NHL regular season goes out with a bang » Media in Canada

NHL regular season goes out with a bang

It was a record-breaking weekend for sportscasters TSN, CBC and RDS, which all drew higher than usual audiences to the crucial last of the regular season NHL games.

CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nabbed 2.8 million viewers, its highest ever for a regular season game, when Toronto eliminated Montreal from the playoff race with a 6-5 victory. The previous record holder was the 2003 Heritage Classic, the NHL’s first-ever outdoor game between Edmonton and Montreal, which drew 2.7 million viewers.

In Quebec, the Leafs-Canadiens match kept an average 1.5 million tuned in, marking an all-time high for TSN’s French sister RDS. ‘It was a big game,’ says RDS spokesman Philippe Malo, though he adds that it hurts a little to see the Canadiens ejected from the race for the Stanley Cup. ‘Obviously it’s disappointing… our ratings would have been higher with the Canadiens in the playoffs. But Quebecers love hockey, so we know we’re going to get some good audiences for the playoffs.’ RDS will air more than 50 playoff games starting Wednesday.

Meanwhile, TSN’s coverage of the highly anticipated New York Islanders-New Jersey Devils game on Sunday delivered an average 997,000 viewers, peaking at 1.7 million and making it the channel’s most-watched all-American regular season. The game crushed Toronto’s hopes of a playoff berth as the Islanders defeated the Devils 3-2 in a shootout.

The playoffs get underway on Wednesday. HNIC, however, took a hard blow earlier this week, when the NHL announced it would schedule game two of the Ottawa-Pittsburg match on Saturday afternoon instead of in prime time to satisfy U.S. broadcaster NBC.

‘It will cost us a million viewers going on in the afternoon,’ said HNIC analyst Don Cherry during a conference call Tuesday, adding, ‘I wish we were on Saturday night.’ Instead, CBC will air Tampa Bay at New Jersey for its prime time slot.

But media buyer Michael Dougherty, of Young & Rubicam in Toronto, brushes off suggestions that the scheduling conflict will hurt business for CBC. ‘It will affect the audience numbers, but it won’t affect the business side of things because people are in it for more than one game. We take into account that the numbers may be down for one game, but up for another,’ he says, adding that most commercial spots are purchased in advance of the playoffs.

TSN will carry a total of 28 games for the first round of the playoffs, of which 18 will air in HD. CBC will carry between 16 and 20 of its first-round games in HD, and has plans to offer live streaming of pre-game warm-ups and post-game coverage on cbcsports.ca, starting on Wednesday. HNIC executive producer Joel Darling says CBC may soon begin showing actual games on the Internet, though that remains ‘to be worked out.’

This story first appeared in Playback Daily.