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Comments by YACCS
Monday, July 03, 2006

The O'Brien problem

(Alex Grimm/Reuters)
For ABC/ESPN, a Big TV Audience Gained and Lost
Categories: announcers

As much as everyone makes fun of American TV coverage of the World Cup — including Budweiser ads in the U.K. — it is also true that the ratings for this World Cup are through the roof in the U.S., more than double those of 2002. That’s largely because most of the games in 2002 were on at 5 a.m. or similar ungodly hours, while this year they are on at much more civil times in the morning and afternoon. Still, the numbers are remarkable, for both English-language and Spanish-language telecasts.

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported Tuesday that Univision’s audience — 1,442,000 households — is up 133 percent from 2002. ABC has averaged 3,739,000 viewers for eight weekend games, up 103 percent from 2002. ESPN’s audience (1,370,000 households) is up 150 percent, and ESPN2’s (938,000 households), is up 66.7 percent.

The big jump in the Spanish-language ratings included the June 10 Mexico-Iran match, which was the No. 1 weekend daytime program among adults 18-34 for any network, Spanish or English. That figure was surpassed by the June 24 Mexico-Argentina game, with an audience of 6.7 million, making it the single largest sportscast among Hispanic viewers ever, including Super Bowls, and the fifth-most-watched Spanish-language telecast of any kind, ever.

On the English-language side, Crain’s Television Week reported on June 19, the U.S.-Czech game was the highest-rated telecast of any kind on ESPN2 so far this year.

But to get the full impact of the increase in viewership, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted, you have to add the ABC/ESPN rating to the Univision rating.

“If you take the rating for the U.S.-Italy match on ABC (4.4),” the Journal-Sentinel reported, “and combine it with the Univision rating for the match (1.7), you get a 6.1, which makes it the weekend’s most-watched daytime event, beating the U.S. Open golf tournament and the NASCAR auto race in Michigan.”

The big question is how many English-language viewers are watching Univision. A lot, if you go by the many comments on this blog from non-Spanish-speakers who say they’ve switched to the Spanish-language network from ABC and ESPN. But how many? Crain’s Television Week reports:

This season Univision has been measured as part of the Nielsen Television Index as well as the Nielsen Hispanic Television Index, providing a daily reminder that it draws more viewers than The WB and UPN and that its shows often beat the Big 4 networks in the 18-to-34 demographic.

And while there are yet no hard statistical evidence, there are anecdotal examples of English-speaking viewers opting to watch the Univision broadcast in bars, health clubs and offices.

Four years ago, about 15 million of the 35 million people who watched the World Cup on Univision were non-Spanish speakers, according to a Univision spokesperson.

That sort of research is not yet available for this year. But a spokesperson for the Univision station in New York said that the difference between the number of Univision viewers registered in Nielsen’s general market panel could be accounted for by non-Spanish speakers watching the game on Univision.

During the Poland-Germany game June 12, the Hispanic panel shows 135,000 viewers for WXTV in New York, while the general market panel gave the station 191,000 viewers — a 60,000-person difference.

If Univision’s estimates are correct, in 2002 about 43 percent of the viewers watching the World Cup on the network were primarily English-speakers. For the June 12 game between Poland and Germany (a match that presumably would not have had strong appeal for a Spanish-language audience), that figure was a lower 29 percent, though it was for New York only.

But even if those estimates are exaggerated, even if they’re twice as high as is really the case, that would mean that ABC/ESPN is losing 15 percent of its quite large World Cup audience to Univision. And that loss is due solely to those viewers being driven away by the big American network’s approach to televising the World Cup.

We’re no TV executives, but that cannot be good business.

To be fair, ESPN/ABC has never tried to show every game live before. Univision has. ESPN needed to pull one of their MLS announcers, and couldn't because the season was still going.

But the fact was that they invested in the WC with caution because they didn't expect this response. Now, they had people tuning in, people who understood the game, and the English broadcast was severely lacking. ESPN went into this with the attitude that a decent audience would be enough. They never expected the level of ratings they got, which is why so many games were on ESPN 2. When it turned out that there was a massive audience for soccer, some new, some people who grew up in the game and now could express their interest in the sport.

People expected changes earlier, but the fact is that soccer has had the benefit of increased TV visibility, exploding leagues and the first generation of soccer players reaching adulthood. Americans have many sports to choose from, but the reality is that with 18 million kids playing soccer, this is the only team sport many Americans will ever play recreationally. It isn't a foreign language any more. With Fox Soccer Channel and Sirius doing live Premiership games, there is clearly a profitable soccer audience in the US.

It doesn't hurt that hockey decreased in visibility and the games were broadcast live during the day, in an era when American championship games mostly take place at night. The reporting on the World Cup has also improved across the board, it isn't just relegated to a page in the back.

Why? Because there is interest in soccer which is more broadbased than people believe.

posted by Steve @ 3:54:00 AM

3:54:00 AM

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