Saturday, October 9, 2010

NBC Brings "All That Skate" to Network TV (A week after the event... BTW, better get used to that.)

To the figure skating fans who simply start looking for it on TV to know when it’s back “in season”… TEN must be their lucky number. Because 10/10/10 (Sunday) is when NBC brings Kim Yu-Na’s All That Skate—the L.A. version that occurred last weekend—to TV screens, at 2:30PM Eastern.

The show is, of course, all-that-skate-and-a-bag-of-chips when it comes to its cast. In addition to Kim and Michelle Kwan (skating in front of a U.S. audience for the first time in 4 years), who have to be considered the co-headliners even though this is Kim’s show, we have recent Olympic Gold Medalists Shen/Zhao, Virtue/Moir, as well as world champs and/or medalists Stephane Lambiel, Johnny Weir, Patrick Chan, Belbin/Agosto, and Savchenko/Szolkowy. Current U.S. bronze medalist Ashley Wagner joined the party as well.

(Based on numerous “tweets” about the event, current U.S. champ Jeremy Abbott wanted very badly to participate—he did so in the Korean version, after all—but cited “conflicts,” at least one of which involved a costume fitting appointment, that kept him from being anything more than a spectator this time.)

From there,fans of televised skating will basically see the fall/winter season evolve as a pastiche of Grand Prix events and Disson shows (Skate for the Heart, Improv-Ice, etc.), somewhat as they have in previous seasons, all culminating with the bigger events in late January and March. But if you take a look at the breakdown of NHK coverage at the
Figure Skating TV Schedule, you’ll see that the NBC coverage actually comes a week after the “same-day” Universal Sports coverage concludes: NHK ends October 23, but the highlights won’t hit broadcast TV until October 31. Skate Canada International occurs October 29-31, but won’t broadcast until November 6. And so on.

Are you out of luck if your cable system doesn’t pick up Universal Sports? Not exactly, as the channel is now offering a live, wall-to-wall, streaming-video subscription package similar to that offered by IceNetwork. So those folks will have to decide if they are ready to pay for live, or wait a week and get the highlights for free. (And just a guess here, but I suspect the YouTube police will be more vigilant than ever when it comes to those next-day GP posts.)

Is this yet another sign that broadcast figure skating is becoming obsolete? Not in my book (no pun intended, though “my book” is indeed about broadcast figure skating…plug plug). Quite the contrary in fact—it looks like they are starting to find their way in this brave new media world. And a lot of “finding their way” has to do with finding a profit. It’s not just the sport of figure skating that’s doing this, or will be soon… it’s equestrian, it’s swimming, it’s all the “niche sports” that absolutely have an audience… just not often one that compares to the NFL, MLB or NBA. Yes, 15 years ago figure skating was in its commercial stride, commanding hyper-lucrative contracts and dominating Sunday afternoons, sometimes two networks or more at a time. But that time is long past, for every reason you’ve probably thought of and likely a few more. It may come again; it may not. The reality is the schedule in that link I posted above. Frankly, I’m pleased to see it on network TV at all… especially in a non-Olympic season. I honestly wasn’t sure it could happen. (We might want to thank the likes of Lysacek and Davis/White for that; their Vancouver finishes surely didn’t hurt.)

I’m including Lambiel’s Korean ATS performance to the William Tell Overture as the
Clip of the Day… rumor has it this got a VERY good reception in LA. Hope it makes the telecast!

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