Hockey had a moment, which it so rarely gets and desperately needs, on Saturday. They had the most-talked about Olympic event, one which had NBC primetime, President Obama and all of the internet taking notice. The traditional way it was consumed was interested, too.
4.1 million viewers tuned in to the United States' 3-2 shootout victory over Russia at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday. That is now the most watched hockey game ever on the network. The previous record was Game 3 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals between Boston and Chicago. Even better yet, when the game went into overtime and the shootout in the 10-10:30 half-hour, 6.4 million people were watching. That's another record for the most-watched half-hour in NBCSN history. Putting a high-profile game on NBCSN led to some big numbers for the network and the most-watched daytime ever, 2.9 million viewers.
To give you an idea of how far the game reached, this year's NHL Winter Classic drew 4.4 million viewers, and tied for the most-watched NHL regular season game ever.
The overtime and shootout portions of the game, along with additional commentary from Mike Emrick and Al Michaels, aired in the first half-hour of NBC's primetime coverage Saturday night. The preliminary numbers suggest that half-hour drew 14.7 million viewers. That's more than any National Hockey League game ever.
Locally, the typical NHL standbys came through. The top 10 markets were Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo, Providence, Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore. The New York market neared 500,000 households for the game. Just for fun, the highest-rated market from outside the eastern and central time zones? Denver.
While those are fabulous numbers, the time zones can be a hindrance. Let's not forget, Team USA had a similar moment during the 2010 Vancouver Games, in which they stunned Canada on their home ice. That game was broadcast on MSNBC at 8 p.m. ET on a Sunday night, and drew 8.2 million viewers. So pretty good, but still not what it maybe could be.
So why didn't the game air on NBC proper instead of NBCSN? First, NBC has Weekend Today which does well for the network and the Peacock does not like pre-empting the program unless it absolutely has to.
And there's the possibility that some local affiliates might not have cleared the game. Many local NBC stations air their early newscasts in that time period and they don't want to pre-empt it for sports. So even if NBC carried USA-Russia, there was no guarantee that it would have been available in your local area.
By putting the game on NBCSN, there was the assurance that it would be available coast-to-coast.
Rest assured that if there's a USA-Russia rematch for the gold medal next Sunday, NBC will carry it live in all time zones at 7:30 a.m. ET/4:30 a.m. PT.
This likely will fuel the Olympic hockey tournament towards becoming the biggest buzz-sport of the second week, aside from perhaps figure skating. Team USA will likely be in gold medal hunts in both men's and women's hockey, with both Gold Medal Games airing on NBC. Can they match what happened with the 27 million viewers in 2010? Not likely. But will it be good for the sport in general, and will it make the NHL look silly for trying to keep the league out of the Olympics? Probably.