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13-million watched Opening Ceremony in Canada

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U.S. Olympic coverage shows the view from down there

By Alex Strachan, Canwest

February 13, 2010 5:00 PM

For the nearly 33 million viewers who watched the Vancouver Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony in the United States, the Great White North is no longer the Great White Unknown.

In a poignant, often profound opening segment, retired NBC Nightly News anchor and 20th century historian Tom Brokaw introduced Canada to an American audience with dignity, humility and a deep reverence.

Brokaw touched on the familiar — Canada’s expansive, eye-filling landscapes and the way the bulk of Canada’s population lives within 200 kilometres of the Canada-U.S. border, while the rest are scattered across a largely northern land mass with a harsh, unforgiving climate. Brokaw also touched on the unfamiliar, though. As befitting a war historian and the author of The Greatest Generation, Brokaw paid homage to Canada’s war efforts in the First and Second World Wars, and more recent conflicts like Afghanistan. He cited John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about Canada and friendship, and noted that there is no greater friend in need than the large, silent, too-often-taken-for-granted nation on America’s northern border.

"In the long history of sovereign neighbours," Brokaw told U.S. viewers, "there never has been a relationship as close, productive and peaceful."

NBC has been criticized in the past for its frequently jingoistic, U.S.A.-first coverage, but at these Olympics, the network’s lead commentators seem determined to play the gracious guests.

NBC Primetime host Bob Costas even took issue with critics of Canada’s "Own the Podium" campaign, which some have dismissed as being uncharacteristically bellicose and un-Canadian.

"Canadians are among the friendliest, most welcoming people on earth," Costas told his U.S. audience.

“I don’t see anything incompatible with saying, ’Welcome, but now we want to kick your butt.’ "

NBC late night Olympic host Mary Carillo sounded a similar refrain, after carrying the torch for part of its leg prior to Friday’s Opening Ceremony.

"It is a singular thrill to be a small part of something so big and beautiful," Carillo told viewers. "And that’s what Canada is."

Canadians have already formed an opinion of homegrown TV coverage of the Vancouver Winter Games. Viewers turned to CTV and its sister channels for the opening ceremony and early weekend competition were treated to veteran CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson and Olympic anchor Brian Williams’ characteristically measured tones as Games organizers had to deal with the tragic death Friday of Georgian luge sledder Nodar Kumaritashvili and other last-minute crises.

Viewers familiar with Williams’ coverage of numerous past Olympics for CBC-TV know the veteran Canadian Olympic host has an exhaustive knowledge of this country and its athletes.

For many of the viewers watching in the U.S., though, Canada remains unknown. An average 33 million viewers in the U.S. turned to NBC for the network’s coverage of the opening ceremony, according to overnight Nielsen ratings estimates. That’s a jump of 17 million viewers — or 47 per cent — when compared to the opening ceremony at 2006’s Winter Olympics in Turin.

In Canada, an estimated 13.3 million viewers watched the entire opening ceremony, making it the most-watched TV event in Canadian history, according to a release issued Saturday by CTV.

The figure eclipses the previous mark, set by the 2002 Salt Lake City gold-medal hockey game between the U.S. and Canada, which was seen by 10 million viewers in Canada.

Brokaw’s taped introduction set the stage for several hours of U.S. TV coverage of Canada that accentuated the positive.

Kumaritashvili’s tragic accident proved more problematic for TV networks, however. In a decision that caused disquiet for some, NBC elected to show at part of the accident three separate times, but without sound, according to an Associated Press report.

AP reported that NBC released the video to other networks because of its news value.

CTV aired footage of the accident with a viewer advisory, and broke into coverage of the torch relay with updates.

Costas acknowledged Kumaritashvili’s death at the outset of NBC’s broadcast, noting, "What will still be a night of celebration here, began as a very sad day. The exuberance of this opening ceremony is tinged with sadness."

Costas ended NBC’s broadcast several hours later, saying, "On this same night as the athletes of the world gathered in celebration and the Olympic torch was rekindled, we also recall the tragic passing of a son of Georgia. To his family, to his friends, to his teammates, we extend our sorrow and our heartfelt thoughts and prayers. Good night from Vancouver."


blog: www.canada.com/tvguy

CNS 2/13/10 15:49:25

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Any stats on how many viewers there where globally?

Not yet, but it'll probably be over one-billion considering a lot more people in the world have access to coverage. Salt Lake City's was at right on the dot at one-billion.

The whole 3.5-billion figure is bogus, that's just how many people have access to the coverage.

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