, and the men’s and women’s hockey teams of course. Being Canadian, I am excited about how hockey will play out; it’s always exciting to watch. We know that there are going to be a ton of great moments no matter what.

Speaking of hockey, let’s talk Hockey Night in Canada. How does CBC plan to work with the NHL to further grow and enhance their coverage of the game?
Well we work really closely with our partners at the NHL in a lot of ways. One, for example, is that we do NHL Face-Off together now. This year, the NHL Face-Off series started the season off in Montreal, where we had Kings of Leon perform and attracted tens of thousands of people who came to watch them and get an NHL experience. That’s able to happen through our partnerships with the league and doing all those special events and all the outdoor games that we’re going to be producing with the NHL this year. We also just announced a documentary series that’s going to run on CBC starting in January called NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other. And it is a season like no other for the NHL…

How so? What can we expect for 2014?
They have six outdoor games this year and we will have five of them on CBC, like the Winter Classic, the game they usually play on January 1st in a baseball or football stadium. This year, on January 1st, millions of hungover Canadians will watch the Winter Classic, which is between the Leafs and Detroit at Michigan Stadium, where they are going to have 110,000 people. So that’s the first one, then they have two in Yankee Stadium, one at Dodgers Stadium in January, then we break for the Olympics, and after this there is one in Soldier Field in Chicago and one at BC Place in Vancouver – that’s the last one of the 6 and that’s on March 2nd. So we’ll be working with the league on those outdoor games, and the documentary series covers all of those outdoor games and the stars of the game as well as their experience at the Olympics. Working with the league to do this shoulder programming is another way to grow the game and that’s another example of how we work together to do that as opposed to doing things separately; the value of us coming together really helps us both.

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