The Great Canadian Ratings Report: CBC's Rio audiences rise in face of American decline

There's always been a rather disturbing tendency in the Canadian media to assume that we're basically the same as Americans.

Studies from south of the border are often run in newspapers and aired on television as if somehow what happens down there applies here.

And in many cases it does, with the exception of hockey worship and the desire to arm ourselves.

But not always.

Case in point: the 2016 Olympics.

While NBC is reporting a 17 per cent drop in viewers from the last set of Games in London, CBC is pointing to an 18 per cent increase over the first 10 days of the higher-faster-stronger stuff (which includes the stuff carried on TSN and Sportsnet).

That's a huge difference - 35 percentage points according to my Grade 9 math (which I failed, by the way.)

While the reaction to the Rio goings-on has been lukewarm, if not downright chilly, in the U.S., Canadians are treating the Games as if they really care and really have nothing better to do.

Admittedly, the numbers should be up. The last Games were in London and that meant most of the action was wrapped up by 5 p.m., meaning prime time was reserved for replays (sort of NBC North.) This time around, some of the biggest events are taking place live in prime time.

An example of how big came Sunday night when 6.9 million people watched Usain Bolt win gold and Canadian Andre De Grasse the bronze in the men's 100 metres on CBC's various English platforms. That ranks with events like the Super Bowl and Grey Cup, though still behind Olympic hockey.

There are several possible explanations for the differing reactions of Canadians and Americans to Rio. One is that the U.S. election campaign has distracted viewers. Another is that the pre-Games bad publicity turned off a lot of Americans, though it's not clear why that doesn't seem to have had the same effect here.

The real reason may be that Americans are rushing to the digital world a little faster than Canadians. Through Sunday, Americans streamed 1.86-billion minutes of Games coverage, topping the combined number for London and Sochi. 

CBC is reporting big numbers for that, too - 400 million minutes so far -  but that doesn't seem to have affected TV viewing.

One U.S. report pointed to more attractive programming on other networks for the decline, which doesn't appear to be the case here. The Olympics have hurt other sports events here, with the Toronto Blue Jays drawing audiences of less than 1 million twice on the weekend. Audiences for CFL games, which were up 10 per cent prior to Rio, have also suffered in the face of Olympic competition.

While that will all change after Sunday's closing ceremony, there's no denying that Rio has been a big shot in the arm for the CBC at a time when it needs all the good news it can get.

Here are the most-watched English-language sports broadcasts from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:

1. Olympics, Prime Time, Sunday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 3,767,600

2. Olympics, Prime Time, Saturday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 3,044,300

3. Olympics, Prime Time, Friday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 2,719,600

4. Olympics, Afternoon coverage, Sunday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 2,209,800

5. Olympics, Afternoon coverage, Saturday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 2,146,600

6. Olympics, Late-night coverage, Friday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 1,592,300

7. Olympics, Afternoon coverage, Friday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 1,546,400

8. Olympics, Morning coverage, Saturday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 1,391,900

9. Olympics, Late-night coverage, Sunday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 1,226,700

10. Olympics, Morning coverage, Sunday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 1,222,600

11. MLB, Astros at Blue Jays, Sunday, Sportsnet: 1,200,000

12. Olympics, Late-night coverage, Saturday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 1,169,300

13. MLB, Astros at Blue Jays, Saturday, Sportsnet: 892,000

14. Olympics, Morning coverage, Friday, CBC/Sportsnet/TSN: 861,500

15. MLB, Astros at Blue Jays, Friday, Sportsnet One: 662,000

16. CFL, Tiger-Cats at Lions, Saturday, TSN: 550,000

17. CFL, Stampeders at Roughriders, Saturday, TSN: 544,000

18. CFL, Blue Bombers at Argonauts, Friday, TSN: 387,000


Olympian heights: There are still plenty of medal possibilities for Canadians in Rio, many of them on the track and in the field. Damian Warner should be a contender in the decathlon and newly minted Canadian hero Andre De Grasse tries to qualify for the 200 final (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, CBC.)

Friday night fights: It's a little early in the CFL season to be talking about showdowns, but there's a fight for league supremacy (or semi-supremacy) shaping up Friday (10 p.m. ET, TSN) when the 5-2 B.C. Lions host the 5-1-1 Calgary Stampeders. The winner gets sole possession of first place in the West.

Le fin: It's been quite a party in Rio, what with all those medals, records, muggings, water-greening and all. With swimmer Penny Oleksiak the obvious choice as flag-bearer, Canada will take part in the closing ceremony (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, CBC.)