Monday, February 07, 2005


This is huge. CBC is out as Olympic rights holder. The 2010 and 2012 Olympics are going to CTV and Rogers. CTV will have the main coverage, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet will have additional stuff on cable, and Rogers will be able to put games on the radio as well.

This is a massive win by private TV and a huge defeat for the public network. You have no idea how big a blow this is to the CBC and what a change this is. This is the sports broadcasting equivalent of the Conservatives beating the Liberals.

No doubt in the days to come you will hear a lot of moaning about the CBC being cut out of the Olympic coverage because of the great job they did over the years. The way I see it: CTV has its work cut out for it. CBC has set the standard high. The pressure to perform will be on, and I have no doubt that CTV and Rogers will rise to the occasion and give us an excellent Olympic Games. Besides, in 2010 it will be the Olympic Games in Vancouver. That means figure skating, international hockey, and curling... exactly the sports that CTV has specialized in for years. So I'm sure that Rod Black and Gord Miller and Paul Romanuk will do the same great job we've been accustomed to for years. Keep in mind that CTV is actually returning to Olympic coverage after a long time- they covered the 1988 Olympic Games and frequently covered the Winter Olympics.

The shift of the summer games, however, is another story. The CBC has covered the summer games basically as long as I can remember.

Make no mistake, this is terrible news for CBC Television and terrible news for the sports division. This could end up costing people their jobs at CBC Sports. It's been said that there's really only three programs worth watching on the main CBC these days: Hockey Night in Canada, the National, and the Olympic Games. These were the productions at the CBC that stood head and shoulders above what the rest of the TV stations were doing. Now the Olympics are gone, and, uh, it's Movie Night in Canada now. Peter Mansbridge has got to be praying for another election, or for another war to break out somewhere in the world, because the National looks like the only show left.

As for the rights money the CBC was going to save: that's a double edged sword. Lots of people are going to talk about how the public's money shouldn't be used on Olympic Games rights fees, but I think it's legitimate for the CBC to spend money on rights fees so long as if they feel they can make money off the Olympic Games and use it on other programming.

That's what a lot of people miss in the argument. Sure, the CBC won't be using public money to buy the Olympic Games, and instead will be able to spend lots of money on Canadian programming to support Canada's motion picture industry. But what people miss is that the Olympic Games were a money maker for the CBC. It may have been the public's money, but winning the rights to the Games was an investment- a way to make money. The CBC got so much advertising money over the years from the Olympic Games that they were able to spend the revenues however they wanted, and the ratings for the Olympics were so great that the CBC could promote its other programming and keep viewership up right across the board.

Now the gravy train is over. And perhaps it's a good thing the CBC lost. Maybe CTV and Rogers are breaking the bank this time. Maybe this time the Olympic Games would have turned into an expensive losing proposition, despite the fact that Vancouver is hosting the Olympics in 2010. Maybe the old CBC did the taxpaying public a favor and put in a fiscally responsible bid. People don't think about these things because they get too caught up in the politics of the corporation. Here's the quote from the news story (italicized) from the CBC website:

According to sources at the CBC, there was a wide disparity in the amount of money each camp was willing to offer.

"CBC/Radio-Canada has an obligation to taxpayers to be fiscally responsible, and this requirement firmly shaped the financial part of our bid," CBC president and CEO Robert Rabinovitch said in a statement to employees Monday afternoon.

"In preparing our bid to the IOC, we knew, and we know still, that competing to win the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games at any cost is simply not a reasonable proposition for us."

A problem of a different sort for the CBC is that they've bet their hat on coverage of amateur sports over the last few years. They geared much of their sports efforts to skiing, track and field coverage, you name it. So all that investment in building interest in amateur athletics and in Canada's Olympians is all up in smoke, because once these Olympians get to the Olympics the games will be on CTV, and CBC will be demolished in the ratings by all these athletes they helped build up. I have a suspicion the CBC isn't going to break the bank on amateur sports on Saturday afternoons for much longer. I suspect they might be replaced by cartoons pretty soon, although you never know.

So this is a big change, and a major change in the sports media scene. The CBC is going to cover the Beijing games in 2008 and then that will be it. And then CTV takes over along with Rogers. It's going to be interesting to see the difference.

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