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​It’s That Time of Year When Americans Are Watching Canadian TV Again

Thanks to the Olympics, US viewers are checking into the CBC.
August 18, 2016, 3:48pm

Classic Canada. Smiling, even when losing. (We kid, we kid.) Photo via CP.

CBC television is seeing their biennial bump in audience numbers because NBC's terrible coverage of the Olympic Games has sports fans clamouring for better, again. In a somewhat ironic turn—as it's normally Canadians cheating to get the US Netflix selection—Americans are the ones firing up their VPNs to break through and access the geoblocked content on CBC's streaming service.

CBC, the network that no one seems to watch when there aren't any Canadian teams playing hockey, has been the main source of Olympics coverage for many Americans, including 33-year-old Seattleite Sheridan Day. With the Canadian broadcaster as an option on her cable box, she has enjoyed watching Michael Phelps win five gold medals and cheering on the American teams. "I have only the smallest Comcast cable package, but it offers both regular and HD CBC channels, which I love," she said to me over email. It's pretty incredible that Americans have consistently flocked to our national public broadcaster—even when former prime ministers called out their low ratings. Day is definitely not alone, as many in the US on Twitter and Reddit have voiced their displeasure with the direction of NBC's Olympic offering. This year, like years previous, the network has made the decision to time shift their coverage of the opening ceremonies, finals and medal events to primetime hours. Meaning, events that happen earlier in the day are not broadcast (online or on the television channels) until later the same night. NBC says that, supposedly, the majority of people are watching during the primetime hours. But there is also the reason you'd might expect—commercials. "I watched the Opening Ceremonies live on CBC, while NBC showed it three hours later," said Day. "I felt like there were fewer commercials, more time spent on other countries, and even better graphics." Read More: I Ate an Olympic Athlete's McDonald's Cheat Meal to See if I Would Die People don't seem to enjoy needing to plug their ears and avoid Olympic spoilers when they browse news sites and social media throughout the day. The Olympics is not supposed to be Game of Thrones. From the other side of things, the CBC is enjoying a successful deployment of their digital selection. "We have seen strong growth each day during the first few days of competition," CBC media rep Emma Bédard said in an email. By the fourth day of the games, the online coverage has seen 49 million pageviews and 7.4 million video views. "We don't track whether our streams are accessed using a VPN," said Bédard when I asked if they could see how many Americans were attempting to connect. "but I can say that yesterday, we saw our two biggest spikes in online viewing when Canada's women's soccer team won over Germany and when Michael Phelps won gold in the 200-metre Butterfly." But it doesn't look like poor scheduling is the only reason the CBC has sustained an audience in the US. On Twitter, the hashtag #DoBetter was directed at an NBC commentator that had mistakenly identified the wife of Brazilian volleyball player Larissa França as her "husband." John Oliver has already demolished the weirdly sexist overtones during the march of Tonga and their very shiny flag bearer Pita Nikolas Taufatofua, who's competing in taekwondo. (CBC also had to issue its own apology for a stupid, sexist comment.) It might also have something to do with the way that NBC sees the games as "packaged" content rather than a documentation of a sporting event. This, uh, not at all crazy thing to say came from a NBC exec during a chat with "…and for the women, they're less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It's sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one." Read more: We Hung Out With Penny Oleksiak's Friends While They Watched Her Win Everything Ignoring the fact that "For the women" is a terrible way to start any sentence, there is already loads of "packaged" content in any Olympic coverage, but that's usually deployed in a way that enhances the events as they're happening. Day also feels the commentary on the CBC is superior because "[NBC] seem[s] to throw anyone in to cover whatever sport just happens to be in that time slot, whether or not they know the rules or fundamentals." (That said, this did bite the CBC when it's best hockey commentator, Elliotte Friedman, confused Phelps and Ryan Lochte in a swimming final, mistakenly giving the fifth-placed Lochte the gold medal.) In case you're in the US and were thinking that there could be change in the near future, NBC will be home to the Olympics until 2032 after a $7.65 billion deal was struck in 2014. So, it will really be up to the audience to demonstrate their desire for better formatted content by turning to other sources or maybe not even watching at all. Follow Bryson on Twitter