The Great Canadian Ratings Report: Where have all the viewers gone?

·Chris Zelkovich

Maybe there's something to this cord-cutting thing after all.

At first glance, the concept that people are abandoning their cable and satellite packages and watching everything online seems like it might be a convenient explanation for declining television ratings.  It's not us, it's not the product; it's those darned Internet-loving, cellphone-watching fans.
But there might be more to this, especially when you see an entire weekend of ratings dives.

The evidence:
The Daytona 500, which featured the closest finish in its history, averaged 435,000 viewers on TSN -- an 18 per cent drop from last year. That was echoed south of the border, where Fox reported a 6.1 rating -- down 16 per cent from 2015.

Fans watch the Minnesota Wild play Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium during an NHL Stadium Series hockey game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Minneapolis. The Wild won 6-1. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
Fans watch the Minnesota Wild play Chicago Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium during an NHL Stadium Series hockey game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Minneapolis. The Wild won 6-1. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

The NHL latest outdoor game, featuring the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild, averaged only 156,000 viewers on Sportsnet -- ranking well behind the likes of bobsledding and skiing. In the U.S., the game's 1.2 rating on NBC was the lowest since the NHL started its stadium series. The previous low-water mark was a 1.6.

The opening five draws of the Tournament of Hearts averaged 395,000 viewers on TSN, a 25 per cent decrease from 2015.

Add in the continuing weak ratings on Hockey Night in Canada and the Toronto Raptors' failure to cash in on the good feelings created by the NBA all-star game and you have to wonder what's going on here.

In some cases, the answers are obvious.

The endless NHL outdoor games have ceased to be a novelty and will likely continue to struggle in the ratings battles. The New Year's Day game might still work, but the others have pretty much become old toque.

The Daytona 500 had a thrilling finish, but nobody knew that until the finish. Sitting through four hours of watching cars go in circles might be a bit much to ask in this day and age.

As for the curling, that one really defies explanation. Curling has a hard-core audience, which seldom fails to show. It will be interesting to see if this week's playoffs and final follow that trend.

Here are the most-watched sports events on English-language television from the past weekend, according to Numeris overnight ratings:
1. NHL, Leafs-Flyers/Wings-Sens/Jets-Panthers, Saturday, CBC-City-Sportsnet, 1,660,000
2. NHL, Avalanche at Oilers, Saturday, CBC-Sportsnet: 695,000
3. Curling, Tournament of Hearts Draw 5, Sunday, TSN: 497,000
4. Auto racing, Daytona 500, Sunday, TSN: 435,000 (Fox audience not measured)
5. Curling, Tournament of Hearts, Draw 2, Saturday, TSN: 396,000
6. Curling, Tournament of Hearts, Draw 1, Saturday, TSN: 340,000
7. Curling, Tournament of Hearts, Draw 4, Sunday, TSN: 302,000
8. NHL, Canucks at Flames, Friday, Sportsnet West & Pacific:  286,000
9. NBA, Grizzlies at Raptors, Sunday, TSN: 267,000
10. Figure Skating, Four Continents, Saturday, CBC: 251,000
11. Curling, Tournament off Hearts, Draw 3, Sunday, TSN: 250,000
12. NHL, Avalanche at Canucks, Sunday, Sportsnet: 249,000
13. NHL, Flames at Ducks, Sunday, Sportsnet: 238,000
14. NBA, Raptors at Bulls, Friday, TSN: 236,000
15. Auto racing, NASCAR Xfinity 300, Saturday, TSN: 232,000
16. Winter sports, bobsleigh and skeleton world championships, Saturday, CBC: 197,000
17. NHL, Lightning at Penguins, Saturday,  Sportsnet: 182,000
18. Skiing, World Cup alpine, Saturday, CBC: 172,000
19. NHL, Blackhawks at Wild, Sunday, Sportsnet: 156,000 (NBC viewers not measured)
20. NHL, Flyers at Canadiens, Friday, Sportsnet East: 130,000
21. Diving, World Cup, Saturday, CBC: 124,000
22. Ski jumping, World Cup ski flying, Saturday, CBC: 123,000

Traditional rivalries: There's always something a little special about a Montreal-Toronto game, regardless of the sport -- or the league, or the gender. Les Canadiennes of Montreal face the Toronto Furies in the first game of the Canadian Women's Hockey League playoffs, Saturday (5 p.m. ET, Sportsnet 360) with the hometown Canadiennes favoured. That should set the stage for a rivalry revival on Hockey Night in Canada. In recent years the Montreal-Toronto NHL rivalry has lacked meaning because the two teams were on different planes, usually the Canadiens on an ascending one and the Leafs on one crashing. But things have changed this year with both teams nearing parity: they're among the worst in the league. Buckle your seatbelts (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, CBC and City).

Sweep hearts: The grande dames of Canadian curling will be crowned on Sunday, with the winner in Grande Prairie, Alta., going on to represent this country at the world championships. The Tournament of Hearts final starts at 8:30 p.m. ET (TSN.)

Dog day morning, and afternoon: Hockey, three-down football and the puzzling stardom of Rex Murphy are the kinds of things that set Canadians apart from the rest of the world, but nothing -- nothing -- sets us apart more than NHL Trade Deadline Day. Nowhere in the world would anyone set apart more than 12 hours of coverage to an event that more often than not produces nothing more than deals involving fourth-line wingers and minor leaguers. But here we go again on Monday, with Sportsnet's breathless coverage starting at 8 a.m. ET and TSN's at 8. For no logical reason, many will be watching.

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