England is just one victory away from competing in a Euro 2020 final on home territory. Fans are nearly as jubilant as national broadcaster ITV, which will have exclusive rights to the semi-final on Wednesday and will share the final on Sunday. Ahead of England's clash with Denmark which is expected to be the most viewed television event of the year so far, we hear how ITV is going to capitalize on record viewing figures in linear and digital viewing during this flash of football fortune.
Picking the games
In the UK, the BBC and ITV come together in a diplomatic fashion to split the Euro 2020 games they’ll broadcast in a scene reminiscent of teams being picked at gym class. Some matches are much more appealing than others.
Ben Allen, director of commercial strategy and trading at ITV, tells The Drum: “We have a long relationship with the BBC going through the sporting tournament. We are aware of each other’s sensitivities.” For ITV, the picks are a joint effort between scheduling, commissioning and commercial, each of which will have different priorities. “Obviously, we want to bank England matches because, commercially, they are the crown jewel.”
But grabbing games during peak viewing times and banking teams with glamour players of interest to UK viewers also comes into consideration. Finally, each broadcaster explores what is already in the schedule. The BBC, for example, won’t want to waste its picks clashing with Wimbledon. And as a non-commercial broadcaster, BBC scheduling is a priority in a way it won’t fully be at ITV, which is looking for the choicest opportunity to run prime-time ads.
The group stage coverage was divvied out back in December 2019 before we found out the tournament would be delayed. Then came the knockouts. The BBC drew first, as per the terms of its broadcasting contract. There’s a gamble here – the national broadcasters generally want to secure the matches closer to the final, but risk England not making these stages, resulting in lower viewerships.
The BBC snapped up England v Germany, the first knockout game, and then what turned out to be England v Ukraine on BBC One. ITV, betting ahead, took a semi-final which, as luck would have it, now features England and Denmark. To illustrate the stakes: the quarter-final, Ukraine v England, became the most-watched program of the year on BBC One, achieving a peak of 20.9 million viewers. Having missed out on that windfall, ITV can now look forward to an even higher audience for the England v Denmark semi and content itself that its patience will be rewarded.
As Allen says: “It came to fruition, the plan paid off.”
44 million people tuned into ITV’s coverage of Euro 2016. Five years later, ITV’s outlook is wildly different. First, England was knocked out by minnows Iceland in that tournament, ensuring to disengage many casual fans.
Now if England makes it to the final, ITV and the BBC will be competing for viewers. Will the ad-free broadcaster win, or will the extra bells and whistles on the commercial broadcaster seize the viewers?
It matters not – both will secure huge audiences. There is one issue though: many of ITV’s Euro 2020 packages were sold in 2020, before anyone but the most optimistic England media buyer could've predicted the team would do so well, and many advertisers chose to defer their spend. It was a tricky year, filling out the spots or managing movement. Allen says: “This time around we were picking things up. It was more difficult obviously because you never really knew whether things were going to go ahead.”
The vast majority of ad space was bought upfront, meaning brands too were gambling on England going the distance.
Lauren Gore, AV associate director at MediaCom, says: “The cost of a spot can vary significantly depending on factors such as your second length, trading audience, negotiated premium and, of course, where in the match your spot features.”
Generally, a 30-second spot in a pre-match chat break will cost in the region of £65k, whereas a spot in the halftime break could command a cost upwards of £500k. The average for the knockouts probably sits at around £200k. With England perhaps reaching a final, demand will drive prices much higher for what few spots remain.
Allen is reluctant to talk prices, due to the fluctuating nature of packages and the fact ITV, as a PLC, is sitting on this information until its results statement in a few weeks.
But when we talk price, he responds on value: “The Euros offers a unique opportunity to reach a huge audience of young upmarket men. It isn’t an opportunity that presents itself every day. You’d have to cover a lot of bases to reach that scale of that target audience, it’s not easy.”
England v Czech Republic attracted 25% of the UK’s young upmarket men, a desirable advertising segment. Allen thinks the Denmark game on Wednesday will reach 40%. And it’s a final young upmarket men will not want to miss.
Meanwhile, buyer Gore points out that ITV has changed schedules around peak England games to allow for “extra chat breaks to accommodate all the increased demand”. She asks, how many instances of appointment viewing do you truly see in 2021 – an event an entire nation must watch live that will be talked about for generations to come?
“If you don’t watch it live there is no way you’ll be able to avoid the outcome. The excitement around the Euros has been a welcome distraction for the country, viewing figures have been huge and they’re expected to continue to grow as England progress through the competition.”
In this cycle, ITV’s been building out its VOD and addressable ad products. England games are seeing roughly a quarter or a fifth live streaming – here, at least, linear remains king. But Allen’s quick to point out this is fast changing. 4.8 million unique viewers streamed the England v Scotland group game, a record for the broadcaster. And 1.2 million clocked in to France v Germany, its third-highest figure. In its Planet V media buying program, special Euros packages were built for advertisers to target people viewing the games and accompanying content.
Allen’s keen to accommodate viewers, no matter where they will be. In fact, he propped up Ukraine’s capitulation on a glass in a restaurant via his mobile and the ITV Hub. Many a viewer will be watching in equally desperate terms.
Gore says: “The audience is expected to be broad; a semi-final with England playing isn’t just a match for core football fans. Most people are going to be watching the match with friends or family. In today’s fragmented market it’s becoming increasingly rare to be able to reach such a huge audience with one spot.”
Until the Euros, the most-watched programs of the year were The Prime Minsterial Statement on BBC One (averaged 14.1 million), the final instalment of Line of Duty on BBC One (averaged 12.9 million) and Oprah With Harry & Meghan on ITV1 (averaged 11.7 million).
There’s a hunger for these big moments, be it the Euros or Love Island on ITV, and that’s reflected on who Allen’s been dealing with in recent months. “We’ve not just seen traditional clients come back and invest heavily, we’ve seen digital native brands now invest heavily. There does seem to be a sort of reappraisal of TV again.”