CBC Falls Out of Favour

I’ve been meaning to write about the CBC for a while now. Is it just me or have you just about had enough of them as well?

The CBC has long dominated the Canadian sports coverage scene. CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada has been a Canadian institution for over 50 years. Olympic coverage has been provided by CBC for the majority of the games the last 25 years. And of course CFL football has been a mainstay on CBC for a long time as well.

Discussions about the CBC invariably involve arguments about whether it is appropriate for a partially government funded network to compete with private networks over properties, especially hot sports properties like the NHL and the Olympics.

In my opinion the CBC has a place in the Canadian broadcast scene and should not be relegated to PBS status in Canada, solely government and donation funded with the necessary adjustments to content. Despite the increased coverage of cable networks, satellite and wireless technologies into smaller rural centres I believe there still is a need for broadcasters providing content available to all Canadians and a crippled CBC would not help achieve that.

Recent observations have had me question the CBC’s claims that they need to acquire the highly commercial sports properties to subsidize the rest of their operations, reducing the need for additional government funding, and therefore saving our tax dollars. During last year’s hockey strike the CBC replaced Hockey Night in Canada’s double header with a three movie Movie Night in Canada Saturday night. I read an article in the spring which stated the average ratings for the first movie was up over HNIC ratings, while the later movies were down slightly. It was still claimed that MNIC was making much less money overall since ad rates were 50% or less than HNIC rates. This probably didn’t consider the expense of broadcasting 2 or 3 games versus buying the rights to 3 movies.

More recent actions by the CBC seem to point that movies may have been more profitable than people think. After what would have been the normal NHL playoffs ended the CBC continued to show three movies Saturday nights. Once the CFL season started at the end of June and they started broadcasting CFL games generally at 7PM Eastern, they followed the game with a movie. With the return of HNIC last weekend, they have displaced a place for movies on Saturday nights. Just in time is the announcement that Sunday and Monday nights will become Big Ticket night, showcasing movies and mini-series. So obviously movies are profitable. HNIC numbers may have doubled after a year without hockey over the slumping numbers pre-lockout, but the numbers for movies are obviously significant.

A number of years ago the CBC committed to removing American sit-coms from its line-up as a commitment to develop more Canadian shows. In the last few years with the increase of movies (rarely Canadian) being shown the amount of import content has all returned to the CBC line-up. If there is one thing I don’t like it is setting a policy and then undermining it by another policy, whether intentional or not. In this case I believe they are perfectly aware of what they are doing, and while not breaking the letter of their agreement, they are taking the easy and least risky way of programming for ratings and revenue.

Now that the background is out of the way, on to the point. The CBC obviously could subsidize other parts of their operations with their movie nights. I won’t advocate the immediate elimination of HNIC, but since the CTV and partners bid won Canadian broadcast rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games, I would expect the CBC to get out of bidding on future Olympics and major sporting events. This should allow for a major paring of the CBC Sports department after the 2008 Olympic Games, the last games CBC holds rights to.

For tradition sake many object to HNIC ending on CBC or being licensed to another network. To me it does seem silly that tradition is the only thing keeping the NHL on CBC. Sure they have done a pretty good job keeping up with technology and creativity on their broadcasts, but they have been slow to implement HDTV broadcast of their flagship show when hockey is probably the most improved by watching in HDTV. I see no reason why another broadcaster shouldn’t acquire NHL rights in Canada. With the fragmentation of rights across regional and cable channels it is hard to say whether it needs to be on a broadcast network. If any others are willing to pay, then hopefully they will bid and not be intimidated by CBC’s previous at-any-cost methods.

As for the CFL, the CBC claims to be a long term supporter of the league. When you start to look at the facts, things appear a little different. Sure, the CBC has broadcast the CFL for a long time, and stuck with the league when it lost its large TV contract in the mid-eighties. However from 1995-2002 the CBC decided to only support the CFL from September through the playoffs, leaving half the season uncovered while taking the fat of the schedule in the playoffs and Grey Cup. The CBC has failed to keep its broadcasts up to date, with the technology, broadcasters and content all starting to get old. With the loss of Chris Cuthbert (who landed with TSN, strengthening their team), their two broadcast teams consist of Mark Lee and Steve Armitage as play-by-play men and Chris Walby, Darren Flutie and Greg Frers as colour commentators, perhaps the worst I’ve seen in 25 years on CBC, which is saying something. Their studio team of Brian Williams, Sean Millington Eric Tillman, Greg Frers and Darren Flutie is a shadow compared to what they are imitating in other broadcaster’s units. Their implementation of the virtual first down line is buggy at best. A CBC broadcast can always be identified by its unique production quality which seems in ways and at times 20 years behind. The producers obviously are either old or young CFL-haters who have no knowledge of the game. Features and segments often feature players or games from the 1950’s and ’60’s. To help the CFL attract a younger audience they need to improve the technology and focus all history on the last 25 years, not on guys who played with leather helmets and are now dead.

During the recent CBC strike the CBC proved once again what kind of friend it was to the CFL. Using the exact letter of their contract with the CFL, games were broadcast without play-by-play, instead using stadium PA announcers to call the play. While the games provided to the US broadcasts did have play-by-play, the CBC refused to allow that for Canadian viewers, while at the same time refused to let any of their games be given to other broadcasters and even dropped one game from broadcast totally. While negotiations were underway to move playoffs and the Grey Cup to another broadcaster if the strike continued that long, the CBC was under the opinion they had no obligation to do so. Then after over a month of this, affecting 8 games, the strike was settled just prior to their first HNIC broadcast, their cash cow. While average CFL ratings may be half of that of HNIC, they are at least showing major positive growth for the past five years, and the Grey Cup is still the largest TV audience in Canada each year, unless there is a Toronto-Vancouver Stanley Cup (not likely). So it appears the CBC is not the kind of friend the CFL really wants or needs anymore.

The CFL is in the 3rd year of a five year deal with the CBC, which goes through 2007. After the contract expires they should seriously negotiate with all other bidders to replace the CBC as a CFL carrier. While I consider it important to keep a broadcast network on board, especially for playoff and Grey Cup coverage, the regular season could be split amongst the cable networks. With the limited competition in our broadcast networks it may be difficult for another broadcaster to come up to the CBC’s bid level considering the infrastructure they would have to invest in the initial years. I know CTV has been interested in the past but was never able to compete financially with the CBC and the CBC always had familiarity and tradition on their side. Hopefully the CTV/Rogers Olympic partnership will help them decide to seriously bid of CFL football for the 2008 season, except that is the same year as their summer Olympic coverage. At a minimum the CFL needs to have more control of the broadcasts, especially if they go back to the CBC, so they can put in place the personalities and broadcasts that shows off the league.

Maybe it is time for the CBC to stop dominating the Canadian sports broadcast scene. If they can’t improve and treat all the properties with respect instead of just the ones which generate revenue maybe its time to stick to movies.

Update 1: Corrected CBC commentators I pulled off CBC’s site, since Sean Millington returned to football when the CBC strike began and is now is playing for the Toronto Argonauts. Eric Tillman has replaced him in the studio chair.

Update 2: Remembered that it might not be too hard for CTV to get back into the CFL business since they own TSN now. If TSN were to win the CFL contract instead of CBC, who sublets the games to TSN now, TSN could promise the playoffs and Grey Cup being shown on CTV while subletting out any regular season games they can’t carry to Rogers Sportsnet. Makes some sense. Worse case would be subletting playoffs and Grey Cup to CBC if CTV wants to maintain its no sports prescence as all sporting events they used to carry are now sent to their specialty network TSN.

14 Responses to “CBC Falls Out of Favour”

  1. jim Says:

    Being the ex-pat that I am, I’m not too familiar with much of what has transpired. However, the one thing I’ve learned is that tradition (for the sake of it, that is) can tend to hold people/things back (however familiarity is a big marketing bonus I guess). The whole game without commentary deal sounds pretty tacky and unprofessional.
    I say as with anything, a level playing field is needed and let competition thrive. All networks need to be accountable.
    I’m trying to be as vague as I can as I am not confident in my knowledge about this subject. Take my babble for what it’s worth. But at least I’m contributing.
    I’d like to know what Gord Hanson and Cindy Kreutzer think about this subject. I’ve always respected their opinions.
    I would also like to know who manages which team in the CFL pool. I want to know who my old team is losing to.

  2. Jon Says:

    I’ve updated the article with some corrections and new information.

    A lot of it is wishful thinking on my part. It gets to be just sad to see how the CBC abuses its properties. A friend asked me over to watch the football game on Saturday in HDTV. Checked the schedule and oops, sorry its on CBC and they don’t broadcast anything in HDTV yet, even though they have an HDTV schedule which lists no programs in HDTV, and only a few in widescreen format. Even HNIC isn’t in HDTV yet. I don’t own an HDTV set but I know this is important to some people. If they don’t upgrade soon their won’t be many traditionalists on their side.

    This breaks the rules but here goes:
    Green Monster – Gord Hanson
    Davin Bull Dogs – Brent Gessner
    Goolash – Greg Kreutzer
    Cowgirls – Cindy Kreutzer
    50 percent – me
    bigmc – Grant McKinnon
    Swervin’Mervyn – Jim Fedyk

  3. Grant Says:

    The CBC needs to run like any other station.
    if the program doesn’t pull it’s own weight then good bye.
    special interest groups could pay to have their shows aired. ie ballet, opera,native etc. if they want to see it, pay for it or have sponsors that will.

  4. Cindy Says:

    I think that the CBC has failed to keep up with the times. Their broadcasts and commentators are pretty much the same as they were years ago. I tend to watch the game and tune out the talk. I much prefer to watch the games on TSN. Glen Suitor is much easier to listen to than Chris Walby. When their contract expires I think the CFL should be asking them how they are going to improve their broadcasts or hopefully there will be someone else to outbid them.

    It is too bad the CBC lost the Olympics, American viewers have had good things to say about their live coverage in the past. But I will have to wait and see what CTV does when it is their turn. It is a case being exposed to the same coverage since I can remember, so I don’t know any better.

    Something you didn’t mention was the fact that the Canadian Curling Association pulled out of their contract with CBC. I realize that curing isn’t quite at the level of hockey and football, but quite a few people enjoy wathching it. It is my understanding that the CCA didn’t want the coverage split on different networks as it had been in the past. So CBC showed the evening draws for both the national men’s and women’s tournaments, I belive, (but correct me if I am wrong) on Country Canada, a digital channel that had to be subscribed too. These draws probably would be the ones that would have the biggest audience, as well. In this case, I think it was the CCA’s fault as they didn’t see a problem with this until the complaints started after the coverage had already begun. I just read today, that CBC and the CCA have agreed to go back to their previous coverage schedule with TSN covering the round robin games and the CBC stepping in during the playoffs, exactly the way is was before.

    I would hope that the CBC will never end up like PBS. I think a national broadcasting station is needed, even though more and more people have access to cable, etc. programming. I do believe they need to do a better job on the programming they have and in developing/recruiting new programming. I would be hard pressed to name 5 shows, other than sporting events, that CBC broadcasts. The only two I can think of off the top of my head are Da Vinci’s Inquest and This is Wonderland (I don’t watch either one).

    I think that CTV and Global may have better Canadian programming, Corner Gas, Degrassi, Cold Squad, to name a few.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I agree that the CBC needs to do something.

  5. gord Says:

    On the subject of the CBC, I can understand some people feeling that the CFL was trashed because of the CBC’s decision to air games with no play by play. Truth is, I enjoyed those game because for the most part, the commentators spout meaningless drivel and continue to go over the same two points they made in the first minute of the game all game long. On a side note, could TSN trade Glen Suitor to the CBC (or maybe Korea), that way I no longer have to mute Chris Cuthbert’s excellent play by play.

    If HNIC is CBC’s cash cow, so be it. To tell you the truth, the only time I tune into CBC is for CFL or NHL, so it could be running the colored bars the rest of the time, for all I care. And since I live in an urban area, receiving the other channels aren’t a big deal. But once you get out in the boonies, most people only get CBC. If milking HNIC means some people get to enjoy Coronation Street every day, or enjoy looking at Peter Mansbridge’s shiny head each night, all the power to them. (I am using Coronation Street since I have no clue what else actually airs on CBC). But as you said, treat those properties well, do a good job putting them on the air, or people will find something else to watch.

    To finish off, I haven’t watch Don Cherry or the first game of HNIC as yet. The thought of having to sit through Bob Cole and Harry Neale isn’t very appetizing (which may result in the use of the mute button once again). I heard Cherry’s outfit on the first Saturday may have burnt an image into my TV.

  6. Jon Says:

    Whoo boy, the most comments ever to a post. Touchy subject. I see some people employ the mute button as I do. But a lot of the time I don’t want to focus 100% of my attention on the game, utilizing my time wisely. If I don’t have the sound on and am not watching, I miss scores and a lot of what is going on, and don’t know when to focus because of a power play or long pass, etc.. I heard a good suggestion that just crowd noise should be broadcast on the SAP channel so you can block out the idiots.

    Gord: Funny you want Glen Suitor traded to CBC, but I find a lot of people like him. A lot of people hate him as well. Of course when you have Chris Walby and Leif Petterson as comparison material, someone with a sibilant “s” would look good. Anybody remember Dan Kepley? Hearing the call for the 1994 Grey Cup with him as colour still makes my skin crawl. And will this be the last year for Don Cherry? Hope so. Only so much repetition a man can take.

    Cindy: Yeah that CCA thing with CBC was bad. It was like the CFL where they decided to read the contract after they starting broadcasting. You mean all the evening draws are on Country Canada and we have to supply you with free doughnuts? The CFL finds out that CBC owns the rights to the games they purchased, they can choose to broadcast or not braodcast them and however they want. Blame the CCA and CFL for not understanding what they were getting.

    Grant: If everything had to pull their own weight on the CBC half the schedule would be test pattern like Gord says. As it is they use hockey and the Olympics to subsidize a lot of other programming. Now when the Olympics is gone, what happens?

  7. jim Says:

    Wow! Nice to see a little participation on this board. I was getting tired of carrying the conversation.
    Maybe CBC can run those religious programs that knocked a few junior hockey teams off the radio air a few years back. Those fanatics got a lot of cash (as hard as I try to be, I’m just not a politically correct dude).
    Since it seems that Canada is falling apart without me, and the fact that it is rumored that Glen Suitor may be coming to Korea to teach English, I may have to consider returning to my homeland. Send any job offers to my email address.
    Degrassi is still going on? Is Joey still repeating grade 12?
    And out of curiousity, I’m wondering if CBC dropped ‘making the cut’ for good. I haven’t heard of another season of it (probably get the same clowns show up I guess).

    On a final note, I also wonder and lose sleep over why or how Gord always seems to win everything. Enough of the injustice in this world! Somebody stop him!

  8. Gord Says:

    Okay, I don’t know where this thinking comes from that I win everything…hello??? check the standings last year, I stunk…about the same as this year. For some reason, has the competition dropped to my level?? Is everyone feeling sorry for me??

    And I am trying to combat this thinking that I win everything at work as well. We have a 50/50 draw monthly, and just because I happened to get lucky the first few months I was there, it is now called my draw and I can’t live it down…Honestly, I haven’t won there now for at least six or seven months now. How is a man to live?

  9. jim Says:

    Don’t buy his crap people!!! He almost never loses. Yet he comes on here to complain about a 6 month dry spell on a draw at work. See how much he expects to win ALL THE TIME!
    And now he’s upset that I blew his cover. He always tries to fly under the radar, but I’m calling him out.
    He may attribute everything to ‘luck’ but tell me Gord… in the Hanson/Fedyk football league which held games most Sundays during the summers of your high school years, how many games did you actually lose? Absolutely none! Was that luck too?
    Don’t allow Gord to ‘combat your thinking’! Know that he is the target. Do everything in your power not to let him win the Gord Hanson CFL Pool once again. His atrocities against other poolsters must stop here!
    To help build my case against Gord, I encourage other users to send in instances of Gord winning. There must be millions of examples.
    Remember, the truth is out there.

  10. Cindy Says:

    I don’t remember who won the Sunday afternoon football games, I remember playing football and baseball a lot, but I don’t remember winning being that important. Maybe my memory is weak.

  11. Jon Says:

    The girls didn’t get into the football that much. It’s funny Jim brought that up since he used to play both sides. In my memory it sure was a conspiracy that he couldn’t play on the Fedyk side but lit it up with the Hanson’s. I couldn’t have been that bad, could I?

    Gord has always been a competitive person; underneath that mild-mannered Clark Kent exterior there is an eye of the tiger. Don’t get in his way when he has a score to settle. He may even be running the “family” in Red Deer, I don’t know. Checking the records and my memory of previous hockey and football drafts over the past 5 years (about 15 contests) Gord has been in the top 3 about 50% of the time. When he’s not in the top 3 he’s usually 4th. He doesn’t finish lower than that. He knows his stuff. He has tailed off some since getting married though. Not that the two are related.

  12. Cindy Says:

    What do you mean I didn’t get into football that much!!! I played harder than the rest of you put together. You are right though I forgot that Jim had to keep switching sides in order to make it even.

  13. Jon Says:

    Cindy: You sure did. But I think you quit playing when you were about 14, which made me 12. We finally drove Gord to quit coming since he couldn’t hack all the running. And yet those last couple years all I did was lose. He wouldn’t even give me a final parting victory. That’s how driven he is about winning.

    I think I will just create a Fedyk/Hanson nostalgia blog, seems to attract more passion.

  14. jim Says:

    I was talking about the later years with only the three of us. Gord never thought much about the game, but Jon and I practiced during the week. I tried harder on the Fedyk side after the Hanson victories got tedious. Gord was too quick. He’d intercept most of my passes. Gord and me had no strategy. Jon and I would plan plays, but they seldom worked. Gord was (is) a good athlete. He would have made a great hockey goalie. But like Jon said, Gord couldn’t even throw a game for pity’s sake. Cold as ice, I guess.

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  • February 4, 2008
    Hamilton Won’t Participate in Bills Games → Bob Young has decided to stand up and say “No!” instead of rolling over. History will judge the outcome, but I can’t criticize him for standing up to the NFL in the heart of “wannabe” country led by the Toronto media. He will be called a poor businessman, but a good one wouldn’t agree to a deal that provides his market (both Hamilton and his season-ticket holder list) with nothing given in return. #
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