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In 2012, a CBC 'Hockey Nightmare in Canada' foretold?

Six hundred and fifty-seven jobs lost, $130 million slashed from the CBC's budget. Was this "Plan B?"

Back in December 2012, The Tyee reported on the implications of Canada's public broadcaster losing the rights to air ad-lucrative hockey games.

At the time, the National Hockey League was in the throes of a painful lockout, and the CBC was losing ad revenues by the day. With the renegotiation of NHL rights on the horizon, watchdogs suggested that the public broadcaster might be looking at a preview of its future.

Alarmed, Ian Morrison, spokesperson of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, predicted that losing hockey, combined with federal budget cuts, would cause jobs across the company to disappear.

"The size of this problem is so big, there's no way that the CBC could absorb this without laying people off. No way," he said.

But Alan Dark, general manager of CBC's revenue group, played down concerns at the time. He said the CBC fully expected to win back the rights, which the broadcaster had enjoyed for 60 years. And in the event it didn't, Dark said, the broadcaster had a "Plan B."

"We're on a plan fiscally because we've had a Plan B in place for some time," Dark said, adding that plan involved "different formats of content."

Of the watchdog group's concerns, he said: "They make overblown statements. I tend not to pay much attention to them."

Morrison's fears appear to have come to pass. In November, Rogers stole away the NHL rights in a 12-year, $5.2 billion deal (though the CBC was permitted to keep its Saturday broadcast).

Hockey regularly contributed over $100 million to the CBC's $350 million in annual advertising revenue, according to a Globe and Mail report.

The CBC confirmed that today's job and budget cuts are the culmination of falling revenues and the inability to compete against brawnier private broadcasters for the rights to air major sporting events. The additional loss of $115 million in federal funding over three years, as detailed in the 2012 budget, is also a factor.

During the 2012-13 lockout, Barry Kiefl, an independent analyst and former CBC research director, likened the CBC's dependence on hockey revenue to a "drug." He hoped the lockout would force the broadcaster to step back and examine its identity, perhaps exploring other possibilities.

"That would be the logical thing to do," said Kiefl at the time. "To say, 'If we didn't have hockey, what would CBC be?' Surely we don't have a national public broadcaster just to have hockey."

Robyn Smith is an editor at The Tyee.

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