Enhancing the Viewer's Hockey Experience with Isolated Cameras on Players

An isolated camera on Ilya Kovalchuk in this game would let the viewer know that the Kings were willing to put multiple bodies on him when possible in the game. Just like in this photo. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Last Friday, I've tried to make the case that more noise from an organized group of fans at Devils games would enhance the fan's experience at games.  Given the comments, it was pretty well received and I hope that people who did read it will try to raise a little more hell in tonight's game against Our Hated Rivals. 

Today, I want to present a crazier, more difficult idea that could enhance the experience for those viewing the game of hockey: isolated cameras focused on certain players in games. 

Back when NBC got the rights to air NHL games, their graphics noted when a team's "star" player was on the ice.  In case the viewer didn't see him right away on the ice, they know immediately that he's out there.  This would be an extension of that same idea. I believe that filming one player for a period or even an entire game would not only be informative for the viewer but could be a big boon to the marketing of the NHL itself.

When I refer to an isolated camera, I'm talking about a camera focused on one player.  Sure, TV broadcasts do show some replays of regular events, and highlights of goals and saves are always available at NHL.com.  This would be recorded any time the player is on the ice for a shift, regardless of situation. The frame wouldn't solely be on the player, there would be enough space around him to identify his location, where nearby opposition or teammates can be found.   By isolating a player for a period or a whole game, the viewer gets the opportunity to see the game more from their perspective.   If they are covered by opposition players, then we will see that.  If he's throwing hits, we'll see them in full glory.  If he's positioning himself on defense, we will have a better understanding as to why he's doing it. 

Basically, if the player is playing well, we will see all the good things he's doing aside from highlights like assists and goals.  Likewise, if the player is playing poorly, we will see the bad decisions, the errors that lead to more errors, and other issues.

That probably seems idealistic, but that's the idea: to see how a particular player is performing in the game.  It would go a long way to show whether the player had an unlucky night or was just bad.  The videotape would end any argument whether a defender made mostly good decisions and just one bad decision that we all remember, or whether he made a lot of bad decisions that never got punished.    That's the big benefit from an information standpoint: the viewer can get a better understanding of why a player did what he did on the ice - rightly or wrongly.

Imagine being able to see how Colin White plays in his own end for a whole game.  Imagine seeing how opposition player's positioning affects the behavior of different Devils forwards with and without the puck.  Imagine a whole game focused on a goalie where you can identify how many bodies are around him when shots are taken in his direction.   The possibilities of what can be done with this are large.  The recording can be used for educational purposes (e.g. "Watch what Andy Greene does and learn from his mistakes") in addition to entertainment purposes (e.g. "Watch how Andy Greene played and drink every time he fires a puck wide.")

Then there's the marketing possibilities.   For one reason or another, there aren't many mainstream stars in the NHL.  An isolation camera focused on Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Joe Thornton, Zach Parise, and other top names for a game or two would highlight why they are among the best players in the game today.  The video and their skills would say much more than just a bunch of highlights or any argument you and I can make.   Hockey is like soccer in that the great players are still great in the run of play even when they aren't scoring.  Even if a team holds Ovechkin to no points, most who witness the game know full well #8 is out there.   Put an isolated camera on Ovechkin and those at home or on their computer using NHL Gamecenter can have the option to see what the fans see live.    The NHL could even sell copies of great performances on isolated cameras for a nominal fee through video on demand or even DVD. 

It doesn't even have to be stars only.  The isolated camera idea can help bring notoriety to a whole bunch of players who otherwise wouldn't be stars.  An isolated camera can highlight how a defensive defenseman is important on the team by all of the little things they do to stop the opposition attack.  An isolated camera on a defensive forward can pinpoint their worth in the neutral zone and around their zone in their own end.  In addition to giving a new perspective for the viewer, they will know who those players are.

Therefore, from a practical perspective, I would highly recommend having a "featured player" be the subject for the isolated camera for a game.  It could be the team's top player, the player who's on fire with a point streak, or someone in a key matchup.  To take it further, the producers can change the featured player from period to period to highlight players who have done well or to change their subject if the original player is hurt. 

In terms of actual broadcasting, I would think a picture-in-picture screen for the isolated camera would work. This way the viewer can see the game normally, giving the viewer context for the featured player with the rest of the game.  I would definitely make this a feature of NHL Gamecenter, which does have picture-in-picture capability for entire games, with past broadcasts of players on an isolated camera stored in the NHL Vault.   If the viewer doesn't have a TV with picture-in-picture capability or NHL Gamecenter, then the NHL Network can at least show the featured player in a separate program - which can include additional analysis like breaking down what the player did at certain points.

I know that it's a difficult idea since a camera focusing on a certain player for a game or a period means additional resources and costs.  Then there's the execution of actually filming it.  It's imperative that the camera holder gets the right perspective to focus on the player without losing all of the context of where he is on the ice.  

Then there's the level of interest. Would viewers take to another way to watch games?  Would they be interested in focusing on just one player in a team sport?  How would players react?  I don't know - but I wouldn't use those questions as obstacles.  I'd at least try it out and see how it works before throwing it away.  If it doesn't, then put it away next to the rail-cam.  If it does, then the viewer's experience - live or otherwise - would be enhanced by viewing the game from a different perspective.   Let me know what you think of this idea in the comments; thanks for reading.

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