Study: NHL Lockout a Bad Omen for Canada's CBC Network

2012 NHL Winter Classic Action Shot - P

Losing the "Hockey Night in Canada" TV rights in 2014 could eliminate a third of its TV audience and half of its English TV ad revenue, the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting predicts.

TORONTO – This could become a perfect storm.

Continuing NHL lockout woes is just the beginning of troubles for the CBC, says an industry watchdog.

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting estimates the Canadian pubcaster will lose up to CAN$200 million (US$204 million) annually in ad revenue if it loses the broadcast rights to Hockey Night in Canada in 2014.

That’s when the current contract with the pro league expires.

Losing NHL hockey, a powerful brand for the CBC that includes the Stanley Cup playoff and championship rounds each spring, would erase one third of the pubcaster’s audience, according to the study.

That’s expected as Canadian cable sport channels TSN and Sportsnet are mulling taking a run at snagging the Hockey Night in Canada rights from the CBC when upcoming negotiations with the NHL get underway.

And that could leave the pubcaster in a decimated landscape as it struggles to retain and grow it primetime audience share against private sector rivals.

“The CBC is hooked on hockey and the lockout could be just a bitter foretaste of the future for the CBC,” Ian Morrison, spokesman for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said ahead of license renewal hearings for the CBC before the CRTC next month.

Hockey Night in Canada, a national institution on the CBC since 1952, delivers over half of the ad revenue earned by the English-language TV network, according to the watchdog study.

The CBC is already absorbing around CAN$115 million (US$117 million) in budget cuts over three years imposed by the federal government.

But Morrison sees losing the Hockey Night in Canada rights as a game changer, not least because the CBC cannot rely on American fare as replacement shows to meet its Canadian content requirements, as do Canadian private sector networks.