CBC Olympic Coverage On Target

By Jason Menard

Oh, the pundits are out in force, suggesting that the CBC has been too hockey-focused throughout this Olympic Games. But, really, is there any reason to argue with giving the viewers what they want – and what they’ve proven to want in the past?

How have those competitive luge ratings been over the past three years? And what were the overnights on biathlon from 2005? Oh, non-existent, OK. Pass the microphone back to Mr. MacLean now.

If the CBC wanted to dedicate all of its programming to the men’s Olympic hockey tournament and only run a crawl of the other events along the bottom of the screen, would there really be any reason to complain? These same columnists, pundits, and talking-heads – have they used their valuable air time and ink to promote these same sports that they’re now lamenting as suffering from a lack of coverage?

No. The point is, in large part, we don’t really care about these secondary sports. Some of us will jump on the old Olympic bandwagon and take some undeserved pleasure from our dedicated Canadian athletes bringing home medals. Those same fans will be the first ones to lament the loss of a medal from an athlete of whom they previously hadn’t shown any interest in.

But hockey, ah… there’s the rub. It’s the reason why the CBC clings so tenuously to the rights to broadcast these games. There’s gold in them thar rinks and, whether or not it hangs from the necks of our players, as long as the pros are playing in the Olympics it will be ringing in the national broadcaster’s coffers from Turin to Vancouver.

The hand-wringing over the CBC’s men’s hockey obsession is just a small part of the greater, unsaid debate about the broadcaster’s mandate. If we look at the broadcaster as an advocate for fair public representation responsible for showing the depth and breadth of the Canadian experience, then coverage should be meted out equally for every event and every athlete. We can let everyone have their 15 minutes of fame and then all get together at the end of the day for a big group hug.

But the CBC is hesitant to fully embrace their role as a public broadcaster – especially if tightening that grip means they have to loosen their grasp on the ideal of commercialism.

The CBC isn’t at this time just a northern PBS, preparing quality programming without being concerned about ratings. It isn’t a channel that’s dedicated to quality and diversity just for quality and diversity’s sake. It’s a network competing with others like CTV and CanWest Global for advertising dollars and viewers’ eyes. If, for the past three years, viewers have shown a marked apathy for watching non-marquee sports, why change a programming focus when the goal is to get the remotes clicked to your stations?

The simple answer is, there is none. Life isn’t fair and while bobsledders, ski jumpers, and biathletes work and train as hard, if not harder and in far less luxurious conditions, than their professional hockey counterparts, the simple fact of the matter is that those sports just don’t seem to resonate with the fans.

As a competitive broadcaster, the CBC has to dedicate air time to the events that will bring in the ratings. However, wearing its public broadcaster’s hat, it has a responsibility to help build an audience for other sports and highlight the complete mosaic of Canadian athletes. CBC hasn’t exactly blacked out these other sports and has given its viewers an opportunity to experience a wide variety of events, competitions, and disciplines. But now it’s time for the average citizen to vote with their wallets and their support.

Skeleton or Snowboard Cross pique your interest? Then spend the intervening three years between Olympics going to local competitions, supporting the athletes, and watching it on TV. If an event isn’t televised, contact your local affiliate or the broadcasters themselves and say that you, as a viewer, are interested in these events and would like to see more air time dedicated to their coverage.

That way, the next time around, when a broadcaster goes about defining an on-air schedule, they’ll know that there’s value in dedicating resources and assets to events that previously may not have warranted as much attention.

After all, while the Olympics are all about gold, silver, and bronze, for the broadcasters the only colour they care about is green. And the viewers’ eyes and the advertisers’ dollars are the only groups that they’re interested in soliciting.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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