All signs were pointing towards a good night in the ratings book for Versus on Thursday, with Alexander Ovechkin(notes), the Boston market, Joe Sakic(notes) Night and a very strong ad campaign luring in viewers.
As the network crowed today, it was a very good night:
VERSUS, the exclusive cable television home of the NHL, dropped the puck on its fifth year of coverage with the most-watched NHL opening night in network history with a total of 832,781 viewers tuning in for the Bruins/Capitals and Avalanche/Sharks games.
Locally, VERSUS was one of the top-rated cable networks in all four markets (Boston, Washington, D.C., Denver and San Jose).
Oh, and it wouldn't be a Versus ratings party without giving a little grief to their current arch rivals:
"Despite DirecTV shutting out millions of hockey fans from seeing last night's games, VERSUS still garnered its best NHL regular season opening night ever," said Jamie Davis, President of VERSUS. "The momentum of this network has not slowed down at all and we're doing everything we can to reach an agreement with DirecTV to ensure that hockey fans won't continue to miss the terrific match-ups we have on our schedule all season long."
Versus has been playing the "ratings momentum" card for the last month in this dispute, with viewership numbers up in various demographics and day-parts year to year despite being off DirecTV. This opening night audience adds to that theme, and probably gives Versus a little more evidence against DirecTV's claims that it's a ratings loser.
DirecTV, meanwhile, has updated its placeholder screen where Versus was located with a more detailed message that paints Versus as "unfair," "outrageous" and ignorant of the economic struggles for most Americans. But it doesn't call the network a collection of infomercials with occasional sporting events, so we're clearly making some progress.