Domestic rightsholder CBC makes adjustments for a most unusual Summer Olympics

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The one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics forced domestic rights-holder CBC to make several significant changes to its planning for the Summer Games.

Many features completed before the March 2020 postponement had to be updated or scrapped. Main studio hosts will not be in the host city like usual. And over half of the staffers who were originally tabbed to be in Tokyo will be working on the Games from Canada instead.

Despite the developments, the look and feel of the broadcast will remain similar to previous Games, said CBC Sports & Olympics executive director Chris Wilson. He added there will be minor differences with fewer people on site, but the network is keeping a "lot of the elements" that viewers would traditionally expect from a CBC broadcast.

"I would say we're excited, but there's some general nerves because we know there's going to be surprises and there's still going to be some things that pop up," Wilson said. "We've learned over the past year as we try and plan for everything that you can't plan for everything. So you just focus on what you can control and ignore what you can't.

"Everyone that works on the Olympics is an Olympic junkie so they can't help but feel excited."

A level of uncertainty has hovered over the July 23-Aug. 8 Games — still branded as Tokyo 2020 even though it's 2021 — due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of athletes, officials, judges, media members and broadcasters from around the world will descend on a host country that has had a slow vaccination rollout.

Tokyo will be under a state of emergency throughout the Olympics, as it was in the spring, because of the number of infections and stress on medical systems. In addition to the usual whirlwind of sporting activity, there will be plenty of non-sport stories to cover.

"We're going to keep an accurate context for Canadians of what's happening in the country," Wilson said. "We're going to go to our people on the ground, both news reporters and sports reporters, to make sure that we're accurately reflecting the state of the country and what we're seeing and hearing — as much as we can — with where we're allowed to go within the (IOC) playbook rules.

"And then of course getting to the athletes and telling their stories — whether it's through mixed zones or through Zoom chats or however we (can safely talk) and respect the protocols — all of that will be part of the coverage for sure."

Wilson said the No. 1 challenge is keeping a production plan that allows the network to do what it needs to do while keeping employees safe.

The corporation will have about 130 CBC/Radio-Canada staffon the ground in Tokyo, with many more working on the Games remotely from Canada. Five commentators will be on site at swimming and athletics events, with an additional 18 reporters in Tokyo covering a variety of competitions.

The CBC plans to broadcast the Games across multiple platforms, with partners TSN and Sportsnet also providing coverage. In addition to 23 hours of daily TV content, the CBC will have a "really substantial" number of live streams and digital offerings, Wilson said.

"We're going to have some new original digital programming, short shows, we're going to be filling in some gaps when the broadcast goes off for one hour a day as it does during the week, we'll be filling that with digital time," he said.

The three new digital shows include "The Extra Hour," which will fill the 24th hour of coverage each day. A daily recap show is also planned along with a documentary series featuring athlete stories.

Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern Time zone, so Canadian viewers will get to catch the start of each day's action in the late afternoon or evening.

"I think there's going to be a curiosity factor for the average sports fan or even just the casual viewer at the beginning, and then the Canadian team is what's going to bring people in," Wilson said in a recent interview.

"If we think back to the last Summer Olympics, the Canadian team got off to a strong start over the first couple days and then it just sort of rolled from there."

In addition, the CBC is also preparing for the Aug. 24-Sept. 5 Tokyo Paralympics as well as the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Winter Games. But first up is the Summer Games, with the opening ceremony set for the National Stadium on July 23.

"I do get the sense that in Canada at least, the coverage can hopefully provide a bit of a rallying point for the country that's maybe viewed as a bit of a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel if you will," Wilson said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2021.

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With files from The Associated Press. Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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