Shortened season is costly for webs

MONTREAL

NHL hockey is back and you’d think that would be good news for pay TV sports networks in Canada, where it is far and away the most popular sport.

But a senior executive at Bell Media, one of the leading broadcasters, said the timing of the end of the three-month NHL lockout couldn’t be worse for its two sports networks, the English-language TSN and the French-language RDS. Cancelling it would’ve been better financially, per RDS prexy Gerry Frappier.

“To have a truncated season return in the middle of January is just about the worst-case scenario for a broadcaster” in terms of advertising Frappier said. He calls hockey “a loss leader” — pricey to produce but necessary to lure and keep subscribers. The cost is defrayed by advertising.

The games with the highest commercial value to advertisers are played in November and December, during the holiday shopping season, Frappier added. Advertiser demand drops off in January and February, although auds still tune in.

Frappier also noted that the shortened schedule, which ends in April, will mean more hockey games per week as the NHL scrambles to shoehorn in a full season’s-worth of games. Since not everyone will have time to watch them all, ratings will be lower, which is bad for the network.

Exec said TSN and RDS did well financially during the last lockout, when the entire 2004-2005 season was flushed down the toilet, because they didn’t have to pay the cost of producing games.

But Frappier is still super pumped to have the NHL back on his schedule because he knows RDS is at its best when it’s broadcasting hockey.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more