22 February 2011

Help Us Out, TSN!

My Canadian readers already know about TSN.  Others might not.  For those who don't (from Wikipedia):

The Sports Network, commonly abbreviated as TSN, is a Canadian English language cable television specialty channel and is Canada's leading English language sports TV channel. TSN premiered in 1984, in the second group of Canadian specialty cable channels. TSN is owned by CTV Specialty Television, a joint venture of CTVglobemedia (80%) and ESPN (20%).

So, for those in the US, think of TSN as Canadian ESPN.  They have a SportsCentre - I do love the r-before-e spellings used in Canada! - and they rebroadcast a lot of ESPN programming, including Pardon The Interruption, a show that focuses heavily on professional sports in the US.  

They also broadcast a lot of curling.  A LOT of curling.  The Canadian Curling Association - the CCA, as I will be cavalierly abbreviating throughout this little post - has an exclusive broadcast agreement with TSN and CTVglobemedia.  This means that other networks, such as the CBC (a traditional strong partner of curling in Canada) are shut out.  CCA events include the Continental Cup, the Tim Hortons Brier (which are the men's championships) and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (the women's championships), the last of which is currently being contested.  

And if I am being completely honest, TSN has some of the most knowledgable curling commentators in the world.  The Olympic coverage on CTV utilized their talents, and spread them somewhat to a broader audience, thanks in part to ESPN's SportsCenter.  I can personally vouch for the higher quality of commentary from Canadian broadcast teams, when up against the American, and terribly poorly informed, team that NBC employed for their Olympic coverage. I give them credit for even COVERING curling, which they should be doing, and for covering Worlds last year, on their Universal Sports network - they'll only get better with practice.  

Canadians are very lucky to have such an outlet for curling.  TSN has coverage of nationally important curling events, unlike sports networks in other countries. For example, save Universal's aforementioned coverage of Worlds last year, and a couple of specials on Olympic trials, there has been no national curling coverage in the United States at all, outside of Olympic tournaments.  I've thrown stones at ESPN already, so I won't do that again... except that ESPN has a 20% stake in TSN, and so would have access to this coverage, including coverage of the World Championships in Denmark (women's) and Regina, Saskatchewan (men's), and they choose not to use it, despite high interest in curling in the United States!  

No, my stones today are for TSN themselves.

TSN has, in the past, up to and including the Continental Cup coverage in January, made video available online of their coverage.  Full matches could be viewed the next day - it wasn't live coverage, but for those who were unable to watch in Canada, it was a great way to keep up with the curling and to watch full matches.  TSN went the extra step of making this coverage available outside Canada.  Even though teams from the US and other countries (Norway, Switzerland, and China come to mind) were participating in Continental Cup, there wasn't coverage available outside of TSN, and these Video On Demand (VOD) streams were the only outlet.

TSN has decided not to make VOD available for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.  Instead, they are only offering match highlights.  When I asked (via Twitter) what online viewing options were available for the Scotties, I got a reply from the CCA themselves:

Unfortunately there is no live streaming from the Scotties this week, but it is something that we are working on

When asked if this would also apply to the Brier, I got no response.  I assume that it does. 

This makes these events, for all intents and purposes, Canadian only.  No one outside the country legally gets to watch.  That is a shame for the rest of the world, who have embraced curling and want to watch what are arguable the two highest level curling tournaments on the planet.

This also leaves a lot of people in Canada - those who don't subscribe to TSN, sure, and also those who are away from a television - out of the fun.  God forbid if they have left the country - TSN is a Canadian-only channel, and unless they have spent the money to get a satellite dish from a Canadian provider (and are lucky enough to be in the correct hemisphere to make it work!), those Canadians would be out of luck.

A lot of people outside of Canada are now wondering why I am calling out Canadians as being out of luck (perhaps a lot of Canadians are, too!).  I must state at this point that I am pretty much going off memory of what I know about Canadian broadcast laws - I am by no means an expert.

I don't know if it was "law" or just generally accepted practice, but it used to be considered a Canadian right to be able to watch your own television broadcasts.... even if you were a "snowbird" that traveled south every winter.  In fact, both Bell TV and Shaw Direct can be activated from the United States.  This became popularly known as the "reverse grey market".  It is how my curling club has a Bell satellite dish, and how I am lucky enough to watch TSN.

For most of the United States, it is technically possible to receive such a signal on a standard 18" dish.  Some parts of the southern US would have issues, but for the most part, the satellite companies have made it simple to live in South Canada.

A bit of a corollary to this - IMPORTING a US satellite dish into Canada and activating it is illegal.  That is actually a much bigger market than the Canadian dish market in the US, as there is a perception that US satellite broadcast is better (an assertion with which I vehemently disagree!).  That's another story, however.

Let us take this one step further.  Broadcasting no longer means just television.  The last Olympic Winter Games taught us that there is a high demand for content online, so people can watch from the coffee shop, or from their desk at work, and not have to fill their TiVos with a lot of content.  Broadcasting has become the Internet as well.  People have come to depend on the Internet to receive television programming - the popularity of the Roku box should make that clear!

So wouldn't it follow that TSN should make this VOD - a service that so many Canadians away from their televisions have come to depend on for their curling coverage - a service that so many around the world have used to watch this great sport! - available for all their curling broadcasts?  

Well, the reality is that this is probably a business decision by TSN and/or the CCA.  I haven't seen or heard any comment, other than the tweet I shared. We also have very little recourse.  Well, we can do a few things:

  1. Follow the Scotties here.  The CCA has provided live scoring, which isn't live action, but it's something that will keep you connected to the action.
  2. While TSN is not playing full matches, they are playing highlights.  Please, go to TSN and watch their video.
  3. Write to the CCA and to TSN, and beg them to change their mind on VOD for the Scotties, or at least the Brier.  
Also, feel free to include a link to this blog when you write to TSN.  Let them know that we want our VOD.  In Canada, it's an extra way to watch the best curling in the world.  Outside of Canada, it's the only way!  I am quite the fan of TSN.  They've done well by curling fans worldwide so far.  Let's hope they change their ways


  1. There have been a few head scratching decisions by TSN in regards to their coverage this year.

    Very impressed with your blog.

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words. It's easy to write about something for which I have a passion. I'll keep it as good as I can.

  3. all week i have been trying to watch the tourney of hearts. It is really frustrating being a huge fan of curling and never getting to watch it. they offer a live stream of some of the games online but only in canada. why not just let everyone?

  4. I really don't understand why it isn't possible in this day and age to watch TSN in the US. Frustrating

  5. I may be a little late to this dance, but I don't see a link to curling on the ESPN website. FYI, the Linda Moore/Russ Howard/ Vic Rauter team is indeed the best in the world, but their Number 2 Team (they get the early morning games in the Scotties & Brier) of Cathy Gauthier and Bryan Mudryk are also excellent-and they also have the rapport that the other team has. They're not in Latvia. I've listened to the WCF webcasts-let's be charitable and leave it there! :)

  6. One additional point-the NBC Sports website was not available in Canada during the last Olympics, so we were unable, for example, to hear the "fuss" about the Canada-US women's soccer teaams...:)

  7. While the ESPN website doesn't have a curling link, if you do a search, it will take you to some pictures-today's pictures are all of Team Canada-most are duplicated-go figure...

  8. US men's games will be webcast on Universal. We're only getting Team Canada on TSN-I thought it might be interesting to see the US broadcast-also interesting to see how many US fans have made the short trip from Seattle to Victoria.