Monday, June 09, 2008

The song doesn't remain the same: CBC loses Hockey Night theme to CTV/TSN

Photo: For Hockey Night in Canada, the song doesn't remain the same. (Photo from The Globe and Mail)
CTV announced today [] that they've acquired the rights to the popular "Hockey Theme", better known as the opening soundtrack to the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, "in perpetuity." This comes shortly after the CBC's last-ditch attempt to bring in Gord Kirke as a mediator (as if he didn't have enough on his plate with the Leafs' GM search).

There are several intersting aspects to this move. First, it draws a hell of a lot of attention to TSN's new six-year deal with the league, and with every one of their games now featuring at least one Canadian team, the case can be made that their "Hockey lives here" slogan is becoming more and more accurate. It continues their attempt to look more like the first line instead of the grinders and checkers. It also should bring a fair bit of public goodwill to their side: just look at the reaction to this on call-in shows, online story comments and in the blogosphere. They're suddenly the good guys who saved "a cherished piece of Canadiana," according to CTV president Rick Brace [The Globe and Mail], while the CBC is portrayed as the heartless corporation that couldn't pony up the deal. I have no issue with CTV/TSN buying the song: in fact, I think it's a brilliant marketing move for them.

At first glance, it's not so good for CBC Sports: sure, their $100,000 talent search will draw attention, but it again looks as if TSN and CTV have once again stepped in with the resources to rid CBC of its top talent and properties when they weren't willing or able to pay for them (see Cuthbert, Chris; Williams, Brian). That isn't entirely the case here, as one of the main issues seems to be the lawsuit hanging over CBC's head rather than the strict financial terms, but you can bet that's how it's likely to be interpreted by the public, many who are very upset over this (and the politicians are even leaping into the fray [Adam Radwanski, The Globe and Mail).

I've got a fair bit of sympathy for the CBC here. They really were put into a bad position, first by the other side unexpectedly going to the media when negotiations stalled (or according to CBC Sports head Scott Moore, were still ongoing) in what seemed like a clear attempt to use public support as leverage in getting a deal. Also, as I mentioned, I doubt money was the main issue (especially as the CBC can apparently afford to put up $100,000 as a contest prize): the bigger problem was likely the outstanding lawsuit, as well as the new media rights. This new deal and situation works out great for composer Dolores Claman, as she can get her desired royalties (probably with a premium tacked on by CTV for the "in perpetuity" bit) while keeping her lawsuit active against CBC. It's also great for TSN: this is a shrewd marketing ploy that wil not only give them a good bit of public goodwill, but also associate their name, brand and network with hockey even more than before. The big loser here is the CBC, but I'm not sure if there's anything else they could reasonably have done.

In any case, this may not be as big of a loss for the CBC as you might think at first. Sure, they're taking some public flack at the moment, but they weren't driven into making a business decision based solely on public sentiment, which can often be a bad idea. Those negative feelings will surely dissipate with time, and people will flock to Hockey Night in Canada whatever the theme song is. Also, they clearly made a solid effort to keep the song, so they can play that up. Their $100,000 contest may sound like a gimmick, but the popularity of shows like American Idol and its imitators suggests that it's probably going to put up decent ratings (especially in hockey-mad Canada: they can hopefully attract both the hockey crowd and the American Idol crowd, and those twain have largely been strangers to this day). If they can pull in some decent ratings for the show, that $100,000 looks pretty minimal compared to some of the prizes offered on TV (think Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or its ilk), and they also get a free hockey theme that they can play whereever they like, however much they want and sell as any form of ringtone or other download they choose with nary a potential lawsuit in sight. Sounds like a pretty decent business decision to me.

Also, Moore suggests in the Globe's story on the deal that Claman wanted between $2.5 and $3 million for the song, so $100,000 looks like peanuts in comparision. Now, keep in mind that TSN may not have had to pay quite that much, as Claman's lawsuit was for $2 million: the $2.5 to $3 million figure may have included settling the lawsuit, and it may have also been inflated due to the animosity between the parties. This may hurt a bit in the short term, and I still think it's a big success for TSN and Claman, but the CBC isn't too hard done by here either.

- Press release on the new deal [].
- Steve's post on the mediation proposal. [Eye on the Media].
- James Mirtle's take on the matter [Mirtle].
- "CTV scoops up hockey theme song" [Brodie Fenlon and Peter Cheney, The Globe and Mail]
- "CTV gives the CBC a smackdown on the Hockey Theme" [HockeyNation]

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