Monday, January 29, 2007

The sound of a television clicker passing them by

The ratings are in for last weeks NHL all star game, and for the American footprint it's not a very big step.

Versus, the controversial cable carrier of the NHL in the USA, carried the All Star game last week from Dallas, but it would seem few bothered to try and find the station on their local cable or satellite provider, even if it was provided in their hometowns.

Wednesday's game in Dallas drew a 0.7 Nielsen rating on Versus, viewed by an estimated 672,948 viewers, down significantly from the 1,985,000 households that saw the '04 game on a Sunday afternoon on ABC. That was the last year that the all star game was televised, as the lockout year knocked it out in 2005 and the Olympic break sidelined it in 2006.

To give you an idea of how the numbers translate, at 672,948 viewers for hockey, that puts them roughly 36 million, three hundred and twenty seven thousand and fifty two viewers behind the number one show of the night American Idol. Hockey's 672 thousand viewers probably equals the amount of people that may have made a bathroom break at the same time during the idol show.

In Canada, the CBC could at least trumpet their numbers for the return of the exhibition shinny match. The estimated audience on CBC was up 6 % from last time with 1.238 million viewers parking in front of a television on Wednesday night. The Skills competition on Tuesday however was a different story, facing a 13% drop in attention with only 1.038-million viewers tuned in.

So while the Northern flank is doing well in Mr. Bettman's empire, the southern domain is in serious erosion mode, the startling drop in the numbers is listed as a 76% per cent loss in audience viewership, a good portion of which can be blamed on the delivery service.

Versus in the United States is not a top level provider of content, formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network there, it was once the home of hunting, fishing and BBQ shows, now they've added hockey into the mix and well the folks are buying the soup very much.

Part of the problem is that Versus is not carried in many markets and there's not much in the way of cross promotion available. Unlike the days with ESPN, hockey is supposed to matter more to Versus than it did at ESPN, but despite their efforts to increase the profile they seem to be coming up short. Simply put, the new arrangement doesn't seem to be getting the job done and that will affect the attendance figures for years to come.

The NHL left ESPN over a dispute earlier last season, a move which has seen hockey reduced to a novelty item on the largest sports networks in the USA. Before, hockey at least factored into the ESPN day, whether it be with promos and updates, but now with it's fate in the hands of Versus it's becoming a mythical sport, one which people say may exist but can't provide actual visual proof of.

The Commissioner plans on sticking with Versus, having recently signed an extension until 2011. He says they treat the league very well, and by all accounts they cover the sport with dedication and professionalism, it's just too bad that apparently nobody can find them or sticks around long enough to watch the games.

The above post first appeared on my HockeyNation blog, for more items about hockey check it out!

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