The battle for the scraps of Canadian sports broadcasting is heating up again, with several heavy hitters voicing objections to the CBC’s bid to launch SportsPlus. The new channel would put a primary focus on Canadian athletes with some attention given to amateur athletes.
As I detailed earlier, the Ceeb’s application is in competition with the Canadian Olympic Associations’ bid to launch an amateur sports station. However, SportsPlus would be a tier 2 service (meaning that subscribing to the service would be voluntary) whereas the COA’s channel would be on a force-down-the-throat tier.
Interestingly, the CBC and the COA originally were partners in the venture, both saying that they felt that there was room for an amateur focused sports channel on the dial. It’s hard to see what made them think that way—Canadians have never really shown that they care about the Olympic disciplines (beyond the two weeks of the Games). Although there would be value there for the hardcore sports geek out there (I’m not sure I’d get any work done if the world table tennis championship was available to me on TV—sadly, I’m serious), it’s pretty clear that only the true believers would be watching.
The Ceeb seemed to realize this when it pulled away from the COA and re-focused its bid to reflect about 75 per cent professional coverage. They are maintaining a promise of 80 per cent Canadian content, which is only about 15 per cent higher than the Canuckness of TSN.
And that’s where the complaints against the CBC’s bid come on. CTV-TSN, Rogers Media, Score Media and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, as well as the Canadian Association of Broadcasters have all voiced their complaints to the CRTC regarding the CBC’s application. The complaint is that SportsPlus will not be offering a product that is significantly different than the existing services—essentially, Canadians would be getting yet another TSN junior.
History tells us that is probably an accurate assessment (how’s that regionally focused programming coming Sportsnet?), but then again, who cares? We are talking about a tier 2 application here. It will sink or swim on its own merits. If the CBC wants to put out a product that Canadians can get three other places already, it will need to do so in a way that is compelling enough to draw viewers away from the more established networks.
That the Ceeb is a publicly funded broadcaster is irrelevant to the discussion. When it comes to programming issues, the network should be considered the same as every other. If you want to have a debate about the merits of public television, that’s fine. But, it’s a political discussion that is inconsequential to the future of SportsPlus.
The sad thing here is that both applications have significant faults that may result in both being rejected. There is a niche to be filled here.
The CRTC will hear the CBC’s application July 7.