CBC throws fuel on fire

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 PM ET

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. -- Through all of the kerfuffle over television coverage, the Canadian Curling Association and the CBC have been emphasizing to fans across the country that they can still get the roaring game on the tube as long as they are willing to cough up cash for an obscure digital channel. For the second time in less than a week, even that wasn't true Thursday night.

Country Canada, the digital network carrying the CBC feed for evening draws at the Scott Tournament of Hearts, angered fans yet again by cutting off the end of a game between Manitoba and the Yukon-Territories Thursday.

Manitoba's Jennifer Jones was about to throw her last rock in a first-place clinching victory when someone in Toronto flipped a switch and cut off the curling, which also occurred last Saturday during a game involving Saskatchewan and Quebec.

That flew directly in the face of a promise made by a CBC executive earlier this week that no more games would be cut off, even though the network is hamstrung by strict CRTC limits on the length of sports programming.

"Straight forward, it was a mistake, a human error in Toronto at the Country Canada control room," said Christos Nikitopoulos, a senior manager of programming at CBC. "They went off, and they shouldn't have. It caught everyone off guard here, and it shouldn't have happened."

The timing of the gaffe was horrendous given that TV coverage has been under fire since the tournament began last Saturday.

INUNDATED

The CCA, CBC and even title sponsor Scott Paper have been inundated with angry phone calls and e-mails from fans across the country who are unhappy with a new TV deal that has only one draw per day live on the main CBC network and prime time draws on Country Canada or The Score.

There was so much concern that the CCA held a press conference Thursday to announce that discussions about immediate change will take place in the near future. One thing they stressed as a positive was the fact that at least the games wouldn't be getting cut off anymore.

Now this.

"The minute I got back to my hotel room and turned on my computer the e-mails started pouring in again," said Scott Paper marketing director Stephen Blythe, whose company has been threatened with boycotts by fans unhappy with TV coverage.

"Clearly it was a shot in the foot for the CBC. It was unfortunate. To say one thing and then unfortunately deliver something that is a little bit different just adds more fuel to the fire. The timing is absolutely terrible."

Yesterday, CCA media relations executive Warren Hansen said a meeting has been scheduled for Monday between CCA president Barry Greenberg and the head of CBC Sports, Nancy Lee.

Hansen would not speculate as to what kind of changes might come out of that meeting, but admitted the public outcry is more deafening than ever since Saturday night's blunder.

"It certainly didn't help," he said.

Everyone working here for CBC, from play-by-play man Don Wittman to producer Don Peppin, was red-faced yesterday as they try to deal with a growing firestorm of criticism.

"It's very regrettable," said Nikitopoulos. "Apologies to, first and foremost, the curling fans and everyone else involved. The best I can say is mistakes happen."


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