Vancouver, BC – With the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games in the books, the sporting world's focus has already shifted toward the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
For most Canadians the biggest question mark for those upcoming Games - besides whether or not NHL stars will be involved - is how the CBC will live up to the unprecedented coverage levels that the partnership between Bell Media and Rogers Communications has provided for the past two Olympic Games.
The CBC, which has the most decorated history of Olympic coverage in Canada having broadcasted the Games on 19 previous occasions, made a somewhat surprising announcement during the midst of the recently completed London Games when they announced they had secured the broadcast rights for the next two Olympic Games - the aforementioned 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The CBC, which had held the Olympic broadcast rights from 1996 to 2008 before being shutout of the past two Olympic Games after being outbid by the Bell- Rogers group, had been working with Bell on a joint bid proposal but that partnership fell apart after two rejected bid attempts.
Ultimately, the CBC reportedly paid a sum that was significantly less for the 2014 and 2016 games, combined, than the $153 million US which Bell Media forked over for the rights to Vancouver 2010 and London 2012.
But while winning the broadcast rights for the Games has to be considered a coup for the national broadcaster which has had its fair share of struggles with its major sports properties having lost the CFL rights in 2007, the MLS rights in 2011 and looking like they may be in for a nasty bidding war when their NHL rights come up in 2014, coming up with a way to match - or perhaps even exceed - the wall-to-wall coverage provided by the Bell-Rogers group will be their greatest challenge.
The Bell-Rogers coverage in London was mainly lauded for its live and, often times, complete coverage of most of the major events of the Games especially those involving Canadian medal hopefuls which was easy to understand given the fact their American counterpart, NBC, drew heavy criticism for its decision to go the tape-delay route and truncate certain events rather than show them from start to finish.
Beyond that, however, Canadians also enjoyed unparalleled televised and online access in both English and French through the main CTV, TSN and Sportsnet channels, as well as multi-lingual broadcasts on several partner stations. Live coverage, for the most part, shouldn't be an issue with the CBC but it's matching the breadth and depth of the coverage - especially when it comes to multi-lingual broadcasts - that will be the biggest challenge.
The CBC will likely resurrect several old affiliations - they teamed with TSN in 2008 to provide coverage in Beijing and with sports cable network The Score in their ill-fated bid for the 2010 and 2012 Games - to make sure they cover as many bases as they can but it will take more than just a few partnerships to even come close to replicating the amount of access Canadians have enjoyed over the past two Olympic Games.
They'll also face the difficulty of having to match the talent level in broadcasters that the Bell-Rogers group had at their disposal to cover the wide range of events, especially in light of the announcement they made back in April that they planned significant personnel cuts as a response to a slash in government funding.
The CBC certainly deserves kudos for reclaiming their status as Canada's Olympic Network but the hard part now is working to ensure they'll be basking in the praise of an audience with significantly higher expectations by the time 2014 rolls around.
They can thank Bell and Rogers for setting the new standard.