What A Man Watches: On the CBC Getting Our Attention

 

If you’re someone of modest technical means, and a hockey fan- you’re here, so I’m assuming both is true- you’re likely familiar with CBC’s addition of “While The Men Watch” to their Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, and the resulting uproar in response.

For the purpose of the article, I’ll summarize the “While The Men Watch” concept, with a blurb from their website:

 

“Hosted by real-life girlfriends in New York and Toronto, the female-friendly commentary keeps women entertained during football, hockey, basketball, baseball games and more.  The lively discussion follows sports from a woman’s point of view including everything from interpreting the rules of the game to coaches in need of a makeover.”

 

I was tasked by our fearless leader to write a piece on this.  I will that say it’s been covered well in several forums already, but there are elements of this that are worthy of some more thought.

Even as the reactions were being written, I found myself pondering the most simple question of all: “Why?” What was CBC’s play here? What motivation did they have to integrate an obviously divisive and potentially demeaning concept into one of it’s most successful properties?

WtMW existed well before CBC decided it wanted the ladies as part of their national hockey property, so summoning up outrage at the concept is a fool’s exercise. That’s the great thing about the internet- we can say what we want! But no one needs to see it. When CBC made a conscious decision to add it to their national platform, that’s when we can start to poke holes in the thinking.

Looking at it strictly from a value standpoint, there are motivations that make some sense. One of the goals of any business is to attract a new audience, and I can easily envision a boardroom meeting at CBC where someone decided that, “Hey, we should get women who don’t like sports a reason to be interested in a primarily sports property.” That’s not a stretch.

Where that argument doesn’t hold water is in WtMW’s concept. Are women who don’t watch hockey going to be interested in one segment where they get pandered to in this way? Even the title is suggestive: being a part of this program isn’t as important as the property it’s based off. You’re doing this while “the men” watch hockey. Couldn’t they just, y’know, change the channel and find something else a little more condusive to their interests? Or not watch TV?

What about women who like hockey? Isn’t this a slap in the face to them? Doesn’t CBC run the risk of alienating that audience with this?

What about men who DON’T like hockey? Should we have a program for them too while HNiC runs? Programs for everyone!

Though it’s easy to criticize the thinking of a broadcast organization that still employs the regressive-thinking Don Cherry (and Mike Milbury, while we’re at it), it’s hard for me to envision that CBC couldn’t have predicted some of the outraged reaction.

It was in thinking of the reaction where it hit me. CBC’s trolling us. They DID expect this. They probably wanted it.

While reducing it to that sole motivation is oversimplifying,  it’s easy for us to see why CBC added WtMW, for hockey lovers, feminists, and soapboxers of all types to react to.

As the lone public broadcaster in Canada, CBC struggles to keep an audience. HNiC is one of the few reliable draws left in their library. But like any successful program, it needs to evolve and adapt, to keep growing and improving, and building their audience.

HNiC HAS changed over the years, whether it’s been adding more analysts (supplementing the aforementioned dinosaur Cherry), pre and post-game segments, or tweaking the presentation in the broadcast to more effectively break down the game.  They didn’t do that here, and the audience is why. If CBC had just added another segment, or hired another respected former coach/player/analyst to add to their stable, who would have known? It would have been met with a ho-hum, and we would have immediately continued on with whatever we were doing, and maybe a “hey, cool” when we saw it on the next broadcast.

I can’t blame the women of WtMW for jumping at the idea of partnering with CBC. Two weeks ago, no one knew who they were, and now, anyone with an internet connection in Canada knows about them, and probably has a strong opinion on them.

Regardless of the merits of While The Men Watch (which, again, others have covered better), there is a calculated cynicism in CBC’s decision to add it to Hockey Night in Canada. Right now, it doesn’t need to be good. It doesn’t need to be informative, or educational. It just needs to be newsworthy. They baited the hook, and we bit: columnists and bloggers and Twitterers all typing endlessly, panels on sports shows setting up soapboxes for people to get on top of and preach from on high, viewers hitting up CBC and the WtMW website to learn about this so-called travesty, and fans and non-fans watching it on TV to see how it plays out.

In the end, CBC will get what they were looking for: ratings for the network, discussion on the internet and television to enhance their visibility, and ordinary people talking about them around water coolers both proverbial and literal. They’ll get the quick fix of a ratings or pageview boost. But they’re not helping to advance the cause of quality sports programming, or doing a lot for the reputation of their brand.

So, a slow clap, and my sarcastic congratulations to our national broadcaster for this surprisingly clever play. I hope they got what they wanted.

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