MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- MSNBC, the network known for "Hardball," saw hard-hitting hockey last night, and had its second-highest-rated night ever. The thrilling upset of host Canada by Team USA delivered 8.2 million viewers, according to NBC, just below the 8.23 million who watched election night coverage in 2008.
Final live-plus-same-day data demographic distinctions aren't yet available from Nielsen, but, as measured by households, MSNBC's estimated 4.3 rating was impressive. But compared to the 12.8/20 household rating and share for coverage on NBC, it may dampen the drubbing the network is taking for choosing ice dancing over ice hockey on broadcast.
What will never be known is how big the hockey audience might have been had NBC run it on the big broadcast network. But overall it was another great night for the Americans, as well as the National Broadcast Company, which reached 87 million viewers at some time during the day on one of its networks.
In the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic, however, NBC's coverage was actually down from last week to a 5.7/14 rating and share. But that's most likely due to a great game generating so much buzz beforehand, let alone so much Twitter traffic during, that many who weren't already watching probably switched over to MSNBC once they got a sense that it was hockey history in the making. Sure, maybe it wasn't "Do you believe in miracles?" history, but scrappy underdog (albeit millionaire pro players) beating future Hall of Famers from the country that invented the sport made for great drama.
There was plenty of drama (and a bit of melodrama) on ABC as well, with original episodes of "Desperate Housewives" (3.7/8) and "Brothers and Sisters" (2.5/7), which impressively retained 80% and 81%, respectively, from their season-to-date averages. Earlier, "America's Funniest Home Videos" (2.1/6) held all its usual audience against America's best athletes. And "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (2.5/6) held 83% as ABC finished third with a 2.7/7.
On CBS, it wasn't drama as much as it was reality that provided an alternative, as "Undercover Boss" (4.8/11) is emerging as a CBS keeper. It was the highest-rated show on the network that night, well above the 1.8/5 for "60 Minutes," the 2.9/7 for "Amazing Race," and the 2.3/6 for "Cold Case." Overall CBS finished third with a 2.9/7.
Fox's relatively younger male viewership base was probably interested in the hockey game as well, as ratings for first-run episodes of "The Simpsons" (3.0/8), "Cleveland Show" (2.8/7), "American Dad" (2.8/6) and "'Til Death" (1.2/3) were all down at least 20% compared to normal levels. Fox started the night with a NASCAR overrun (1.5/5) and did run one rerun, "Family Guy" (3.1/7) en route to an overall fourth place 2.4/6.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Monday: Olympics: Ice Dancing gold medal finals in prime time, but perhaps the Winter Olympics' most surprisingly compelling competition -- the team relays for cross country skiing -- take place this afternoon on USA. Non-Olympics: Even more melodramatic than figure skating's "kiss and cry" moments, it's "The Bachelor: The Women Tell All" on ABC.
Tuesday: Olympics: Alpine Team USA will continue to try to come up big, this time in the Giant Slalom. Non-Olympics: A very different, and dispiriting, international event from the Olympics, as PBS's "Frontline" examines the war in Afghanistan in "Behind Taliban Lines."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
NBC execs huddling about what to do for upcoming Team USA hockey games.
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.