Biennial dalliance

Why does the Corpse want a brand-new channel for “amateur” sports, CBC SportsPlus?

First of all, the channel won’t really be for amateur sports. CBC’s supplementary brief to the CRTC (dated 2008.02.01) stated the new network would “[d]evote 25% of total broadcast time to the coverage of Canadian amateur athletes.” CBC responded to a question from the CRTC thus (letter from Bev Kirshenblatt, 2008.02.22):

Does the proposed service intend to broadcast any professional sports such as baseball, basketball, football, tennis, golf or hockey? If so, please indicate the percentage of the broadcast year devote to these types of sports.

Yes. CBC SportsPlus would include a mix of sports – both professional and amateur. The focus of the service is to profile and celebrate Canadian athletes in all forms of sport. Our commitment to 80% Canadian content across the broadcast day and in the evening period.... If there were Canadian athletes in the types of sport noted above we would carry those kind of sporting events. In terms of how much broadcast time could be devoted to baseball, basketball, football, tennis, golf or hockey we estimate that approximately 30% of the services schedule could be devoted to these types of sporting events.

CBC does not promise to limit professional sports to 30% of its airtime. In fact, the only limit is a minimum of 25% amateur sports. Up to 75% of its coverage could be of professional sports. Since they’re defining CanCon as any event with a Canadian athlete, they can air virtually any sport you’d care to name and call it Canadian.

CBC also argued that SportsPlus isn’t remotely similar to existing sports networks, of which, incidentally, I can tell you we already have too many:

Competitors saw through all these ruses. I’ll spare you the details, but everyone from the Score to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters filed functionally identical objections. Obviously the proposed network duplicates what’s already out there and could run pro sports most of the time.

Interestingly, the Canadian Olympic Committee supports SportsPlus, with qualifications. But they’re also trying to get a licence for an amateur-sports network (two – one in either language). COC letter to CRTC, 2008.05.27:

I note that the CBC proposes to allocate 25% of the programming schedule of the proposed network to amateur sport. The Canadian Olympic Committee applauds any and all commitments to cover amateur sport on television.

My qualification is in reference to the fact that the CBC application may mistakenly be perceived to address the needs of amateur sport as identified by us in our broadcast licence applications submitted... The CBC and SRC support our applications as indicated by letters from each included in our applications. Their support of our applications is predicated on their acknowledgement that the broadcast mission of their proposed network will not compete or measurably overlap with our broadcast mission.

The CBC commitment to the coverage of amateur sport will not, in our opinion, address a very significant outstanding need: amateur sport that is currently underserved and underexposed on television.... [U]nderexposed amateur sport will not benefit, in any meaningful way, from the launch of the proposed CBC network. In fact, in this regard, the CBC’s proposed network will compete with other incumbent specialty sports networks for existing well-served and visible amateur sport including hockey, skating, curling, skiing, and most notably, the Olympics while not competing with us.

The Canadian Olympic Committee wants its own channel dedicated to amateur sports. It supports CBC’s channel because that channel won’t really be showing much in the way of amateur sports.

In other words: No, Patrick Watson, CBC SportsPlus won’t be showing kiddies’ soccer games any time soon.

The Score also pointed out that CBC isn’t using anything remotely close to the maximum allowable hours of sports coverage on CBC Television and Bold (né Country Canada). So why does the Corpse even want this new channel?

I have a theory. Let’s check a few news headlines from last week.

CBC was quite embarrassed when CTV slipped a few francs into the IOC’s pockets and scooped the rights to the Vancouver and London Olympics. (They should have seen it coming – NBC pioneered these overvalued long-term deals, the sort of thing old brownshirt Samaranch described as “creative.” I can’t find the reference for that now, though.) CBC acts as if carriage of the mighty Olympiad is its birthright. It isn’t.

But in order to find even barely enough airtime to telecast the Olympics, the Corpse has to max out CBC Television and Bold, and even put some overflow onto Newsworld (rather pushing the boundaries of “news”). Even that isn’t enough, so the Corpse is forced into a Faustian bargain with its betters. The CBC has no choice but to “partner” with an archrival just to get the show on the air.

Do you think CTV will run its overflow coverage on CBC when the time comes? My answer is “Are you crazy?” They already have a deal set up with Rogers to handle that. Game, set, and match, Corpse.

Thus! CBC wants a 24/7 sports channel that it only really needs to use every two years. (Remember, Samaranch staggered the winter and summer games. The Olympics are not a quadrennial event anymore.) That’s if it can manage to score an Olympic contract in the first place. It can run a bit of amateur sports on the channel in the intervening years, then pack the rest of the schedule with B-calibre hockey, so-called Major League Soccer, and, of course, curling.

(That last will not satisfy the Saskatchewan retirees who caterwauled when curling was shuffled off to Country Canada. They’ll still have to get a digital box and pay for a new channel.)

If this thing takes off, CBC can apply for a French-language licence under equivalent terms, and even under the same name, since SportsPlus is just as much of a corporate nonword in French as it is in English. “French” needs more sports airspace, actually, than “English” does.

The only reason CBC wants a new sports channel is to ensure it no longer has to get in bed with Ivan Fecan every two years.

I put this theory to Scott Moore and Bev Kirshenblatt of the Corpse last week; they did not respond by press time and can leave comments here if they wish.

Additional fun fact

CBC proposes a measly 90% captioning, no doubt most of it half-assed real-time captioning even for prerecorded shows, and no audio description whatsoever. Just like the private broadcasters, CBC mandarins didn’t get into this business to help the cripples.