Sky News election debate created excellent publicity for Sky News, says Julian Clover.
Halfway through the British General Election campaign and there may already be a winner. Sky News, which was a leading voice in trying to persuade the party leaders to participate in a series of leader debates for the first time, claimed its prize on Thursday night.
For Sky News the presence of the debate is more defining for the channel than the third and final debate that will be simulcast on BBC One and the BBC News channel the following week. Poster sites and newspaper ads will no doubt remind the public at large that they can receive Sky News without subscription – and that the 21-year old broadcaster will also use the debate to kick start its new high definition channel.
The majority of the 91% of the country already receiving digital services can receive Sky News, the exception being those who receive their signals via a relay transmitter and the one million Freesat homes, which based on the audience for the first debate could give an unlikely reach of around eight million people. This did not stop this morning’s Daily Telegraph bemoaning that two million homes will miss out because the event is not being shown on ‘terrestrial’ TV. For terrestrial read analogue, though a re-run will be on BBC Two later in the evening, along with a live relay on the BBC News Channel, Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live (and to think it’s not the BBC’s turn until next week).
The Telegraph is one of several websites that along with The Guardian and ITV.com will be streaming the debate. Neither the Telegraph or The Guardian are best friends with Rupert Murdoch, so they clearly didn’t ask to see the studio plans and the positioning of the newly refreshed Sky News logo when they signed the contract.
At its peak last week ITV achieved an audience of 10.2 million. Sadly, Sky News does not have the advantage of Coronation Street playing immediately before its debate; even so there is the potential that Sky News will pick up the highest ever multichannel audience.
There must also be some sort of Clegg-style halo effect from which Sky News will benefit, and use to further build its audience during the first few months of the new government. Surely this was part of the calculation when Sky began its campaign to televise the debates in the first place.
The performance of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg during the first debate has so far helped transform his party’s election prospects and putting the governing Labour Party and the opposition Conservatives under serious pressure. It has also wrong footed the right-leaning press that realises the Conservatives may not form the next government after all.
Mischievously I have been wondering what might happen if Sky News doesn’t get the audience it is hoping for. Will the inevitable clips that are bound to dominate the news bulletins in the immediate aftermath, Icelandic ash clouds permitting, enough to redress the balance of any failure in democracy.
Friday Update: Overnight audience figures show Sky News achieved an audience of 2.125 million viewers for its Leaders’ Debate broadcast. The simulcast on the BBC News channel added 1.362 million and Sky 3 586,000. A total of 4.073 million. This represents a little under half the ITV1 audience the previous week.