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Digital up, TV ratings down for CBC's Olympic coverage so far

Gold medallist Dara Howell, left, and bronze medallist Kim Lamarre, both of Canada, celebrate their wins in the women's ski slopestyle final at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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Gold medallist Dara Howell, left, and bronze medallist Kim Lamarre, both of Canada, celebrate their wins in the women's ski slopestyle final at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

TORONTO - More than 28 million Canadians have tuned in to coverage of the Sochi Olympics so far and while some of the ratings numbers have been lower than the records set during the 2010 Vancouver Games, the CBC's head of sports programming says he's pleased with the early returns.

In 2010, Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium said 13.3 million Canadians watched the opening ceremonies in Vancouver live, while 23 million saw at least part of the 3.5-hour show.

The CBC says about 19 million Canadians saw at least part of the opening ceremonies in Sochi — when combining the ratings for the live broadcast in the morning, repeats and online streams. It did not provide a figure for how many Canadians watched the whole show.

"When you're looking at comparables I would say it's pretty tough to compare a home Games — which is a pretty special thing, a once-in-a-generation usually type thing — versus an Olympic Games that's happening in a place that's nine hours of time zones away," says the CBC's Trevor Pilling.

"That said, that's one of the special things about the Olympics, that it doesn't always happen in your country, it doesn't always happen in your time zone, that's one of the things that's intriguing about it to me, that it's happening in a faraway land."

About 22.75 million Canadians tuned in at some point on the second day of the Sochi Olympics, the CBC says, with a peak of 4.8 million during Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's free dance performance in the team figure skating event.

In comparison, on Day 2 of the Vancouver Olympics, the first medal event of the Games drew an average of 5.1 million viewers and the broadcast consortium counted 27.7 million over the course of the day.

"I think we weren't necessarily positive on how the numbers would turn out (in Sochi) but I think that we were always optimistic knowing that Canadians love winter sports and it's the Olympics we shine at particularly," says Pilling when asked about his ratings expectations.

"I think I'd say that we're pleased, I think the reason why I'm so pleased is we're getting good feedback, we're giving people, I think, really good choices and not only to get whatever sport they may want but also on whatever device they may want."

More than 2.5 million Canadians have watched some Olympics coverage either on a computer or mobile device so far, for a total of almost 1.4 million hours of streaming, the CBC says. During the 2012 Summer Games in London, the broadcast consortium said it streamed 3.4 million hours of video to Canadians in 19 days.

More than one million smartphone and tablet users have downloaded the CBC's app.

"I think digital has been very strong and we're pleased with how we've been able to connect with Canadians," Pilling says.

"Consumer habits continue to change rapidly ... and I think we're certainly keeping up with those trends."

While some viewers have complained on social networks that their video streams weren't sharp, Pilling says he's not aware of any technical issues that have hampered the digital offerings.

"What those issues usually end up being has to do with the quality of your Internet feed," he says.

"But we have people who are monitoring that around the clock and every single time we hear about those types of issues we're digging into it. And we're only a couple of days into it, quite frankly, so while we continue to smooth out some of the bumps we feel overall the feedback's been really positive."

Pilling says the strong Canadian medal haul so far has helped attract viewers and he's got his fingers crossed that our athletes continue to perform well, particularly in the marquee sport: hockey.

"We'll be holding our breath as we watch the Canadian men's and women's hockey teams and see how they do against the best in the world, that will certainly play a factor, but we believe the audiences will be there right through to the end of the games," he says.

The men's gold medal game in 2010 between Canada and the United States set a ratings record with 16.7 million viewers. A peak of 22 million Canadians tuned in for overtime as Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal.

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