I ♥ icenetwork

January 29, 2008

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Let me explain, up front, that I don’t have television. What I mean by this is that I don’t have any television stations: I have a TV and a DVD player, on which I watch my fair share of movies, but no cable service, no TiVo, nor whatever newfangled technology they’ve come out with in the last ten minutes.

I “went off TV” cold-turkey about nine years ago when I realized that watching it was in direct conflict with my writing aspirations. Basically, to be a writer you have to do an inordinate amount of reading and an equal amount of writing. You have to go out into the world and have experiences that you can write about and sometimes you need to just sit on your couch and think. Watching TV doesn’t help much. I suppose other people have the ability to turn off the TV or rarely turn it on in the first place, but I know myself and I am not one of them, so it’s just better to not have the temptation.

Yes, I’ve missed out on a lot: American Idol, Survivor, Desperate Housewives, the visual images of countless world events (I do listen to the radio, but of course it’s not quite the same), and that particular comfort of coming home at the end of the day and decompressing in front of the boob tube. What I’ve also missed is just about every skating event that has been broadcast from around the universe in the last decade. (Excluding the few events I’ve attended and the fewer events I’ve invited myself over to your house to watch, thanks by the way.)

So you can imagine I was pretty intrigued when icenetwork re-launched/re-invented itself in August and announced they’d be offering on-demand broadcasts and archived footage for many marquee events this season. I subscribed and have been sporadically taking advantage of this service for the last few months, but it wasn’t until this past week, during the coverage of the U.S. Nationals in St. Paul, that I fully appreciated how remarkable this is.

Specifically, I came home on Thursday night after work and caught the majority of the Championship Girls (not a typo) Short Program event, live. I tuned in just as Caroline Zhang was taking her bow, and for the next few hours experienced the strange sensation of being in two places at once: simultaneously at home and at the Xcel Center.

The icenetwork coverage is relatively barebones and straightforward, perhaps not as “slick” or “produced” as other broadcasts, but precisely because of this, watching it online is a lot like being there. Have been at Nationals for the previous three years, and watching many events from the stands, I can say that there are some ways in which the icenetwork experience is arguably even better than being there…and I’m only chewing on a few sour grapes. Seriously, such a small percentage of coaches (and skaters and fans) get to partake in the Big Party so it’s great that icenetwork is sharing the love.

What’s not so great about sitting in the stands is that period of time after each skater, while the Technical Panel is reviewing the video. These are basically like a bunch of intermissions, and they can seem infinite. Sure, you can inspect your fingernails, cross and uncross your legs, engage in some chitchat, and crane your neck, squinting to see if the Kiss and Cry is living up to its name. From home, however, it’s the possibilities that are infinite. During the IJS Intermissions, you can:

  1. Watch the icenetwork replays, which usually include three elements from each skater, either in celebration of a performance triumph or in closer examination of a foible.
  2. Watch (and hear) the skaters and coaches kiss and cry from close range and wonder if they realize how close (and how effective) the microphones are.
  3. Analyze the Double-handed Wave: a friend of mine noticed that the Kiss and Cry tends to bring this out in many of the younger skaters. This waving technique involves extremely loose wrists wobbled at about shoulder-level. I’ve been practicing mine and I think I’m getting the hang of it. I wonder if this is part of the new media training. 
  4. Stretch. Watching any of these events will inevitably make you realize how inflexible you’ve become.
  5. Warm up some of that homemade soup and rejoice in the fact that it is not a concession-stand hot dog or a serving of over-baked ziti from the coach’s hospitality room. The only catch is that you’ll have to wash the dishes, but there’s time enough for this as well.
  6. Check the icenetwork results from events you missed or even peek at the archived footage, including press conference clips.
  7. Peruse the icenetwork message boards, which include comments that range from extremely insightful to incredibly…numb-skulled. In the middle of the spectrum, there are many comments that will confirm what you are also thinking, which nicely replaces the chitchat you would have participated in in the stands.

After you engage in all of these activities and return to the live broadcast, the Technical Panel will probably still be involved in deliberations, in order to insure that the judging of our sport is more fair. So from there, you can tackle some domestic projects, some billing, or that chocolate bar you’ve been trying to avoid. What I’m saying is that watching icenetwork can be quite productive.

(For the record, I do think the job of the Technical Specialists is a challenging one and I certainly wouldn’t want them to rush through their task on my account. Truthfully, the video replay really is, hands-down, the best part of the new system.)

Most importantly, and this is the key, this year on icenetwork you could actually watch the short programs, including all the skaters, and you could do so from anywhere in the country. You could even watch compulsory dances and novice and junior events (and you still can, at your leisure.) The subscription fee is nominal, but even if you didn’t want to make that commitment, you could still see backstage photos, read articles including skater and coach quotes, and just generally keep tabs on the whole Championships. All of this is nothing short of momentous and a vast improvement over what was available previously through USFS, which was really not much at all.

It’s also pretty exciting from a skater’s perspective. Far-flung fathers, sisters, grandparents, teachers, and friends can see these performances even if they can’t make the trip. And skaters themselves can log on from the competition, for that matter. This is something I would have valued when I was competing; the videotapes we ordered for our own cringing and for our family’s viewing always seemed to take forever to arrive in the mail.

Two days after Girl’s Short, I was glad to watch their Long Programs at a friend’s house where the TV was about 45 times the size of my computer screen. The NBC broadcast was well-composed, the camera-work was sophisticated, and the picture quality was crystal clear. It was an exciting and extremely weird event but it all seemed very far away; I was quite aware that I wasn’t there. When I got home, I logged on to icenetwork to see what had been posted so far. 

All of this has definitely taken precious time away from my writing. On the other hand, I’ve noticed, over the course of the last few paragraphs, that it has also given me something to write about.

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Yes, you are wise to have on your bias-detector: I have written articles for icenetwork and will do so again. I assure you, however, that I was not asked to write this and that all of the above sentiments come straight from my ♥  .

     

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5 Responses to “I ♥ icenetwork”

  1. angel Says:

    We love icenetwork too!! our family was able to watch all 20 ladies, not just the ones they pick. It was nice to show the kids that all those skaters made it to nats, and we only knew the top 10 or so by name. Everyone knows the B/T, the johhny, the kimmie.
    Nice to see the hard work by all the skaters !!

  2. Lee Says:

    I think we could probably do with a better commentator than N.K. – how about multiple channels for the audio – one for N.K., another for a nasty fashion / style commentator, another purely for gossip having little to do with the actual skating, etc. It’s the people with a point of view or an axe to grind that you love to sit next to at Nationals – that would REALLY make it feel like you are there…

  3. DVJ Says:

    That is really cool that you dont have a t.v in your place…I am so impressed by that!
    I,too enjoyed the ice network coverage of Nationals.I have never watched so much skating coverage in my whole life.I am in withdrawal now…

  4. Aaron Says:

    As someone who was at the event and then logged onto icenetwork while at the hotel to review what I watched, I too must say I’m impressed with their coverage. So much so I decided to buy the DVD set while at Nationals versus saving the NBC version.

    Also, I died laughing at your commentary of the double-hand wave with loose wrists at shoulder level, you are absolutely right!

  5. BA Says:

    I really like Icenetwork as well. The fact that you can watch archived events, and you can watch all the skaters in the event (or skip those you don’t care for) is great!

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