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Keith Pelley, President, Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium in the control room of CTV in Vancouver, BC, January 21, 2010. (Lyle Stafford For The Globe and Mail)
Keith Pelley, President, Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium in the control room of CTV in Vancouver, BC, January 21, 2010. (Lyle Stafford For The Globe and Mail)

Usual Suspects

Pelley will need all his smarts to fix Sportsnet One fiasco Add to ...

Keith Pelley's surprising move from running the Canadian Olympic TV consortium to the presidency of Rogers Communications (replacing retiring Tony Viner) is still rattling around the Canadian media world. Pelley, who's kept a low profile since the Vancouver Olympics in February, has done the equivalent of jumping from the Montreal Canadiens to the Toronto Maple Leafs, switching corporate cultures behind the two major TV sports networks in the country. In a business where loyalties are often a lifetime assignation, Pelley's hiring is significant.

No one is explaining the move publicly, but the bold transition is in keeping with Pelley's ambitious rise from producer at TSN to the top post at rival Rogers. The 46-year-old's star was burnished by the performance of the consortium in Vancouver, presidency of TSN and presidency of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. (The move also gives Pelley more time in Toronto with his young family.) Pelley's an innovative, dynamic character, and he'll need those qualities to deal with some brush fires at Rogers.

Pelley lands in a hornet's nest as the company experiences a severe backlash after launching Sportsnet One - heavy on Blue Jays and soccer - with only the Rogers carriers. Blue Jays viewers denied some of their team's games in midseason - because rival carriers have yet to add the new cable channel to their system - are irate. Usual Suspects has been bombarded with e-mails from fans describing the move as everything from "theft" of the team's games to "screwing" loyal customers.

Disgruntled viewers are contacting the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, but the federal bureaucrats won't pick a dog in the fight between Rogers, which has both a content and a carrier role, and its rival carriers. Saying Rogers needs only one carrier to commence operation of Sportsnet One, Michelle Edge of the CRTC told one viewer: "Sportsnet One has no 'right of carriage.'  This means its carriage is strictly a contractual matter between the TV service provider (cable or satellite) and the broadcaster.  The CRTC does not play a role in such matters."

Nor can the CRTC demand that Rogers make Blue Jays games available to the widest possible audience. "Obtaining distribution rights is a private, contractual matter between broadcasters and the sports organization involved," Edge wrote. "This process does not involve the CRTC in any manner.  Nor does the mandate given to us by Parliament through the Broadcasting Act give us the power to either censor or demand that broadcasters air particular programming."

Industry insiders tell Usual Suspects that competitors are enjoying Rogers's distress and are in no hurry to help it out of its problem.

FANning The Flames: Pelley will also face the wrath of radio listeners on Rogers-owned FAN 590, which is repositioning itself. Complaints ranging from the loss of familiar hosts to moving Bob McCown's Prime Time Sports an hour earlier (3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET) have emerged as the station seeks to broaden its focus beyond the sports audience. Pelley's close relationship with McCown is also thought to be an advantage in keeping McCown with the network when his contract expires in 2012.

Radio Chatter: The Edmonton Oilers have gone young on the ice, and the feeling is they'll do the same within the next 24 hours as they replace legendary radio voice Rod Phillips this season on flagship CHED 630. While Alan Watt, the Oilers' executive in charge of media, wasn't tipping his hand this week, a number of veteran names were tossed about to work beside analyst Bob Stauffer. But the betting is on a young voice such as Cam Moon of the Red Deer Rebels as the Oilers' next voice. With all the games now televised, the role of the play-by-play radio voice has morphed. "We go from 90 minutes before games," Watt told Usual Suspects, "to even longer after games. Plus there are the needs of the website, live hosting for team functions and public appearances to consider. The new announcer has a lot more roles to play."

In Ottawa, the Senators' radio voice, TEAM 1200, is looking for an analyst as Gary Galley has moved full-time to CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. And Montreal's CJAD will feature a new radio analyst on the Canadiens' broadcasts as ex-Hab Murray Wilson is pulling back from the rigours of travel and commuting from his Ottawa home.

Prairie Wind: Indications are that Sportsnet will add a western news desk to serve that regional channel. (The Pacific channel has a late-night sports desk with Don Taylor from Vancouver.) In any Alberta discussion, the issue is Edmonton or Calgary. But those with knowledge of the resources say Edmonton is best equipped technically to produce the broadcasts. The move is interesting because last spring it was thought Sportsnet would cut the Pacific desk for budget reasons.

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