What the heck is going on at NESN?

New England Sports Network, the longtime sole regional television partner of the Boston Bruins, is having a very tough run of form.

What the heck is going on at NESN?
Photo by Michael Dziedzic / Unsplash

Hi. Welcome to sports corner with Jeremy Stanley. I write to you today as a Boston Bruins fan who is still absolutely buzzing after a nine-goal winning effort Saturday night over their arch rivals, the dreaded Montreal Canadiens.

While the Bruins have had success over the last couple of seasons, there is one area of its games that needs a lot of work—and it has nothing to do with the players on the ice. New England Sports Network, the longtime sole regional television partner of the Boston Bruins is having a very tough run of form. (Delaware North, the hockey club's owner, owns a twenty percent stake in the network.) In its fortieth year of existence, the channel seems to have trouble doing what a television network does—televise games.

There are two things that seem to be happening here that is making it a nightmare for sports fans. First, the actual production-side is struggling. Things have been going awry recently—technical glitches that bog down the broadcasts. Last Monday was one example:

Screengrab of NESN's Boston Bruins coverage, which can be best described as glitching out.

These can persist throughout the game, or be a momentary hiccup. Sometimes a replay will be shown, and half the screen will be green. It is unclear how or why this is happening. (These issues tend to happen only at home games, which tells me the problem is coming from inside the on-site production truck. But this is just a guess.)

Second, NESN 360, the network's dedicated streaming app, is an unmitigated disaster. Often, if a viewer is watching the pregame buildup to a Bruins game, the pregame show will restart when the game telecast should be starting. It can go unnoticed until it dawns on the viewer that Jack Edwards should be saying "hiiiigh above the ice" at that moment

The app will frequently get in a loop where it just continues showing commercials over, and over, and over again, leading to missed game action. Often times, at 9:30pm, the time a 7:00pm broadcast is "scheduled" to end but rarely does, the stream will cut out for a few seconds while the program changes from the game to the postgame show stream.

These cascading issues add up to a less-than-ideal time for viewers. It is disappointing to see. And it's not like the National Hockey League's US national TV partners are without issue: TNT has lost pictures from games a few times. And ESPN seems to have a problem with audio sync from games originating from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada—oftentimes, the play-by-play call is ahead of the action on the ice, which is a disorienting experience. A recent Bruins game at TD Garden aired on ESPN was so awful audio-wise, the studio took over for a bit in a bid to fix the problems. It didn't work.

If I were an expert in television broadcasting or application development, here is where I would provide you with a tidy explanation for why these things are happening, why they're thorny issues to solve, and why they haven't been fixed yet. But I am neither of those things.

NESN also took over production work for the Pittsburgh Penguins and its regional sports network in 2023, which wouldn't have a direct impact on NESN's ability to televise Boston Bruins games, but who knows what it means for budgets. If this is a problem that money can be thrown at to solve, NESN needs to get out its deep, deep wallets.

These issues mount at a time when viewers are asked to spend a ton of money for the privilege to watch sports. A direct-to-consumer subscription to NESN costs thirty dollars a month. Cable and streaming service prices only keep going up—and regional sports networks are the main reason why. Fans are paying more and getting a worse product.

There is not enough being made about this in Boston's increasingly small local media market. The Boston Herald had a snarky headline about Monday's "psychedelic" telecast, and NESN said it had an issue with a "tech platform" it uses to integrate into the broadcast. (My guess? That tech platform is the thing that serves up the digitally enhanced dasherboards that superimpose advertisements on the boards in hockey rinks.)

The Boston Globe, the standard-bearer for local news in the region, does not appear to have covered any of the technical glitches. Of course, a convenient argument that can be made is that a newspaper does not need to cover that a TV channel is having issues; it's not hard news. But there are a lot of viewers, and the frequency of these issues I think warrants somewhat of a look at this.

Why might the Globe shy away from being critical? Here's one possible reason: Fenway Sports Group owns the controlling interest in NESN. John Henry owns Fenway Sports Group. He also just so happens to own the Boston Globe. NESN and the newspaper partner on a program called Boston Globe Today. One can be assured there is no direct pressure from Henry on the great journalists at the newspaper. But if I was in that situation, I know I might be wary of pissing management off. For what it's worth, the Boston Globe has criticized NESN in the past, such as when it fired a beloved commentator.

It's the Boston Bruins' centennial season, with ceremonies and special uniforms, and other pomp and circumstance. There's great occasion to celebrate the old times, reminisce about legendary hockey figures, and reflect on how the sport has changed over the years. (My favorite touch of NESN's coverage this season is definitely the replay wipes, which correspond with the logo on the jersey the team's wearing in that game. There, I said something nice, just before the kicker.)

With all of these celebrations, it's a shame the television network is struggling. When the telecasts suffer, fans lose.

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