Just how is new entrant ESPN doing in the TV ratings and what about HD channels. Julian Clover investigates.
Brands in multichannel television come and go with alarming regularity, as do the programmes that they show, so from time to time it is worth stepping off the merry-go-round and looking at the horses.
UK television audience figures are gathered by Barb, an organisation owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BSkyB and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. In January this year Barb introduced a new panel of 5,180 homes that in tests had reported an uplift in viewing of 4% when compared to the previous panel. In 2010, some 300 itemised channels will be recorded. There are of course many more available across the various digital TV platforms and some large genres, specifically shopping channels where the currency is pounds spent, are largely missing.
One of the key changes in the television landscape during 2009 was the demise of Setanta Sports and the emergence of ESPN. The Disney-owned network was already present with ESPN Classic and what is now branded as ESPN America, but in securing Setanta’s two Premier League packages for the 2009/10 season the game was changed.
Like Setanta, ESPN benefits from distribution in Virgin Media’s ‘big basic’ package. Its agreement with Sky also establishes a presence on the platform that Setanta was never able to create. However, the audiences are still small, an average 2 minutes average weekly viewing or a 0.1% share in November 2009. 12 months previous Setanta managed 4 minutes or a 0.3% viewing share.
A Sky Sports 1 Super Sunday match can typically pull in around two million viewers, for example 1.86 million for Arsenal v Chelsea on November 29, the leading programme that week. The other end of the Top 30 has a re-run of EastEnders on BBC Three with 670,000 viewers. That same weekend ESPN’s screening of Aston Villa v Tottenham, at 17.00 on Saturday, pulled in 430,000, respectable, though outside the Top 30.
In between are shows from BBC Four, ITV2, More 4, Sky 1 and Fiver. The spin-of of the Big 5 channels benefitting from their wider distribution on the terrestrial Freeview platform.
The ESPN figures are more than respectable when compared to other multichannel services. Watch, the UKTV entertainment channel that benefits from BBC content and high EPG placing, has its top shows in December pulling in between 124,000 (Total Wipeout USA) and 202,000 (The Wedding Singer). It’s stablemate GOLD has more favourable figures for its comedy diet and can achieve 411,000 for Only Fools and Horses, a comedy that one would expect everyone in Britain has already seen ten times. Who says repeats are bad.
HD channels don’t tend to report, largely because for most the output is a simulcast of the standard definition channels. But we found BBC HD’s Christmas Day treat Doctor Who with 470,000 – four weeks earlier the top show Strictly Come Dancing had 229,000 viewers – and History HD’s AX Men with an audience of 12,000 (w/c December 27). National Geographic HD’s Earth Investigated recorded 20,000 viewers.