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World Cup woes hit French, Italian broadcasters

Updated: 2010-06-29 10:58

World Cup woes hit French, Italian broadcasters

COLOGNE, Germany  – The World Cup has proved a ratings juggernaut so far for broadcasters around the globe, and the first matches in the football tournament's second round didn't disappoint.

But with many big teams now out of the running, viewership figures, and the attendant advertising revenue, could fall faster than the dashed hopes of fans in the U.S., England, France and Italy. Channels such as France's TF1, Sky Italia and Britain's ITV saw their ratings bonanza come to an end as their respective home sides failed to progress.

Since advertising rates are usually substantially higher if the home team is playing, those broadcasters could also be facing millions in lost earnings. TF1, for example, charges 160,000 euros ($197,000) for a 30-second spot on the network if France is playing, but only 90,000 euros ($111,000) if the team not. Advertisers who would have paid 175,000 euros ($215,000) for a commercial for a quarter final game featuring Les Bleus now get the discount rate of 85,000 euros ($105,000), sans-France.

Nearly 20 million fans in England braved their country's crushing 4-1 defeat to Germany on BBC1 Sunday but, the slavish loyalty of disappointed fans aside, England's exit will have a significant impact on the ratings hopes of ITV and the BBC, which are sharing the U.K. rights. Matches where England hasn't played have rated between a third and half of the 18 million-20 million-strong audiences who have tuned in to England games.

Things are even worse in Italy, where the country's finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, said Monday the country's early elimination will shave one percentage point off GDP growth in the near term. The drop is based not just on lower spending directly related to the World Cup but also because the Italian team's dismal performance has added to the country's economic malaise.

The impact of the U.S. team's 2-1 extra-time loss to Ghana last Saturday won't be nearly as significant. But it's questionable whether networks ESPN and ABC can hit the ratings peaks they have seen so far this tournament. A reported 14.9 million Americans watched the U.S.-Ghana game on ABC and an additional 4.5 million on Spanish-language network Univision. ESPN and ABC's World Cup coverage has averaged a 1.8 rating and 2.8 million viewers, a 48% jump on numbers from the 2006 World Cup. Without the U.S., Mexico or England progressing to the quarter finals, however, the final matches will test how many true soccer fans there are in America.

Things look brighter in Asia, where audiences appear to be tuning in despite local favorites South Korea being knocked out. In South Korea, 65.3% of local viewers watched their team's final game against Uruguay on Saturday, a figure unlikely to be matched for the remainder of the tournament. Japan is now carrying the flag for the Asian region as it heads into its second-round match-up against Paraguay on Tuesday.

For broadcasters lucky enough to be backing the winning squads, the World Cup keeps on giving. A total of 25.6 million viewers watched Germany trounce England on public network ARD, making for a record 87% market share. Even Argentina's 3-1 victory over Mexico Sunday evening drew an impressive 12.8 million viewers, a 41% share, for commercial network RTL. Germany's quarter-final game against Argentina on Saturday could even top the 29 million viewer record set in 2006 when Germany lost to Italy in the Cup's semi-finals.

Those networks without a home team to back may have to wait for the tournament's last match on July 11. Whatever squads are playing, the World Cup finals remain a reliable global ratings draw.