Record breaking 8m Brits streamed England’s Qatar World Cup opener on iPlayer
England’s 2022 World Cup opener against Iran opened to a peak of 16 million in Qatar, for the first time iPlayer registered as many viewers as the linear BBC1 channel.
We crunch the numbers of the opening World Cup matches
In the 1pm winter slot on Monday November 21 – clearly not a box office position – England routed Iran 6-2 on the BBC. The match peaked at 8.5 million on BBC1 but according to iPlayer a further 8 million streamed the opening game. This is being reported as a record-breaking figure for iPlayer.
How does that stack up to the 2018 World Cup, which aired from Russia in the summer? In a fairer comparison, England’s 2018 dramatic World Cup opener against Tunisia beat the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton to be the year’s most-watched event at the time (beaten by later fixtures), as more than 21 million people tuned in (18 million live with the add-on of three million via the iPlayer – marking one of the first World Cups where consumers engage digital platforms that have since grown in prominence).
Later in the 2018 tournament, England’s final defeat was watched by 26.5 million people. That included the most-watched five minutes of British TV since the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. As home nations progress through the tournament, audiences grow as the football becomes appointment viewing.
Meanwhile, in 2018, England’s World Cup record scoreline over Panama hit 14.1 million viewers on BBC One. There were a further 2.8 million livestream requests online.
Then, closing the group stages, England’s defeat to Belgium drew a peak of 18.5 million. An average of 13 million stayed for the whole game on ITV. Even in a game when England was being outplayed, more than 10 million stuck around.
Going further back, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the opening game between England and Italy kicked off at 11pm and saw a peak of 15.6 million, with an average of 11.5 million. The later spot clearly favors audiences.
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Then in South Africa in 2010, the opener between England and the USA, ending in a 1-1 draw, saw an audience of nearly 20 million on ITV1’s Saturday schedule from 7.30pm. It averaged 17.65 million viewers.
In that decade-plus, linear viewership has generally declined, with sports events being one of the few exceptions. But broadcasters too are becoming more flexible and are letting viewers watch games on demand after the fact and through streaming on mobile devices, which enables on-the-move viewing.
But England wasn’t the only home nation to make an appearance. Perhaps more instructive of how this World Cup will fare on the viewership front, Wales drew with the USA (which peaked with 12.5 million viewers on ITV for a 7pm kick-off), receiving an average viewership of 7.8 million. At 7pm, more viewers would have been likely to be group viewing at home or in the pub.
Should Wales’ first World Cup match since 1958 have drawn a larger audience?
Amid all the friction around the tournament hosts Qatar; the clashes between England and Wales and Fifa over LGBTQ+ support; the unusual air time; and the rushed marketing hype window (interrupting normal football seasons), the Qatar World Cup might need a home nation in the knockout stages to really heat up to audiences.