Thanks to Lance, the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) registered some of the highest ratings in its nine year history, averaging over 310 000 homes for the nightly prime time coverage, double last years viewing figures.
Saturday’s coverage of the time trial in which Jan Ullrich skidded and crashed, gained a 1.5 rating, equal to about 860,000 homes, an all-time high for the network. The programmer usually gets by on 80 000 viewers for its staple diet of progs on huntin’, fishin’ and rodeos.
OLN chairman Roger Williams said: "Outdoor Life Network’s coverage of the Tour de France shows that niche networks can attract large audiences for major events."
OLN spent just $3m on four-year rights to the Tour in 1999, before Lance Armstrong won his first Tour. The micro-programmer managed to outbid Disney-owned ESPN and ABC to the rights by promising live coverage. Until OLN, US viewers could only watch the Tour via highlights programmes.
Whilst it’s a US programmer, OLN – which was the main employee of Liggett and Sherwen, although they were subcontracted to Venner TV for the ITV coverage – also provided live audio and a few video highlights and interviews on its website www.olntv.com.
During the Tour, OLN aired 12.5 hours of live and recorded cycle-related programmes per day.
OLN is owned by Comcast Corp., the largest cable TV provider in the US. Brian Roberts, Comcast’s chief executive, is a keen cyclist.
Elsewhere in the US, the ratings for the CBS video highlights of Sunday’s final stage were down slightly from last year. The network’s coverage of the final day of the Tour gained a 2.4 overnight rating with a 6 share as compared to a 2.5 with a 6 share in 2002.
CBS televised an hour of the Tour every Sunday during the Tour. The average rating for the network’s three hours of coverage was 2.0 with a 5 share, up slightly from last year’s 1.9 with a 5 share.
Each overnight rating point represents about 735 000 TV homes.
In France, as you’d expect, viewing figures for the Tour are rather high. France 2, one of the Tour sponsors, gained an average of 47 percent audience share for this year’s coverage, up slightly on last year. On key stages, the audience share went up to a whopping 60 percent.
On France3, another Tour sponsor, the first two weeks of the Tour attracted a 29.2 percent audience share, up five percent year on year.
Eurosport has also reported good viewing figures. Laurent-Eric Lay, assistant general manager of Eurosport France said the channel had up to 2.1 million viewers at key points during the Tour with an average of 1 million viewers across Europe, double the figure it averaged last year.
Eurosport’s ratings increased the most in Germany (up 88 percent) and Eastern Europe.
Compared with last year, the overall audience increased by 35 percent.
The evening highlights programme brought in twice as many viewers as in 2002. The Tour de France section at www.eurosport.com set a new record of 35 million page impressions, breaking the site’s highest monthly audience set in June 2002 at the FIFA World Cup.
Despite the graveyard shift times – 1am or thereabouts – ITV1’s highlights programme attracted 300 000 viewers in the UK, an 8 percent share, beating boxing on Five and about the same share gained by Big Brother Live on Channel 4.
The 7pm highlights programme on ITV2 got its highest rating on Monday 21st July, scoring 214 000 viewers, double the highest figure from last year’s ITV2 coverage.
The average rating over the three weeks of Liggett/Sherwen/Imlach coverage was 94 000 viewers.
ITV’s Farhat Siddiqui put this down to "Good scheduling, 7pm is a convenient time; good presentation team, good production; and better awareness, this being the second year of coverage."