CBC vs. The World: Let the Broadcasting Games Begin

CBC vs. The World: Let the Broadcasting Games Begin

In the September 2012 battle for broadcast rights to the 2015 Pan American Games, CBC/Radio Canada emerged victorious from what was reportedly described as a "very aggressive bidding process with multiple bidders." In light of the difficult landscape shift CBC has experienced over the past two years, there was serious concern as to how the public broadcaster would approach this year's games.

When Rogers locked up a 12-year, $5.2 billion dollar deal to broadcast NHL hockey in Canada in 2013, CBC was forced to launch what some sources are reportedly calling a five-year downsizing plan featuring layoffs of over 2000 employees. Despite these changes, CBC promised Canadians some 750 hours of coverage of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games across television, online and mobile platforms, in both English and French. This article provides an overview of the key legal issues impacting CBC's ability to fulfill its promise to the Canadian public.

Broadcasters' Rights

Advances in communication technologies have revolutionized the ways in which billions of people around the world take part in major sporting events. It is imperative that the rights of individuals to remotely view the events is balanced with the legal rights of the host broadcaster.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the sale of broadcasting and media rights is now the largest source of revenue for most sports organizations. Meanwhile, the royalties that broadcasters like CBC earn from selling their exclusive footage to other media outlets is what allows them to invest in the expensive technical work required to provide top-quality coverage.

For the Pan Am Games, CBC has already sold broadcasting rights to a number of different broadcasting companies, including: ESPN (USA), ESPN Deportes (USA), TyC (Argentina), Claro Sports (Mexico) and Rede Record (Brazil). Through these broadcasters alone, the Games will reach more than 380 million households in the Americas.

Retransmission of the Games

Retransmission occurs when off-air broadcasts are picked up by a transmitter, and sold as part of a package to subscribers outside that broadcaster's reach. For the Games, CBC has the right to authorize or prohibit rebroadcasting, fixation and reproduction of their broadcasts. The Copyright Board of Canada determines the royalty rates that these re-transmitters must pay to use their broadcasts.

Royalty rates are calculated based on a formula that is largely based on TV audience ratings, with a new tariff being set every 5 years. The most recent tariff negotiations, which are outlined in detail in the CRC's Triennial Report 2010/11/12, were received as a major victory for rights holders, who received an increase in both the rate per subscriber per month and CRC's share of the total Canadian retransmission royalties. These changes represent a combined $3 million more annually for broadcasters, in comparison to 2009.

Growing Piracy "Contaminating" Live Sports

In addition to the broadcasters showing the Games, there will also be many illegal peer-to-peer streams. In recent years, these streaming sites had improved to include HD content, interactive program listings (also known as EPGs) and other attractive features such as live social media updates. This has especially been a problem for live sporting events, considering the pirate does not need to pay for the bandwidth that enabled HD resolution, allowing these sites to compete with legal offers for 'free'.

Although host broadcasters could try to go after every individual they believe to be infringing their copyrights, this strategy can be disastrous from a public relations standpoint (if the reported fallout from the RIAA lawsuits from ten years ago are any indication). Even if done for legitimate reasons, suing one's customers may be a dangerous business model. Additionally, with sources reporting that the number of illegal peer-to-peer sites has doubled every six months for the past two years, viewers have countless options and little reason to stop streaming.

One Possible Solution?

Some sources suggest that technology itself might offer a way to curb the piracy issues that currently affect broadcasters. Imagine if something similar to the Shazam app (which is designed to listen to the environment of the user), could be integrated into live streaming apps to detect streams that potentially infringe copyright. However, the terms of use would have to be revised to include consent to this type of monitoring while the app is in use, which raises a number of additional privacy concerns.

What is certain is that illegal live streams are finding ways for sports fans to circumvent the offerings of public broadcasters, and these Pan Am Games will be no different.


Michael Cara is an IPilogue Editor and a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.