Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hockey Night In Canada - April 14, 2007



Let's make a deal

The NHL has a nasty habit of grovelling to
American networks while sticking it to
Canadian ones. It’s all part of the
power play of hockey on TV.

By Eric Kohanik

Hey, it’s mid-April! And, in theTV universe – the Canadian TV universe, that is – it means the annual ritual of Stanley Cup hockey playoffs has begun.

It’s a nightly ritual at first. Then, it eases up. Still, the ritual will stretch from now until mid-June, when sane people’s thoughts are focused on anything but a midwinter sport.

Over the course of the next two months, National Hockey League playoffs will throw CBC’s topsy-turvy program schedule into even greater disarray than usual. But this is actually a good thing.

There had been widespread fear in the halls of the taxpayers’ network that it might all change after next season. Having already lost curling and Canadian football (starting in 2008) and the 2010 and 2012 Olympics to CTV, the folks at CBC were nervous. In fact, there had been industry-wide speculation for months that CTV was determined to snag the rights to Hockey Night in Canada – no matter the cost.

So, it was with a huge sigh of relief that CBC’s top brass announced late last month that they had hammered out a six-year agreement with the NHL to keep HNIC in its stable right on through to the end of the 2013-14 season.

CBC didn’t disclose the money involved, but industry analysts have pegged the price at around $85 million per year, up considerably from the $60-million annual levy CBC is reportedly paying now.

“For the record, this was a good deal for the NHL,” league commissioner Gary Bettman crowed at a Toronto press conference as the agreement was announced.

It’s a pretty greedy deal for the NHL, too – especially when you consider how the league grovels, hat in hand, whenever it negotiates with big American TV networks. Shortly after the CBC announcement was made, NBC – which has national network TV rights to NHL games in the United States – announced it also had a deal with the league.

The peacock network’s agreement is simply a one-year extension of its current pact, which gives it the rights to a weekly game as well as the Stanley Cup finals.

For this, NBC pays nothing up front. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Instead, the network simply tosses the NHL a chunk of the advertising money it gets from its game telecasts.

That’s a lousy deal for the NHL. But then, what do you expect? This is a league with a propensity for whoring itself whenever it comes to chasing the elusive American audience while sticking it to Canadian fans and Canadian TV networks.

Don’t feel sorry for the CBC, though. The only reason any TV network spends big money to get something is because there’s even bigger money to be made by having it.

After all, “the CBC” just wouldn’t be “the CBC” without NHL hockey on its airwaves for nine months of the year.

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