ANALYSIS: COMMENT - Both sides should win in C4’s cricket broadcasting deal

The old buffers who make up the MCC will be turning the same shade as their mustard-and-tomato club ties. First their club is opened up to women and then commercial TV lands the broadcast contract. For pounds 103 million!

The old buffers who make up the MCC will be turning the same shade

as their mustard-and-tomato club ties. First their club is opened up to

women and then commercial TV lands the broadcast contract. For pounds

103 million!



Harrumph!



But hold on a minute. What few people seem to realise is how

forward-looking the deal is - for both parties. It makes cricket Channel

4’s signature sport - and sport is an area where it’s been weak of late

- and for the English Cricket Board, the deal means an end to years of

comfy co-habitation with the BBC and a venture into the unknown with,

well, an unknown quantity.



In the end, however, what really matters is whether Channel 4 is good

for cricket and whether cricket is good for Channel 4 and, therefore, by

extension, good for advertisers. I reckon everyone wins.



Pundits are making much of the size of the bid, but this seems to me to

miss the point. Sure, the money’s vital, but it’s only part of what the

game needs - the other part being a commitment to stimulate the widest

possible interest from the public.



This, long term, is essential to cricket’s regeneration and is where

Channel 4, according to insiders, beat the BBC, which would not commit

wholeheartedly either to clearing its schedules for cricket or to

running a highlights package at a consistent peak-time slot: all of

which suggests Channel 4 wanted the deal more than the BBC.



What then does the deal offer the people who’ll pay for the coverage,

ie, the advertisers? The answer is: more than we might think. First,

cricket attracts a high audience, certainly at its peaks. Day four of

the first Test against Australia last year pulled in five million

viewers; nearly 45 per cent of AB males claim to watch cricket on TV;

and, significantly, light viewers (145 on the index) are attracted to

it. In Australia, where TV coverage has moved from the public to the

commercial sector, one-day internationals deliver ABC1 male ratings

between 17 and 22, and Tests between 12 and 15. The problem, however, is

that the average viewing levels are much lower because, by the very

nature of the game, viewing is spread over the day. But ask yourself

this: is it conceivable that the game’s off-air sponsors - Vodafone,

NatWest, Rover, Texaco, Cornhill - would not wish to grab airtime in and

around either the live coverage or the prime-time highlights?



If ratings are one part of the argument, another (equally important) is

reach. To advertisers, cricket could attract a new and hitherto

hard-to-reach audience - one, moreover, which normally might not come

near Channel 4. Conversely, the same reach argument could apply for the

game itself if the ethnic minorities Channel 4 naturally attracts are

exposed to the joys of cricket.



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