Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lowballing Themselves Into Irrelevance

Hockey theme debacle demonstrates futility of CBC

In a surprising turn of events yesterday, it was announced that, in the midst of a last-minute push by the CBC to secure the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme song, CTV swept in and ferried the iconic tune away in perpetuity.

The song will now be used for TSN's expanded coverage of the NHL.

Of course, the move doesn't come without some degree of controversy -- no matter how manufactured.

"The two sides were so far apart and there was so much bad blood that we knew a deal would be difficult," insisted CBC Sports Director Scott Moore. "The reality is it takes two sides to do a deal and we tried everything we could to do a deal. We offered arbitration, mediation — we offered to meet their price. On Friday, when it came right down to it, we never got a response from them on our latest offer and find out, in the meantime, they appeared to be negotiating with CTV."

Of course, Moore's claims defy credulity. If the CBC had really offered to meet the price being asked by Copyright Music & Visuals on Dolores Clayman's behalf they would have had what people with any kind of business background whatsoever refer to as a "deal".

Instead, "the Hockey Theme" has found a new home on CTV, and egg has found a new home, too -- on the CBC's face.

Of course, the entire debacle really only serves to underscore various difficulties the CBC has had over the last few years, and the most difficult is continuing to justify its own existence in an environment in which it's becoming harder to justify.

Part of the CBC's mandate is to preserve Candian culture and identity by producing and promoting Canadian programming and keeping various broadcasting traditions alive.

Yet when it comes time to pony up some dough to maintain an iconic Canadian tradition -- the opening of Hockey Night in Canada with a song that has become one of Canada's greatest cultural touchstones -- the CBC lowballed itself into an extremely embarrassing situation where, instead, a rival network has become the steward of this cultural icon, established under the Mothercorp.

Not to mention an even more embarrassing situation in which the CBC was profiting off downloads and ringtones of the song without giving a portion to Clayman.

Public broadcasting in Canada is quickly approaching a crisis point -- one that it seems ill-equipped to handle. It has various important roles in Canadian society, and yet continues to undermine both.

The maintenance of Canadian culture is one.

Another is broadcasting into remote regions of the country and providing the residents of such areas with news and information about the outside a world -- a role that is drastically harmed by the numerous journalistic scandals that have enveloped the CBC over the past couple of years.

A large-scale overhaul is needed at the CBC, and the window of opportunity to do it is beginning to close.

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