Sportsnet admits it’s using Canadiens Saturday night games as subscription bait

If you’ve been paying attention to the scheduling of Hockey Night in Canada, you might have noticed that Canadiens games are more likely to be on Sportsnet this season, whereas last season they were more likely to be on City.

This season, of the 13 Saturday evening games that have aired so far, plus the next one (Feb. 27 against the Leafs) that has already been assigned, six were put on Sportsnet, two on City and six on CBC or CBC and City. Of those six, three are games against the Maple Leafs, and two were nights the Leafs weren’t playing. Only once, on Oct. 17 (in the middle of their season-opening hot streak) did the Canadiens go on CBC and bump the Leafs to another channel (in that case, City), which caused plenty of frustration from Leafs fans who had been used to just owning CBC on Saturday nights.

The Leafs’ dominance on CBC is nothing new. The same thing happened last season. And it makes sense. The Canadiens have stronger ratings overall, but if you discount francophones who will watch those games on TVA Sports, the Leafs are the more popular team on English television on Saturday nights. And so Rogers gives them the network with the largest overall reach.

But what’s changed this year appears to be the order of priority when it comes to channel assignments. It used to be CBC > City > Sportsnet > Sportsnet One or 360. But now it appears Sportsnet has moved to the No. 2 spot on Saturday nights, to the point where City has on some weeks had either simulcasts of the CBC game or an all-American matchup.

I asked Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet, about this during an interview I did for a Gazette story that appears in Saturday’s paper about the difficulty in finding live sports online.

“We want to put whatever games we can to the widest distribution,” he said.

But Moore, who noted he’s a Habs fan, admitted that the scheduling strategy has changed this year, and “the second best game has moved to Sportsnet and the third best game has gone to City.”

“That’s simply for a subscription play,” he said.

What does that mean? It means Rogers is putting that second-best game, whether it’s the Canadiens or Senators or Jets, on Sportsnet as a way of getting more people to subscribe to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet gets 72% of its revenue through subscriptions (75% if you also count Sportsnet One, 360 and World), and only 23% through advertising, according to figures from 2013-14 submitted to the CRTC. And as the CRTC mandates channels be offered on a pick-and-pay or small-package basis as of March 1 (and both as of Dec. 1), it’s in Sportsnet’s best interest to protect that subscription revenue.

It’s a balancing act from a capitalist perspective. Lock the games down too much on expensive specialty channels and you risk losing fans. Put too many games on free TV and occasional fans won’t bother subscribing to your sports channels because they don’t need them.

For a company that spent $5.2 billion on a 12-year deal with the NHL, finding that balance on the sport’s marquee night of the week is very important.

“It’s not so much a science as it is a feel,” Moore notes of how Saturday night games are assigned. That’s the big reason why channel assignments are only announced a week or two in advance, except where it’s a Canadiens-Leafs game, because that’s obviously going on CBC.

Had the Canadiens continued on their hot streak instead of plunging into the toilet with the rest of the Canadian NHL teams, we might have seen the Canadiens on CBC more often.

Will we see more subscription plays during the playoffs? The math changes then, with audience increasing and ad revenue becoming more important.

But at this rate they might not have to worry about it, because none of the seven Canadian teams are in playoff position (they’re all among the bottom nine teams in the league right now).

“It would be really interesting to see what happens between now and NHL trade deadline,” Moore said, a glimmer of hope in his voice that some miracle would save the postseason audience his company paid so dearly for.

7 thoughts on “Sportsnet admits it’s using Canadiens Saturday night games as subscription bait

  1. Lance Campeau

    I checked out on NHL hockey for good the second Bettman and Rogers penned this 12 year media rights deal. They have gone full corporate with the “nickel & dime” approach to how the game is viewed/distributed in Canada. I point squarely at the constant push to get consumers to consume bandwidth hogging NHL game streams on mobile devices under the marketing veil of “convenience”. Mobile data rates in Canada are among the highest in the world and it is ridiculous to even consider the notion of watching a 3 hour high definition NHL broadcast on a mobile device that is not permanently tethered to a WI-FI connection. STFU Rogers already with this stupid and insulting ad campaign.
    The league generates BILLIONS in revenue each season and now the NHL and Rogers expects me to…
    1. Pay money for a subscription just to be able to watch/tune in to a game.
    2. Pay for extra bandwidth required to actually watch 82 games a season online (PC or mobile)
    3. Still expect me and other viewers to still sit through ads in feeds I am paying to watch.

    Sorry Rogers and the NHL… It ain’t happening.

    Quite clearly, the NHL has an aggressive push to max out revenue potential… but let’s look at reality for a moment… In an era when Canadians are now being forced to pay more & more & more for everything from a liter of gasoline to a pair of jeans to a head of broccoli, established fans and the largely untapped millennial market is likely to reject the idea of paying for the NHL’s increasingly poor entertainment value product . I refer specifically to the increasingly large amount of boring, low score games that lack any sustained offensive excitement.
    I cite the following causes for this downturn…
    1. Extremely refined defensive play (detailed video tape analysis by defensive coaches and players that break down every single offensive move an upcoming opponent may offer)
    2. increased size of goaltenders and the players in general
    3. The inclusion of a second referee to the ice surface (whose presence on the ice removes potential space for offensive play.
    4. A league wide misunderstanding of current scripted rules & regulations coupled with inconsistencies of referee and replay calls on a nightly basis.

    Of course, these points are up for debate… but I refer to them largely because I personally feel these 4 specific examples have each contributed to making NHL game less interesting to watch since 2004

    In the internet age, the choice for entertainment is limitless. I for one have made the choice to move on from the NHL and find more interesting, free content to consume.

    A lack of insight is what will kill the tradition of Hockey Night in Canada. The blame falls at the feet of those responsible for the Rogers 12 year media deal.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I point squarely at the constant push to get consumers to consume bandwidth hogging NHL game streams on mobile devices under the marketing veil of “convenience”.

      1. How else are you going to watch an NHL game if you don’t have a fixed Internet connection?
      2. Last I checked, NHL GameCentre Live allows users to choose the quality of their stream to limit data usage.

      Reply
      1. Lance Campeau

        To your reply…

        “1. How else are you going to watch an NHL game if you don’t have a fixed Internet connection?”

        I only watch Hockey Night in Canada and. As it had been for years, I still expect a desirable portion of NHL game content to be delivered in a free to consume/promotional format (I.E. over the air or ad supported wed based service). Rogers has now paywalled the vast majority of localized HNIC content and has focused their core marketing message toward the consumption of the NHL product on mobile, app based services (goodbye OTA and free Saturday night http://www.CBC.ca NHL feeds) . As a side note to this commentary, I call attention the pathetic OTA content offering made by Rogers last season of having a few NHL games on CITY TV in Montreal, the most technically impotent OTA digital transmitter/frequency in all of Canada at a majestic 4 kw ERP. My dedicated ATSC antenna is located a mere 9 KM from Mont Royal and 62.1 has never come in clearly since its installation. The word “weak” does not even begin to describe this situation.

        2. Last I checked, NHL GameCentre Live allows users to choose the quality of their stream to limit data usage.

        As mentioned above… I fully expect NHL game content to be delivered in a free to consume/promotional format (I.E. over the air or ad supported wed based service). Game Center Live is not free, nor is the visual quality of the paid service even close to OTA 1080i broadcast feed for motion clarity and fluidity of live action and camera movement.

        If the NHL wants to market the game properly in Canada… they need to offer up a good quality, FREE teaser of the flagship HNIC broadcast or risk being forgotten/left behind in the rapidly changing tradition television VS internet media landscape.

        Reply
  2. ClearChannel

    Regardless of how many carrots they dangle in front of me, I can’t afford nor do I want Pay TV. That TVA business is interesting in that Canadiens games are on TVA but on their Pay TV system, not sure which channel that is since I left Pay TV in 2012. For me TVA means channel 10.1 and I’ve never seen a game on there. One thing for sure, there isn’t a single Canadiens game broadcasted over-the-air in French,quite the scandal.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      For me TVA means channel 10.1 and I’ve never seen a game on there.

      TVA puts its Canadiens games on TVA Sports, a specialty channel.

      One thing for sure, there isn’t a single Canadiens game broadcasted over-the-air in French,quite the scandal.

      That’s been the case since 2004, and I don’t see too many people complaining about it.

      Reply
      1. Clear Channel

        Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it ? “I don’t see too many people complaining about it”, naturally since many people are completely ignorant about digital over-the-air television. I had with my friend a HD TV in her depanneur turned on and it was connected to an antenna on the roof. People were amazed at the picture quality and didn’t have a clue when they asked me what we were using and I told them it was a TV antenna. Public ignorance about OTA television is Pay TV’s best friend ever. No public display of TV antennas at stores like La Source or Walmart or any articles in the Montreal Gazette or other news media doesn’t hurt either. People that no doubt have other more important expenses than Pay TV every month could use the information about OTA television and TV antennas to their advantage, so who’s responsibility is it to keep them up to date and informed? If people don’t see TV antennas first hand then they won’t think about them at all and the check online answer is useless if people don’t have the awareness in the first place about OTA television and antennas. many people were brought up mostly with cable TV and don’t have a clue.

        Reply

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