Someone at the CBC shat the bed, to use a favorite colloquialism. I suspect the blame lies with the departed Kirstine Stewart who promoted “entertainment” TV over sports and other forms of television. If you look at the shows promoted during her tenure at the CBC you will note things like Battle of the Blades, Dragons’ Den, Heartland and Steven & Chris. Little Mosque doesn’t count since she’s married to the star.
You might ask why blame lies with her with her leaving the helm back in April, but you have to realize these decisions do not get made overnight, nor did the CBC not see this coming. Also this situation the CBC finds themselves in was years in the making. Before I left I warned a former co-worker to watch out come November. I predicted they would lose the rights and then all hell would break loose. While the CBC is putting on a brave face, they’re fucked.
In an internal memo Hubert Lacroix explains how Rogers not only owns NHL broadcasting in Canada; they also have editorial control over the iconic Hockey Night in Canada. The CBC will not pay for the broadcasting rights for 4 years, but Rogers will own the advertising inventory. What that means is Rogers will allow the CBC to broadcast the show it used to own for the next 4 years for free but any ad revenue will belong to Rogers.
Now you’re probably wondering what is in it for the CBC and to use a business quote I learned a long time ago, “It’s better to own part of something, then all of nothing.” The CBC has no choice. They painted themselves into a corner and are now paying the price. They are not willing to pay out what is required for hockey and as a result they lost the rights, just like with the hockey song. You can’t really blame them for that though. If they spent a million dollars or whatever the anthem went for people would accuse them of wasting tax payer dollars. To quote another not so great mind, “Gravy train!”
Rogers may have thrown them a bone with 320 hours of hockey but to put that into perspective, there are over 1200 games in a regular season (not including playoffs). 320 hours works out to about 150 games assuming each one is two hours long, or about 10%. And they don’t get any revenue from this deal. They just get the rights to continue showing Hockey Night in Canada.
“It also provides us with a high-traffic place to promote all of our other fantastic Canadian content during a broadcast that brings the nation together week after week.”
What Hubert also fails to mention is that rogers retains the rights to broadcast any game showing a Canadian team, think Toronto Maple Leafs the most lucrative team in the league, meaning HNIC will be left to show the less interesting games.
I am not sure if this deal means CBC will need to purchase ad inventory to show commercials on its own network or if they think they can cross-promote Heartland with HNIC online but either way it doesn’t do them much good. Hockey Night in Canada doesn’t bring together the Nation as Hubert claims. It brings together people who like watching hockey. That demographic is not the same group watching the rest of the stuff the CBC has.
Sports took a back seat with the CBC years ago when Kristine Stewart took over as the director of programming. Rather than looking at the numbers and what actually sold, Kristine and her cohorts went with what resonated with them, rather than what resonates with Canadians. Don’t get me wrong, they have had some great shows, but they’ve also had a bucket of duds. Remember “Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays” that aired on a Wednesday? Me neither and I worked there at the time.
Over the years the sports department eliminated its amateur sports coverage, and reshaped its website section to push hockey even more to the foreground in an attempt to gain some traction on the revenue front. I suspect they were hoping to achieve some sort of terminal velocity and pull away from the mother ship so they could fly solo but alas, now that is all for naught.
I suppose it was a strategic decision on the part of the executive to focus more on shows that “feel” like they are quality programming rather than looking at the shows that pull in the numbers. But I can’t help feeling if the CBC had someone who actually liked and understood their own research at the helm they wouldn’t be in this mess. I’m not saying I’m that guy, I’m just saying…
$5.2 billion may seem like a lot of money but over 12 years it really isn’t. The CBC has an operating budget of $1 billion a year. Which means over the next 12 years it will get 12 billion dollars provided the budget remains steady. (Which it won’t now that hockey is gone).
There are some lines of business at the CBC that make money and some that do not. And I don’t think I am giving away any insider information when I say that Sports was a revenue generator. Hockey isn’t a loss leader, it’s a cash cow. So a 500 million dollar investment could have easily paid for itself. If you doubt that, then ask why did Rogers and TSN bid on it?
The Sports department injected much needed cash into the CBC and the vast majority of that cash came from hockey related activities. Radio, not so much. There was a public uproar about the CBC beginning to introduce ads on its radio 2 music programs but I suspect that move was in anticipation of exactly this sort of situation. Now the CBC is forced to not only downsize the Sports department but determine what other sections of the institution will need to get axed now that they lack the additional revenue hockey brought in.
If I didn’t know better I would suspect Steven Harper is dancing this little jig right now.
I have suggested that this will be the beginning of the end for the Mothercorp, and part of me hopes it is, just let the old girl pass with dignity. But another part of me hopes for a better, stronger, leaner, Canadian-er CBC. I am not sure what that will look like, I have some ideas but unfortunately I am not at the helm.
I suspect there will be downsizing in programming, more cheap repeats of shows from the U.S. and a bucket load more reality (read: cheap) TV like Dragons Den. Seriously how much can it cost to have four people sit in chairs while others perform for them to get judged? Oh wait, I just described American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, the Voice and myriad of other crap TV so I guess not that much.
Mark my words Canada; this is the beginning of the end for the CBC unless we fight for it. The problem is, without hockey, what are we fight for?