Televised Tragically Hip show an ‘unprecedented event:’ CBC

Whether it's home screenings or community viewing parties, much of Canada will be tuning in for iconic rock band's final bow

TORONTO – Few Canadian television events qualify as a momentous occasion for the nation, but Saturday’s Tragically Hip concert promises to be special.

It seems like much of the country will be tuned into CBC’s live broadcast of “The Tragically Hip: A National Celebration” from Kingston, Ont., when factoring in home screenings and community viewing parties.

Yet how many people will watch is anybody’s guess at this point.

“This is an unprecedented event for us,” said Jennifer Dettman, CBC’s executive director of unscripted content.

The sentiment is true on many levels, she adds.

The last stop on the Hip’s “Man Machine Poem” tour is widely expected to be their final performance, as lead singer Gord Downie is facing terminal brain cancer. After tickets to the tour sold out within minutes, fans launched a campaign urging the CBC to carry the band’s Kingston show as a live TV event.

Dettman wouldn’t speak to the contract negotiations that led to the Hip agreeing to the broadcast.

“CBC made both a competitive and financially responsible offer to acquire the broadcast rights, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer this national celebration to as many Canadians as possible,” she said.

The concert won’t just be on the main CBC network, it will also be broadcast through various other platforms such as CBC Radio One, the CBC website and its YouTube and Facebook channels.

With so many viewing options, that will make it tough to capture how many eyes and ears are focused on the Hip this Saturday.

That’s where ratings agency Numeris comes in. The Toronto-based company tracks viewership figures by using meters and viewing diaries prepared by a panel of Canadians representative of the population.

Their data shows that most huge audience draws are typically live programming, led by major sporting events.

The Super Bowl is the biggest TV event nearly every year — drawing about six million to eight million viewers in recent years — while a handful of other annual celebrations like the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and Grammys are perennial favourites too.

The gold medal game of the men’s hockey tournament at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is considered to be the most-watched broadcast ever in Canada. It drew 16.6 million viewers, according to data from Numeris, about double the number of people who tune into most Super Bowls.

Those kinds of numbers will be hard to beat, even for a rock band with as much Canadian clout as the Hip.

Numeris spokesman Tom Jenks wouldn’t guess how many viewers will tune into the CBC broadcast, but acknowledges it’ll probably be a pretty big number.

The agency said it will be counting every public screening — from restaurants to movie theatres to community viewing parties — and each person streaming the concert on their phone. Viewers who playback the show on their DVRs within seven days will also be included in the final numbers.

“Our system captures all viewing,” Jenks said.

Potentially driving those numbers higher is the decision make the Hip’s concert a one-time broadcast, with no encore presentation and no availability on on-demand platforms.

“Our goal was to bring the experience of this live concert to Canadians in that moment,” Dettman said.

“I’m sure the band will figure out what they will want to do with the concert afterwards.”

She said the goal is to give all Canadians the same “crescendo” feeling that will ripple through the arena in Kingston.

“Our goal is to bring the experience … to as many Canadians as we can,” she said.

“The idea that we’re all together experiencing this moment at the same time is really special.”


Follow @dfriend on Twitter.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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