CBC marking multiple anniversaries, but lockout threatens ratings

CBC heads into the fall TV season Sunday loaded with anniversaries. The 2012-13 season marks the 60th anniversary of Hockey Night in Canada, the 40th of Marketplace, the 20th of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the 10th of the Rick Mercer Report. Officials at the public broadcaster may not be in a party mood, […]

CBC heads into the fall TV season Sunday loaded with anniversaries. The 2012-13 season marks the 60th anniversary of Hockey Night in Canada, the 40th of Marketplace, the 20th of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and the 10th of the Rick Mercer Report.

Officials at the public broadcaster may not be in a party mood, however, given the challenges ahead. Chief among them is the prospect of an NHL lockout. The loss of Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) advertising revenue for any extended period of time would be a big body check to a network already reeling from budget cuts.

Last year, the Harper government cut $115 million from the broadcaster’s billion-dollar overall annual appropriation. CBC is in the middle of a three-year period of phasing those cuts into its operating budget.

More daunting is the prospect of losing HINC altogether. CBC’s contract with the NHL runs out in 2014. While the public broadcaster will get first crack at renewing the NHL deal, rival broadcasters have made no secret about coveting the sports franchise. HNiC still ranks among Canada’s most-watched TV shows, drawing 2.5 million viewers for most Leafs games on Saturday nights.

Live sports properties have become among the most valuable cornerstones of a network line-up. They’re PVR proof, meaning viewers tend to watch in real time, a situation preferred by advertisers.

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Networks use their big sports properties to promote everything else they show. NBC promoted their fall line-up so often during their recent Olympic Summer Games fans could be forgiven if they thought Matthew Perry was handing off to Michael Phelps in the men’s swimming relay.

CBC frequently runs promos for shows such as the Gerry Dee comedy Mr. D, Republic of Doyle or Dragons’ Den during its NHL broadcasts.

CBC officials have consistently stated that keeping the NHL rights is a priority. Rivals Rogers and Bell, however, are now majority stakeholders in the Toronto Maple Leafs and own sports broadcasting franchises Sportsnet and TSN.

As their new schedule unfolds this week, CBC faces more immediate challenges. Monday marks the 7 p.m. debut of George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. The eight-year-old late night talk show is in jeopardy in more ways than one. It is being bumped ahead to the supper hour to fill the hole left by Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, two popular imports no longer on the CBC schedule.

Jeopardy! in particular was a consistent, million-viewer-a-night draw on CBC and while it skewed old it was, like HNiC, a valuable promotional tool for the rest of the network.

Stroumboulopoulos’s show will have the advantage of big name guests drawn from the many celebrities in Toronto attending the International Film Festival (including, next week, Jackie Chan and Joshua Jackson). It will be paired with the still popular Coronation Street at 7:30, with The Lang & O’Leary Exchange plugged in at 6:30.

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