SBD/December 2, 2013/Media

How Rogers Will Take Advantage Of NHL TV Deal; Are Changes Coming For "HNIC"?

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Cherry (r) said that he does not want the new TV deal to change "Coach's Corner"
Rogers Communications agreeing to a 12-year, C$5.2B deal with the NHL for Canadian TV and digital rights "was the easy part," as some execs now admit that maximizing the returns "remains a big challenge," according to Trichur, Marlow & Waldie of the GLOBE & MAIL. Critics said that it is "unclear how Rogers will use sports content to benefit its core wireless, cable and Internet businesses." Given the "current regulatory environment, Rogers may not have much luck testing the regulator on NHL content." There also are expectations that subscription fees "are likely to rise, which is bound to impact consumers' monthly bills" (GLOBE & MAIL, 11/30). QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson noted the reverberations from the Rogers deal "will be felt for at least the next 12 years, the length of the precedent-setting agreement." Depending on "how things spin out with Rogers taking over Hockey Night in Canada, it could be felt much longer than that." While the Rogers-NHL deal features "a bunch of interesting developments, there's no question its control of HNIC ... cannot be understated." Getting "HNIC" just might "give Rogers its biggest bang for the buck, at least for a while" (QMI AGENCY, 11/29). In Toronto, Curtis Rush detailed how the CBC deal with Rogers "came together over the course of 72 hours" (TORONTO STAR, 11/28).

COVERAGE PLANS: In Toronto, Linda Diebel wrote, "It is too soon to say whether it's a good deal for Rogers, but the vision they're so excited about is easy to see: for the hockey fanatic, games will be available on every device they own, right across the country." It sounds as if it "could be all hockey all the time on every platform in the communications toolbox." It will still be on "HNIC" for a "guaranteed four years, with the CBC paying nothing but getting no revenue." CBC also "will no longer have editorial control." Rogers Media President Keith Pelley essentially describes a "whole new hockey universe in which the NHL 'wants us to experiment with innovation.'" He said that at the "top of their list of plans is a strategy of 'showing the stars.'" Rogers President of Broadcasting Scott Moore remembers "HNIC" "interviewing players in their homes in the break after the second period and he loved it." He talks about the "opportunities today to do it across many platforms, using social media, appearances and other formats they are just now working out." Pelley promised Rogers will be able to offer to advertisers "the most integrated, activated, marketing solution that has ever been given to them before" (TORONTO STAR, 11/30).

KEEPING THE CORD: The FINANCIAL POST's Christine Dobby noted the Rogers deal will "undoubtedly bolster its Sportsnet assets and presents intriguing online and mobile opportunities but it’s perhaps more important as a path to protecting the company’s television subscriber base." Canadian Media Production Association President & CEO Michael Hennessy said, "The biggest advantage is that they have given consumers a big reason not to cut the cord." Rogers’ media division is "only a small fraction of its overall business, accounting for 13% of revenue and 4% of operating profit" in '12. But the content it produces "can be leveraged to convince customers to hang on to their contracts for lucrative wireless services as well as Internet and cable, the legacy business Rogers was built on that is now under siege" (FINANCIAL POST, 11/30). Fomer MLSE President & CEO Richard Peddie said of the Rogers-NHL deal, "I wouldn't be surprised if they lay some stuff off to TSN. I wouldn't count them out at all. And then TSN could probably get back in, in four years. I think this could be the slope downward for CBC." He added, "CBC is, I think, essentially out of it now. Even though they're going to have ["HNIC"] for four years, and it's going to be on Saturday, they're out of the hockey business" (NATIONALPOST.com, 11/27).

CHERRY PICKING: In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa noted CBC's four-year partnership "may be in line with the time remaining" in analyst Don Cherry's career. Cherry is the "main attraction" on "HNIC," and Pelley was "noncommittal about Cherry's future." But "like or dislike his opinions, Cherry is an audience driver." Rogers will "want to monetize Cherry's mass appeal" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/1). In Ottawa, Mark Sutcliffe wrote he did not "agree with almost any of Cherry’s antiquated, simplistic hockey philosophy" and Cherry's on-air segments have "evolved into strange episodes that are almost completely detached from in-game analysis." But the "quality of Coach’s Corner matters not." Cherry has "crossed a threshold to become a tradition." He is "so ingrained in our culture, it has long stopped mattering how relevant he is." There are "other parts of HNIC that deserve much more of an overhaul than Coach’s Corner." Sutcliffe: "My guess is that Rogers chose to keep Saturday night hockey on CBC for four years to maintain as much continuity as possible during this abrupt change for viewers and advertisers." Retaining Cherry would "be consistent with their apparent goal of a smooth transition" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/1).

LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE: Cherry addressed the Rogers deal during his "Coach's Corner" segment Saturday night and said, "Everybody asks me about 'Coach's Corner.' I'm happy the way things are." Cherry: "If you're number one, why would you fool around like that? I know I'm good. I didn't fall off the turnip truck, I know everybody watches. So all I'm saying is take it easy, don't try to ruin a good thing. Just leave us alone and we'll be just as good next year" ("HNIC," CBC, 11/30). The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon noted multiple reports indicated viewers "experienced a brief interruption while Cherry discussed the new deal with Rogers as the audio and picture feeds appeared to flicker and then freeze for a couple of seconds during the broadcast." A CBC spokesperson said the interruption was “just a transmission blip ... we don't edit Don Cherry" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 11/30).
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