The CBC needs a gold medal in Paris

—At a time when powerful voices want the CBC to be defunded, the Summer Olympics are an opportunity for the public broadcaster to demonstrate its true value to Canada, says Éric Blais—

The looming 2024 Paris Olympics present a unique opportunity for the CBC to demonstrate its vital role in Canadian society, even amidst a vocal chorus calling for its defunding.

As the public broadcaster readies for this prestigious international event, it does so under scrutiny. Indeed, with the announcement of Catherine Tait’s reappointment as president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada for an additional 18 months, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez cited preparations for the Paris Summer Olympics as a crucial reason for her continued leadership.

In Paris, CBC can prove that it’s more than just another channel in an overcrowded media landscape. Rather, it can demonstrate its unique ability to bind the nation together under a shared identity and experience, while telling the compelling stories of Canadian athletes on the global stage.

The Games are never merely a sporting event, and the Paris Olympics represent an arena where CBC can champion its case for public funding, silencing critics who question its relevance and necessity.

It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the essence of its recent brand campaign, “It’s a Canada Thing.”

The CBC’s mission to inform, enlighten, and entertain is not just about broadcasting news and producing homegrown content, it’s about reflecting Canada in its diverse, inclusive, and unique character.

Athletes’ struggles and victories are emblematic of our national spirit, and the Olympics are a rare moment when Canadians from coast to coast to coast are united around a powerful cultural moment—celebrating victories and sharing defeats together as one.

At a time when we are told Canadians feel divided and the country is broken, the CBC can harness that positive sentiment to show that it, too, can be a unifying force for the country, a champion of all Canadians, an embodiment of the campaign’s credo as stated by Barbara Williams, executive vice-president, CBC: “Because it’s not how Canadian you are. It’s who you are in Canada, and we’re here for all of you.”

The Paris Olympics is an especially opportune stage for this cause, thanks to the city’s universal appeal, cultural allure, and a favourable time zone for North American audiences. Further, Paris 2024 is poised to revolutionize the traditional Olympic experience—unless security concerns put a damper on the celebrations.

The city intends to turn the iconic River Seine into a floating stage for the opening ceremony, promising an unprecedented spectacle for global audiences. This novel approach aligns with CBC’s mandate to deliver innovative content that challenges conventions and pushes boundaries.

One such boundary should be pushed further than ever. Why has there always been such a clear line between the presentation of the Olympic Games and the Paralympics? Paris 2024 intends to “harness the Games to show that sport boosts inclusivity in a way that benefits society as a whole.” As the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s broadcast partner, the CBC is in a unique position not only to tell the inspiring stories of Canadian Paralympians, but ensure that they take centre stage.

However, the CBC’s Olympic coverage shouldn’t merely be a live feed of sporting events. Instead, it should strive to envelop Canadians in the cultural fabric of Paris, conveying the spirit, grandeur, and the unique magic of the “City of Lights.” There’s a special connection with France, and not just in Québec. Canada and France have historical and cultural ties, which can be leveraged to foster a sense of connection and curiosity about events taking place in France, not just at the Olympics.

This comprehensive coverage is what private networks may overlook, but what a public broadcaster, whose role extends beyond profit margins, can offer.

Indeed, the path to Paris will be fraught with obstacles, not least of which will be addressing the sharp fall in traditional TV viewership, as experienced during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. This challenge will require innovative strategies that cater to modern viewing habits and preferences, involving digital platforms and social media engagement—assuming Meta isn’t blocking Canadians news.

Therein lies the opportunity: in confronting these hurdles, CBC can demonstrate its adaptability and relevance in an evolving media landscape.

CBC’s chief revenue officer, Hisham Ghostine, is inviting advertisers to leverage the strength and credibility of its “multi-platform ecosystem, and the award-winning expertise and creativity of its team.”

It’s a rare opportunity for the CBC to showcase its ability to allow viewers to engage with brands in unique ways, such as interactive ads, gamification elements, or personalized content tailored to individual preferences. Leveraging immersive storytelling techniques like virtual reality or augmented reality experiences would provide viewers with an in-depth and captivating look into the lives of athletes and the associated brands.

While support for the public broadcaster is stronger in Quebec than in the rest of the country, Radio-Canada also has something to prove in Paris 2024. Like the CBC, it needs to engage a younger demographic. One that will care about the Olympics not just in 2024, but also in 2026 in Cortina, and again in 2028 in Los Angeles. It needs to create fans that will care about the Olympics long before the hype begins.

Paris 2024 thus marks an inflection point for the CBC. The games offer an unparalleled chance to showcase its worth at a time when its very existence is under scrutiny. While our athletes will be vying for gold in their respective sports, CBC will be competing to secure its place in the heart of Canadian public life. It’s not just about delivering the Olympics across all its platforms; it’s about proving that the CBC, as a publicly funded broadcaster, continues to play an indispensable role in reflecting, uniting, and celebrating our diverse nation.

Éric Blais is president of Headspace Marketing, a consultancy that helps marketers build brands in Quebec. He can be reached at

Eric Blais