The NHL on NBC is in its 10th season, and it’s paying big dividends for the company on both the broadcast and cable sides. The latter in particular has experienced strong growth this season, as NBCSN announced Friday that it recorded the best primetime viewership in its history thanks largely to its exclusive NHL content:

Propelled by its exclusive NHL Wednesday Night Rivalry and Sunday Night Hockey coverage, NBCSN delivered the best first-quarter primetime viewership in the network’s history, according to live plus same day data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBCSN averaged 258,000 viewers in primetime in the first quarter (December 28-March 27), up 19% from the first quarter of 2015 (217,000), and up 2% from the previous record set in the first quarter of 2009 (252,000).

The record viewership was driven by NBCSN’s NHL game telecasts on Wednesday Night Rivalry and Sunday Night Hockey. In Q1, NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry averaged 594,000 viewers, up 5% vs. 2015 (568,000), while NBCSN’s Sunday Night Hockey averaged 533,000 viewers, up 49% vs. 2015 (357,000). NBCSN’s 10 most-watched NHL games this season have been either Wednesday Night Rivalry or Sunday Night Hockey matchups.

In addition, NBCSN’s presentation of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 31 was the most-watched NHL All-Star Game in the network’s history. The game averaged 1.595 million viewers, up 34% vs. 2015 (1.194 million).

NBCSN averaged 100,000 viewers for Q1 Total Day (6 a.m.-6 a.m.), up 11% from the first quarter of 2015 (90,000).

Those numbers are still a long way from cable sports leader ESPN,  which averaged 2.08 million viewers in prime time and 948,000 viewers in total day for Q1, so NBCSN is about 1/10th as popular across the board. (Note: that analysis, from our Douglas Pucci, mostly considers live+seven day data rather than the live+same day data NBC is using here, so the numbers are slightly different.) NBCSN is also  behind ESPN2 and FS1 in prime time (376,000 and 291,000 respectively) and total day (263,000 and 133,000 respectively), as well as behind sister network Golf Channel in total day viewers (111,000), but they’re trending in the right direction.

NBCSN has shown remarkable growth over the last two years (+32.83 percent), while ESPN (-2.25 percent), ESPN2 (-8.96 percent) and FS1 (-3.96 percent) are all down since 2014. So, things are looking decent for NBCSN, and their primetime hockey-focused strategy appears to be paying benefits. That’s good for them, as their NHL contract runs through 2021.

[NBC Sports Pressbox]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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