This year, the NHL’s signature annual event, the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, goes to the nation’s capitol on January 1 when the Washington Capitals meet the Chicago Blackhawks on NBC. Prior to the game, the NHL and premium channel EPIX have partnered for the first time for The Road To The Winter Classic, making the episodes available for free on any device to anyone in the U.S. as well as on NHL.com, Epix.com, and a host of other sites. The series kicks off December 16 with a very recognizable name at the helm 52-time Emmy Award winning producer Ross Greenburg, who is once again creating the show he originally produced at HBO, the show’s previous home. Here’s what Greeenburg has in store for fans and marketers alike.
Since you created the series at HBO, what will fans see that’s different, now that it’s on EPIX?
We’ll dig deeper into the storylines than ever before. From Crawford and Sharp to Ovechkin and Backstrom, the players are amazingly compelling. Plus, you have very accessible and engaged coaches who fans will love to hear more about. But most importantly, we’re going back to the root of what made this series so successful when it started: the humanity, the intensity and the grittiness of everyone involved with these two franchises, from the players to the owners.
The partnership between the NHL and EPIX is designed to give all fans – not just premium cable subscribers – a chance to see the show for the first time on any platform. What does that mean for you as producer?
It means we have to keep an eye open a little wider for what may appeal to such a broad audience. We can’t take anything for granted. We want to make sure we deliver the story that will keep not just hockey fans, but everyone, engaged.
You’ve now done several projects with EPIX, including the documentary Forgotten Four. What has that experience been like?
EPIX has been very aggressive in working with partners like MLB and the NFL – and now the NHL – in getting the word out and showing that they want to be a player in this space. By making a series like this available outside their network on any device to all fans, they’re showing that they’re willing to take chances. They believe that once people see what they’re doing in sports, they’ll get hooked and will also see what EPIX is doing in entertainment. It’s a very smart approach. I’m sure it will help change the dynamic in how premium channels engage with fans.
The documentary space continues to grow; now with EPIX, ESPN, Showtime and HBO creating content. First, what makes a great series, and second, is there ever a saturation point?
You used to think there was only one way to do it, but now every day there’s a new approach that gains momentum and we have seen, rightly so, that sports can deliver some very dramatic stories that cross cultural and social boundaries like nothing else. There’s no shortage of content and interest, especially if the story is framed correctly and delivered and promoted well. The biggest surprise we have seen is that there’s a huge interest in the genre from young people; there has been this myth that early adopters and millennials only want to hear about what is going on now, when in fact they love the historical pieces and deeper dives into the personalities in and around the games. The most important thing is to deliver the story on the right platforms, which is what we are doing now with the NHL and EPIX. If they can find it, they will engage, become fans and share the content.