SINCE TENS OF MILLIONS of us tuned in to watch our Canadian skiers, skaters and sliders perform at their best on their biggest stage, the Olympics, wouldn't we also want to watch our own actors, writers and directors doing the very same thing on their biggest stage, prime time?
The answer is “yes, of course,” if given the chance.
The Olympic broadcast consortium spent multiple millions acquiring the rights to the 2010 Games and then multiple millions more preparing, building the facilities and staffing the place with the best Canada has to offer in terms of broadcasters and broadcasting. The 1,400 employees who worked for and with the CTV/Rogers-led consortium can deservedly bask in the glow of the 17 days of marvellous broadcasting (not to mention live streaming and highlight packaging and mobile app-feeding) that drew unprecedented viewership.
It's an incredible accomplishment of which every member of the consortium should be proud.
And wow, did Canadians watch.
On Monday morning, still in awe of the performance of the Canadian Winter Olympic team as well as the broadcasting excellence, it began to dawn on me there is no acceptable reason this can't carry over to other TV genres. Canadians will watch made-in-Canada TV as long as it's good TV, marketed and supported well, because when it boils down to it, we all want to watch great television, no matter where it might be made.
It's great watching a gold medal ski run. It's even better if it's a Canadian winning it.
Despite the costs involved in airing the Olympics (and I'll bet that in the end, the consortium does better than the predicted break-even... thank you Canada-U.S. hockey final), it pales in comparison to the amount of money Canadian broadcasters have spent, and continue to spend, on U.S. TV shows.
In fact, I suppose a Canadian broadcaster could have just shown the Olympics to Canada that way: Subcontracting the NBC rights and simultaneously airing the American broadcaster's coverage here with Canadian ads over top.
Of course, that would have been a ridiculous thing to do.
Viewed through that prism though, why then do our broadcasters continue to air so much American programming when it comes to drama and comedy? Relying on simultaneous substitution revenues during weekday prime time while stuffing the limited-by-comparison Cancon drama and comedies on Friday and Saturday nights has been a reliable business model. But it's a fraying one. That foreign content is available everywhere so Canadian broadcasters are not getting the same return on their huge investments.
Those ‘casters have continually said over the past few years that the “model is broken” and they need more places to get revenue. But most of the effort there has been to go after the carriers and after the CRTC. The Olympics may be incredibly unique and an inflated comparison, but the Games broadcast reaffirms the notion that with exclusivity comes ratings success: That by having something exclusive on-screen which can be used on other platforms, sliced and diced and exploited to as many audiences in as many ways as possible, viewership and revenue will flow. This doesn't happen as easily with shows bought elsewhere as there are still many limitations on what broadcasters can and can't do with their acquired programming on other platforms.
I'm not saying Canadian broadcasters should totally abandon U.S. hit show moneymakers like Lost or 24. Brian Williams told us about a lot of American, Norwegian and Russian athletes, after all. But if Canadian broadcasters took a big chunk of the $750 million or so spent south of the border each year and made more Canadian hits, exclusive to their company, I believe they'd perform better on their podium – in prime time ratings lists and subsequently, the balance sheet.
With 14 gold medals this Olympics, our athletes altered the historical performances of Canadian teams on home soil. They aimed higher and achieved unprecedented glory. They owned the podium.
It's well past time we owned more of our own prime time.
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