Rogers Media to Replace U.S. Series With NHL Broadcasts to Stem Losses

Brian Babineau/NHL via Getty Images

The Canadian broadcaster told regulators that a blockbuser $4.9 billion hockey deal will slash the number of American shows on its primetime schedule.

TORONTO– This doesn't bode well for spending by Canadian broadcasters at the upcoming Los Angeles Screenings.

Rogers Media head Keith Pelley told the CRTC on Tuesday that his network's CAN$5.2 billion (US$4.9 billion) NHL TV rights deal will eliminate around 20 percent of the U.S. network series on his free, over-the-air City network.

"We’ve changed our philosophy and the NHL was a catalyst to do that. It would allow us to significantly reduce our U.S. programming," Pelley told the regulator during license renewal hearings.

The pivot by Rogers Media to satisfying hockey-mad Canadian TV viewers with more than 500 televised hockey games across 13 networks from next season follows City stations posting years of ad revenue losses amid increased competition from Netflix Canada and other new digital platforms.

"Without NHL hockey, our revenues on City would decrease year over year,” Pelley told the CRTC hearing.

The move to blanket coverage of the NHL also aims to help Rogers Media better compete against rivals Bell Media and Shaw Media, both of which also use U.S. network series to drive audience ratings and advertising revenues.

The problem, according to Pelley, is renting U.S. series just isn't the business it once was, given Canadians are increasingly heading to tablets and other digital platforms to view video, and advertisers are chasing them with ad dollars.

"Just like Blockbuster was wiped out by online VOD, there is a very real risk that OTA TV will become obsolete,” Pelley warned the CRTC, as he made a pitch for regulatory relief to meet competitive pressures.

The license renewal hearings continue this week, ahead of the CRTC rendering a decision.