Pulling in the football crowd

ITV faces halving its Saturday evening audience by showing the Premiership highlights, plucked from the BBC, at 7pm.

The Premiership League highlights’ move from BBC to ITV is welcome news for commercial television and advertisers alike. It will generate a young, male-biased audience throughout Saturday afternoon and into the early evening. Additionally, highlights will also be shown on Sundays and Mondays, when there are sufficient Premiership games on those days.

However, ITV’s plan to air the main highlights programme at 6pm or 6.30pm on a Saturday evening may have been scuppered by Sky, and it now looks like the peaktime show will run at 7pm and then be repeated at 11.30pm. This significant change in scheduling may affect viewing patterns and traditional Saturday night behaviour.

There are a number of media issues that need addressing. Firstly, how would audience levels to the terrestrial Premiership highlights be affected, important for all football related marketers? Also, more generally, would ITV’s purchase of these rights improve its overall Saturday night audience?

According to Snapshots, just over half – 57 per cent (65 per cent of whom are 25to 34-year-old men) – of the current Match of the Day (MOTD) audience may or will definitely watch the new ITV slot. Forty-three per cent say it is inconvenient; they, presumably, will watch at 11.30pm. It therefore seems that to improve on the BBC’s audience performance, ITV needs to find additional fans for its peak highlights programme – a more family, female-oriented audience.

But 95 per cent of people polled (and 94 per cent of 25to 34-year-old men) who don’t currently watch MOTD, say they aren’t planning to watch the ITV highlights programme.

These figures suggest that the growth in audience that ITV is pursuing may not arise. Not only that, the scheduling could disrupt its Saturday night viewing patterns, particularly if the BBC schedules strongly against it.

Will the mainly female Blind Date audience stay watching into the football? And will ITV be able to drag back the viewers who switch channels to watch Millionaire? or the film, after the football has finished? ITV will show the later repeat, which should capture the old BBC audience at 11pm. But for the new early evening highlight to be as successful as ITV’s usual Saturday night family schedule, it will have to attract more than double the old MOTD audience.

People’s attitude to change is often different from their actual behaviour. In which case, the licensing trade should expect either postor pre-MOTD arrivals to pubs. It is, however, ITV’s marketing and Saturday night line-up that will be crucial in making the programme the success ITV and advertisers need.

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