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Business - Written by on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 17:35 - 5 Comments

Wikinomics on Ice

I used to think that marketing NHL hockey to Canadians would make for some of the world’s most fail-safe jobs. This would be particularly true of CBC, broadcaster of the world’s oldest sports program, Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). However, recent years have been challenging for HNIC and marketers at CBC.

HNIC used to be North America’s sole source for televised hockey games. For Canadians in particular, Saturday was synonomous with one thing: HNIC on CBC. But for years, fans have been asking, “What’s so special about Saturday night?” After all, basic cable broadcasts 2-3 games a week, and if you’re still looking for more, you can purchase the NHL Network (or a team-specific channel like LeafsTV), and watch hockey 7 nights a week. CBC clearly faces a challenge in maintaining the popularity of HNIC. So how exactly are they promoting their product?

As Andrea Bettello wrote here, many fans were outraged when the CBC sold the rights to the HNIC theme song in 2008 (for anyone outside of Canada, the HNIC theme song probably rivals ‘O Canada’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ as the tune most widely recognized by Canadians). But maybe CBC was on to something. After selling the theme song, they held a contest asking Canadians to write the new HNIC theme song, actively engaging thousands of fans in the process. But surely there are further steps CBC could take to engage and retain viewers. (Obviously they have taken such steps or this post would never have been written).

When I sat down to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs get beat by the Philadelphia Flyers on HNIC last Saturday night I wasn’t expecting any Wikinomics-related content from the CBC. But then I was struck by a commercial for ‘Hockey Night MashUp‘. On the Hockey Night MashUp site (which has been in operation since the start of the season), fans can create a mashup highlight reel using a selection of clips from HNIC broadcasts. With the application, fans can choose clips specific to their favourite team. Clips are even categorized (e.g. ‘Goals’ or ‘Celebrations’). Now, this may not seem all that cutting-edge. But, believe me, for HNIC, whose main draw for the past 20 years has been 74 year-old former NHL coach Don Cherry, this is innovative.

I’ve been watching HNIC since I was 3. There were no other games televised, at least in my cable-free home, at that time. Needless to say, HNIC is close to my heart and has special meaning. But in order to resonate with anyone who doesn’t have a deep-seated connection to their broadcasts, HNIC must engage viewers in innovative ways. They indeed seem to be doing so, and not without the help of Wikinomics principles.

(Also note that HNIC has paired with Tim Hortons [sic] on their ‘Every Cup Tells a Story’ campaign [as written about by Jude Fiorillo here], to introduce ‘Stories From the Rink‘).


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hnic fan
Jan 14, 2009 18:46

With all of HNIC and CBC’s innovation, why aren’t games streamed live on their site and available on-demand.

If they want to engage fans, their has to be a reason to visit their site.

Without pragmatic useful innovation cbc will soon be a piece of the past.

Jeff Perron
Jan 15, 2009 17:29

Hi hnic fan,

Thanks for the comment.

CBC certainly is not at the height of innovation. In my opinion, the innovation won’t come until they are ultimately forced to do so by competition, as was the case with hockey broadcasts.

Part of the motivation for me to write about the (small) steps CBC has taken with HNIC was that I was caught off-guard by even this slight sign of creativity/innovation.

Being a public station, do you think the pressure to innovate is as heavy on CBC as it would be on privately-owned stations or on cable networks?

Jonah Freitas
Jan 15, 2009 18:54

I think that because CBC is public the funding as well as the willingness to take risks is greatly reduced. It seems as though CBC relies heavily on what is the ‘safe-choice’ and their partnership with the consumer beloved Tim Horton’s is a reflection of that. Speaking of competition, with CTVglobemedia slowly and surely taking over the world of sports coverage, namely the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, what can we expect in terms of innovation from CTVglobemedia in this regard and what will CBC do to make its sports programming exciting again?

Jeff Perron
Jan 16, 2009 11:24


That brings a lot of insight to the factors influencing CBC’s desire to play it safe.

Excellent point regarding the Olympics. I think that we’ll really see just how innovative “good ol’ CBC” is willing to get when CTV starts rolling out its Olympic and pre-Olympic broadcasts.

Thanks for the comment!

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » The story of a less-than-gracious foray into the 2.0 world
Apr 27, 2009 20:11

[...] It pains me to speak negatively of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). It really does. I take solace in the fact that back in January I praised HNIC’s foray into the Web 2.0 world w…. [...]

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