Television ratings for Hockey Night In Canada may be down this season but there was some good news for the show this week – viewers are slowly coming around to the Rogers Media version of the NHL broadcasts.
A survey by the Angus Reid Institute of 1,522 Canadian adults found fewer of them miss the CBC version of the show than in the 2014-15 season, the first year it came under the control of Rogers's Sportsnet network. And while there is still a strong attachment to former host Ron MacLean, more viewers are getting used to George Stroumboulopoulos, who replaced MacLean as host of the Saturday night show.
The poll found that 63 per cent of those surveyed either do not miss the CBC version of Hockey Night or still miss it but are getting used to the new format. Thirty-seven per cent said they still miss the CBC broadcast. In last year's survey, 45 per cent of the respondents said they missed the CBC show while 41 per cent said they did not have a preference and 14 per cent said they like the Sportsnet version better.
One year ago, 60 per cent of the people surveyed said they did not think Stroumboulopoulos was a "credible replacement" for MacLean. But this year the situation is reversed. A majority, 55 per cent, said Stroumboulopoulos has enough hockey knowledge to do the job well.
Also, 59 per cent of the respondents said he is seen on the show for the right amount of time or they would like to see more of him. Only 41 per cent said they would like to see less of Stroumboulopoulos.
While Stroumboulopoulos still did not fare well among respondents who identified themselves as "diehard fans," his standing among younger fans is strong. Only 23 per cent of those from 18 to 34 would like to see less of him, while it went to 35 per cent for those 35 to 54 and 38 per cent for those older than 55.
People also think Stroumboulopoulos and his fellow broadcasters have better chemistry this year. Twenty per cent said they are "clicking together really well" compared with 8 per cent in 2014. This number rose to 32 per cent among respondents of ages 18 to 34.
"It's a vastly happier story than it was a year ago," Angus Reid senior vice-president Shachi Kurl said of the poll results.
Kurl said in light of the strong response to the first poll a year ago, Angus Reid knew it had to check again to see if Canadians were warming to the Sportsnet version of Hockey Night.
"We wanted to take the temperature again a year in and see if [last year's result] was simply a knee-jerk reaction to change or a true reflection of how people are feeling," Kurl said. "The good-news story here is the chemistry is improving and more importantly, it's younger viewers who seem more favourable to the new format.
"That's important because if you make the argument this is an investment in the future, growing a new generation of fans and competing for those eyeballs. Forty or 50 years ago, Hockey Night In Canada didn't have to compete the way it does now with the 500-channel universe, things online, on your phones."
The poll was expanded this year to look at most of the broadcasters who appear on Hockey Night. MacLean and Don Cherry, who make up the Coach's Corner segment at the end of the first period, continue to do well. MacLean's results were much the same as last year, as 48 per cent said they want to see more of him on the show, the same number as 2014. Cherry was down slightly as 35 per cent of the respondents thought he was on the air for the right amount of time, compared with 38 per cent a year ago.
One interesting result among the other regulars on the show is that a significant amount of viewers say they are not sure who they are. For example, 21 per cent say they are not sure who panelist and reporter Elliotte Friedman is, despite the fact he's been on the show for 12 years. Nick Kypreos, who joined Hockey Night last year when Rogers took control of the show, had 19 per cent of the respondents say they weren't sure who he is.
The full poll results are on the Angus Reid website.