It’s been gospel for a long while that Canadians tune in to CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada specifically to watch Coach’s Corner starring Don Cherry. Proclaims a CBC blurb: “Grapes is a Canadian icon. All because of a few minutes every Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.”

 “Cherry continues to be ratings gold at CBC, with Hockey Night in Canada storming back to 2.4 million viewers last Saturday night.” One of the voices promulgating the idea of Cherry as must-see TV has occasionally been Mr. Cherry himself.

But recent TV numbers don’t seem to support the notion that Cherry is leading HNIC’s ratings anywhere. There is a considerable drop in viewers the instant game action ends and the theme music for Coach’s Corner begins. For example, ratings during the first period of last Saturday’s HNIC peaked at about 2.2 million viewers at 7:45 p.m. ET. But ratings show that by 7:58, that figure had plummeted by almost 800,000 to about 1.4 million during the first intermission of the show, precisely when Cherry is in mid-jeremiad.

The week before, first-period numbers peaked around 2.5 million viewers. By the time Cherry was on, almost a million people had found something else to do, as the number dipped to around 1.5 million. The numbers from this season have consistently shown such peaks during the action to more modest figures during the first intermission.

While we do not have data from previous years, Usual Suspects has learned that Cherry’s numbers were reportedly higher before the advent of portable people meters when people used written diaries to record their viewing patterns. But in their almost three years of use, the more sensitive PPMs have detected more volatility in the numbers over the course of the night.

All right, so lots of people use intermission to walk the dog or phone Aunt Ethel. And 1.4 million is still a home run in Canadian TV ratings. By comparison, Cherry’s numbers surpass those when HNIC goes from second-period action to the intermission. Last week, ratings peaked at around 2.4 million dropping to about 1.2 million when HNIC went to its Hotstove intermission segment. The week previous saw a drop from about 2.8 million to 1.3 million for the second intermission.

The question is: Why are people leaving their sets in such large numbers when action stops? Would ratings be higher in the first intermission without Cherry or is he a bulwark against a larger drop? Because the former NHL coach has been in the slot since 1981, it’s impossible to compare until he’s replaced, just as Cherry replaced Howie Meeker.

Coach’s Corner is still good business at CBC, however. Cherry’s advertising spots still sell out and garner significant revenue. Cherry does better than later intermission features, albeit with a larger potential audience.

The conclusion is that Cherry remains a strong brand, but claims that he brings viewers to HNIC or that his segment powers the ratings are not borne out by this season’s numbers. The game itself remains the biggest selling point.

Written by  Bruce Dowbiggin