22 August 2019
ViuTV is broadcasting select matches from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia for free, luring more than a million viewers. Photo: Reuters
ViuTV is broadcasting select matches from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia for free, luring more than a million viewers. Photo: Reuters

ViuTV should build on World Cup ratings to challenge TVB

Over the past five decades, Television Broadcasts (TVB) has dominated local television, enjoying more than half of the viewership market during prime time.

But here comes PCCW’s ViuTV, which recently broke the norm by broadcasting select matches from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia for free, luring more than a million viewers who have been watching the games on TV or online.

ViuTV did beat its rivals with that masterstroke, but whether the two-year-old broadcaster can sustain the momentum very much depends on its program quality and strategy.

According to CSM media research and Google Analytics figures announced by ViuTV, the TV channel achieved an average 10 TV rating points for the six matches it had broadcast since the World Cup kicked off last Thursday.

The game with the highest rating was Germany versus Mexico on Sunday, which had an average rating of 14.2 points and the highest rating of 16.1. The match reached more than 1.3 million viewers. Other matches broadcast on prime time also achieved double-digit ratings, including Argentina versus Iceland, Sweden versus South Korea and Russia versus Saudi Arabia.

Another welcome finding of the survey is that more than 200,000 viewers followed the live broadcast of each match. The rule of thumb is that a TV rating point, which represents 65,544 people, is equivalent to three TV rating points online. That means that the match between Germany and Mexico match achieved almost 20 rating points, if we count both the TV and online viewers.

That’s a record-high achievement in viewership for ViuTV since it launched in April last year.

Meanwhile, TVB’s ratings have suffered a tumble. Several of its programs which were broadcast at the same time as the matches had recorded single-digit rating points. Its late news, aired at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, garnered only 4 points.

Industry watchers will of course argue that TVB’s ratings are traditionally weak over the weekend. Granted, so it’s interesting to find out how its drama programs are affected by the World Cup matches this week. Well, on Monday, the broadcaster’s drama series saw its average rating falling below 20 points.

ViuTV is broadcasting 19 select matches out of the total 64 matches during the one-month sporting event, including the opening and final matches. However, some matches in the final rounds, including the match for the second runner-up, will not be included. Die-hard football fans may have to watch these games at their favorite watering hole or eatery, or subscribe to Now TV for the full coverage.

In fact, many Hongkongers I’ve talked to feel that this year’s World Cup matches are not as exciting as those carried by TVB in previous editions of the game.

That, they say, is because TVB remains Hong Kong’s most popular broadcaster. In their coverage of previous FIFA World Cups, TVB invited many celebrities to watch the matches along with the home viewers, thereby creating a festive atmosphere and transforming the event into a communal activity for the whole month.

This year, Now TV and ViuTV adopted a completely different approach and did away with the celebrities in their live coverage of the matches, apparently to give an air of a professionalism in their broadcasts.

ViuTV had a new program All Night Show featuring artist Chapman To to entertain viewers before the match. But professional sports broadcasters and analysts are there to provide commentaries on the games. This has helped Now TV and ViuTV to attract viewers and prevent them from watching the matches on illegal channels.

Given the current viewing trend, it will not be surprising if ViuTV achieves more record-breaking TV ratings in the remaining World Cup matches. This could mean that TVB will have to suffer further declines in ratings until the final game on July 15.

TVB probably decided not to bid for the FIFA World Cup event after the debt-ridden LeEco shut down its Hong Kong operation last year. LeEco, of course, was the original official broadcaster of the World Cup in Hong Kong, but after its collapse, Now TV and ViuTV acquired the rights from FIFA.

Based on the viewers’ response, ViuTV was able to build up the excitement and consequently the patronage of local TV viewers, which should help the broadcaster to attract more advertisers and viewers in the future.

Meanwhile, TVB has reportedly told its artists to refrain from mentioning “World Cup” and “football” when they are being interviewed by journalists in an apparent attempt to prevent them from promoting the programs of the rival broadcaster.

Its regular normal news programs also provide video footage of the World Cup matches, but on its mobile applications, the broadcaster has completely avoided reporting news about the ongoing sports tournament, not even the match results.

ViuTV should seize the opportunity to further promote its programs to nurture the loyalty of its current viewers and attract more viewership.

Its new drama series featuring veteran TVB artist Adam Cheng offers a good chance for ViuTV to build on its World Cup success. 

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EJ Insight writer

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