HBO 24/7 is no more, but the NHL is promising an even better experience out of the behind-the-scenes, all-access program that will follow participants of the league's outdoor games in 2015. (Whether we get a better experience, of course, is to be seen.)
For starters, the new series won't just be a two-team affair. Epix, the TV network replacing HBO as the league's partner on this yet-to-be-named endeavor, will produce two separate shows: one following the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals before, during and in the immediate after the Winter Classic, and another following the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings surrounding their NHL Stadium Series outdoor game in February.
Will each episode be longer?
HBO's 24/7 was a four-episode, 50 minute-per-episode series that followed the two Winter Classic participants for a full month leading up to the outdoor game.
The programs produced by Epix will be eight parts in total (four for each game), and network CEO Mark Greenberg told SB Nation that each episode won't necessarily be limited to a 45 or 50 minute block like HBO's series was.
He didn't elaborate on that, and it could mean a number of things -- the episodes could simply be longer, or Epix could provide extra behind-the-scenes clips available to their subscribers. It's yet to be seen and will probably ultimately depend on the content. Greenberg merely spoke of the lack of limitations that Epix has in producing each episode. So we'll see what happens with that.
Will the production value be HBO-quality?
Our hope is that the production value will just as good as on HBO, although it seems unlikely that the unmatchable narration skills of Liev Schreiber will be available to Epix for their program. That's just us thinking out loud, because Schreiber is so ingrained with HBO Sports programming. But we'll see. He has worked for Showtime on sports before so it's not like he's never gone out of the HBO family.
The hope here lies with Epix producer Ross Greenburg, formerly of HBO and the original producer of 24/7. Reports indicate that they'll be spending a lot of money per episode to produce the program, which is of course a good thing for the finished product. Greenburg worked with the NHL on their in-house "NHL 36" and "NHL Revealed" programs, and while those programs were good, they left us wanting a little bit more and they weren't quite as compelling as HBO 24/7. So we'll see where Greenburg takes us this time.
The Epix program will be completely uncensored, although we do assume that the NHL will have final say in exactly what airs -- veto power, if you will.
Americans will be able to watch ... for free
Much like the old HBO program, Canadian viewers will have the opportunity to watch a censored version on Rogers Sportsnet. That's kind of a bummer for Canadian fans, but on the bright side, at least there's no Canadian team featured this year.
In the United States, millions of people already pay for Epix. Those people will be able to watch live or on-demand, of course. For the rest of the country, the series will be available to be live streamed each week on Epix.com, NHL.com and various Epix apps across many devices. For those without an Epix subscription who wish to watch the program on-demand, the network will offer a free trial of their service that they say will allow one to watch each episode on-demand or live. The free trial is only two weeks long, though, so you won't get to use it for the full series.
That's still a big improvement over HBO, where users had to resort to breaking the law if they wanted to watch 24/7 without purchasing an HBO subscription, or if they were unable to purchase an HBO subscription.
While HBO subscribers must order the network through their cable subscriber, Epix is available to cord-cutters who have decided against or can't afford a full cable package. In that sense, theoretically, Epix is available to many more people in the United States, since all you need is an Internet connection and a device with which to watch.
Update: Unfortunately, we were wrong on the above: you do need a cable subscription to subscribe to Epix. On the bright side, you don't need one to activate the free trial. So that's good. But again, it's just a 14 day trial.