SBJ/July 31 - August 6, 2006/This Weeks News

OLN upbeat about Tour ratings

You might think OLN President Gavin Harvey was dejected when he saw the final ratings from this year’s Tour de France.

OLN wouldn’t comment on a failed drug test
by race winner Floyd Landis (center).
OLN’s ratings were down 58 percent from last year. Viewer numbers were down 53 percent, and the ratings for its targeted 18-49 male demo were off 51 percent.

But Harvey insists that he is thrilled with the results, which he said are in line with his prerace expectations. Network executives expected a big drop-off from last year, when cycling icon Lance Armstrong retired after winning his seventh race in a row.

“Our focus was on protecting our advertisers,” Harvey said. “We had a lot of uncertainty there.”

This year’s event averaged a 0.33 rating and 287,136 viewers for 23 live telecasts, a steep drop from last year’s 0.79 rating and 607,250 viewers over 23 live telecasts. The difference from last year became even more pronounced as the race went along. OLN’s viewership figures were off 49 percent (207,544 viewers) after the first four stages, but the final stage on Sunday was down 60 percent (687,165 viewers) from last year’s race (1.7 million viewers).

OLN’s performance could have been much worse, if not for the emergence of American rider Floyd Landis, who won the race in a dramatic style. Landis had a spectacular comeback after nearly collapsing in one of the last mountain stages.

Before news reports emerged last week that Landis had failed a drug test during the Tour, Harvey was enthusiastic about Landis’ performance and his prospects for bringing an audience back to OLN for future Tours.

“We lucked out and got one of the great sports stories of the year,” Harvey said. “We obviously saw that he created a buzz.”

After news of the allegations broke, Harvey withheld comment. An OLN spokeswoman released a statement that said, “It’s our understanding that these are only allegations. Therefore, we are declining comment at this time.”

Harvey pointed to Landis’ Stage 17 comeback on July 21 as a turning point for the network’s ratings. That pulled an 81 percent jump over the tour’s first 19 days — 444,544 viewers, compared with an average of 246,038 in the tour’s first 19 days.

Even more viewers tuned in the following day, July 22 (0.7 rating/548,928 viewers), culminating with Sunday’s finale, which pulled a 0.7 rating/687,165 viewers.

While its TV ratings were down, OLN’s Web site saw a significant bump in traffic during the tour. Page views increased 11 percent from last year. The heaviest traffic came during Stage 17, when 400,000 videos were downloaded.

“I was surprised by the amount of Web traffic,” Harvey said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting the delta between the positive performance for and the negative performance on the linear channel. We’re still trying to figure out ways to monetize this.”

Though OLN does not disclose contract terms, a spokesperson said it will carry the tour for the “next couple of years.”

Tour de France on OLN

Live coverage summary
(no. of telecasts)
Avg. rating
Avg. rating:
M18-49 (change)
Avg. no. of viewers
2006 (23)
0.33 (-58.2%)
0.24 (-51.0%)
287,136 (-52.7%)
2005 (23)
0.79 (+27.4%)
0.49 (+25.6%)
607,250 (+32.3%)
2004 (21)
0.62 (+24.0%)
0.39 (+25.8%)
459,000 (+30.4%)
2003 (21)
0.50 (+92.3%)
0.31 (+40.9%)
352,000 (+131.6%)

Final-stage coverage
Avg. rating (change)
Avg. no. of viewers (change)
0.74 (-64.4%)
687,165 (-59.6%)
2.08 (+27.6%)
1.7 million (+24.1%)
1.63 (+8.7%)
1.37 million (NA)

NA: Not available
Note: Ratings are coverage-area marks.
Research by Katherine Johnson-Reid, SportsBusiness Daily
Sources: OLN, SportsBusiness Daily archives

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