With the 2017-18 NHL hockey season up and running for about a month now, it’s time to reflect on how —and how many— Canadian viewers are tuning in. So far, the numbers are good, and that’s good news for hockey broadcaster Rogers Media in spite of record numbers of cable cutters.
“Hockey is back and fans are continuing to make Saturday Canada’s favourite night for hockey,” said Rogers last month in response to its opening night Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, which saw a reported 8.7 million Canadians tuning in to the season premiere, the most-watched TV program of the night.
Rogers did well this past spring through a Stanley Cup Playoffs run that saw the company finally starting to cash in on its billion-dollar deal back in 2013 which saw Rogers Media take over HNIC exclusive broadcast rights from the CBC (while giving the public broadcaster the secondary prize of allowing it to show Rogers’ content on the CBC network, minus the advertising revenue).
“The momentum that was built during the playoffs last season has carried right into the start of this NHL season,” said Scott Moore, President, Sportsnet & NHL Properties, Rogers Media, in a press release. “Canadian fans are clearly excited about the potential that this hockey season could bring for their favourite teams. The on-ice product has been phenomenal so far with no shortage of storylines and entertainment.”
Last spring, for the full run of the playoffs, CBC and Rogers’ Sportsnet took in an average of 1.61 million viewers per game, a 94-per-cent increase over the previous year’s hockey playoffs, with experts attributing much of the increase to the fact that five Canadian teams made it to the playoffs, including the large-market Toronto Maple Leafs. Even an all-American finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators didn’t seem to throw too much water on the fire, as the series produced a healthy average of 2.67 over its six games.
Now one month into the new season, the ratings are hanging in there, with the October 28th HNIC Prime Time East broadcast raking 12th for the week with a total of 1.293 viewers in English Canada, according to Numeris, in comparison to 1.329 million viewers and 18th spot for the last HNIC broadcast in October in 2016.
For Rogers, though, the main issue for the current and future seasons won’t be poor showing by Canadian teams but a continuing exodus of viewers from cable services and more and more sports fans turning to illegal streaming services to get their hockey fix.
Speaking in early November at the John Molson Sports Business conference, Moore said that illegal streaming of games is the biggest challenge facing not just broadcasters but professional sports as a whole.
“We invest heavily in this content, and we want to make sure [customers] value this content,” said Moore to the Concordian. “So we’re working heavily with [other] leagues and content-providers to find ways to shut down the stealing of content, because that’s what it is—it’s stealing.”