The Sochi Olympics is the first time I’ve watched a hockey tournament entirely online. CBC, the Canadian public broadcaster, streamed each game (and every other event) on its website. The streams were available for anyone with a Canadian IP address and could be accessed either live or later. For some games, I had a choice of two streams: a “TV stream”, showing exactly what was being shown on TV, including all the commercials and studio stuff between periods; and a web stream that included commentary but was otherwise a raw feed of the official Sochi broadcast. As long as you had ad block software, there were no commercials. Whenever there was a break in play, including for a commercial break, the stream remained in the rink, showing players chatting on the bench, getting ready for play to resume, recent highlights and replays of goals and penalties. During intermissions, it showed the Zambonis resurfacing the ice.
This was a revelation. I was surprised by how much better hockey was when uninterrupted by ads. The web stream was far more immersive than the “TV stream”. Breaks in play were never breaks in tension, and it was only after watching the web stream that I realized how deflating commercials actually are. They numb the senses and kill the atmosphere. But I suppose that’s not much of a revelation, because we’ve known the same about movies for a while. Nobody prefers to watch a movie on a channel that has commercials. We like narrative continuity.
My only complaints are about the way in which CBC chose to archive the games. First, it’s sometimes tricky to get to a game without accidentally seeing the score somewhere else on the site. Second, once you load a game up, you get a list of temporal shortcuts at the bottom allowing you to skip to a specific period and, if applicable, to overtime. But once you see the overtime button, you know there’s going to be an overtime. For example, I watched the women’s gold medal game knowing the Canadians would tie it up (but hardly believing it was possible!). The same is sometimes true of a video’s overall duration. You know that a three-hour game didn’t end in regulation. And this quibble spans sports, as well. Curling usually takes place over ten ends. The men’s gold medal game between Canada and Great Britain only had links up to the eighth. I knew there was going to be a blowout, and once Canada scored points in the first, I had a hunch who was going to be on the receiving end…
Keeping that in mind: who needs TV? The online coverage was excellent.