It is really hard to judge how good, or bad, CTV’s Olympic coverage is in 2012. It all depends on the viewer. Some would say it is better than CBC’s, some would not. Some would say that it is a lot better than CTV’s 2010 coverage, but again, some wouldn’t. It mostly comes down to quantity vs. quality. There is no question that CTV had more coverage than CBC and TSN ever combined to show in the past. CTV alone is broadcasting 18 hours of coverage day, with 15 additional hours on both TSN and Sportsnet. In 2008 CBC and TSN combined for about 18 hours of coverage daily. Rarely were both broadcasting at the same time, giving viewers a choice of what they wanted to see. What does come into question about CTV’s broadcasts, though, is the quality.
It does seem that the “Canadian-ness” of CTV’s broadcasts is toned down in 2012. Maybe they listened to viewers. Maybe they realized that the US Men’s Basketball team, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are as popular in Canada as most of our own athletes. The opening montage, which featured only Canadian athletes in 2010, has been replaced by one with a sea of colours representing athletes from all over the world. Featured prominently are Bolt, Lebron James, Kerri Walsh and Misty May, Roger Federer, and Michael Phelps, alongside Canadian stars Jessica Zelinka, Dylan Armstrong, Christine Sinclair, Alexandre Despatie and Adam van Koeverdan.
In that sense, CTV’s coverage of the London Olympics is immeasurably better than their coverage of Vancouver. As a viewer, I feel like I’m watching the world coming together, instead of prominent Canadian athletes being cheered on against others.
One thing that hasn’t changed from CTV’s coverage in 2010 is the song in that opening montage (and every other montage). Believe is back and as annoying as ever. I actually like the instrumental version, but hearing the full version every time a Canadian wins a medal and at the close of every Primetime broadcast is grating. And the new version by The Tenors isn’t any better. I still cheer on the Canadian athletes, but I’ve learned to quickly change the channel after the event is done. Of course this will return in 2014 (more on that later).
The hosts of CTV’s broadcasts are great. Brian Williams is still the best Olympic host in Canada, maybe in all of the English-speaking world. He is not afraid to speak his mind, which, in my opinion, is important for a well-respected journalist. With CBC gaining Olympic rights back from 2014, this is likely Williams’ last Olympic Games. A few have complained about him (my favourite is that he reads from a script. Every host does). I’ve tuned in every night during the Olympics so far to watch CTV’s Primetime show.
The only CTV host who is close to as good as Williams is James Duthie. I was a bit concerned about his knowledge of summer sports. Turns out I was wrong. Right from the opening broadcast it was clear to me that he had prepared for London. He is witty, and actually funny, unlike, for example, Ron MacLean. His co-host Jennifer Hedger is mostly good as well. Maybe she isn’t the most exuberant of TSN’s SportsCentre hosts, but she is one of the most professional. Morning hosts Dave Randorf and Catriona Le May Doan are the worst of the bunch at CTV. Randorf is very knowledgeable. He is an Olympic veteran as a former Daytime and Primetime host for TSN. Le May Doan, on the other hand, is too close to the Canadian Olympic team. She feels like a Canadian cheerleader, not an Olympic co-host. Maybe CTV should have found another role for her in London.
None of TSN’s hosts have stood out to me. Kate Beirness constantly makes mistakes, although she does correct them. She is a young, talented broadcaster; however, maybe too inexperienced for such a large role. Michael Landsberg is a great interviewer, but not a great host. His joke about Mark Heese appearing on Off the Record didn’t come across as a joke at all. Made it look like he just wanted to promote that he hosts a sports talk show. Darren Dutchyshen at least hasn’t made an embarrassing error like he did in Vancouver. He is probably the best of TSN’s hosts, but isn’t as good as his primetime counterparts at CTV, Sportsnet and NBC.
Speaking of Sportsnet’s primetime host, Brad Fay is the stand out host of Olympic coverage for me. He is very knowledgeable on Olympic sports and could become the star host that Sportsnet has never had (ala Maclean at CBC and Duthie at TSN).
As for their commentators, most are unforgettable. Some in a bad way. Rod Smith (aquatics), Rob Faulds (rowing), Gord Miller (athletics) and RJ Broadhead (beach volleyball) are among the standouts. Smith’s cadence and booming voice are perfect for swimming’s biggest events. Faulds is an Olympic veteran, he was part of CTV’s 1992 coverage in Barcelona. And who knew Broadhead was so knowledgeable about beach volleyball?
Thank goodness I don’t watch much gymnastics, apparently. I haven’t read many good things about Rod Black. And his call of Rosie MacLennan’s first gold medal for Canada in London was one of the worst Olympic calls I have ever heard. After the scores for the Chinese gymnast came up, Black excitedly yelled “Jump for joy Canada!” Sure I was happy for MacLennan, but jump for joy? Everyone talks about Jamie Campbell’s medal calls seeming scripted, I wonder how long Black had worked on this one?
Maybe we just don’t have good amateur sports analysts in Canada. Or maybe too many of them are too close to our current athletes. Joanne Malar was unbearable on swimming, constantly shouting over Smith. She said Michael Phelps was swimming for Canada in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay. Another shouter was rowing analyst Barney Williams. He surely jolted me out of bed while watching rowing at 6am. Again though, many times he seemed to cheer Canada to the finish line. Kyle Shewfelt, while excellent with his analysis, also seemed to get overly excited for Canadian medals. So did judo analyst Frazer Will, who repeated himself countless times during week 1.
The most surprising analyst for me is Mark Heese. He knows everything about beach volleyball and is able to make it easy to understand for casual viewers. Usually Canadian coverage messes up volleyball on the beach, but CTV’s coverage with Broadhead and Heese is just as good as their American counterparts at NBC. Heese also wasn’t a Canadian cheerleader.
Some viewers don’t like Blythe Hartley. I think she is actually able to explain diving a lot better than 2008 CBC analyst Anne Montminy. Again, like Heese, she stands out to me because she doesn’t overtly cheer for Canadian athletes on air. This even though her and Emelie Heymans were teammates for many years. It is rare that a recently retired athlete is able to put personal connections aside on television.
Maybe CBC deserves the credit, but Michael Smith and David Moorcroft are a fantastic pairing on athletics. There were CBC’s track analysts in Beijing. Moorcroft was able to provide an excellent British opinion this evening as the British team had an historic night, winning 3 gold medals at the Olympic Stadium. Smith, a former decathlete, gave insight into the heptathlon that many could not. Hearing Moorcroft made me realize that CTV could use a larger British presence on their coverage. They just happened to choose a Brit for the right event as day 8 athletics will go down as the signature moment of London 2012.
The two commentators that deserve the most attention are freelancers. One is in London, the other in Toronto. Both were TSN regulars some 20 years ago. Both get to call minor sports, sometimes on short notice. Paul Romanuk is CTV’s commentator for triathlon and weightlifting. He put Paula Findlay’s performance in the women’s triathlon in perfect context this morning. He is probably the most professional, unbiased commentator in Canada. Everyone else should look up to him. Jim van Horne got the call for Milos Raonic’s marathon match. He also called a women’s doubles badminton semifinal feature Canada. His knowledge of badminton was particularly surprising.
Both Romauk and van Horne had to work without analysts. Maybe it was too their benefit considering some of CTV’s other analysts detract from the broadcast. Romanuk on weightlifting and van Horne on badminton were the two standout commentators during the first week of CTV’s coverage, in my opinion.
There is one other thing that CTV got right. Using NBC coverage for tennis and basketball and BBC commentary for soccer. Using NBC for tennis gave CTV the ability to show whatever matches they want, without having commentators on-duty in a Toronto studio to call them in a moments’ notice. Basketball and soccer as best covered by the Americans and the Brits respectively.