All together

Euro 2012 finished in a Spanish triumph, as many predicted at the start of the tournament.  What WAS a surprise was the margin of victory – 4-0 is the biggest gap ever seen in a major football final.  Perhaps even more shocking was the margin of victory for the BBC over ITV.   At Euro 2004, the last time they went head-to-head, the BBC had three times the ITV audience (10.9 million versus 3.4 million).  This time it was an extraordinary six times larger (12.3 million versus 2 million).  It’s surprising when you consider that ITV is the home of Champions League football – people watch it more often for live football than they watch the BBC.  It’s hardly worth ITV bothering to show the programme at all, frankly.

What’s going on?

Let’s assume that the BBC has a better reputation for its football coverage.  Hard to prove, but still. Gary Lineker is very popular, and the BBC had good panels. Then again, if Twitter’s any guide, Mark Lawrenson is hated.  Is Guy Mowbray better than Clive Tyldesley?  Perhaps, but, you know, probably not much.  You could probably swap round the entire teams, apart from Lineker, and audiences would be about the same.  There’s something cosy about the BBC – a warm Match of the Day glow which beats the ITV Champions League buzz.  ITV is associated with entertainment, and the BBC has a more rounded reputation, but sport is meant to be entertaining.  ITV IS associated with advertising breaks.  But six minutes, or whatever, squeezed into half-time, is hardly a lot across nearly two hours.  And are audiences really influenced by that – it’s not as if they wouldn’t be switching around during half time anyway.


But it isn’t really about quality.  And the reputation isn’t about the content.  If I were ITV, I would be asking a few questions:

What audience need does ITV’s football coverage satisfy?  TV succeeds best when it works out what these underlying human needs are and delivers on them… rather than thinking first about the programme.  How does it differ from the BBC’s.

The BBC’s is about:

the unpredictability and drama of sport

+  taking part in a show-piece event

+ being in safe hands

+ tuning in to the station the nation watches as an act of citizenship.

So it’s more than just showing a game.  ITVs seems to be about the unpredictability and drama of sport, but none of the others.

But about about – conviviality – have a party while watching?  Or provide a feeling of being smart, perhaps by providing more graphics or additional camera angles.

In the end, there’s no point in offering the same as the BBC at the same time.  And if ITV1 is too mainstream for experimenting, test it on ITV2 or ITV4 first.

What is ITV’s word of mouth strategy?  Money is tight for promoting its coverage, but if ITV is the biggest commercial TV channel, it should be good at getting people talking. It doesn’t need to be crazy – just imaginative, and framed in terms of what gets people talking (see previous posts)

How can ITV turn its investment into Champions League Football into a reputation for expertise in European football.  The BBC doesn’t even show European football. At the moment, the audience seems to think that ITV shows football but borrowed none of football’s brand values.  ITV’s advert for Euro2012 was an odd fantasy sequence in which England had won every championship for decades… which seemed to reflect traditional images, when it’s ITV’s current expertise in European players that is more interesting.  The ITV advert told us nothing specific about ITV’s coverage.

Are ITV’s on-air talent distinctive?  The BBC relies on a number of ex-players who played together – Hansen, Lawrenson and Lineker are all in their 50s.  Alan Shearer is younger but seems to be respected for his play rather than his footballing insight.  ITV ought to be able to find or poach some distinctive younger voices – ideally with London and or Manchester accents.  Who probably aren’t Andy Townsend.

Years ago, it might have made sense to show the same thing as the BBC.  But not any more.  If ITV1 seems too mainstream to provide a creatively different approach to covering the game, they should have tried putting it onto ITV2 or ITV4, and used ITV1 to show alternative programmes completely.  Ultimately, a match without England playing really doesn’t justify a two-channel head-to-head.


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