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TORONTO-Canadian TV could lose as much as $74 million in ad revenue tied to hockey programming if the National Hockey League scrubs the season.

Only some of that will be offset by spending on alternate programming, TV executives say, although they would not predict how much.

Saturday night hockey has been a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. institution since the 1950s, and one newcomer is on particularly thin ice. "Molson Hockey Night" is a new weekly Saturday night doubleheader, slated to include 60 NHL games plus the playoffs on publicly owned CBC.

Stations expected to be affected by an abbreviated hockey season include the Sports Network and about 12 Global Television Network stations in Ontario. Others include some stations operated by Baton Broadcast System. Some independent stations which air local hockey games also will be affected, including Quatre Saisons in Quebec.

About 45% of all hockey revenue would go to the CBC, with about 15% going to the Sports Network. About 20% would go to stations in Quebec, with the remainder divided among independent stations.

The season was supposed to start Oct. 1, but has been delayed until at least Oct. 15 because players have been locked out in a labor dispute with owners.

The Molson doubleheader was scheduled to start Oct. 1 on CBC with heavy hitting advertisers such as Chrysler Canada, General Motors of Canada, Ford of Canada, Pepsi-Cola Canada, Imperial Oil, Kellogg Canada, Canadian Tire and Fiberglas Canada paying millions for airtime.

CBC is now talking to its advertisers.

"We're making a pitch to Ford [of Canada] that, should the strike be prolonged, we think will be attractive to them," said Glenn Wert, CBC director of marketing.

Short-term plans are to run male-oriented movies to try and attract at least some of hockey's audience.

Hockey is "virtually impossible to replace. It's tough to match the demographics of hockey," said Mr. Wert of the 65% male audience the sport attracts.

Last season's regular Saturday night CBC game attracted an average of 1.4 million viewers in the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot.

"As a media buyer, I can't find that audience elsewhere," said Sunni Boot, senior VP-managing director of Optimedia, FCB/Ronalds Reynolds' media buying arm.

The Sports Network, an all-sports channel which bought the rights to 30 NHL games, also hasn't developed a long-term strategy. Its replacement programming for hockey includes rebroadcasts of recent title boxing matches and roller hockey.

Until recently, the NHL has only been able to boast of a small but fervent U.S. following. Fox recently became the first U.S. broadcast network in a decade to sign an NHL deal (AA, Sept. 19).

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