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World Cup is doing no favours for 'Here & Now'

We are only about a third of the way into the World Cup soccer schedule, which concludes with its championship game on July 13. 

Fans of soccer – football, for the rest of the world – are over the moon about it all.

The folks at CBC "Here & Now" are probably not so happy, because the World Cup is knocking them off schedule and probably diminishing their audience.

According to the schedule posted at CBC’s web site, "Here & Now’s" regular start times are being pushed back – and the program shortened – by live World Cup broadcasts. Of the 22 weekdays in the schedule, Here & Now airs only six times in its regular slot.

I am not going to criticize World Cup Soccer. I have watched bits and pieces and I’m impressed by the artistry of it, especially the way players can “bend” the ball into some ridiculous curves. But those moments are the exception – in my view, too much time is spent puttering around the neutral zone.  

The bottom line is, World Cup soccer has not taken hold or caught fire in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yes, a lot of people are into it but nowhere near as many who tuned into the NHL playoffs while Montreal was still in the running. I would say the popularity of the World Cup in this province lags somewhere behind interest in the playoffs AFTER Montreal was eliminated, which, you will have to agree, was pretty darn low.

In other words, the majority of people who tune in at 5:30 or 6 p.m. are expecting to watch the evening news. When "Here & Now" viewers see a soccer game, they mutter something unprintable and switch over to the "NTV Evening Newshour."

How many times have you done this already? I do it every day.

In its program announcement, CBC reminds us that we can watch online. But how many of us have a computer at the supper table?

Yes, the program airs a bit later – at 6:30 or 7:30 p.m. – but it’s called “supper hour” news for a reason. Once finished eating we are out the door, hiking, mowing the lawn, getting the groceries, whatever. We do have the option of recording the show or watching later online but, unless there is a story we really want to see, few of us are likely to do that.

I could (and intend to) write a lengthy commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of both "Here & Now" and the "NTV Evening Newshour." There is neither time nor space to do so here. Suffice to say that NTV’s program is solid and informative, a perfectly acceptable alternative to "Here & Now."

You can do this once in a while and viewers will accept it. But when you mess with the schedule for an entire month, that has to do some damage.

The potential long-term impact is that some viewers will like what they see on NTV and not return to CBC when the World Cup concludes.

If "Here & Now" was the No. 1 news show in the province, this would not be such a problem. But the show is still struggling to catch up to the "NTV Evening Newshour," which is way out front in the ratings.

The solution would be to interrupt the World Cup game in this market with a shortened version of "Here & Now," while directing soccer fans to live coverage at the website. That way, the airtime would remain consistent, viewers would stay on station and ratings would not be affected. But it’s not a solution that can be implemented, because CBC’s broadcast agreement with FIFA likely doesn’t allow such fiddling.

I’m sure the people who run CBC know what they are doing – that the World Cup will be a net benefit for the national network – but it’s wreaking havoc on the local schedule and is going to pull "Here & Now’s" ratings even lower.

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