by Peter Worthington
Here we go again — or is this time different?
News that the CBC has won the radio and TV broadcasting rights for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, raises the question why a state broadcaster is bidding against private companies.
So far, CBC brass won’t say how much they paid for the Olympic rights, but whatever the amount is, it comes from the taxpayer, not private enterprise.
Perhaps Rogers and Bell who won the rights for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and Beijing Games (for $150 million) didn’t want the rights, since they lost money.
But the word is that their $70-million bid for 2014 and 2016 was lower than IOC extortionists wanted, so the CBC stepped in with a higher bid — maybe as high as $150 million, but we don’t know.
That raises another point. This is public money — money the rest of us pay the government in taxes, $1.1 billion of which goes for the CBC to waste. It is in the public interest to know the costs.
But like salaries given to its on-air hosts, anchors and performers, the CBC won’t tell what it pays. But it’s a lot, compared to salaries that ordinary folk get, though modest compared to what big broadcast names in the U.S. earn each year.
The thing is, that if we have a state-subsidized broadcaster, it should be concentrating on programs that the private sector ignores — not competing with the private sector and raising the costs of programming.
The CBC is said to be worried that it may lose the rights to NHL hockey, which is a sure money-maker (unlike Olympic coverage which is a gamble and usually loses money for the broadcaster).
A case can be made that if private TV channels (Bell and Rogers) are bidding for something, the state broadcaster should back off instead of raising the anti, and giving itself an unfair advantage.
As long as Canadians get to see NHL hockey on TV (or the Olympic Games), the CBC should turn its attention to programs of cultural worth that the private sector in its wisdom feels it cannot afford.
PBS in the U.S. does this — and leaves the game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune to the private sector. But CBC-TV has been airing the latter two programs to attract viewers, ignoring the quality stuff.
The CBC’s main concern should not be to gain big audiences, but to produce quality content for Canadians interested in quality. Like Masterpiece Theatre.
The CBC is a huge bureaucracy that is almost a law unto itself. When it comes under criticism, it battens the hatches and outlasts its critics. But it embodies all the traits of bureaucracy in that its main concern is more money from the government and fewer restraints and little accountability. A poor way to run a business.
One should remember that the CBC was inspired by the BBC, which in turn was the inspiration for George Orwell’s great novel 1984 complete with Big Brother and the despairing Winston Smith who, in the CBC’s case, is the benighted Canadian taxpayer.
One can be assured that the CBC’s successful bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, done at the expense of Rogers and Bell, will spend more lavishly on Olympic coverage. After all, it’s our money.
I guess we’d all better adjust to Peter Mansbridge talking sport instead of Brain Williams — not a cheerful prospect.
Categories: Contributor Columns