by DAVID SHOALTS, The Globe and Mail
Last updated Friday, Apr. 08, 2016 8:11AM EDT
An Angus Reid Institute poll has driven an exclamation point into what executives at beleaguered Rogers Media already know – most Canadians will not be watching the NHL playoffs this spring.
But at Rogers, the blood was already on the floor thanks to the fact that none of the seven Canadian NHL teams will be in the playoffs for the first time since 1970. On Tuesday, the man in charge of hockey production at Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada, senior vice-president Gord Cutler, was fired. Before that, several staffers in the hockey department were laid off.
While company insiders said Cutler’s dismissal was a financial move since he was undoubtedly hired away from rival Bell Media’s TSN two years ago with a healthy salary, the timing was extraordinary. No one could remember a network firing its head of production with the NHL playoffs days away.
The move hinted at the turmoil in Rogers Media, which has seen even more ratings trouble in the second season of its $5.2-billion, 12-year contract with the NHL for the national Canadian broadcast rights. While Cutler cannot be held responsible for a 16-per-cent decline in Hockey Night In Canada ratings through late March, which follows a 16-per-cent decline in the first year of the deal from the 2013-14 season, CBC’s last year broadcasting the show, his departure is a sign there may be unhappiness with the on-air product at the highest level of Rogers, even above Sportsnet president Scott Moore and Rogers Media president Rick Brace.
A Rogers spokeswoman said Moore would not be available for comment until later this week.
When ratings do not reach the projections given to advertisers, broadcasters have to give their clients free commercial time as compensation, known as make-goods. The problem for Rogers is that the loss of viewers is so severe that it has to give out far more make-goods than was planned.
One source in the advertising industry and one in the broadcast industry say the free spots, two of which are being given for every paid ad, have eaten up a significant portion of Rogers’s playoff hockey inventory. This means there is much less to sell to paying clients, which further hurts revenue when Rogers usually would expect to sell playoff advertising at a significant premium. The company is putting some make-goods on its Toronto Blue Jays broadcasts and entertainment shows, and that, too, cuts into the sales of advertising time.
“It is kind of grim, but unlike the fairy tales, it is reality,” said the advertising source, who requested not to be identified because of a business relationship with Rogers.
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