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Mad at CBC
Feb 25, 2005

An elderly woman I know, who happens to love to watch curling on television, is mad at CBC.  She told me she has been watching curling for years, ever since she came from England with her late husband to Canada.

It may seem strange for someone from England to be enthralled with the roarin’ game, but she said her Canadian husband introduced her to curling early on and she has been a fan ever since. She came to love the game so much that she was more than willing to accompany her husband on trips to Canadian and world curling championships.

She told me in no uncertain terms that CBC’s coverage of the Scott Tournament of Hearts sucks. She actually used more vivid language in describing her displeasure at not being able to watch three draws of live round-robin curling a day — the regular offering of former broadcaster TSN.

Her question to me was, “Why the heck did they get rid of TSN?”

My answer, “The Canadian Curling Association was thinking in dollars rather than with fans in mind.”

The CCA truly believes money makes the world go around, and they wanted to take advantage of the growing popularity of curling coverage on TV. 

CBC simply offered up more money for the rights to the curling broadcasts. 

Canadian curling fans consistently applauded the broadcast trio from TSN, but I tend to think that they would have soon been forgotten if the same level of game broadcasting had been maintained by the public network.

But, CBC is not a sports network, thus it has commitments to other programming which interferes with the live broadcasts. On the other hand, TSN is a sports network and it can make a commitment to showing curling to the exclusion of other programming. 

Our national broadcaster’s answer to programming conflict has been to shift some of the games to its digital cable channel Country Canada. What?  I and tens of thousands of other Canadians thought that Country Canada was a half-hour show every Sunday afternoon on CBC’s regular channel about salmon farming in British Columbia or timber cutting in the Maritimes. Little did we know that it is also a specialty cable channel — digital at that. And, that’s the problem. It’s an obscure channel that is only available through subscription. (TSN is part of a basic cable package.) It’s a paltry three bucks or so a month, but even those who have purchased the channel were a tad peeved on  Saturday night of the opening day of the Scott Tournament of Hearts when the curling broadcast was abruptly cut off for other programming.

That wouldn’t have happened on TSN, the woman with the London accent told me. She’s right, of course. TSN was noted for only ending a broadcast when the last rock was thrown on the last sheet of curling ice being played on.

CBC’s viewer numbers for Saturday and Sunday afternoon were impressive — 456,000 and 494,000, respectively. TSN only averaged 295,000 with their broadcasts of afternoon curling for the women’s championship. In this instance, CBC holds an advantage. Not all Canadians are cable subscribers, so someone with rabbit ears or an antennae can tune into the national network. 

The numbers for the evening broadcasts on Country Canada haven’t yet been released, but be assured that they’ll not be anywhere close to the 367,000 on average who watched TSN every evening of the championship last year. Country Canada has nowhere near the subscriber base of TSN.

An argument for an ulterior motive for CBC’s decision to put prime time curling coverage on Country Canada is that it thought it could dramatically increase its subscriber base. Canadians thirsting for curling would be forced to subscribe. That reason may have attracted some and turned off others who believe it’s a similar manoeuvre the cable companies used to attract viewers for so-called specialty channels by linking them with more popular channels. Viewers who didn’t want the channels had to call in and cancel channels in the package. That got quite a few subscribers mad at the cable companies.

The anger at CBC has expanded to the point that the Scott paper Company is averaging 10 to 15 e-mail complaints an hour, according to a report in the Free Press by Paul Weicek. He also said the CCA was receiving so many phone calls that it closed its switchboard. (People with questions about the CBC curling coverage can call 1-866-306-4636.)

Whatever complaints are received by the CCA are well founded. CBC hasn’t, and is unable to deliver, the on-ice product that Canadians have come to expect. The one thing the CCA should be wary of is that their decision to chase the money may cause people to tune out after years of gaining a significant following. In the past, viewers knew if they switched to TSN three times a day, curling would be shown. Meanwhile, CBC’s daily draw coverage is somewhere in the netherworld of the airwaves.

I talked to one man with satellite TV who only chanced upon Country Canada after many futile attempts to find it. When he did find the channel, it didn’t list curling but some other programming. Just for the heck of it, he decided to click on and found that the digital channel was showing a curling game and not some gardening show, or whatever.

Hurry! Hurry hard CBC! Your  draws are way short of the house.