SBD/January 3, 2011/Media

Winter Classic On NBC Earns Top NHL Regular-Season Audience In 36 Years

NBC earned a 2.3 final Nielsen rating and 4.5 million viewers for the Capitals-Penguins Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Saturday from 8:00-11:00pm ET, marking the best audience yet for the New Year's Day event and best NHL regular-season rating in 36 years. The telecast is up 9.5% and 22.1% from a 2.1 rating and 3.7 million viewers for last year's Flyers-Bruins matchup, which aired from 1:00-4:00pm. The game peaked at a 2.4 rating during both the 8:00-8:30pm and 8:30-9:00pm windows. Pittsburgh led all markets with a 32.0 local rating, while DC earned a 7.6 local rating in second place. NHL COO John Collins said, "We are thrilled with the strong viewership and growth on NBC, especially considering the short notice on the time change and the head to head competition we ended up facing in eight of our U.S. markets. The impact of the Winter Classic goes well beyond television. The event greatly enhances all of our global businesses, from NHL.com and NHL Network, to advertising and sponsorship, and of course, the Winter Classic delivered significant economic impact to Pittsburgh" (THE DAILY).

MOST-VIEWED NHL REGULAR-SEASON GAMES SINCE '75
YEAR
NET
TELECAST
VIEWERS (000)
'11
NBC
Winter Classic: Capitals-Penguins
4,500
'09
NBC
Winter Classic: Red Wings-Blackhawks
4,401
'96
Fox
(regional)
3,800
'08
NBC
Winter Classic: Penguins-Sabres
3,751
'10
NBC
Winter Classic: Flyers-Bruins
3,684
       

THE RIGHT TIME FOR PRIME TIME: In Pittsburgh, Karen Price reports NBC "averaged 4.56 million viewers and beat CBS, ABC and Fox for the night" in adults 18-49. Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse: "In retrospect, if we were able to choose the time -- which we weren't; NBC picked the time -- we would have picked prime time. So, in the end, it worked out as the best possible time to stage the game." When asked if future Winter Classic games "might be scheduled for prime time," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that "that wasn't something the league had considered until Friday." Bettman: "That's something we'll have to discuss with our network broadcast partners, obviously" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/3). Also in Pittsburgh, Gene Collier wrote, "If the 8 p.m. starting time winds up bringing NBC a healthy rating, don't be surprised if the Winter Classic never sees daylight again" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/2). The TRIBUNE-REVIEW's Rob Rossi wrote, "The NHL wouldn't commit to the concept, but this was probably the first of future Classics played under a stadium's lights with a prime-time audience kicking back on New Year's night" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/2).

COVERAGE REVIEW: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes NBC's Bob Costas during Saturday's coverage "proved there is no event that he cannot handle in superior fashion," and game announcers Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire and Darren Pang "brought their usual A-game." Jones: "Even the offbeat camera angles were welcome for a game that is more about the overall event than the actual contest. ... A near-perfect night for NBC" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/3). But in Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote, "Awful in-game production by NBC's crew made the Capitals' 3-1 win over the Penguins nearly impossible to watch, likely turning off thousands of casual fans who switched over from an Oklahoma blowout in the Fiesta Bowl." NBC "inexplicably decided to debut 'the vertigo cam'" during the game, and "whether it was the swirling shots from behind the net or the Donald Brashear-slow 'zooms' from the blimp, the camera work was unclear and brutally disorienting" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 1/1).

MISSING THE BOAT: In Vancouver, Jonathan McDonald noted the CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" did a "30-minute 'pre-game' show Saturday morning, seven-and-a-half hours before the NHL Winter Classic began," but as the opening faceoff neared at 8:00pm ET, the network "ran a full edition of Coach's Corner, featuring Ron MacLean and Don Cherry." While the CBC "showed footage of Cherry in Afghanistan, NBC showed dramatic images of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals marching side-by-side to the rink, the ceremonial faceoff featuring Mario Lemieux and Jerome Bettis, and the two national anthems." The CBC "had none of it," as "during the anthems, the CBC showed commercials -- then joined the Winter Classic a few seconds before the puck dropped." NBC "outperformed the CBC at its own game" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/2). Meanwhile, in DC, Dan Steinberg reported the NHL "credentialed 511 media members from 125 outlets for the game, about the same as for a Stanley Cup finals and about double the media contingent for a normal Capitals playoff game" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/2).

SHOWCASE FOR THE LEAGUE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin wrote the NHL, with the advent of the Winter Classic, "has happened upon its window into the consciousness of the U.S. sports-viewing public." NBC Sports Exec VP Jon Miller said that he "approached the NHL brass with the idea of a game around which NBC could wrap its efforts," and that the league was "generally supportive of the idea." But he added it was not until NHL COO John Collins joined the league that he "had an ally in arguing for the game." Collins, "who'd cut his teeth in the NFL's mighty marketing machine, saw the potential right away," and he "helped convince the league to embrace the concept" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/31).

THE END OF THE ROAD: SI.com's Sarah Kwak noted the end of the Winter Classic also "signals the end of the road for HBO's all-access pass" for "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: The Road to the Winter Classic." Players and coaches both said that it "would be nice to get back to the normalcy of life outside of reality television, but will miss them in their own way." All parties agreed that the "exposure and attention hockey received made it all worthwhile" (SI.com, 1/2). Penguins C Mike Rupp said, "Those guys were awesome. They're great dudes. I really got to know them and hang out with them. It's going to be kind of sad to see them go." Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: "We've joked with the HBO guys that we're going to have to invite them back. We are going to miss them. Shaking hands and saying goodbye to the HBO crew, it feels like we're sending a player down" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/3). However, the CBC's Pierre LeBrun reported several Capitals players, including C Brooks Laich, are "tired" of HBO's camera crews following them. LeBrun: "They feel that it really hurt them during their losing streak, that the coaching staff couldn't do what they needed to do" ("Hockey Night in Canada," CBC, 1/1). NBC's Mike Milbury said, "Better them than me. I'd hate to have them walk around in my living room." NBC's Bob Costas said, "The obvious difference between this and 'Hard Knocks,' where they follow a football team during the preseason -- that's interesting and often raw, but those games don't count. They caught these teams in the midst of stretches that count" (NBC, 1/1).

SUCCESSFUL SERIES: In Boston, Chad Finn wrote HBO's "24/7" series has been "every bit the enjoyable behind-the-scenes bonanza for hockey fans that the cable network's popular 'Hard Knocks' is for NFL loyalists." It is the "compelling cast of characters on both sides that makes '24/7' worth watching -- and viewers have been tuning in." HBO indicated that after the final numbers are tallied "sometime after the airing of the series finale" on Wednesday, it is "expected that the first episode will have earned in the vicinity of 2.8 million viewers, including online and on-demand viewing" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/31). The CBC's Glenn Healy said the NHL's Collins deserves credit for reaching a deal with HBO to broadcast the series. Healy said Collins "begged HBO to come and do it," and the NHL "made some changes to the schedule so that there was that Washington-Pittsburgh game right before Christmas" ("Hockey Night In Canada," CBC, 1/1).

BREAKING NEW GROUND: In Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey wrote HBO "might be sparking a revolution." HBO's treatment of the Dec. 23 Penguins-Capitals game was "ground-breaking, particularly in the way it displayed Sidney Crosby's competitive ferocity." Viewers were "transported inside the glass and exposed to a raw Crosby raining F-bombs on a referee," and it was "beautiful." And "contrary to what one might think, Crosby had no problem with the scene." HBO Senior Producer Dave Harmon said that the network's game plan for the Winter Classic game "included microphones on five players from each team, plus coaches Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau and the referees." One camera was placed "in the replay booth, six others elsewhere" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/2). Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis said of the "24/7" series, "I've owned the team for 12 years, and there were things that I saw watching that I didn't know about. I didn't experience a lot of those things. I think you're seeing this unvarnished, inside view that's really once-in-a-lifetime." He added, "It isn't a made-for-TV drama, but I guess it has a good arc, right? You're lost, and then you're found. And so I think the fourth episode will treat us better than the first episode did" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/2).

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