But the ratings are poor. Just 25 000 Brits tune in on their digital tellies, or via their ITV set-top boxes, for the afternoon, live coverage of the Tour de France. This compares to 700 000 viewers in 2000 for the long-standing Channel 4 coverage. The first weekly highlights programme on terrestial ITV got 300 000 viewers.

ITV2 is said to be happy with Le Tour’s ABC1 audience

ITV2 press and PR officer Farhat Siddiqui said ratings would improve as the race wears on.

"We’re expecting ratings to increase as the competition progresses. The first week’s live ratings are very respectable for ITV2, especially as we’re broadcasting during working afternoons and late in the evening. The figures are below the average for the slot, but the Tour brings in the valuable ABC1 male audience important to advertisers.

"We’re delighted with the tour’s performance so far, and the quality of our coverage. We look forward to bringing cycling fans the most comprehensive free-to-air coverage available as the race continues to hot up."

"The event is very good commercially for ITV2 as every ad break has been solidly booked throughout the entire race."

The ratings are as follows:

Live, daytime coverage averaged 25 000, or 0.6 percent share in multichannel homes across the first week, peaking at 53 000, or 0.9 percent share in multichannel homes on Sunday, July 7th.

The 11pm highlights programmes average 36 000, or 0.6 percent share in multichannel homes, peaking at 65 000, or 1.2 percent share, on 11th July.

Sunday’s highlights programme did much better, getting 83 400 viewers (a 1.3 percent share).

The ITV2 coverage is fronted by Gary Imlach with commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. This is the same team used by Channel 4 in the final years of its coverage of the race. The relatively high ratings for the Channel 4 coverage was very much down to the time slot, usually just before the seven o’clock news. Ratings started to waver when Channel 4 transmitted the Tour coverage at erratic times, often in post-midnight slots.

In 2001, Channel 4 sold on the final three years of its broadcast contract to ITV in a £2.5m deal.

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