The CBC has held the broadcast rights to the Olympics for years, long enough that it’s easy to forget they used to be on the sidelines looking in as CTV covered the games. In fact, the rights were held by a consortium made up of Bell Media and Rogers Media properties and branded as CTV or RDS depending on the language. This partnership, that begun in 2007, might have given the two companies ideas about co-ownership that led to their joint ownership of the Maple Leafs.
The last time the consortium carried the Winter Olympics, it was 2010 in Vancouver. The CBC bought the rights to the Sochi Games, and promptly sublicensed coverage to Bell- and Rogers-owned TSN and Sportsnet. This practice has continued, which is why you’ll see TSN personalities like James Duthie hosting the men’s hockey coverage. The broadcasters are still pretending that the men’s hockey tournament is a big deal, even though only a few hardcore national team fans or prospect watchers seem to be tuning in. The women’s coverage is enhanced by an expert panel including gold medalist Shannon Szabados, and the men’s by Glenn Healy.
Early ratings for the games in Canada are down, and it’s not the middle of the night timing — the ratings for the last Winter Olympics in Korea were much higher. It’s not the lack of NHL players in the men’s hockey tournament, since that’s become the rule not the norm, something media plans for coverage likely should have taken into account. It’s not the pandemic, since the Tokyo Olympics did better. It might be China’s record on human rights, but whatever the reason, at a time where there is little opportunity to go to sports events in person, Canadians aren’t watching the Olympics very much.
Primetime viewership on CBC for the first six days of events in Beijing is down 22 per cent from Tokyo, and off a whopping 48 per cent from the Pyeongchang Winter Games, according to figures provided Friday to The Globe and Mail by CBC.
After six days of events, Beijing is attracting an average audience of only 1,055,500 on CBC between 7 p.m. (ET) and midnight, not including last Friday’s broadcast featuring the opening ceremony. That compares to an average of 1.29 million viewers for the first six days of events of last summer’s Games, and an average of 1.94 million for the same period in Pyeongchang.
One advertising buyer told The Globe the ratings were about 25-per-cent lower than projections the CBC’s sales department had provided to the industry in advance of the Games, raising the possibility the public broadcaster may have to compensate marketers for failing to reach its expected audience.
The fall-off in CBC’s viewership mirrors a sharp decline in the United States, where NBC has seen its primetime audience fall from about 23 million for the Pyeongchang Games to 12.3 million for Beijing, a drop of about 46 per cent.
The Winter Olympics are not an event you should have to try to hard to sell to Canadians. Everyone knows what’s going on — there’s enough discussion on social media to keep people up to date with who is winning and losing. We’ve already had the Olympic-tie-in articles about why women’s hockey is bad and should feel bad for not being men’s hockey.
Maybe that’s why the ratings are going down though. If all you want is the score, the names of the winners, the medal count, Twitter can give you that, along with a some nice short highlight gifs. You don’t have to make the commitment to actually watch the events in real time or primetime replay. It’s all of the emotional investment with none of the time commitment.
Interest in the men’s hockey tournament has not been high around here beyond some discussion about the prospects. Without Matt Knies, Nick Abruzzese, Pontus Holmberg and Josh Ho-Sang, we’d be hard pressed to feign any enthusiasm for Eric Staal and Daniel Winnik hanging on to glory in front of goalie Matt Tomkins as they beat a team of ringers posing as Chinese.
Now that head coach Claude Julien has joined the Canadian team — he missed the first game after an injury in Switzerland — Ho-Sang gets 3 minutes a game as the 13th forward, and the motivation to try to figure out which aging former AHLer is which in the misguided red on black jerseys wanes pretty quickly for this viewer.
The Knies and Abruzzese show as two of the most-played forwards on a youth-centric USA squad is much more engaging.
The quarterfinal schedule is simple enough for one Tweet:
The #BeijingOlympics Quarters are set in Men’s Hockey…— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) February 15, 2022
USA vs Slovakia at 11 pm tonight
ROC vs Denmark at 1 am Wednesday
Finland vs Switzerland at 3:30 am Wednesday
Sweden vs Canada at 8:30 am Wednesday
All Eastern Times.
And you know how to find the CBC on the TV or online, so you know how to watch.
I encourage you to watch the USA vs Slovakia tonight (as training for the women’s gold-medal game at the same time on Wednesday). If you’re brave, take a drink every time they tell you Matt Knies’ family is Slovakian. He’s number 67, you can’t miss him.
I don’t see Canada faring too well against Sweden, but you never know in a tournament like this. I think Russia and Finland moving through fairly easily is a given. USA should also take Slovakia.
After the Vancouver and Sochi games, it’s hard to get very excited for Team Canada this time. At least the men’s version.
Draftkings is sponsoring SBNation’s coverage of Men’s Olympic hockey.
Women’s Medal Games:
Finland vs Switzerland for the bronze is Wednesday morning at 6:30 am.
Canada vs USA for the silver and gold is Wednesday night at 11 pm. (All times Eastern)