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Meet the Special Talents Who Run Olympic TV

02/14/2014 08:16 EST | Updated 04/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Every Olympics there is the inevitable outcry from viewers in the United States disparaging NBC's model of tape delayed coverage versus the Canadian model of live coverage as provided by the CBC.

There are reasons behind that.

With millions of dollars and the networks very existence at stake nothing is done by chance.

So let me try and give you an insiders look at why and how these decisions are made. Let's start with the Americans and NBC.

As the largest stakeholder in the Games, the National Broadcasting Corporation's dollars and corporate support have catapulted the International Olympic Committee and, by extension, the athletes themselves, into a different stratosphere.

Without television, there would be no Olympics, at least not on the scale we now know it.

ABC set the standard in the beginning, under Roone Arledge in the 60s 70s and 80s. The consummate story teller, Arledge understood that for the American audience, largely ignorant of the many different and frankly, unusual sports, that are part of the Winter Games, storytelling would have to be paramount.

Just showing the Games, without context, could not bring out the emotional attachment with the viewers that is so vital. So Arledge and ABC created the athlete profile, the up-close-and-personal look at the backgrounds of those we would learn to love on our home television sets.

They have everything we now take for granted: music under footage of athletes that made we the viewers feel for them, different camera angles especially the closeup, cinematic techniques that showcased the bold and the beautiful.

"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition...This is ABC's Wide World of Sports!"

ABC created the template, CBS took a shot at it but it was NBC that brought in the big money that has changed the Olympics as we know it.

So, back to the question of why NBC prefers tape delayed coverage. First, the obvious. People are at work during the day, and watch television in big numbers at night. Prime Time. Sponsors pay the big money for the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot. And NBC has over 200 affiliate stations which are not owned by the network and who have their own local programming that they need to fit in to make money. Can't pre-empt daytime shows.

Second, the Americans have always spent the dough to put in their own cameras at the Olympics even when a world feed is available. So by the time the events are over, the American producers on site can choose the best shots, the closeups they've planned on the dominant storyline, and edit them in to create a story that can sometimes transcend live coverage.

And of course, they're going to focus on their own athletes.

American coverage may not always be live, but it's the pinnacle of sports narrative because they have the resources to do it. The CBC has a tenth of the budget that NBC does. They make the best use of the world feed provided by the Olympic Broadcast Services and supplement it with their own coverage of home country athletes.

With far more time to fill than NBC, the CBC producers make maximum use of their resources. Not only have they done a dynamic job of bringing Canadian stories to the forefront, they've recounted the performances of other Olympians from around the world with true depth and aplomb. The telecasts have been clean and comprehensive.

Twitter was in its infancy and hadn't yet changed the way people watch and talk about sports and iPads didn't exist the last time the CBC held Olympic broadcast rights. In Sochi the CBC took on the huge challenge of carrying every competition live and on-demand, while also offering its second screen platform to Olympic viewers.

The executive producer of CBC's coverage is a long-time friend and colleague, Chris Irwin.

We worked together in the news division at the time, when I was going through a particularly acrimonious divorce and other personal issues but it was Chris who had a way of calming me down.

Chris has patience in spades.

He spent two years, in the confines of a sometimes unwieldy system at the Mother Corporation, putting the pieces together for the Sochi Olympics. Not alone of course, the CBC has some really good people.

But imagine dealing with, among other things, time zone differences, features, staffing, on air hosts, where to stay in Russia and most importantly, focus. If there is an unsung hero in these Games, it is Chris for his team building and patience.

"My time is not my own," he told me during the planning stages. Meeting upon meeting and "after a twelve hour day I go home and my kids are in bed. I kiss them goodnight and then I try and sleep and the next day I do it all over again."

Chris is a brilliant man.

The CBC are coming fresh on the heels of the CTV/Rogers Olympic consortium, who were the broadcasters of the London summer games and the Vancouver winter games. A record amount of broadcast hours on conventional, and for the first time in history, digital platforms as well. In different languages. And radio.

The head of the consortium is a guy I once shared an office with at TSN, Keith Pelley, now the President of Rogers Media. Keith's first Olympics was Atlanta in 1996. I remember getting off the plane and getting on the bus to go to our hotel. There was one seat left, and Keith was the last guy on. He sat beside me.

I was working for the CBC, but Keith had been recruited from TSN on loan.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Boxing," Keith replied.

"You into boxing?"

"I guess we're going to find out," he answered.

Keith is that kind of guy. Give him a challenge and he'll figure it out. And he did. He always does. And he did in Vancouver and London.

"The magnitude of the coverage and the fact that nobody had ever attempted such a robust coverage plan and I think we changed the way the games will be forever covered in Canada," he wrote me in an e-mail. "Our motto of watch what you want, when you want, how you want is now commonplace in Olympic coverage and we were first and very proud of that."

Keith is a standup guy. Always willing to help out where he can. Even when a guy is down and out. I don't forget stuff like that.

One final anecdote. About CBC's prime time host, Ron MacLean. Intelligent, witty, but most importantly sensitive and empathetic. Most people don't know that Ron gives a lot of his time to people and places that most of us wouldn't or couldn't possibly understand.

Ron has donated a lot of his time to the Ve'ahavta Street Academy, an eight-week program at George Brown College in Toronto. The VSA is for people that live on or near the streets of Toronto. This includes persons living on the street or in the shelter system, newly housed, or on income assistance.

This program is for everyone who thought they would like to go back to school, but didn't think it was possible. The Street Academy is designed to motivate and empower individuals to explore education as a way out of poverty or off the street.

Ron is not only the co-chair but also a frequent guest speaker. Even gives his personal cell number in case anyone wants to talk. That's who Ron is. Not just that guy with Don Cherry.

Three people among the many who bring you the Olympics.

Guys I am lucky enough to call colleagues and especially friends.

2014 Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony