More People Are Watching the Tour, and Fewer, Too

By way of Frank Steele’s Tour de France blog, an item from The Oregonian: “Tour de France ratings down so far on Versus.” The article reports the following Nielsen numbers for this year’s Tour broadcasts:

Live broadcasts (starting at oh-dark-hundred on the West Coast): 230,000 average viewership. 2007 average: 343,000.

Average viewership per broadcast (both live and taped): 143,000 (for 35 broadcast between July 5 and 10). Last year’s average: 171,000 (135 telecasts including both pre- and post-Tour shows; I’ve found some stats (in an article on Tour advertising, here) that suggest that this number was flat from 2006, the Landis year, but down from 315,000 in 2005, the year of Armstrong VII).

That seems clear enough, right? Viewership is down, and thus the item’s headline.

Well, then, check this out: On July 17, three days after The Oregonian was peddling its apples, MediaPost’s Media Daily News offered these oranges under the headline “Tour de France Cycles Ratings for Versus”: “The channel has seen a 16% gain in its cume number of viewers–those who have seen some part of the race over the first 10 days. Versus says that number is 20.8 million versus 17.9 million of a year ago.”

OK, even though I’ve worked in broadcast media, I’m not fluent in Nielsen. I’m not sure how that cume number is derived–whether it represents distinct individuals (as it allegedly does in radio) or whether one person who tunes in to three Tour shows a day for 10 days counts as 30 viewers. I suspect it’s the latter, because if it’s 20.8 million individual American TV viewers, I wouldn’t get so many blank stares when I mention the Tour to non-cyclists. Moving on:

The Media Daily News report also notes the following: that the average viewership of the Versus live a.m. broadcasts is 270,359 this year, which Versus acknowledges is down 13 percent from 2007. At the same time, Versus says the Nielsen rating for the live broadcast–the percentage of the 112 million TV homes in the United States tuned in during the show–is flat from last year at 0.3. Those numbers don’t square with The Oregonian report, which is apparently based on a different span of broadcast days, but never mind. Versus says most of its other Tour broadcasts throughout the day are showing gains.

And the MDN story also gets down to business: Versus says that in the gold-mine demographic, 18 to 34 year old males, the Tour broadcasts are way up over last year: 91 percent higher for the morning show, 108 percent for one of the afternoon (EDT) rebroadcasts, 99 percent for the late-night rebroadcast.

There’s a lot of spin here, all for the benefit of advertisers. Versus is busy trying to show how fewer viewers are really more.

I want to do some historical comparisons with pre-2007 Tours, both on Versus/OLN and the broadcast networks who have offered a Tour summary show on weekends since the ’80s. But due to the late hour and the apples and oranges problems I have with the stats, I’ll put off that project till later.

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