Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CBC, TSN iced in Rogers' $5.2-billion broadcast-rights deal with NHL

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OK, first things first: Nobody is going to take away your Winnipeg Jets TV coverage. That's undoubtedly the most pressing issue for local puck fans in the wake of the massive NHL broadcast-rights agreement announced by Rogers Communications on Tuesday -- a 12-year, $5.2-billion megadeal that essentially freezes TSN out of hockey coverage and places CBC's Hockey Night in Canada on what amounts to four years of life support with a predetermined pull-the-plug date.

Any way you look at it, this is a very, very big deal.

The broadcast and multimedia rights agreement, announced in Toronto by Rogers executives and top NHL brass, gives Rogers Communications the Canadian rights to all NHL games across all platforms in all languages.

Rogers also announced a sub-licensing deal that will allow CBC to continue Hockey Night in Canada for four more years. Under the terms of that agreement, however, Rogers will have complete editorial control of HNIC programming (including content, on-air talent and creative direction, though CBC will be "consulted" and maintains "a commitment to excellence") and will also be responsible for sales of advertising during HNIC broadcasts and, as a consequence, will also reap the financial benefits of those ads.

CBC will pay nothing for the rights to continue HNIC, but will also make nothing from the Saturday-night institution's commercial sales -- a huge blow for the public broadcaster, which has counted on Hockey Night as a major revenue producer for decades.

In a memo to CBC staff Tuesday, president and CEO Hubert Lacroix tried to put a positive spin on things, emphasizing "CBC pays no rights costs for the broadcasting of hockey" and "Rogers is bearing the sole risk around hockey revenues," but in terms of the blow the CBC has suffered here, such rationalizations amount to not much more than a very thin veneer of lipstick on an extremely ugly pig.

Maintaining the Hockey Night franchise under these terms for four more years does nothing more than allow the CBC to maintain, on a short-term basis, an important promotional slot (Saturday night) for its other shows. Losing HNIC's power to generate revenue will have a huge immediate financial impact on the CBC, while losing the signature franchise altogether in four years will diminish the CBC brand in ways that are difficult to quantify. In his internal memo, Lacroix stated job losses at CBC are inevitable in the wake of Rogers' assumption of HNIC's revenue stream -- which, by some estimates, accounts for as much as half of all CBC's TV-ad revenue.

Rogers also made a sub-licensing deal with Quebec-based TVA for all national French-language multimedia rights.

For Winnipeg Jets fans, the deal that sent Canada's sports-broadcasting world into a Tuesday tizzy shouldn't have much immediate effect on how they watch their favourite team on television. The agreement signed between the Jets and Bell Media in September 2011 to create the TSN Jets pay-TV service is a 10-year deal, which means TSN Jets will continue to provide regional coverage of Jets games for another seven seasons after the new national Rogers agreement takes effect with the start of the 2014-15 NHL season.

The Jets/Bell Media agreement also gave radio rights for Jets broadcasts to TSN 1290 until 2021.

It will probably take weeks, or even months, for the full impact of the Rogers/NHL deal to be fully understood, as programming formats are revamped and redesigned and a huge reshuffling and relocation of this country's sports-broadcasting talent begins. But here are a few of the other key questions that topped the discussion after Tuesday's big NHL-rights announcement:

 

Q: How bad is this for TSN?

In short, really, REALLY bad. After decades as Canada's dominant sports-TV entity, TSN will be relegated to back-seat status when Rogers takes control of the one sport that matters more to Canadians than all the others combined. TSN will still have big amateur events such as the World Junior Hockey Championships, and may compete for the rights to junior hockey broadcasts, but when it comes to puck coverage, the NHL is the thing. TSN will certainly try to maintain an NHL presence with various panels and puck-focused shows, as well as big events such as the NHL draft and the annual trade-deadline frenzy, but without actual games to broadcast, it'll all start to feel like so much filler between channel-flips to Sportsnet and Citytv.

 

Q: How bad is this for Don Cherry?

This is very much a wait-and-see sort of question -- depending on the new Rogers bosses' appetite for Cherry's antics, he may quickly become under- or over-employed. During Tuesday's post-announcement press conference, Rogers executives said all aspects of NHL programming -- including Hockey Night in Canada -- will be evaluated, a comment some took as bad news for the future of Coach's Corner; later, however, it was suggested hockey content and personalities could be available on all Rogers-related platforms. So, more Don, or less? Only time will tell.

 

Q: What's going to happen to the old Hockey Night in Canada theme, whose rights TSN acquired in 2008?

TSN, which was beyond smug when it scooped up the rights to Doris Claman's familiar pre-hockey ditty "in perpetuity" after CBC failed to renew its rights agreement with the composer, still owns the song; it just doesn't have any national TV hockey broadcasts to run after it plays it. The tune will still be heard on the regional NHL telecasts (including games on TSN Jets) to which TSN retains the rights, and could be repurposed for other events such as the World Juniors. But for the next dozen years, at least, Canada's most recognizable hockey theme will be mostly silenced. In a pinch, perhaps some World's Strongest Man lyrics could be written to fit the music...

 

Q: Why would anyone pay so much for NHL broadcast rights?

Without question, $5.2 billion is an enormous sum -- by some calculations, approaching 10 times as much as what was paid the last time hockey rights were up for bidding in this country. The price tag starts at $300 million per year, and rises in each year of the deal. But hockey on TV makes big money in Canada, so Rogers will profit both financially and in terms of its public perception among Canadian sports fans. And Rogers will also work hard at exploiting all the revenue possibilities on current and emerging multimedia platforms. For companies that buy TV ads, there's also this to consider: Live sporting events are one of the last remaining program formats in which commercials run very little risk of being ignored by viewers who use delayed PVR viewing and/or online streaming as a means of skipping those ads.

 

Q: How will NHL hockey on Rogers properties be different from what we're seeing now?

It's the multimedia age, and Rogers is promising more hockey across more platforms than Canadian fans have ever seen, including "multiple game coverage on up to nine TV channels plus digital and radio on any given night." There will also be an emphasis on promoting the game by creating in-depth profiles of the NHL's top 50 stars and providing behind-the-scenes access to players and teams throughout the league. Expect a massive in-migration of on-air talent as Rogers moves toward staffing its various hockey-related shows -- Tuesday's announcement promised "Top talent in Canada -- both in front of and behind the camera -- will lead the new way of delivering NHL content to Canadians."

What wasn't discussed is just how all this content will be delivered -- how much will be on conventional cable TV, and how much will be limited to existing and new extra-pay services that will require additional subscription fees to access.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Has a little bit of Canadian culture died now that CBC has lost control of hockey coverage? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2013 A12

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Updated on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 7:36 AM CST: Changes headline, adds photo, adds question for discussion, adds video

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