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CTV-Rogers set to renew their Olympic teamwork Add to ...

It was the biggest broadcasting project in Canadian television history, consuming more airtime and producing more online video than any event before it, at the highest price ever paid in this country. And now, the Olympic broadcast consortium of CTV Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. have decided they'll try to do it again.

The two media companies, which snatched away the rights to show the Vancouver Games and the 2012 Summer Olympics from the CBC, will keep their partnership together in an attempt to secure the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Games, to be held in Sochi, Russia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"We're going to bid again," confirmed Doug Beeforth, the president of Rogers Sportsnet. "The consortium will continue."

Broadcasters bid for the Olympics in packages of two, so the consortium is already making preparations and setting budgets for its coverage of the 2012 summer Games in London. It will have to play some catch-up: The recession hit advertising revenue hard in the months leading up to the Vancouver games, and according to CTV, the broadcast group is counting on London to break even on its total $153-million (U.S.) investment for 2010 and 2012.

The price tag is not expected to be that high next year when the auction is held for the rights to Sochi and Rio because there is no Olympic spectacle on home turf this time to make TV executives salivate. But it will still be a major broadcasting endeavour.

"You still need multiple channels. You still need an awful lot of staff. You still need the wherewithal of a big company," said a senior executive with one of the consortium members who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I would say the structure people saw in Vancouver seemed to work well for everybody, consumers, advertisers and the other people involved ... the post-mortem on it was a really good feeling."

There is one major corporate change in the works for the consortium between now and the Games in Sochi, of course: BCE Inc. signed a $1.3-billion deal last month to take full ownership of CTVglobemedia Inc.'s TV assets. That means the Olympic broadcasting effort wouldn't just bring together the two leading rivals in sports television, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet; it would also be an alliance between two of the biggest telecom rivals in this country, Rogers and Bell.

Because that deal still requires regulatory approval, CTV executives would not speak definitively to the decisions the network's future owners will make. The TV business will soon have a new boss - Kevin Crull, a Bell executive who has been tapped to succeed CTVglobemedia chief executive Ivan Fecan when the deal goes through and Mr. Fecan retires.

The move was announced just last week, and Mr. Crull, who has no programming experience, has said he is now going to comb through a "curriculum" to get to know the CTV business. BCE, which is awaiting its turn to go before the federal broadcast regulator to ask for approval of the deal, is also reluctant to comment.

A Bell spokesperson said the company has not begun negotiating any mobile rights for Olympic content beyond London, and that it would be "premature" to discuss its approach on the programming front.

That being said, when the deal was announced on Sept. 10, BCE chief executive officer George Cope said clearly that the Olympics was a key moment for him to understand the potential for media content across multiple devices.

"I'm assuming the reason Bell bought CTV is for content. And one of the biggest pieces of content is the Olympics. It doesn't make a lot of sense for them not to go after the Olympics," said Peter Sisam, vice-president of IMG Canada and a consultant who has advised the International Olympic Committee on broadcast rights for years.

The bidding process for Canadian rights is expected to happen in the spring, and could be as early as March, depending on when it happens for American broadcasters, who will go first. There too, a corporate shift is in the works: Cable giant Comcast Corp. is seeking approval to buy majority control of NBC Universal, which broadcast the Vancouver Games (and lost money doing it).

One thing that will affect the price of the rights in Canada is whether the NHL agrees to let its players take part in the hockey tournament in Sochi. Mr. Sisam suggested that if the league does not make a decision about the Olympics before the spring, Canadian broadcasters might go before the IOC with two bids: one priced with NHL involvement, and one without. The difference between those bids would be "millions of dollars," he said.

The consortium will likely have competition for the rights: After it lost to CTV and Rogers last time around, the CBC has said repeatedly that it is very interested in pursuing the Games, assuming it is financially able to do so.

"We'll review the IOC's bid material and, at the appropriate time, decide whether to bid," said Scott Moore, the executive director of CBC Sports.

But Vancouver has changed how the Olympics are broadcast in this country. The IOC is interested in who puts the most money on the table, but also wants to maximize coverage with more hours, across more channels, and a big digital presence, Mr. Sisam said. That likely means CBC will have to build a consortium of its own if it wants to present a viable bid.

The last time a broadcaster took on the Games solo was CBC's coverage of Nagano in 1998. For eight years after that, the public broadcaster teamed up with TSN, which is part of the CTV-Rogers consortium. That leaves CBC just a few options for partners, the mightiest of which would be the Global television network and CanWest specialty stations, which will soon be acquired by another cable giant - Shaw Communications Inc. - pending regulatory approval.

Follow on Twitter: @susinsky

 

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