Friday, October 28, 2005

TV ratings up, but will it last?

Rob Brodie has a story in Friday's Ottawa Sun about the massive increase in the Canadian ratings for NHL games.

According to the article:

- CBC's Hockey Night in Canada is averaging 1.652 million for the first game of its Saturday doubleheader. That's a jump of 42% over 2003-04, the last season the NHL was on the ice. It gets even better. Game 2's average is 1.223 million, a gain of 82% over '03-04.

- Through 11 games, TSN was pulling in an average of 684,000 for its NHL telecasts. That's a whopping 156% increase over 2003-04 at the same point (the season average that year was 322,000). The huge gains started right on opening night, when 2.1 million tuned into TSN's Senators-Leafs game -- the largest NHL audience in the network's 21-year history. No NHL game on TSN had even cracked a million before then.

- Rogers Sportsnet also hit the history books with the NHL this week. Monday's Bruins-Leafs game pulled in an audience of 791,000, an all-time NHL best for the 'Net. Here's the real kicker -- the game was only seen in southern Ontario. Canucks, Flames and Oilers ratings on the 'Net have also risen sharply.

- Senators ratings on Sportsnet have mushroomed in a major way. Through three games, the 'Net's average is 176,000 -- more than triple the 50,000 average for the first three Sens games on Sportsnet in 2003-04. It's the largest gain recorded for any of the 'Net's five regional team packages. "We're delighted," said Sportsnet spokesman Dave Rashford. "There's a real buzz around the Senators. It's an exciting team."

This had to be expected, and both Brodie and HNIC executive producer Joe Darling admit that the season is still fresh and new, so it's a little early to be breaking out the Cristal. Where will we be in three months from now?

Also, to what extent, if at all, does this abundance of hockey on TV hurt live gates? We're already seeing a bit of it here in Ottawa. So far this season every game, home and away, has been televised, and the Sens, though still averaging over 18,000 a night, have seen their own crowds drop slightly, even with the top atop the NHL.

I must confess that I'm not as up on the U.S. TV situation as I probably should be, but I assume that a lot of the American markets are in similar positions. I do know that in addition to OLN, a lot of NHL is broadcasted regionally on the Fox Sportsnet affiliates. Despite the spin from the talking heads that all is well (and it mostly is), there are a few teams who haven't been packing the crowds in. Is there the oversaturation of games in those markets that there is in Canada?

As well, I'd be interested in knowing how the games have been drawing on OLN. Besides the opening night rating, which was celebrated, it seems like there hasn't been much talk about it, which makes me think that it's not , because you know if it was Gary, Bill, & Ted would be crowing 'till the sun came up.

While TSN and the fine folks at the CBC are throwing office parties to celebrate high Nielsen numbers, quietly, out in Vancouver, the future of how hockey is broadcasted, at least in Canada, might just be being demonstrated: pay-per-view.


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