Skip to main content

The Friends Of Canadian Broadcasting has sometimes been anything but. However, its public statement on the financial impact of CBC losing Hockey Night In Canada is a timely reminder of what's at stake if a private broadcaster wins the next national TV rights contract due in the fall of 2014 (assuming we ever see NHL hockey again).

"The CBC is hooked on hockey and the lockout could be just a bitter foretaste of the future for the CBC," says Ian Morrison, spokesperson for the broadcast watchdog said in the statement.

In its press release, FOCB echoes what Usual Suspects has reported previously about the HNIC dilemma for CBC. Namely, the cost of replacement programming for almost 400 hours worth of HNIC per season would be far more devastating to the national broadcaster than the simple loss of the NHL games. The statement also reflects our previous estimate that, while down from a higher split in the past, HNIC's portion of ad revenues is still about 53 per cent of CBC's total.

Currently, HNIC pays for itself after its estimated annual $100-million U.S. fee to the league. In most years, a small amount is left over for other CBC programming. FOCB estimates that leftover at $15-million per year, but a source contacted by Usual Suspects disputes that figure.

But take away even a revenue-neutral HNIC, and CBC is left with a huge gap of programming to fill. Specifically, think of how many prime time hours of playoff hockey each spring would need to be filled. Under its mandate, CBC can't fill those hours with U.S. programming such as Breaking Bad or Mad Men. It would have to create Canadian content, which is both expensive and rarely captures anywhere near the audience that HNIC does.

Result: a huge bill now hidden by HNIC. FOCB's press release estimates that production cost at approximately $500,000 per hour for a total cost of $200-million. Sources contacted by Usual Suspects dispute that figure but admit that the replacement cost would be significant.

If HNIC leaves, CBC's schedule would resemble that of Radio Canada, which lost La Soiree Du Hockey to Quebec private networks a decade ago. That is, a mix of drama, comedy and information programming. Critics say that Radio Canada survived the loss, so would CBC. But the French broadcaster isn't competing with hundreds of English language services for its audience. It has a captive audience.

FOCB says it will be demanding answers about HNIC's future on November 19 when the CRTC begins its review of the CBC's broadcast licenses.

Good News, Bad News: Keeping HNIC is not a solution in itself. Adding to CBC's problems is that the cost of a new NHL contract (presuming the package of TV and digital rights remains the same) is likely to be far more than the $100-million annual cost now paid. The NHL wants to seriously step up its national Canadian TV revenues in this cycle. It also is believed to want to diversify those rights across more than a single broadcaster.

Which might be the bright spot for CBC. Sources tell Usual Suspects that the next national TV deal might look more like an NFL national contract, spread out across all the interested broadcasters. So, CBC might retain a Saturday HNIC package. But the NHL might also create another featured hockey night in the same way the NFL created the Sunday Football Night In America package on NBC (now the top TV program in U.S. TV).

Playoff rights, for which CBC currently has first call on matchups and the entire final two rounds, might be diversified across CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. If the lockout impact isn't too severe with advertisers, the NHL could double or triple its current revenues from Canadian TV. Add in the spectacular growths in digital revenue and that number could grow still more.

In short, CBC's situation is very serious but not hopeless regarding HNIC's s future. How the Tories, many of whom want CBC dead, feel about ponying up more money for CBC is anyone's guess. (Speaking of which, was this a good time for Zaib Shaikh, the husband of CBC's VP of English Services Kirstine Stewart, to introduce Justin Trudeau at a rally in Mississauga this past week? Just asking.)

HNIC Radio:Hockey Night In Canada Radio is a hidden gem on satellite radio. This year the show is being carried on NHL Network Radio as well. Tuesday, Gord Stellick interviewed NHLPA director Don Fehr, NHL deputy commissioner BIll Daly, a piece on the first anniversary of Winnipeg getting the NHL back plus coaches Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis) and Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh), Ron Maclean and Craig Simpson. Nice start to the un-season of hockey.

Drop That Game: Remember's NBC's Heidi NFL game in the 1960s? NBC bailed on an NFL game for a movie on Heidi and missed an epic comeback by Joe Namath and the New York Jets. As a result there's a rule that you never start a game broadcast without finishing it. Apparently Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 didn't get the memo.

The station picked up in-game coverage of Game 2 of the St. Louis/Washington ALDS on Monday. After several innings, however, the station abruptly dropped the game... for a 40-minute pregame show before Game 2 of the New York/ Baltimore ALDS. Fan 590 host Mike Wilner announced the switch, but it was never explained why you'd go from a live game to pregame for anyone but a home team. Curious.

RIP Budd Lynch: Here's how long Budd Lynch was broadcasting or announcing the Detroit Red Wings. As a young fan back in the 1960, Usual Suspects would listen to Lynch and partner Bruce Martin call Detroit games on WJR, the Great Voice of the Great Lakes, under our bed covers. He called radio and TV games for decades.

Lynch, passed away Monday at age 95, later went on to become the folksy, malaprop-ridden public address announcer at the Joe Louis Arena. (Nikolai Borchevsky and Jarome Iginla were two specialties.) He was honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Foster Hewitt Award in 1985. But the most remarkable thing about Lynch was how he survived the loss of his arm in the Second World War and went on to such a lengthy and successful career. One of a kind.

Active Sticks: Where in the world is Pierre McGuire? Without the NHL to occupy his time, NBC is sending McGuire off to broadcast the start of the NCAA hockey season on NBC Sports Network. Friday and Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., McGuire and Dave Strader call the Ice Breaker Tournament, which features Notre Dame, Maine, Army and Nebraska-Omaha. A monster weekend, no doubt.

Editor's Note: Zaib Shaikh did not introduce Justin Trudeau as the next Prime Minister of Canada at a Mississauga rally. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this column.