When the CBC was awarded rights to the Sochi 2014 Olympics 18 months ago they were handed a tough task, combining the quantity of CTV’s coverage in 2010 with the renowned quality of their own past Olympic broadcasts. And for the most part, the CBC excelled. Their live TV coverage was equal to CTV’s effort four years ago of showing everything live, while many familiar amateur sports broadcasters returned to covering the Olympics after a four year hiatus. However, the highlight of CBC’s coverage in Sochi was their use of new media, the online streaming and Olympics app were among the best of their kind in Canada.
When CBC bought rights to the 2014 Olympics 18 months ago, some people argued that the public broadcaster did not have the resources to pull off a comprehensive broadcast that the consortium of Bell and Rogers did four years ago. However, those critics were proven wrong as almost every event in Sochi was shown live on CBC, TSN, TSN2, Sportsnet or Sportsnet ONE, just as in Vancouver. CBC was on-air with live coverage for 15 hours a day, which was actually slightly more than CTV in Vancouver.
And if the quantity equaled CTV’s effort in 2010, I’d argue the quality actually exceeded CBC’s last Winter Olympics from Torino 2006. In 2006 CBC’s primetime host, Brian Williams was not even in Italy as he hosted from Toronto. The CBC removed their most important on-air personality from the atmosphere of the Games entirely. All of CBC’s hosts and commentators were in Sochi. Most of CBC’s hosts excelled.
I was particularly impressed by the overnight crew of Andi Petrillo and Andrew Chang. It must be tough going on air just as many Canadians are headed to bed, but both of them were extremely well prepared. Petrillo was not a big surprise, as she has impressed as a hockey host at the CBC before, but unlike her counterpart Ron MacLean, she did not make everything about hockey. As I have said before, she deserves better than doing social media updates on HNIC.
Since Williams is unlikely to ever cover another Olympics, Scott Russell has assumed his role as the broadcasting face of amateur sports in Canada. And he knows everything that is necessary to know about all of the Olympic sports. Unfortunately I think Russell actually had one of the worst timeslots in Sochi. His slot was often cut into by live hockey games that were hosted by Ron MacLean or Elliotte Friedman. This happened on 10 of the 15 days that Olympic Daytime was on air, including almost every day during the second week. I actually would have preferred if MacLean had just hosted Daytime, with Russell getting the primetime gig.
The worst part of CBC’s show was the nightly panel discussion with Adam van Koeverden and Clara Hughes. Both were great Olympic athletes, but I don’t think this feature was necessary or really added any value to the broadcasts. When there are hours of Olympic competition in a day, and only four hours of it can make the primetime show, I’d prefer to see more action and less talk. CBC completely, or nearly completely, ignored some of the Games’ bigger competitions in their primetime show. Snowboarding halfpipe comes to mind. Often times this drove me to NBC’s coverage, which despite an insane amount of ads mostly focused on the competition.
One other studio broadcast that I thought was particularly good was TSN’s women’s hockey studio show. Natasha Staniszewski hosted alongside analysts Cheryl Pounder and Tessa Bonhomme. I thought it was a nice touch to have women talking about women’s hockey. This is the second straight Olympics that TSN has had a female host debut and shine. In 2012 it was Kate Beirness. Pounder and Bonhomme, along with inside the glass analyst Jennifer Botterill, all offered a fresh take on Canadian women’s hockey compared to Cassie Campbell. Eight years after retiring from Team Canada, Campbell still sounds too close to the team and comes off as a cheerleader too often. It didn’t help that her partner in the broadcast booth was Mark Lee, who I think would have been better suited to calling the curling.
I won’t spend too much time on the men’s hockey because, well, it mostly felt like watching Hockey Night in Canada. However, I do still contend that Glenn Healy is a better analyst when he works with only Jim Hughson, as he did a few times during the tournament. Elliotte Friedman was everywhere at the Bolshoy, hosting most games and doing interviews. He was also a studio analyst for Team Canada games. The one change I would have made to the hockey broadcasts is have Rick Ball replace Mark Lee, as previously mentioned.
And that is because… the curling coverage was atrocious. Joan McCusker rarely offers up any insight whatsoever. In fact she often opines that a shot isn’t even possible, disagreeing with Mike Harris. 30 seconds later the shot is made perfectly. Play-by-play commentator Rainnie rarely seemed to know what was happening, one time suggesting that a skip (Brad Jacobs, I think), didn’t even need to throw his last stone. This despite that the throwing team was down 1 point in the 10th end and there were no stones in the house. I think that curling and hockey are two sports where CBC could have leaned on TSN and Sportsnet veterans such as Rob Faulds and Gord Miller.
However, within CBC’s ranks there are plenty of veterans whose voices were a welcome return. There was Scott Oake, one of the CBC’s most professional and versatile commentators who has called Olympic alpine skiing with Kerrin Lee-Gartner many times before. Steve Armitage reclaimed his spot as the voice of speed skating in Canada, after Rod Smith did a more than admirable job in Vancouver. The CBC’s lone female play-by-play commentator, Brenda Irving avoided the sin of talking too much during performances, then she ceded to Kurt Browning and Carol Lane for analysis following each competitor.
Two two biggest surprises, and perhaps this is because both CBC and CTV have a track record of hiring terrible snowboarding and freestyle skiing analysts, were Jeff Bean and Craig McMorris. Bean was an aerials analyst for CTV in 2010. This time his portfolio grew to include the new events of slopestyle and halfpipe, which really have very little connection to aerials. Yet he knew all the tricks. He had a feel for the judging and what tricks would score well. To cover a judged sport where the tricks are so radically different to what you know is extremely impressive. McMorris was made to look a bit silly when he was confused by the judging during the men’s slopestyle on day one. However, he wasn’t alone, so I give him a pass. Canadian athletes like his brother Mark and Max Perrot were equally perplexed. As was I. The tricks that had scored well for one set of judges at X Games 2 weeks earlier were not the same tricks the Olympic judges were looking for. Play-by-play commentators Mitch Peacock and Rob Snoek were also fantastic in two sports that very few past Olympic commentators have had any success in calling. And that’s a good thing considering almost half of Canada’s victories in Sochi were in freestyle skiing or snowboarding.
However, there was one problem with the freestyle skiing coverage. Jenn Heil, who suffered from the same problems as Campbell. Heil was CBC’s analyst on moguls; however, she was part of two of the most awkward interviews of the Games. Canada won gold and silver in each of the moguls events. That resulted in two in-studio interviews. First here is the video of the Dufour-Lapointe interview. Notice Jenn Heil is the odd person out sitting on the couch with sisters Justine, Maxime, Chloe, and their parents.
And then there was the interview with all four members of the Canadian men’s team, who all made the final six, and you guessed it, Heil. Again, have a look.
In my opinion, the actual highlights of CBC’s coverage was their mobile app and live streaming. I think they are seeing where media is headed and did a great job capturing that, especially for an Olympics that took place in a time zone that meant many Canadians were at school or at work when the events were taking place. The app, the first of its kind for Olympic broadcasting in Canada, was great for start-lists and up to the minute results while watching live events. The quality of the live streaming was spectacular, just as good as watching on TV when it came through in “HD”. The navigation in the video player was great too. My one complain, the commercial breaks for the live streams were completely random. Going out in the middle of a play during hockey games at times.
All in all, CBC’s coverage continued the tradition of excellence in Olympic broadcasting. Here are videos of a couple of the best calls of Canada’s gold medal performances in Sochi.
Charles Hamelin in men’s 1500m Short Track, called by Steve Armitage
Men’s Hockey final, Canada vs. Sweden, called by Jim Hughson