Friday, August 31, 2012

Week Two of JGP: Back in the U.S.of A.

We are already into Week Two of the Junior Grand Prix! And better yet, this one is in the U.S. (Lake Placid) for the first time since 2009...

But first, a quick recap of last week’s opener in Courchevel:

BOYS (It occurs to me that 13-to-19 year olds are better suited to be called “boys/girls” rather than “Men/Ladies”):
U.S.’s Jason Brown turned out to be the only American medalist at this event, earning a silver with typically grand (but also typically triple axel-free) performances. China’s Boyang Jin had greater jump difficulty in his programs, which easily gave him the gold... Ryuju Hino of Japan took bronze. The other U.S. contender, Harrison Choate, finished 4th (and incidentally is using one of my favorites for his free skate—Slaughter on 10th Avenue).

GIRLS (See above explanation): Russia’s Elena Radionova is tiny but mighty; she and her 3lutz/3toe won this event handily over Japan’s Rika Hongo (silver) and Russia’s Uliana Titushkina. The U.S. brought in the runners-up with Vanessa Lam (4th) and Ashley Cain (5th)... though something they didn’t mention on the Ice Network summary was that one of the falls endured during Cain’s FS was brutal enough to cause her program to grind to a 3 minute, 45 second halt. She DID complete her program, by the way. I haven’t looked at protocols so I’m not sure what sort of a penalty she received for the program break.

DANCE: France’s Papadakis/Cizeron won gold, looking like worthy up-and-comers to reigning World Bronze Medalists Pechalat/Bourzat... Russia’s Zenkova/Sinitsin claimed silver (with Zenkova appearing to channel a bengal tiger via her FD unitard)... bronze went to Edwards/Pang from Canada. The U.S. teams of McNamara/Carpenter and Moore/Klaber finished 6th and 8th, respectively.

NOTE: There was no PAIRS competition at the Courchevel event. This will be the case at several JGP events, as it was last year.

And running through this weekend in JGP Lake Placid (go watch if you are in the vicinity, won’t you? The stands looked unbearably bare from what you can see on Ice Network)...

BOYS— Josh Ferris of the U.S. is the favorite; so far so good, he skated cleanly to take the lead in the SP yesterday. Also there on behalf of the “home team” is James Schetelich, making his international debut and in 16th after the SP. (The third U.S. competitor, Spencer Howe, withdrew due to injury.) The FS happens Friday night.

GIRLS—The big news here for the U.S. is the return of Courtney Hicks, the 2011 national junior champ who went down injured in a JGP event last fall and was subsequently out the rest of the season. She sits in 4th after the SP. Also present is  Kiri Baga and Angela Wang... Baga is in 5th; Wang in 8th.

PAIRS—Apparently since the ISU is trying to better promote the Pairs discipline (see the lack of Pairs competitions in events such as last week’s), the host country of each event is now permitted to enter as many teams as they like (rather than the 3-team max normally observed). So the U.S. has 4 teams here: Denney/Frazier (in 3rd after the SP), Aaron/Settlage (in 4th), Pfund/Reiss (in 5th), and Ottmanns/Santillan (in 9th).

DANCE—Current U.S. Junior champs Aldridge/Eaton are in 2nd after the SD, Pogrebinsky/Gudis sit in 5th, and Heritage/Fast are 8th.

All these performances and more are available at Ice Network for subscribers... and the You Tube ISU Channel for EVERYONE (for free). The free skates & dances continue tonight & tomorrow, so tune in—it’s the perfect antidote to those Labor Day plans that are sure to be rained out by the remnants of Hurricane Issac this weekend!

(Well, if you live in the Midwest U.S. that is.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Wild, wonky world of figure skating 2012 gets underway

I'm back in catch-up mode this week, and wouldn't you know it... just as so many newsworthy things are happening! Champs Camp in progress in the USA, Junior GP kicking off in France (half done by now), Mary Beth & Rockne splitting up (what??), Rockne reportedly trying out with "retired" Amanda Evora (what???)

But for now, I just wanted to let you know/remind you that even if you are unable to subscribe to Ice Network... the ISU is making all the JGP competition videos available at You Tube! This link should take you directly to the ISU channel... where, if you watch the SP of U.S. competitor Jason Brown, you'll see that he's still not doing a triple axel (though he IS doing some uncharacteristically wonky spins here). More soon...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ice Network's 2012-13 Season Pass: Between a rock and a hard place

So you know that part in the previous post where, in discussing some of the trouble fans might have with Ice Network, I said Some have trouble getting a live stream from it...?

As you may have heard by now, just about ALL of us will have trouble getting a live stream from it—whether we subscribe or not.

Full disclosure here: while Ice Network only posted their official Season Pass invite to the website just today, the news actually came to me about a few days ago, since my particular subscription renews in mid-August. But as anyone with deadlines and work/family requirements is prone to do, I skimmed the first few lines of the email (to confirm what it basically is to me—a reminder to my husband that a Pass Renewal was on my birthday list again this year) and went on to other things, intending to read it in more detail later. So I never made it to those critical lines, now seen on as well:

Please note, 2012 Hilton HHonors Skate America will be shown live and on-demand; however, due to television rights holder restrictions, the remaining events of the Grand Prix Series will ONLY be available on-demand, seven days after the end of the event.

Aye, there’s the rub. And quite a wicked one at that!

Sorry I’ve been slow to realize this; I see it’s a predictably hot topic right now at FS Universe (among other forums, surely). But I guess in my “skimming” of the email I saw this line that preceded that line I just quoted—

Enjoy all the premier events you've enjoyed in the past, including the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the 2012 Grand Prix Series and the 2013 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships...

--And I stopped there. Why read on? It says “Enjoy... the 2012 Grand Prix Series.” I’d had a haunch that there might be more to the story than the Universal Sports access pass I mentioned last time, but hey, Ice Network was still covering the GP series for us, so all was fine.

I haven’t had a lot of time to process this yet... this seemingly helpless move from Ice Network, this outrageous slap in the face for fans just trying to keep up with the sport they used to watch regularly on glorious “free TV,” this agonizing setback on the broadcast/narrowcast/any-cast front. Are we back to passing on news of questionable-quality Turkish streaming video links via the Skatefans message boards? Are we left to scour YouTube as soon as we know the men’s SP at NHK is complete?

And what about the fact that Ice Network is still charging $39.95 despite the major change in schedule? For that discussion, I suggest you head to Peter Murray’s Blazing Blades website. He has posted a very thoughtful commentary on the situation, and why 40 bucks for what is clearly NOT “what we’ve enjoyed in the past” is still a deal that we, as fans, should get behind and support if we’re able. Please go read it... he’s articulated the matter quite well.

And I’ll add this one thought to the mix: Ice Network is probably in the quintessential rock-meets-hard-place dilemma right now. They need more (or at least the same number of) subscribers to stay afloat, but they know they can’t give them what they once did. They try to promote the new deal as honestly as they can, but to many of us it looks like they’re “burying the lead” as journalists say; taking the real story (about the rights issues and loss of live streaming) and hiding it within the copy in the link I posted above, and that makes us angry. The folks trying to make it all work surely have less than kind thoughts for The Powers That Be—be they at U-Sports, its parent company NBC, or the ISU, or all the above—that are monopolizing the rights. But Ice Network is a business, not a blog. If it comes out swinging at the sources with whom it’s trying to play nicely, it could make things worse... or at least make them bad for a longer period of time.

But if YOU want to “come out swinging” over this mess—be it anonymously or otherwise—my comments box is always open for business. Have at it!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

One Step Forward, But Only For Dish and Direct TV Folks... Everyone Else, Two Steps Back

Have you noticed how, during NBC’s coverage of Olympic figure skating events, they almost never use dissolve transitions between cameras or when coming back from a feature (aka “fluff piece”)? Instead they use the more abrupt transitions that are simply called “cuts”?

The same thing is done with their coverage of Olympic gymnastics, which is what reminded me to bring it up. The reason for cuts-only? Both involve veteran producer/director David Michaels... who hates using them. In these particular cases, at least.

I spoke with him on several occasions while researching Skating on Air, and learned that Michaels is nothing if not determined to show that these are SPORTS. Nitty-gritty, pulse-pounding, all caps SPORTS that should never be mistaken for anything else just because sparkles may be involved in their execution. Whether it’s the carve of the blade into the ice or the thump-and-squeak of hands grasping wooden beams or bars, he wants you to hear their efforts. With cameras providing tight enough shots to witness the sweat beading on their faces, he wants you to see their yearning for perfection. And as for the aforementioned dissolve transitions... I sensed he sees them as too soft, too pretty, too easy to mislead people into thinking they’re watching video loops of music box dancers pirouetting endlessly out there.

Anyway, as someone with producer/director experience myself (albeit on a much, much smaller scale), the cuts-only thing bugs me. So I got on Facebook, asked if it bugged anyone else... and discovered that there were MANY things bugging my fellow Olympics-watchers in the USA. And much of it reminds me of “our” complaints about figure skating coverage during the Winter Games...

 Not enough coverage of sport of choice.

 Not enough complete coverage of sport of choice (too choppy).

Eurosport’s coverage is better.

 Can’t stand the commentating.

So it would seem that across the board, niche sports—that is, most any sport that is NOT American football, baseball, or basketball—are difficult to present in a fanbase-pleasing manner. Ideally this is where online viewing options come in to pick up the slack, especially those that offer wall-to-wall, commentator-less coverage like they seem to do for all Olympic sports, for free, at and for a fee at hubs such as and, um, what was the other one?

Oh wait—there hardly appears to be another option at this point in the U.S. In the past several years, Universal Sports filled a lot of coverage gaps for those of us that were fortunate enough to have it on our cable system by way of an over-the-air NBC subchannel. But when the machinations of the network changed, taking U-Sports off the subchannels and putting it exclusively on cable and satellite providers (Direct TV and now Dish Network being its only two major carriers to date), some turned to the channel’s online subscription service for their skating fix.

Now, apparently, that’s gone away too: a look at U-sports’s current FAQ-Authentication page  indicates that (as of July 27, 2012) "all live streaming events and full event replays will only be available exclusively to DIRECTV and DISH customers with Universal Sports as part of their television package. These events will no longer be offered for sale online, but will be free to users who verify their subscriptions on our website.”

In other words, we’re now at a point where most of us can’t pay for skating coverage even if it’s available, and even if we wish to do so! And those that can are already able to access U-Sports on their TV!!

I’m not ignoring Ice Network in this equation; for the most part, it has served me well over the past few years and I welcome it in this post-ABC/ESPN era. But as I understand it, that’s not the case with everyone. Some have trouble getting a live stream from it. Some have blackout issues because of where they live. Some simply can’t afford it—the $40 it cost last year may be a good deal, but it could be needed much more for an electric bill or a bag of groceries for someone on a fixed (or unemployed) income.

Was a better deal in the past than I honestly don’t recall, as I was already on IceNet when U-Sports started its subscription service. But unless you happen to be with DIRECTV and DISH (or another service that adds U-Sports in the near future), it’s a moot point for now. Just what figure skating needs at this point, right? Another reason for past and developing fans to give up and tune out.

How do YOU plan to follow along this fall? Were you counting on the U-Sports online service? Will Ice Network meet your needs? Let’s hope U.S. Figure Skating and the ISU can find the work-around necessary to get the audience growing again... the only thing more frustrating than “spotty” coverage of a beloved Olympic sport is no coverage at all.