TORONTO - Bell Media has found a new partner in the CBC as it prepares to bid for the Canadian broadcasting rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games.
The telecommunications company, which owns CTV and the TSN sports network, announced the pairing with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Friday, a day after Bell's current partner Rogers decided to bow out of a future partnership.
Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) said Thursday it would not pursue a bid with Bell for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia and 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The partnership between Bell and CBC quickly resolved uncertainty over where the media company would get additional financial backing for the expensive endeavour, among the world's most-watched sporting series.
"The Olympic Games are a premium property that requires a strong partnership in order to deliver the level of experience that Canadian viewers and advertising partners now expect," said Bell Media president Kevin Crull in a release.
Crull added in a phone interview that a previous relationship between CTV and the CBC for Olympic coverage from 2000 to 2008, which encompassed five games, made the new partnership a logical choice.
"We have had a long history with CBC in co-producing and delivering the games so it was a bit of a natural," he said.
"What we learned in Vancouver is that more of everything is better (for viewers and advertisers)... so more content, more depth of coverage, more reach on more channels and more platforms."
The emergence of CBC as a partner returns the broadcaster to its longtime stomping ground as a participant in Olympic coverage. Its last direct involvement in the Olympics was during the Beijing Games in 2008, before CTV outbid it for the rights to the Vancouver Games.
Crull noted that the agreement with the CBC is "a far more balanced partnership" than the Canadian broadcast consortium that was arranged with Rogers. In that agreement, Rogers paid US$153 million for a 20 per cent stake in the consortium, with CTV holding the other 80 per cent interest.
However, it's unlikely that the Bell-CBC bid would be quite as rich as the agreement made by Bell and Rogers, which was considered the highest price ever paid for Canadian rights at more than $760 million.
The price tag of that package was pushed higher because it included the rights to the Vancouver games, which were on home turf, a factor that traditionally intensifies the bidding process because more domestic viewers tune in.
Crull declined to detail exactly what the additional benefits were to the CBC, though the Rogers agreement included limitations like prohibiting the company from using the iconic Olympic rings in its marketing campaigns.
CBC Sports executive director Jeffrey Orridge said that it's too early to detail the specifics of what his network will receive as part of the agreement.
"We haven't won the bid yet, so it would be purely speculative at this point to discuss what rights may (be given) to whom," he said.
"It was a lot of effort and energy and time invested in putting together a partnership in order to go forward to be competitive."
However, the amount of competition for the Olympic bid may be minimal now that CBC has secured its position and Rogers has said it will not be participating
Shaw Communications (TSX:SJR.B), based in Calgary, would be one of the most obvious contenders because it owns Global, but not a sports cable network, while Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) recently launched French-language sports network TVA Sports.
Bell (TSX:BCE) and Rogers had worked together on broadcasting rights for the Vancouver games last year, and will also work together on the London games in 2012.