NBC caught a lot of grief for airing the U.S.-Canada hockey game Sunday night on MSNBC, instead of its main channel. NBC probably should have shown more than just a brief glimpse at the end of the American team’s 5-3 upset victory, but it’s hard to argue with the network’s logic of not carrying the game in full. Hardcore hockey fans found the game on MSNBC and NBC still had a huge audience for ice dancing on its main channel.
The game pulled the third-highest ratings in MSNBC history, the second-largest audience ever on MSNBC, and was the second-highest rated hockey game ever on American television (8.22 million households). In Oklahoma City, the game earned a 2.8 rating. Nevertheless, ice dancing, skiing, and bobsled averaged 23.3 million viewers on NBC.
Some viewers were upset the hockey game was not available in HD, but Cox does carry MSNBC’s HD channel in Oklahoma City.
Viewers need to remember that the Olympics are more an entertainment spectacle than a pure athletic event. NBC paid — more likely overpaid — $820 million for the rights, and has to be careful to maximize its return. Chris McCloskey, vice president of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, noted in an e-mail to me that the Winter Olympics are the most-female skewing sports event on TV and hockey skews male.