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Hockey, ice dancing and social media push 23.5M Canadians to Olympics on Sunday

Canada's men's hockey team beat Austria 6-0 at the Winter Olympics on Feb. 14, 2014 at Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, Russia. CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

A Team Canada men’s hockey game and controversial judging in the ice dancing short program helped convince 23.5 million Canadians to tune into Olympics coverage on Sunday, a high for the Sochi Games so far, says the CBC.

And social media also had something to do with the ratings spurt.

Canada’s tense 2-1 overtime victory over Finland had an average audience of 5.1 million viewers, while 12 million caught at least part of the action.

As many as 4.7 million Canadians saw part of the ice dance short program event, with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir facing off against American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

CBC’s executive producer Chris Irwin says it’s “no coincidence, by any means” that audiences have peaked during the most exciting and critical moments of each event, and credited social media with pushing extra viewers to their nearest screen.

A high of 7.65 million viewers were watching when Drew Doughty scored in overtime for Canada and 1.77 million were tuned in as Davis and White received their world-record score to head into the free skate portion of the competition in first place.

On Saturday, a peak of 3.76 million hockey fans were glued to a marathon shootout between the men’s U.S and Russia teams.

“Twenty years ago you might phone somebody or tell somebody (something was happening on TV) but it wasn’t as easy for you to tell everybody you know what you’re doing right now,” says Irwin.

“If only a million people in Canada who were watching told everybody on their social media (network) that they’re watching something incredible and you should too, you could see how easy it would be for that one million to become 10 million.

“Nobody that I know, really, doesn’t have a phone near them or by them. And certainly most of the younger generations have them with them all the time and tend to be looking at them most of the time. So it’s impossible that social media doesn’t help spread that story fast when something exciting starts to happen.”

CBC says that as of Sunday, 32 million Canadians — or about 92 per cent of the population — had watched some Olympic content in either English or French on TV, a computer or a mobile device.

More than 5.1 million viewers — or about 15 per cent of the population — had streamed an event as of Thursday.

“In the industry we’ve definitely been hearing that Canadians, more so than a lot of other countries, are massive consumers of social media and video,” Irwin says.

“Our appetite as a nation for on-demand content and video content digitally is almost without satiation.”