When we sat down with the National Hockey League to discuss broadcast rights this time around, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. The industry had changed. Our competitors had changed. And we, the public broadcaster, had changed. But we felt strongly that CBC has a place in hockey.
Hockey Night in Canada is more than a program. It’s the gathering point of a nation. For generations, it’s brought families together and lit up living rooms from coast to coast to coast. I grew up with it in French and English. For most of us, it conjures up memories – a goal, a voice, an image. And because it’s broadcast on the public airwaves, it belongs to all of us.
Access to that iconic piece of Canadian identity is what we wanted to protect, along with a best-in-class production team that allows us to maintain our commitments in other areas from sports to news to music. And, by those standards, we succeeded.
This week, we took another step toward redefining how a modern public broadcaster fulfills its obligations to Canadians. The changing media landscape will force us, and rightly so, to partner with other players to continue not only to tell Canada’s stories, but to showcase Canadian musicians, artists, talent and athletes. That will be obvious come the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in February. Here again, our new philosophy is at work. In the public interest, we are partnered with no fewer than four companies that some might consider our fierce competitors. Together, we will bring Canadians closer to their athletes, closer to the Games than ever before. We’ll be there in Rio too, not to mention the FIFA World Cup and the Pan American Games.
The media landscape is increasingly dominated by conglomerates with very deep pockets that both produce and distribute content. Let’s be honest, CBC can’t put a $5.2-billion bid on the table because we don’t have the specialty networks, pay-TV and mobility platforms to monetize those rights. So, we need to change our mindset. We look for how and where the public interest can be served by collaborating with those giants, in this case Rogers, to share national consciousness and preserve Canadian heritage.
Change has become something that CBC/Radio-Canada relishes. It represents an opportunity to renew our relationship with Canadians in novel and surprising ways. We now offer more services than ever before – 30 in all, up from 19 a decade ago – and in recent years have made the public broadcaster more Canadian, more regional and more digital. This, despite decreasing public funding and a rapidly changing media environment. Eighty-eight per cent of Canadians use our services every month in French, English and several aboriginal languages.
As important as hockey has been, increasing rights costs and the changing advertising market have tended to offset those revenues in recent years. These are storms we’ve weathered in the past, and in this latest round of negotiations, we needed to take those risks into account.
Through creativity and perhaps a little gumption, we secured a deal that allows the public broadcaster to continue the proud legacy of Hockey Night in Canada, including the Stanley Cup Final. It’s just that, after 61 years, we have had to rethink how to do it. Having studied this market for years, we conceived, negotiated, approved and announced this deal in five days. Creativity, fluidity, adaptability – these are the attributes that define a modern public broadcaster.
In the end, CBC/Radio-Canada exists to ensure Canadians have a window on themselves and their country, and to provide a uniquely Canadian perspective. Expect more partnerships of this kind, and rest assured that we will continue to play as big a role in Canada’s future as we’ve played in its past. We may just have to do it a little differently.
Hubert Lacroix is president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada.