The BBC attracts up to four times as many viewers as ITV when they go head-to-head on major football matches, which means advertisers must plan their World Cup strategies carefully. James Curtis reports.
One thing is certain: when the World Cup kicks off on 9 June, the planet will go football crazy. Suddenly, everyone will know their Ronaldos from their Ronaldinhos.
No one will want to tap into this frenzied consumer fever more than advertisers, who are predicted to spend more than pounds 570m on the event, according to ZenithOptimedia. In today's fragmented media world, the World Cup provides a rare period of communal consumption, with 90% of the UK population watching some coverage of the tournament.
For media owners, this is a crucial time to maximise ad revenue. This is particularly true for ITV, which shares rights to broadcast live games with the BBC. As usual, ITV and BBC will rotate their coverage during the group and early knockout stages, before offering simultaneous coverage if England reach the semi-finals and final. Weeks of intense negotiations between their heads of sport - the BBC's Roger Mosey and ITV's Mark Sharman - saw ITV secure two of England's three group games, against Trinidad & Tobago and Sweden; the BBC will broadcast the first match against Paraguay.
Arguably, the BBC has emerged in a stronger position when it comes to these games. Although ITV will screen more, the BBC will broadcast England's first knock-out game if they qualify, which could be a monster clash against Germany. If England progress into the last eight, the game will also be shown by the BBC.
When the BBC and ITV go head-to-head, the BBC often attracts about four times as many viewers; when England played Brazil in the 2002 quarter-final, BBC One's audience peaked at 13.1m, compared with 4m for ITV.
Mark Trinder, head of advertiser relationships at ITV, says it is important to consider ITV's whole package, and not just the England games. 'In terms of revenue and share of commercial audience, it is vital to look at the whole five weeks,' he says. 'We are extremely pleased. We get the second and third picks of the last 16 and quarter-final games, which will be massive games for commercial revenue From the group games, we have Brazil vs Australia, Portugal vs Mexico and Holland vs Argentina. Outside the England matches, those are the best three.'
Media experts are divided about the implications of the BBC-ITV split for advertisers. Nick Walford, managing director of MindShare Performance, says: 'The England games are important, but most advertisers want to be part of the whole thing. Clients should be strategic about being involved in football, not tactical.'
Ian Mullins, associate director at MediaCom, meanwhile, says it does not necessarily matter what each individual match provides in audience size, as long as advertisers' collective use of games adds up to significant coverage of the audience they are targeting. But Mullins adds that plenty of advertisers just want a quick fix. 'Some brands will just buy into specific matches, such as an England semi-final, because they want to reach a shed-load of people very quickly.' ITV's World Cup coverage will become 'a bunfight between a large number of brands chasing ABC1 men', according to Mullins. 'But only the brands with a clearly defined strategy will be remembered for their commitment and association to football,' he says.
This 'bunfight' is one of the biggest problems facing advertisers, as the sheer weight of brands trying to attach themselves to the tournament makes it hard for anyone to cut through. According to ITV figures, 190 companies booked ad slots around ITV's coverage of Euro 2004, advertising 270 products in 90 categories. For the 2006 World Cup, ITV says its order book is even busier.
Trinder claims companies are not holding back from this advertisers' scrum and points to brands such as Nike, which commonly invest in epic 60-second commercials in the expectation of standing out from the World Cup herd. …