World junior coverage develops multi-media edge

ROB BRODIE

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

This isn't your grandfather's world junior hockey championship. Maybe not even your dad's, for that matter.

Canadians have embraced TSN's world junior coverage over the years, to the point it's become much more than just a holiday tradition. It has grown into a ratings behemoth for the network, one which has produced seven of the top 10 audiences in TSN's 22-year history.

The 2003 final in Halifax, which attracted 3.453 million sets of eyeballs, remains the all-time king, followed closely by the 2005 (3.227 million). and 2006 (3.007 million) gold-medal games.

Even when it's in Europe, the tournament's a hit: The 2004 final in Finland (Canada-U.S.) earned an audience of 1.31 million for a midday game.

"We look at the world juniors as our No. 1 flagship event of the year," said Rick Chisholm, TSN's VP of programming/production.

All of the above is reason enough, TSN figures, to dip into its bank account to bring WJC coverage into the multi-media age. Viewers can look forward to a pair of new enhancements when the puck drops on Boxing Day in Sweden.

n For the first time, TSN will produce a live sports event from overseas in high-definition format. Chisholm said last year's HD experience in Vancouver was so well-received that the network felt compelled to continue it.

"It's a more expensive adventure," he said. "But we're big into HD for major events, and it's important for us to continue that tradition.

"We're confident about it, because we learned so much during the World Cup about bringing the feed over in HD."

n Another first: TSN will air 11 games, including all Team Canada and medal-round matches, live on its new broadband channel at tsn.ca. Given that the Jan. 5 final -- when most Canadians will be back at work -- is an afternoon affair, TSN figures it should draw its initial significant hit with this venture.

"We're looking at the world juniors to see what kind of appetite there is for broadband out there," said Chisholm.

What's next? Probably mobile phone downloads, perhaps as soon as next year.

PUCK SHOWDOWN: With an exclusive CFL deal signed, sealed and delivered, CTVglobemedia will now turn its attention toward putting a hammerlock on everything NHL when the current Canadian TV contracts expire after the 2007-08 season. And there are a growing number of folks out there who don't doubt they've got the financial war chest available to get it done. Not so fast, my friends. First off, the CBC owns the same window of negotiating exclusivity that TSN enjoyed with the CFL -- and exploited to the fullest. It could conceivably hammer out a new deal before TSN/CTV even gets to the table, though an industry source suggested "you would think (the NHL) would want to know what's out there" on the open market. Still, two not-so-small things work in CBC's favour: Hockey Night in Canada's 50-plus year tradition, which is sacred to many in this country, and the fact CTV isn't likely to be willing to air a doubleheader on Saturday nights. TSN's bigger interest at the moment appears to be boosting the Canadian content in its cable package. It wants almost all its regular-season fare to include Canadian teams, and is pushing for a piece of the playoff pie that involves teams from the Great White North. Those all-U.S. matchups? They'd be shuffled off to the digital NHL Network, if TSN/CTV gets its way. The biggest question for the NHL is this: Do you decide against killing a beloved Canadian tradition, or just put warm sentiment aside and shake hands with whoever's willing to cut the fattest cheque?

'TIS THE SEASON: In the category of 'not your average Christmas Day,' reporter Michele Tafoya has a unique holiday dance card. She'll be the sideline reporter for ABC's Lakers-Heat NBA telecast at 2:30 p.m. in Miami. After that game ends, Tafoya will grab a ride across town to handle her regular Monday Night Football sideline gig at Dolphins Stadium, when Miami plays host to the New York Jets.

AROUND THE DIAL: Initiative Worldwide reports the World Cup soccer final between Italy and France was the most viewed TV sports event on the planet in 2006, attracting an average global audience of 260 million. The Super Bowl rated No. 2 (98 million) ... Rogers Television begins its annual holiday celebration of minor hockey Tuesday at 6 p.m. The week-long series of programs, which includes the Bell Capital Cup, runs through Jan. 2.


Videos

Photos