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Viewership takes a tumble for NHL trade telecasts Add to ...

Audiences for the National Hockey League trade-deadline telecasts on Tuesday took hits across the board, with The Score Television Network suffering the largest decrease.

Viewership on Rogers Sportsnet was down 45 per cent, to 53,000 from 96,000 last year.

TSN's audience dropped 18 per cent, to 150,000 from 183,000.

The Score's audience of 9,000 was a huge plunge of about 78 per cent from last year, when 41,000 tuned in.

The combined decrease for the three networks was about 34 per cent, to 212,000 from 320,000.

What happened?

TSN and Sportsnet, for the first time, streamed their coverage online. But David Ballingall, the vice-president of marketing for Sportsnet, said he didn't think the online availability cut into the television numbers.

TSN president Phil King agreed.

"Nobody believes that people would choose to watch a computer instead of a TV," King said.

There was a good amount of activity on trade day and some compelling stories to report. However, Sportsnet and The Score were handicapped by separate issues.

Sportsnet's attempt to make its deadline show into a party didn't work. The necessity to produce good information and analysis was forgotten. Those problems clearly contributed to the show's 45-per-cent audience decrease.

A programming decision hurt The Score. While coverage by TSN and Sportsnet started at 10 a.m., The Score's show didn't begin until two hours later. By then, important trades had been made and viewers had settled in to watch either TSN or Sportsnet.

The Score was defeated before it started.

TSN had 71,000 online visits to the video streaming of its telecast; Sportsnet had 38,525.

In addition to its video stream, TSN drew 204,000 to the audio streaming of the telecast.

Ballingall said he was pleased with the results of Sportsnet's first streaming of a live event.

"It's something we'll certainly do more of," he said.

Jays on CBC

Well-placed sources say the Toronto Blue Jays will, for the first time in several years, be seen on three networks this season.

In addition to Rogers Sportsnet, which will air the bulk of the games, the CBC and TSN will each carry a package. The CBC is expected to air a game of the week. Will Elliotte Friedman do the play-by-play? TSN's package will consist of between 20 and 25 games. Look for an announcement next week.

CFL schedule

TSN will stream its entire 50-game Canadian Football League schedule this season.

As well, a minimum of 35 of the games will be shot in high-definition television, mostly for the Friday night show.

The CBC also announced its 2007 CFL schedule yesterday. It will air 27 regular-season games and the entire postseason and the Grey Cup.

The CBC, which will be in the final year of its CFL contract, will provide some HDTV telecasts, but the specifics haven't been made final. The Grey Cup will be in HDTV.

The CBC will begin its season on Saturday, June 30, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing the Calgary Stampeders at 10 p.m. EDT. The CBC will also carry, for the first time, a tripleheader, on Saturday, Sept. 29, starting with Montreal Alouettes-Saskatchewan Roughriders at 3 p.m. EDT, followed by Hamilton-Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 7 p.m. EDT and Calgary-B.C. Lions at 10 p.m. EDT.

TSN's schedule will start on Thursday, June 28, with a doubleheader -- B.C. playing the Toronto Argonauts, followed by Winnipeg at the Edmonton Eskimos. TSN's schedule also will include two Grey Cup rematches between Montreal and B.C. on Aug. 31 and Sept. 9.

Hull v. NBC

NBC hired Brett Hull to deliver edgy commentary, but probably did not anticipate being a target. This week in USA Today, Hull complained about not receiving enough air time on the hockey telecasts and suggested the network should air a football-style, one-hour pregame show.

NBC does provide a 30-minute online pregame show. Hull also knocked the NHL's current and past U.S. cable partners, Versus and ESPN, respectively. "People don't even know that we're on," he said. "That's a huge problem." He accused ESPN of ignoring hockey after it lost the rights to Versus in 2005.

TSN broke into its Canada Winter Games coverage yesterday afternoon to carry live Ryan Smyth's teary goodbye to Edmonton. The Score also picked up Smyth's news conference, and without a pressing need to return to the afternoon schedule of news reporting, it stayed with the question-and-answer session after TSN went back to the Winter Games.

Further to reports on the NHL and NBC agreeing to a contract extension past this season, negotiations are getting close, according to sources.

whouston@globeandmail.com

 

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