Monday, November 24, 2008

Grey Cup numbers not so gloomy

Two stories on the Globe and Mail's website only hours apart give rather different takes on this year's Grey Cup viewership. The headline for the story from The Canadian Press is "Cup audience increases five per cent", while the headline for William Houston's column is "Small audience tunes in to Grey Cup Game" (game really shouldn't be capitalized, but so be it). The ledes are also rather different, as shown below:

CP: "An average of 3.65 million people tuned in to watch the first-ever Grey Cup broadcast on TSN and RDS on Sunday, according to numbers released by the network. The total audience for Calgary's win over Montreal in the 96th Grey Cup represented a five per cent increase over the viewership for last year's game, which Saskatchewan won over Winnipeg. That game was aired on CBC."

Houston: "TSN's first Grey Cup telecast drew one of the lowest television audiences in the history of the CFL championship game. The 2.439 million people who watched the Calgary Stampeders' win over the Montreal Alouettes is the Cup's second-worst TV audience since 1989. It was down 27 per cent from the CBC's 3.337 million a year ago for Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Saskatchewan Roughriders. The only audience worse was the CBC's 1.628 million for a Blue Bomber rout of the Edmonton Eskimos in 1990."

Why the discrepancy? Houston is only looking at the TSN numbers here. Later on in the column, he mentions the 1.215 million who watched on RDS, and as he begrudgingly admits, "Taken together, the TSN-RDS audience, the total Canadian viewership, was 3.615 million, slightly more than the combined CBC-RDS audience of 3.539 million in 2007. Last year, RDS drew only 200,000 for Bombers-Roughriders."

I don't see how Houston can argue that the RDS results shouldn't be included and that this was one of the worst-watched games in history. With Montreal involved, there were obviously a large amount of people who would watch the RDS feed. RDS is under the same CTVglobemedia corporate umbrella as TSN, they use the same (ESPN-style) interface for their SportsCentre shows, and they're pretty much just French-language TSN. The CFL deal is with TSN and RDS, so good ratings on RDS help quite a lot. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and TSN president Phil King both talked about the two as a single entity for purposes of audience ratings in the CP story, and both were quite positive. As King told Houston, "It doesn't really matter from TSN's point of view what the mix is." Houston doesn't seem to agree, but I don't get his arguement: do the RDS viewers not count just because they happen to speak French?

Houston's arguments as to why TSN got lower numbers mostly fall flat. Part of his rationale is the same over-the-air versus cable drum he's been beating for a while now (see this doom-and-gloom column on the playoff matches), which doesn't make a lot of sense any more. Yes, the CBC theoretically has a distribution of 12 million to TSN's 9 million. However, most of the people who still don't have TSN are hardly ardent sports fans or ardent CFL fans, especially considering that TSN was airing every CFL game this year. My own family back in B.C., usually well behind the trend in television, made the jump to TSN this year largely based on their CFL coverage, and I'd venture that most CFL fans did the same. TSN is in most basic cable packages, and there are not all that many people who still rely on over-the-air TV; I'd guess that a large part of that seemingly-imposing 3 million gap is households who rarely watch TV and probably wouldn't be tuning in regardless.

I also don't buy his argument that the playoff hit was due to those games being on Saturday instead of Sunday. There are a lot of people in this country, especially younger demographics, who are fans of both the CFL and the NFL, and those numbers are likely increasing with the Bills-Toronto situation. It doesn't seem logical to suggest that a CFL game would automatically do better if you put it head-to-head with the full slate of Sunday afternoon NFL telecasts. There's much less competition Saturday, with the CFL only really up against Canadian and American college football (both of which draw considerably less viewers than the NFL).

Moreover, obviously there are going to be less English-language viewers for a Montreal-Calgary game than a Saskatchewan-Winnipeg game. Whatever the Grey Cup matchup, you'll always get a good deal of your audience from both local markets (and their provinces), with a smaller portion being the diehard fans like myself who will watch the game regardless of who's in it. All that's really happened here is that one of the local markets is French-speaking instead of English-speaking, so they tuned in to the RDS feed instead of the TSN one. TSN is not a weaker channel; in fact, on the sports landscape, it's much more impressive than CBC at the moment (although CBC SportsPlus might change that around eventually).

Overall, I'd argue that these ratings are good news for both the league and TSN/RDS. It doesn't matter how many watched the game in English and how many watched it in French. This certainly isn't the "second-worst TV audience since 1989", and there are plenty of francophone viewers who will back me on that one. Houston should broaden his horizons; it's the game that matters, not the language.

1 comment:

  1. Groulx has mad game. But after his CIS career, then what? Its a sobering question facing too many of our top university football players.