The ratings for NHL games in the first year of the broadcast contract for Rogers Communications Inc., continue to slide but a rival executive says it is "utter nonsense" for the company to blame the decline on the company that compiles the figures.
Numeris, the company that provides all broadcast ratings in Canada, reported an astonishing drop of almost one million viewers for last weekend's NHL all-star game, with 1.479 million people watching on all Rogers networks plus the CBC, compared with the last all-star game in 2012, which was shown only on the CBC and drew an audience of 2.454 million viewers. Scott Moore, president, Sportsnet and NHL, raised questions about the methodology in gathering the ratings.
"We have been in discussions with Numeris for some time about the reporting of both regional and national sports viewing," Moore said. "As you probably know, several sports properties seem to be down, which is contrary to what we are seeing south of the border. [The] CFL was down substantially this year as well. We are concerned about both the multiplatform reporting and the regional and sports representation on the Numeris panels."
This drew a sharp rebuke from Moore's counterpart with Bell Media, who says there is nothing wrong with the way Numeris compiles broadcast ratings (BCE owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail).
"We think that's a laughable comment," said Phil King, president, CTV, sports and entertainment programming. "How do we explain all-time records at the world junior [which was shown on Bell Media's TSN]?
"Everyone knows [the Numeris numbers] are a statistically valid sample. It's the currency everyone uses in the world. It's funny, I didn't hear them complaining about the Blue Jays [owned by Rogers], who had one of their best TV ratings [in 2014]."
While the NHL all-star ratings got all the attention because of the size of the decline, it is the continuing slide in regular-season games that prompted Moore to ask Numeris to study the way it gathers the numbers. In the first eight weeks of the 2014-15 season, the average audience for Hockey Night In Canada's Eastern games on Saturday night was up 1 per cent from the same period in the previous year, to an average of 2.184 million viewers. But the later Western games saw a decline of 17 per cent, down to an average audience of 860,000.
Since then, the slide has grown. From the first week of December through the NHL all-star break last weekend, the early Eastern games on Saturday nights on the CBC and the Rogers networks had an average audience of 1.696 million, down 6 per cent from the same period a year ago when the games were only on the CBC and drew an average audience of 1.803 million. A lot of this can be blamed on the dismal performance of the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose audiences drive the ratings more than any other team.
Things are worse for the Western games, as the average audience from December through January was 765,000, a 19-per-cent decline from the previous year. And audiences in the most prized demographic for advertisers, ages 25 to 54, are down 25 per cent compared to 2013-14.
Another big event did not go well for Rogers, as the audience for the Winter Classic outdoor game between the Washington Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 1 drew just over 1 million viewers, down almost 2.6 million from the 2014 game, which had 3.6 million viewers. However, that was understandable because the 2014 game featured the Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.
Since Rogers budgeted for a 20-per-cent increase in viewers this season and went to advertisers with a similar increase in rates, the declines are continuing bad news. The company's board of directors is said to be putting pressure on the sales and hockey departments to do something because Rogers is committed to paying the NHL $5.2-billion over the next 12 years for the national Canadian broadcast rights.
Moore's concerns are about the Numeris panels, which are the groups of viewers it assembles in cities across the country to wear the personal people meters, as they are known, that register their viewing habits. Moore wonders if the 11,000 people across the country that Numeris uses contain the right number of sports fans. He also wants to know if the multiplatform audiences are being tallied properly.
Jim MacLeod, the president and chief executive of Numeris, said the company is looking into Moore's concerns but has not discovered anything unusual yet. He also said Numeris does not question its panelists about their viewing preferences as its chief concern is to make sure the panels closely reflect the Canadian population as a whole. MacLeod added that while the Numeris ratings do not yet break out viewers who watch on mobile devices separately from televisions, they are included in the totals.
"We are balanced by geography, age, sex and household size," MacLeod said. "So you would think that for major sports that would fall out across the population. The important thing is to keep the panels in balance so that they match the population characteristics. We have a very careful system to do that.
"So far we haven't found anything [unusual] but we're continuing to watch it."