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Free-to-air exposure brings new audiences to cricket, but F1 and Wimbledon still deliver

Sky Sport’s decision to share coverage of the Cricket World Cup with Channel 4 meant an additional 4.8 million are estimated to have watched the Cricket World Cup final. Ben Cronin, global head, Publicis Sport & Entertainment, interprets the viewing figures for a memorable Sunday of sport.

On perhaps the biggest day in the history of English cricket, plenty of column inches were devoted to Sky Sports’ decision to share its coverage on free-to-air television with Channel 4.

Cricket aficionados would no doubt have been pleased with the decision and the resulting audiences. 16.7 million viewers are estimated to have watched at least a single minute of cricket coverage across the day. The new audiences that the Channel 4 coverage brought to the tournament were also significant: up to July 13th, Sky Sports coverage of the Cricket World Cup had been seen by 9.3 million viewers overall, rising to 18.4 million when including highlights on Channel 4. But by the end of Sunday, the reach for the tournament was 23.9 million, with the live free-to-air coverage on Channel 4 and More 4 adding a further 4.8 million brand new viewers. These were new viewers, stimulating a renewed interest in cricket ahead of what will be a highly talked about Ashes series this summer and, for Sky, potential new subscribers to their pay-television offering.

This is not to say free-to-air coverage is a panacea that will guarantee rights-holders audiences in their millions. During the afternoon, coverage of the cricket shifted to digital terrestrial channel More 4 to accommodate the Formula One on Channel 4 – still free-to-air but harder to find on the channel guide. Viewing was remarkably consistent at around 890,000, peaking at 1.2 million, but falling behind the audiences for the coverage of the Wimbledon men’s final on BBC1 and the British Formula One Grand Prix on Channel 4. These were hardcore cricket fans who resisted the urge to channel-hop that was indulged by the rest of the country during the day. More than half of them did not watch any coverage of the Wimbledon final that day.

The F1 audience held up pretty well considering all of the competition. During the period when all three sports were on, it was more popular than the cricket (2.9 million versus 2.3 million), although the tennis was the most popular thing at that time (4.2 million). Furthermore, amongst people who watched at least some F1, it was the Grand Prix that reigned supreme, with a 2.8 million average audience versus 0.8 million for the cricket and 0.7 million for tennis, lending strength to the theory that F1 fans are loyal to the sport to the exclusion of all others.

The power of the BBC in drawing live sport audiences was comprehensively demonstrated with a peak of 10.3 million viewers at the moment of the thrilling Wimbledon final tie breaker – far exceeding the peaks during the cricket and Formula One (8.3 million and 3.7 million respectively).

For me, it was, above all, the bigger picture that was stunning. Sunday’s super sports showdown drew in 40 per cent of the total potential TV views to watch at least some part of the sporting gala – a total of 24.2 million people and not a minute of football contributed to this number. Just over three million were estimated to have channel hopped all three events, while 10.7 million are estimated to have watched at least two of the three. At a time when mainstream audiences are leaving linear TV for other delivery formats, the power of sport to buck this trend and break into the British consciousness is heartening.

Source: Publicis Sport & Entertainment analysis of overnights audience data provided by BARB.

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