Viewing Figures – A Ramble Through Facts

We’ve another guest post from Andy Oliver, this time about the viewing figures for cricket over the last few years.  It’s a subject that isn’t easy to find hard facts on given the reticence of Sky to tell anyone how many people watch of course.  As ever with a guest post, our sincere thanks to Andy for writing it, and he’ll be around to answer any questions – or of course you can track him down on Twitter – @oshodisa

Don’t forget we’ve also got Man In a Barrel’s piece about county finances – that you can find here: https://beingoutsidecricket.com/2017/02/17/guest-post-a-look-at-county-finances/


 

A topic of discussion that comes around occasionally is that due to Sky’s lockout of coverage, there is nowhere near as many viewers of cricket as there was 10 years ago.

How true is this?  Has anyone seen any facts, figures or discussion?  I bow to any MSM who have covered this but I cannot recall coming across that many actual facts or discussion (queue the first reply being a list of 4 articles covering the same ground!).  We often hear that 8m people watched at one point of 2005 Ashes, but no one ever says how many people watched ‘Cooks Redemption’ (TM Nasser 2015) Ashes victory.

A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me…

I’ve gathered this information from barb.co.uk, so cannot vouch for its accuracy, but they appear to be an industry body and say all the right things.  It’s been interesting seeing what info can be found on their website.  To generate their stats they have something like 5000 homes who provide a representative selection of the population.  These homes have automatic program trackers fitted to keep a log of what is watched.  They are then multiplied up to give a number of viewers and Bob’s your uncle.

The data publically available is not particularly user friendly for this type of research (There is a lot of data that I’ve had to plough through one weekly graph at a time).  I think that each individual result is an average for the duration of the program, rather than peak viewers at any given moment.  For example, the 4th(?) Ashes test in 2005 peaked at 8 million viewers but the program averaged 4 million viewers.  Please bear this in mind as I write below – I may play a little loose with terminology, but unless I explicitly state anything different, I mean the average number of viewers in any given broadcast as reported by BARB (so the 4 million, not the 8 million).  I’ve had to make a few educated guesses where info is not available or a particular programme is off the bottom of the week’s viewing figures.

 

Only the Facts Ma’am…

Since 2012 we have the following showing the maximum number of viewers any single day of a Test match play received.

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Most viewers 497,000 647,000 429,000 805,000 427,000

 

So it’s a bit up and down, but arguably viewing figures are sitting at an even level with intermittent peaks, but what do they represent?  Well, 2015 and 2013 were Ashes years.  It appears that Australia have a large impact on how many people watch cricket on Sky.

Non-Ashes years appear ‘stable’ between 400,000 – 500,000, but our Australian friends give us a significant boost.

So a bit of judicious reviewing of Australia’s last four visits (including you know when) gives us;

 

Test vs Australia
2015 2013 2009 2005
Most viewers 647,000 805,000 1,109,000 4,630,000

So, the most viewed single day’s play attracted over 4.6 million viewers (average remember, not peak) in 2005, and this has declined to less than 650,000 viewers in 2015.  Sky have lost up to 4 million people who showed an interest in cricket back when it was free to air on Channel 4.

Where have all these fans gone?

And remember that these are the most watched days of play.  The average viewers for the series shows us;

 

2015 2013 2009 2005
Average viewers across series 360,444 470,434 668,190 2,760,000

 

Again, this is a significant decline from on average 2.7 million people watching a series to just over 360,000 people.

So, talking broadly, about half the peak viewers for any given broadcast stay on to watch more of a series than just one day.  This number will be swung by rain days / early finishes – but I would not have thought it would be that significant to massively affect the above.

Why are people not watching as much cricket?  Is it the time it takes (this is an assessment of Test matches remember), or is it the quality of the matches?  Obviously the opposition matters, but why has the number of viewers even for Australia decreased?

Are the ECB aware of these numbers?  Do they even care given that Sky are currently happy to fill their schedules with easy to produce programming and pay the ECB handsomely for it?  Do Sky care given that cricket costs peanuts compared to how much they pay for football?  I wonder how much Sky makes on subscriptions and advertising for their £65 million yearly investment with the ECB.

Let’s take a quick look at the top three viewed broadcasts for the last 4 Ashes.

2015 2013 2009 2005
Top three viewed broadcasts 647,000 805,000 1,109,000 4,630,000
476,000 701,000 1,033,000 4,030,000
471,000 668,000 951,000 3,370,000

 

This gives an idea of how sustainable the top viewing figures are.  As we can see, 2005 quickly loses over a million viewers, but equally it is just one day’s play that kept the peak of 2015 above the half million mark (no prizes if you guessed that was Broads 8-fer-peanuts at Trent Bridge (I think)).  Both have lost about a quarter of their viewers between the peak and the third place broadcasts.

I presume that this is a normal pattern as there will be peaks and troughs – especially over the course of a test summer, but the raw reach of cricket appears to be significantly diminishing.

 You can’t handle the Truth!

No matter how it is spun, Test cricket attracts fewer TV viewers year on year.  Is this because test cricket it boring (dominated by home series advantage), or because it does not have the visibility of (until recently) the IPL.  At least the IPL was available on ITV 4.  That may be another one to look at – viewers between IPL on ITV and Sky.

In fact;

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
IPL finals 116,000* 100,000* 536,000 398,000 469,000
77,000 59,000

 

The IPL changed from ITV to Sky from 2015… hmmm, there is a pattern here!

A note about the Sky numbers – The final match was not on the ten most watched list on BARB (Or I could not find it), so I put the highest match actually watched in that week.  Not perfect, but it’s something to go on.  The 2nd numbers in Sky’s stewardship are the 10th most watch programme in the week the final took place (on the channel they were showing the IPL on).  Suggesting that the IPL final got fewer viewers than 59,000 and 77,000 for 2015 and 2016 respectively.

If that is correct… Wow…   Wow…

For all the good that Sky have brought to cricket; the technology, the quality, the analysis (back when they did that well – but I remember first encountering Hughes as the Analyst on Channel 4, when he did actual analysis properly), etc, they seem to have form for slashing the viewing numbers a sport used to get on Free to Air, and for reducing its availability and visibility.

But, a quick look at the last World T20: when England got Brathwaited in the final.  This tournament was in India so time zones come into play for a start, but Sky got over a million viewers for the final.  In fact England’s lowest number of viewers was 323,000 against Afghanistan on a Wednesday, which is basically as much as the peak number of viewers Sri Lanka got in the May tests which followed soon after.

So maybe there is hope there, that there are people who are interested.

If you build it, they will come…

Maybe we have seen in all the above that the broadcasters/ECB should be using T20 and ODIs as a gateway into Test cricket, not as an alternative.  Not everyone will make the transition, especially when Test cricket is sometimes dry, boring and predictable.

Thinking about that – any guesses for how many people watch the Blast Final (or whatever it was called before that).  I might have come across these at the same time as looking for the above.

2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Blast 262,000 229,000 384,000 245,000 433,000
Leic 0 v Ars 0 Tot 0 v Eve 0 Eve 2 v Ars 2 SWA 1 v ManU 4 not on tv
BT sports Sky Sky Sky
608,000 691,000 946,000 1,833,000

 

At least the Blast appears to get more viewers than the IPL!

The Blast final is on a Saturday afternoon/evening so I’ve found the equivalent Premier League game on TV at approximately the same time.

As you can see there is a big decrease from the Premier league viewers to those watching the Blast final, but maybe not as much as I might have expected.  I would have thought more games on a Saturday evening would have got over 1 million viewers, but evidently not.

The football is just a diversion from the above table though.  In reality the Blast figures should be compared with other cricket.  Now making a comparison against Test matches is like comparing apples and oranges, but at least they are still fruit.

As we can see from the above information in 2016 more than twice as many watched Tests as they did  the Blast. That must be a scary stat for the ECB, and it’s no wonder they want to re-tool the Blast into a different competition.

Houston, We Have A Problem…

On a personal note (and one that may be echoed by those who read this), I have seen club cricket slowly wither as people participate less and less.  There are a number of reasons for this (my own personal reason is that I have a toddler now who takes up a lot of my time so I cannot justify spending 15 Saturdays over summer out and about like I used to).

But the number of teams that struggle to get a side out, or fold half way through the season seems to be increasing (purely anecdotal, but it does feel that way).

My village pushed forward on the back of 2005.  That was a watershed ‘rebirth’ of the aging side.  We (the royal we, I wasn’t around then!) had a massive influx of juniors who saw the Ashes and wanted some of it.  They are still playing now and are vital young 20 somethings.  We don’t see that now though.  Most of the Sunday juniors are there because it’s free child-minding for the parents (again anecdotal, but from a senior member of the club who does the training).  Often the kids don’t seem that interested.

Why are fewer people playing cricket?  Why are fewer people watching cricket?  Does it take too much time, do people not like the characters associated with the game (either watching it, playing it or dare I say reporting it)?  Are there no heroes to worship (Mine was Atherton growing up…. No, I don’t know why….).  Nowadays people want to bat like Pietersen, Gayle, Kohli, Butler etc.  This is great – but these talents need to be put on display so that more people see them and want to emulate them.

I’m serious… and don’t call me Shirley

What’s the solution for getting cricket back into the public consciousness?  I’m sure greater people than me are actively working on the problem (or at least I hope to God they are).  I know it’s been discussed on and off here on BOC.

I’m not sure getting Test cricket on FTA TV would work.  Not in the short term at least, however there must be a way to get the Blast or some international ODIs/T20s on there.

I don’t watch Premiership rugby, but usually enjoy sitting down to the World Cup or Six Nations.  I’m probably the definition of a fair weather fan where rugby is concerned.

I would watch rugby because it is available.  If it had been available for me to play when I was younger/fitter I might have gone in that direction.  I don’t hunt down rugby on Sky/BT now.  I don’t have the time nor the inclination, but I do watch rugby free to air; I know about the sport and in the future I might start going to matches & watching more.

Where is the draw for the fans in cricket?

It may not be the answer, but it surely must be the starting point.  Everyone agrees that there are more ‘distractions’ available for kids growing up.  They may not sit down in front of TV and be glued for a day (like I was way back when).  But they are certainly not going to sit down in front of Sky and watch it.

It’s all well and good catering to the hardcore fans (is that us?), who go to games, despite the cost, who pay for Sky, despite the cost.  Just to actually see some action.  But where is the next generation going to come from?  Launching a Twitter channel is not engaging new fans.  They won’t go looking for it without hearing/seeing some cricket.

This is a Twitter exchange I happened to see from dear old Bumble.  Don’t know what started it, or the exact details, but it highlights the mindset.  If you put it there, people will come, which isn’t true, you need to make people come.  The only people who check Sky/ECB Twitter are people who are already fans.  This is not enough;

tweet

 

The ECB need to decide what they want from their cricket.  Do they want Sky’s (or BT Sport’s which is another topic) pounds, or do they want to get more people watching it (live and on TV), more people talking about it and ultimately more people playing it.

You be the jury…

This has been a WWAAAYYYYY longer article than I ever intended, so well done if you have stayed with me to the end.  Please tell me what you think?  I could have gone into early summer versus prime summer, what happened on those ‘most watched’ days, what day of the week got the most viewers, ODIs & T20Is, World Cups (more than I did) and who knows what else.   It’s probably a good job I stopped here!

And my topic headers will be no challenge to anyone who has done the Crossword!

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