CBC's Winter Olympics website. Screenshot by J-Source.

How CBC kept viewers connected during the Winter Olympics

Approximately three-quarters of the Canadian public tuned into CBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Continue Reading How CBC kept viewers connected during the Winter Olympics

On a late Thursday night in February, while most Canadians slept, Kaetlyn Osmond of Newfoundland won a bronze medal in the women’s free skate competition, leading the country to a historic national record of 27 Winter Olympic medals.

Dethroning Canada’s previous standing from the Vancouver 2010 Games, Osmond stepped onto the podium a proud Olympic medalist, a moment that is only possible every few years, and a moment that not many were able to watch live.

Since Korean Standard Time is over a dozen hours ahead of the country’s time zones, millions of Canadians missed out on various patriotic moments throughout the games. In the late hours of the first weekend, snowboarder Mark McMorris won a bronze in the men’s slopestyle, while the Canadian figure skating team captured the country’s first gold in their team event.

CBC realized this complication long before the games had begun, and were prepared to keep viewers connected throughout the scattered hours.

“We worked the #UpWithCBC hashtag, @CBC’s campaign to encourage Canadians to stay up late and get up early to watch live events,” said Alexis Allison, an associate producer of social media for CBC Sports, in an email. “This was also the first Olympic Games we were really able to capitalize on Instagram as a platform to share content. We posted important overnight moments to our Instagram story every morning, giving fans something to watch as a quick recap when they got up.”

To keep viewers updated on the stories coming from South Korea, CBC relied on social media accounts such as Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. They also used multiple polls on the Instagram story and on Twitter to keep audiences active.

“We’re also always trying to respond to Facebook and Twitter comments and share a lot from athlete accounts and have good relationships with them as well,” said Allison. “It was a great way to get fans engaged and really see how they felt about certain moments or athletes.”

In addition to social media, CBC broadcasted 18 hours of daily live coverage across four programming blocks from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET and 21 total hours of Olympic Winter Games programming every 24 hours, including rebroadcasts of the biggest long-form events of the previous day. They also partnered with national stations TSN and Sportsnet to add to the volume of live coverage.

While overnight events saw a common decrease in viewership, CBC stated that 27 million people —approximately three-quarters of the population — tuned in to Olympic coverage over the first week of the Games alone. This figure represents viewers of both CBC and partner TV networks, listeners of Radio-Canada, and as well as those who watched digital live-streams online or through the network’s apps, specifically during the hours of anticipated events.

These events included men’s and women’s hockey games, and all four performances of Canadian ice dancing team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Their gold-winning dance took place on Day 10 to 4.3 million viewers, CBC’s most watched moment during the games despite it taking place close to midnight.

“We recognize that people have different viewing habits, and with so much of the competition taking place overnight—in Canadian time zones—it allows us to provide more choice for our audiences,” said CBC team lead publicist Simon Bassett in an email. The data collected was from a CBC report compiled by various sources. “The network had dedicated a great number of viewing options for Canadians throughout the games. “While the time difference between South Korea and Canada is a substantial one, it also creates opportunities for CBC to showcase more coverage across multiple platforms.”

Pj Kwong, a figure skating expert and analysis contributor for CBC—she was the in-house PA announcer during the PyeongChang figure skating events—said watching scenes on-screen or in-venue doesn’t have to affect a viewer’s impression. “It’s great to have that in-house atmosphere, and that feeling of what’s going on in the moment in the venue but, in truth, I don’t actually have to be there, I can be watching from a television screen and still have the impressions that I have.”

Between the CBC social media accounts and their various options of broadcasting programs, the network provided multiple opportunities for viewers in all Canadian time zones to watch events. It’s a strategy they explain as “bearing fruit,” one that they offered again during the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Winter Games.

“During the Olympic Games, because CBC/Radio-Canada is the sole rights-holder in Canada, everyone turns to us for content and it’s our job to provide the best, biggest and most informative stories to those that want it,” said Allison, “even when they might not know they want it.

CBC/Radio-Canada’s coverage of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games ended March 18 following the Paralympic closing ceremony.