England's World Cup debut exceeds expectations

LONDON - Nearly 14m viewers tuned in to watch England's disappointing clash with Sweden, according to overnight Barb ratings.

The game peaked with a massive 30.8 male ratings -- unheard of in the Sunday morning slot, normally the preserve of statutory religious programming.

Generally viewing is down on previous tournaments because of the time difference, but so far the audiences have not been as bad as some had feared.

They are also converting well to the young and upmarket male audience against which ITV will have sold the World Cup to advertisers.

Last Friday's opening game between France and Senegal proved slightly disappointing as it was shown in a more accessible spot to the early morning games. Despite the shock victory for Senegal, just slightly more than three million individuals tuned in to watch the game.

"The BBC will be banking on the next game in that slot -- the small matter of England versus Argentina -- attracting a substantially higher figure," Universal McCann's head of television, Richard Oliver, said.

The BBC's coverage of the Republic of Ireland and Brazil's opening matches drew healthy 5m and 6m individual audiences respectively.

The highlights programmes have so far failed to be a great success. On ITV, the evening highlight show averaged 1.5m viewers but Oliver believes that this will increase as people return to work after the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend with a corresponding downturn in viewing to live games.

Granada Enterprises' managing director, Simon Pardon, said he was broadly pleased with the results so far and that the figures were in line with expectations.

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