Speaking Notes for Hubert T. Lacroix, President and CEO, CBC/Radio-Canada, to the Standing Committee on Official Languages

May 14, 2009

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Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for your invitation to come here today to talk about broadcast coverage of the upcoming Vancouver Olympics.  With me is Sylvain Lafrance, Executive Vice-President, French Services. 

As you know, CBC/Radio-Canada has been the Canadian broadcaster of the Olympic Games for the past seven Olympics.  Olympic coverage for us has been the culmination of our ongoing commitment to showcasing Canadian amateur athletes, and we are very proud of the caliber of coverage we have provided.

In 2005, we submitted a bid to the International Olympic Committee to try to secure the broadcast rights for the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympics.  That bid was based on our commitment to providing comprehensive over-the-air coverage across the country, with two unique broadcasts for French and English audiences.  It was also the product of a partnership between CBC/Radio-Canada, CanWest Global Broadcasting, the Score specialty sports channel, La Presse, and Telus. 

We offered the IOC $93 million U.S. for the broadcast rights to the Vancouver and London Games.  That was $25 million dollars more than what we had bid for the rights to the Turin and Beijing Olympics.  The IOC decided to go with a significantly higher bid - $153 million, submitted by what was then, Bell Globemedia.

We were disappointed of course but that is the risk inherent in a bidding process.

We were surprised when, immediately after winning the broadcast rights in Lausanne, on February 11th2005, Bell Globemedia issued a news release stating that it would solve its problem of providing its service to all Francophones by having Radio-Canada carry its signal.  They had never discussed that with us.

As my predecessor Robert Rabinovitch explained at the time, CBC/Radio-Canada has specific obligations to Francophones and Anglophones under the Broadcasting Act.  We simply cannot allow another broadcaster to replace our programming with their own in order to fix deficiencies in their coverage.  That fact hasn’t changed.

We are aware of the Committee’s concerns about Olympic coverage reaching Francophones who do not subscribe to cable or satellite.  In fact, it was Mr. Lafrance who told the Senate Official Languages Committee back in December 2006 that we would be open to being part of the solution providing that any arrangement respected four key conditions: (i) that we would produce and broadcast our own programming for television, radio and the internet or be involved in some co-production and co-broadcasting partnership; (ii) the specific programming needs of Francophone and Anglophone audiences would be respected with two independent program offerings; (iii) that our broadcast would treat all Francophone audiences in Canada equally, and (iv) we would be compensated for the costs of becoming an Olympic partner.  We discussed the situation with CTV Globemedia’s French language partner RDS in December of 2007 but there was no interest on their part.

Last May, CTV asked us to reconsider carrying the RDS/TQS signal on Radio-Canada’s transmitters outside of Quebec and the National Capital Region for the duration of the entire Games in exchange for some compensation for lost advertising – essentially a repeat of its 2005 offer.  In my reply, I repeated that the public broadcaster cannot simply “rent out” part of its signal to another broadcaster but that we would be pleased to negotiate a production arrangement which would respect the four “Sylvain Lafrance” conditions.  CTV was not interested.

Earlier this year, the CRTC Chair wrote to me requesting that CBC/Radio-Canada offer its assistance to CTV in order to provide greater broadcast coverage of the Games.  In my February 3rd response, a copy of which you have, we told CTV that, consistent with the Chairman’s suggestion, we would consider broadcasting the International Television signal pool feed of a few key events from the Vancouver Olympics across our networks. 

This is the unedited pool feed – the signal without commentary that is made available to all international broadcasters.  We stated that we would not seek compensation from CTV for providing this service, but would offset our costs of providing this service through the sale of commercials on our broadcast.

CTV replied that it had no need of our assistance.

Then, out of the blue, Rick Brace announced to this Committee that CTV is now prepared to provide us with the unedited, pool feeds of the Games so that we could provide our coverage of some key events from the Vancouver Olympics, but that they would keep all of the advertising revenue.  I am frankly surprised that CTV made that announcement here and didn’t even inform us of this “offer”. I still have not heard directly from CTV.

However, yesterday, Sylvain Lafrance contacted the head of RDS, to get more information.  He was told that CTV has in fact, several conditions to their “offer” some of which were not mentioned to you by Mr. Brace on Tuesday.  For example, we must give up our advertising space and carry their advertising as it is; we must shut off this broadcast to Francophones living in Quebec; no CBC/Radio-Canada personnel will be allowed on the premises of the Olympics we are supposed to cover; we cannot shoot any of our own material, and we must pay for all of the costs of the broadcast.  I leave it to you to decide if you think that their “offer” is generous and why their conditions were not shared with you.

You know what our current financial situation is.  We have had to cut $171 million from our budget this year and eliminate 800 jobs. We are in the midst of identifying low-priority initiatives representing 5 per cent of our appropriation as part of the Government’s Strategic Review Initiative.  I will tell you right now that we will not allow CBC/Radio-Canada to incur any cost in providing the service CTV purchased so that CTV can deliver a profit to its shareholders while we are laying off employees.  That kind of bailout is completely irresponsible and we will not participate in it. We must be appropriately compensated for our production of the Games either by receiving adequate compensation from CTV or by selling advertising on our airwaves during the Olympics.  And CTV’s conditions must be lifted.

But I would ask Members to think about all of this for a minute.  Is this really the solution this Committee is prepared to support?  That a private broadcaster secures broadcast rights to the Olympics by outbidding us by $60 million U.S., is then unable to provide the appropriate level of service, and thereafter expects to use the public broadcaster as a bailout?

Is this really a wise use of public resources?   

For our part, we remain committed to amateur sports and to the Olympics and will consider bidding for the Canadian broadcast rights to future Olympics so that we can provide that coverage to Canadians. 

But we will not do it at any cost – not in the future, not now.  I hope that commitment is one that this Committee will support.

We are now pleased to take your questions.

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