The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has a plan to win back the hundreds of thousands of viewers who found something else to do with their Saturday nights through the NHL lockout– double up on Don Cherry, throw in some social media and hope that a shortened season will push people back into their living rooms until the end of June.
Many of the broadcaster’s plans focus on what happens off the ice as it celebrates its 60th anniversary as the official Saturday night broadcaster of the National Hockey League. It will host a series of free concerts throughout the season in NHL markets, and is hoping to use smartphones and tablets to get viewers to take part in contests and share thoughts and content via social media.
It said Thursday its highest-profile change will see Don Cherry do a live segment between the first and second period of the network’s second game in addition to his usual Coach’s Corner slot in between periods in broadcaster’s early game. It has also added Andi Petrillo to its in-studio team, a move the broadcaster says marks the first time a female has held that role.
The broadcaster watched its Saturday audiences shrink by as much as 85 per cent on some nights through the lockout, as hockey fans found ways to live without Hockey Night in Canada. And with only a year-and-a-half left in its current broadcast deal with the NHL, the CBC is anxious to play up the cultural aspect of the game rather than dwell on any residual anger fans may feel toward the league and its players.
The stakes are high in the shortened season, which starts Saturday afternoon as the CBC shows three games in a row across the country. In a typical year, it airs about 100 regular season games, but this year it will air half the number and it’s still not clear how that will affect its broadcast rights that expire at the end of the 2014 season.