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A man leaves the CBC building in Toronto on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A man leaves the CBC building in Toronto on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CBC wins Canadian media rights for 2014, 2016 Olympic Games Add to ...

Say goodbye to “I Believe” – in a time of austerity for Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC has won the rights to broadcast the 2014 Sochi and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

The win means Canadians will trade in Alan Frew’s earworm of an Olympic anthem and talking heads like Brian Williams for familiar CBC jingles and Ron MacLean. But while both CBC and its employees are celebrating the win as a chance to show off their sports chops, the broadcaster is keeping the bid’s cost confidential, even as it faces $115-million in cuts over the next three years.

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The last Canadian Olympic broadcast contract, won in 2005 by Bell and Rogers for the Vancouver and London Games, was valued at $153-million (U.S.). CBC had partnered with CTV owner BCE Inc. for two previous bids on the next two Games, one valued at $70-million and the other believed to be slightly higher.

Neither CBC nor the International Olympic Committee intend to release the financial details of the winning bid, but Kirstine Stewart, CBC’s head of English services, said “we don’t miss on our targets,” and touted that the broadcaster is “making sure we come out of this in a cost-neutral way.

“It’s a discrete, single project that has been costed out, revenue-projected, and based on all of our experience from past Olympics,” Ms. Stewart said.

She said the deal was negotiated over the past month, after talks of a joint bid with BCE broke down in June, following their two unsuccessful bids.

Media analyst Barry Kiefl, a past head of research at CBC, said the secretive nature of the finances is likely simple: “Public money is at stake.”

Gord Hendren says it’s a good investment, so long as CBC is prudent. “There’s no question that the Olympics is the gold standard sports property,” said Mr. Hendren, president of Charlton Strategic Research Inc., a market research group that’s previously worked with the IOC. “They just have to make sure that they get the right numbers in order to make it profitable.”

But that, he said, “is no guarantee. They have to be very careful, financially, and have to be aggressive from a sales and marketing point of view to make it profitable.”

The bid is geared toward the CBC’s structure as a public broadcaster, and is difficult to compare to previous bids involving private companies, Ms. Stewart said. Mr. Hendren said this may involve taking advantages of the perks of being public, like the ability to promote Canadian athletes “beyond the 17 days” of the Games themselves.

Ms. Stewart said CBC, which has broadcast 19 Games over the past 60 years, is prepared for the challenges of hosting another Olympics, even as the challenges of budget cuts and time-delays weigh on traditional television broadcasts. CBC can also leverage the new-media success of its new CBC Music website and app, which offers 40 music channels at once, to make coverage available to an increasingly digital and mobile audience.

Cheers erupted in CBC newsrooms across Canada Wednesday when news of the bid broke, said Marc-Philippe Laurin, the CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild outside of Quebec. It’s good news for employees, as many will travel to cover the Olympics, which in turn creates openings for backfill workers back home.

Mr. Laurin is confident the Olympics won’t do the CBC fiscal damage. “I fully expect they will sail through this,” he said, making CBC “once again the standard-bearer of Olympics broadcasting.” CBC lost money during the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics, and CTV lost as well during Vancouver 2010.

CBC has long been a supporter of Canadian sports, but the loss of the Olympics since 2010, has forced it to lean significantly on Hockey Night in Canada – whose rights come up for bid again in 2014.

“There’s no question that this solidifies their position in the sports game,” Mr. Hendren said. “The only concern is whether this has used any resources that could be directed to NHL rights.”

Mr. Kiefl worries that even though CBC’s sports department won by acquiring the Olympics, hockey is a bigger issue. “If they don’t get hockey, there’s no reason to have their vast sports infrastructure. There’s not much point in maintaining all of those people, but presumably they’ll have to because of the Olympics.”

Rogers Communications Inc. withdrew its candidacy for a bid in September, 2011. In March of this year, web-search-turned-media company Yahoo Inc. said it was mulling over the possibility of a bid, a move that would have further enabled media consumers’ shift from television to cross-platform.

Follow on Twitter: @joshokane

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