Rogers takes full control of air we breathe, water we drink–and hockey we watch

So, say the Leafs make it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2015. Please, stay with me.
Outside of the Vancouver Olympics, this would be the biggest TV draw in Canada, ever. Ten million viewers a night for Games four through Seven, easy.
So Rogers boss Keith Pelley is just going to say, “You know Hubert my new CBC amis, heritage is so important to us. You kids knock yourselves out with those numbers.”
No he will not. These games will be on City, Sportsnet, OMNI 1 and 2, maybe even The Shopping Network–because Rogers now controls everything.
That’s what $5.2B CAN buys.
In a rapidly changing, mobile, digital age, where content is not just King anymore but everything, Rogers just seized total control of the TV show Canadians care about most. NHL hockey: anywhere, anytime, on-demand.
It’s a big win if you live in Canada and are a Rangers fan, or Blackhawks or Wings of Kings. Goodbye grey dish, adios DirecTV subscription.
It’s a must-win for Rogers. Thinking of finally ditching that cable subscription? Not so fast, puck head. Please enjoy our fabulous Sportsnet cable package–for another 12 years.
There were questions and answers between all the backslapping at Tuesdays televised Rogers press conference. What about Don Cherry? Pelley all but handed him his hat, saying the network will “evaluate all facets of our programming.”
Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman felt he had to jump into the awkward pause. “Don Cherry is a great talent and a good friend,” said Bettman, cautioning reporters not to see Pelley’s statement as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over Cherry’s head. Bettman knows Grapes isn’t just another commentator in Canada–he’s the country’s biggest TV star.
Too late, although even Pelley tried to soften his comments later, suggesting Cherry could show up on Sportsnet stations on Saturday nights. The impression was already clear–this is not your father’s NHL on CBC. We are moving forward into a digital age.
And what of the CBC? Hubert Lacroix put on a brave face at the press conference. No more HNiC revenue after this season for CBC, he admitted, but no rights costs, either, to keep carrying the flagship hockey franchise Saturday nights on CBC for another four seasons (and perhaps more). While CBC surrenders all editorial and production control to Rogers, the public network holds onto its biggest promotional chip, so the Dragons and Murdoch and Doyle and everybody can all exhale again. These are the kind of responsible deals and partnerships the public broadcaster should be getting into going forward, stated Lacroix. Hampered by cuts in its appropriation, the CBC was simply “not in a position to spent taxpayer money in this game of high stakes,” he declared.
He is, of course, correct. Rogers paid eight times what TSN paid the last time NHL rights were negotiated. That $300M price goes up every year over the course of the 12 year deal. It is more than what CTV and the consortium paid the IOC for rights to the Vancouver Olympics. It is a hell of a lot of money.
Will that mean Rogers will spend less on other kinds of programming? Pelley and Scott Moore have learned the hard way over the past two or three seasons that the TV business is hardly an exact science. The old simulcast shell game is getting less and less lucrative. Take Terra Nova and Alcatraz and Mom and all these other can’t miss imports, please.
Fact is, there have been no big hits coming from the U.S. networks in years. The only sure way to corral a large, live network TV audience is through sports programming. Yes it’s expensive, but the NHL is not just content–it’s Canadian content, and it outdraws everything else. Back up the truck and where do I sign?
The other side of the coin: will this mean less Rogers money for Bachelor Canada or Package Deal or Seed or any other home grown or scripted fare? Lets just say if you are pitching a scripted series to Rogers in the coming weeks and months, make sure it is set on a hockey rink and that your main star can skate.
What does this mean for Bell and TSN? Sidelined, with the CFL. Dwindling ratings, and lots and lots of poker games. Yikes.
The big winner, eventually, might be the CBC. Finally we know. What comes next will be very different. While it took being forced out of the hands-on sports TV business, CBC has a historic opportunity to reinvent itself as a true public broadcaster–and still gets to promo the hell out of Mr. d on HNiC. It could have ended a lot worse.

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