Monday, June 05, 2006

CBC SPORTSCASTER BRIAN WILLIAMS BOLTS TO CTV

This is very big news, though possibly not unexpected given what's happened to the TV rights to the Olympics. Brian Williams has bolted CBC for CTV/TSN.

To sum up what Brian Williams has meant to the CBC, simply this: what Ron MacLean was to hockey coverage, that was what Brian Williams brought to non-NHL coverage in this country. Not only was he the primary anchor of the Olympic Games telecasts, but he also hosted the CFL telecasts for as long as anyone can remember on CBC, including countless Grey Cups.

In recent years, though, he's had less and less to do over there, as the CBC has lost the rights to one sport after another. For example, Williams hosted the World Juniors telecasts when those rights were held by the CBC: everyone remembers his famous confrontation with Don Cherry on-air when the Canadian and Russian teams got into that huge, huge fight on the ice. Both teams were kicked out of the tournament and Williams said on-air that they deserved it. TSN eventually took over those junior hockey rights. CBC also doesn't carry the Toronto Blue Jays games anymore; that was another sport which Williams got to cover as their play-by-play voice on television.

Losing the Olympics to CTV was obviously the last straw for Williams, who is most identified with that work, and I am not surprised CTV went after him. I think CTV is looking to add quite a few people to cover the Olympics in 2010 and 2012, and I also think they are looking to deploy Williams on their extensive non-hockey coverage, especially the CFL. In fact I'm convinced CTV might try and grab the entire CFL package away from CBC, because quite frankly, CBC has been mailing it in with their football coverage recently. (Last year's announcerless CFL games during the strike were a major low point).

This is going to raise more questions about the CBC and their ability to cover major sports. This is a huge defection, the loss of their top non-hockey announcer to CTV. Losing Williams, though, isn't going to create a gaping hole for them to fill, because quite frankly they've lost most of the sports he covered anyway. Besides, they still have Ron MacLean, who has co-hosted Olympic coverage for years. In 2008 he'll simply be named the full-time host of the Beijing telecasts, CBC's final Olympic Games.

That's also the year the contract for the NHL rights comes up for bid, which CTV is supposed to be salivating over. The stories have been out there that CBC won't be able to compete with CTV in the bidding for the NHL rights after their current contract expires, and could lose the entire package. I wouldn't doubt it. CTV is rich with cash from all its hit shows like Canadian/American Idol, and is spending like mad on sports.

Methinks CTV has their eye not only on Saturday-night NHL rights but Ron MacLean, too--- not to mention Don Cherry. And they'll all join Brian Williams and Chris Cuthbert over at CTV/TSN. One big happy family reunion in Vancouver in 2010.

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