In case you were busy having a life, Hockey Night In Canada returned to airwaves and laptops and iPhones on Saturday night with an exhibition … pardon, preseason contest. If it seems like only yesterday that Ron MacLean and Gary Bettman were squabbling like sleep-deprived contestants on Big Brother over arena leases in Minnesota, it's probably because the previous season's exertions only truly ended with the Ilya Kovalchuk arbitration in late August. Only then did the hockey breed finally collapse upon itself in sheer exhaustion.
But HNIC was indeed back Saturday for another season - this time with ex-enforcer Brad May in tow for AHL contests. Another former pugilist on HNIC? Hey, you can never have enough about honour killings in your editorial. We'll have more on the iconic hockey program in a column later this week.
What cannot be challenged is the supremacy of shows like HNIC - indeed any sports - in saving conventional TV's role in the market. New technologies such as PVR and Apple TV have rendered appointment viewing almost obsolete in everything but sports, where live is still king. So much so, suggests Scott Moore, CBC vice-president of sports, that you might see a reversal of roles. "We used to worry that all the major sports events would be get ghettoized on secondary sports channels," Moore told Usual Suspects in a phone interview. "But now with the numbers we're getting from portable people meters [PPMs] sports is so valuable as an audience driver that you might see some sports come back to main channels.
"The reason the World Cup showed so much growth is because it was on CBC over-the-air. Every diner, barber shop or hotel lounge could get the World Cup signal either from cable, satellite or even using bunny ears to bring in the signal." Those numbers will soon translate into ad-rate increases for networks that have seen their primacy disappearing in other areas.
The advent of the PPMs last year showed sports viewing increasing anywhere from 30 to 80 per cent in some categories over the numbers harvested by written diaries. Part of that recognition was the change in technologies. But events such as the soccer World Cup showed that streaming to phones, laptops and other portable devices has become a huge growth area accepted by the market.
Moore doesn't expect the growth to stop there. "Tablet computers such as the iPad deliver a video experience that is so far superior to iPhones and portable devices that they will change everything about how sports is viewed." Moore is not as bullish on 3D as yet. "I think 3D will be more prevalent, but not as much as people think. It's a neat experience, but people who are experiencing TV while multitasking don't want to wear the glasses. Until they get around that, it might be a harder sell."
So don't expect a decrease in the rights leagues charge for TV sports any time soon. Especially if new competitors enter the bidding. "Social networks might be a new competitor for rights," Moore suggests. "The next big threat might be from Google, Facebook or Yahoo who want to use sports to leverage a new audience. Who knows, the next great TV sport might even be cricket."
Gambling Men: Not to nitpick, but … okay, we'll nitpick. If it's third and four with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter and you're down by more than a field goal - it's not a gamble to go for it. So with deference to the TSN folks, the Alouettes' dramatic TD pass that won the game in the dying moments Friday in Winnipeg was not a gamble. They had no other option. It was a necessity, not a gamble. My, we're cranky.