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TV ratings for Sochi Olympics down 2010 in Vancouver; digital viewing soars

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The Olympic motto may be "faster, higher, stronger" but it doesn't apply to the Canadian TV ratings for the Sochi Winter Games.

As expected — given the time difference and lack of home-field advantage — TV viewership in Canada was down from four years ago when Vancouver hosted the Winter Games.

CBC's average minute audience for the Sochi opening ceremonies — 2,649,000 viewers, according to final audience data, including seven-day playback (i.e. those who watched on PVR), from BBM Canada — is far lower than the more than nine million Canadians who watched the Vancouver opener on CTV, a number that soared over 13.5 million when all the consortium broadcasters, French and English, were factored in.

Daily average audiences exceeded four million viewers many days during CTV's Vancouver coverage. CBC had days during these Games where the average TV audience hovered closer to 1.5 million.

Some of the Vancouver Olympic numbers — tallied during the (some would say giddy) early days of portable people meters — were truly staggering. The 2010 Olympic men's hockey final between Canada and the United States drew over 16.5 million Canadians across the CTV/Rogers/RDA consortium, with 10.3 million of those on CTV alone. The 2010 closing ceremonies remains the second most-watched TV broadcast in Canadian history, drawing 14.3 million consortium viewers.

The Sochi numbers pale in comparison. Sundays closing ceremonies — carried live by CBC beginning at 11 a.m. — drew 4,328,000 according to preliminary data. Impressive for a Sunday morning but well down from the Vancouver numbers. CBC gained a further 1,109,000 viewers by repeating the closing coverage Sunday night in prime time.

CBC scored its biggest TV audience of the Games early Sunday morning when an estimated, overnight average minute audience of 5,764,000 got up at 7 a.m. to see Canada defeat Sweden for the gold in the men's hockey final.

Certainly that number would have been higher had the game been played during the evening or even afternoon hours. CBC's highest numbers came in the morning hours and during the day, when the public broadcaster carried the Games live. CBC's prime-time audience averaged around 1.3 million viewers, a lift, certainly, from its regular seasonal numbers, but proportionally a much smaller take than that earned by NBC in the United States.

NBC stuck to its formula of packaging Olympic events performed during the morning and daytime hours and presenting them on a delayed basis on TV each night in prime time. They averaged 21.4 million viewers in prime time between the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies and Sunday's closing ceremonies, with numbers trailing off the final weekend after the U.S. medal count stalled.

NBC's Vancouver average four years earlier was 24.4 million viewers. The Turin Winter Games in 2006, where time-zone delays were also a major factor, averaged 20.2 million on NBC.

The difference in impact in prime time between NBC's delayed approach compared to CBC's live daytime broadcasts could be seen a week ago Sunday, when the Olympics went head-to-head with "The Night That Changed America: a Grammy Salute to The Beatles." In Canada, where 3.33 million CBC viewers had already caught up on the Olympics during the daytime, CTV's simulcast of the Beatles beat CBC's prime-time Olympic coverage 1.5 million viewers to an estimated 1.42. In the U.S. — where most viewers had not already seen the results — NBC topped CBS 26.32 million to 14.05 million.

These Olympic Games also showed a decline in TV viewership in the advertiser coveted 18-49-year-old demographic. In the U.S., for example, Sochi's average 18-49 rating of 5.5 was down 10 per cent in the U.S. from Turin and 17 per cent from Vancouver.

Where NBC saw big gains was in online viewing, perhaps accounting for some of that younger demo drop off of TV viewing. Live streaming of the United States-Canada semifinal game Thursday approached 800,000 U.S. viewers on NBC's web portal — a record high for NBC for anything other than a Super Bowl webcast. (Shaun White's unsuccessful Olympic defence of his snowboard title drew 600,000 streamers.) That 800,000 compares to around 4.1 million live NBC Sports Network viewers, adding 20 per cent to the total U.S. hockey audience.

The NBCSN Olympic hockey number topped any U.S. hockey draw ever on the cable sports network, including Stanley Cup games. It was dwarfed, however, by the 27.6 million who watched Canada defeat the U.S. in 2010's Vancouver Olympic men's final on NBC's main network — a record hockey audience that still stands Stateside.

This year's big Olympic hockey draw, of course, vanished once the United States fell out of the medal hunt. Should the NHL decide to not send athletes to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea — where the time-zone difference is even more extreme — NBC could feel a significant impact.

Where CBC's numbers soared was in the final days of the Games as Canada skated to Olympic gold in both men's and women's hockey. The Feb. 21 estimate for CBC's daytime coverage averaged over four million viewers. Canada's gold in the women's hockey final was the main factor.

Last Thursday's win by the Canadian women's curling team helped push those CBC daytime television average numbers over the three million mark.

Where CBC claims they made record gains was in digital viewing.

At cbc.ca/Olympics and olympiques.radio-canada.ca, CBC counted more than 256 million website views over the course of the Games. Their Olympic app drew another 380 million views for a combined 636 million views.

About 14 million hours of online video content was consumed through CBC and SRC sites — twice the Vancouver tally according to CBC. Use of mobile devices for live viewing, of course, has risen dramatically in the four years between Games.

Last Friday, an average minute audience of more than 625,000 Canadians watched Canada defeat the U.S. men's hockey team in the Olympic semifinal on laptops and other digital screens. More than 325,000 streamed Thursday's gold medal win by Canada's women's hockey team.

According to preliminary numbers, Sunday morning's gold medal hockey final between Canada and Sweden drew an AMA of close to 200,000 streamers. CBC says this is less than the online tally for Friday's semifinal because it took place on a weekend when more Canadians are able to view on television.

With the U.S. men out of medal contention by Saturday morning, NBC saw their coverage of Sunday's closing ceremonies slip to 15.1 million viewers, down over six million from Vancouver. The Olympic closing ceremonies even lost to AMC's "The Walking Dead" head-to-head in America that night in the 18-49-year-old demo.

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Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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