On Tuesday, the public broadcaster delivered an increasingly rare good-news story. And it turned to a top-flight sports showcase that it knows how to do very well.
The CBC and Radio-Canada renewed their commitment to Olympic coverage by securing the broadcast rights to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea and 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. The network will partner with Bell Media and Rogers Media to deliver the Games.
"I think it shows the belief that the Olympic committee has in us continuing to deliver compelling Olympic moments to Canadians," said CBC president Hubert Lacroix.
Executives from all three media companies agreed the demands of today's Olympic broadcasting culture make it very challenging — from both a financial and manpower perspective — to go it alone with an event of this magnitude. In addition, consumers now want access to all events in real time on a broadcasting format that works for them.
Jeffrey Orridge, executive director of sports properties and general manager of the Olympics at CBC, said a team effort will help facilitate that.
"We are collaborating on the production," he said. "We are going to share airwaves, we're going to share technical resources, we're going to share our expertise and we're going to share talent."
Specific coverage details haven't been finalized but given its strong reach, expect the CBC to broadcast the top-tier events. TSN/RDS would get the next level down, followed by Sportsnet, then TSN2, and then Sportsnet One, Orridge said.
"What we're going to basically offer is a 24-hour Olympic network," said Bell Media's Phil King, president of CTV sports and entertainment programming. "If you have CBC, TSN and Sportsnet, you will have a 24-hour Olympic network."
Financial terms of the deal weren't revealed. Orridge said the agreement was respectful of the stature of the Games and "certainly fiscally responsible" on the part of the public broadcaster.
"I can't give you specifics on terms of the agreement," he said. "But suffice it to say that we've put together an extraordinarily viable business model that will be either a break-even or revenue-positive model."
The CBC, which had the broadcast rights for the recent Sochi Olympics and has been a longtime rights-holder, was already tabbed to show the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.
"It's a nation-building and nation-sharing event and that brings communities together," Orridge said. "Part of our ethos is about being a catalyst and an inspiration for our communities and cultivating and promoting and highlighting and showcasing Canadian talent.
"And that's what we do."
The broadcaster reclaimed the rights to the 2014 Games after losing the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 London Games to CTV. The three broadcasters worked together at the Sochi Games, although this deal is more extensive for the specialty networks.
Longtime sports broadcasting executive Keith Pelley, now president of Rogers Media, helped build the broadcast consortium model that was used in Vancouver.
"There is no question that you need multiple broadcasters and multiple outlets to be able to give Canadians what they want from the Olympic Games," Pelley said. "There are so many events going on at the same time that one individual broadcaster — regardless of the multi-platforms — can no longer serve the public the way that they need to to actually experience the Games and that's why this partnership came to fruition."
Pelley added Rogers has worked closely with the CBC on several initiatives, including the current NHL deal.
"This is an extension of that, the partnership is just a little bit reversed," he said. "They will control the editorial content and the sales and we will be there to support them in every way that they possibly can and give them the airtime to give Canadians unprecedented choice."
Orridge said talks with Rogers and Bell began "months ago," and were easy to kickstart given the success of the Sochi experience.
The news comes at a tumultuous time for CBC, which is being sued by star radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, who alleges breach of confidence, bad faith and defamation by the public broadcaster in a $55-million lawsuit.
The network severed ties with Ghomeshi over the weekend because of "information" it had received about the "Q" radio show host. Ghomeshi said he has been fired for his "sexual behaviour."
Last November, the broadcaster lost NHL rights to Rogers Media in a whopping $5.2-billion deal. That led to a dramatic loss of advertising revenue for a network already struggling with federal budget cuts.
In April, Lacroix announced that 657 jobs would be slashed to meet a $130-million budget shortfall. Lacroix said at the time 42 per cent of the sports department would be laid off, trimming 38 sports jobs from 90 current positions. In June, he said there would be an additional 1,000 to 1,500 positions cut by 2020.
He also announced in April the broadcaster would no longer compete for professional sports rights and would cover fewer sports events, including amateur athletics.
But the Olympics are still a product they want to be associated with, Lacroix said.
"It's a way for us to connect and to tell stories to Canadians from all across the country," he said. "This ability to do this in a context with partners allows us to bring the best Olympic experience to Canadians, bar none."
Lacroix added the partnership with Rogers and Bell will mean more comprehensive coverage for Canadians.
"It's a textbook example of us being able to bring the whole broadcasting community to the service of Canadians," he said. "If it had not been for open-mindedness and eagerness and interest of our friends at Bell and Rogers, Canadians would not be getting the kind of coverage that they will be in '18 and '20."
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