By Charles Randall
25 September 2019
Enough is enough. The ICC did the UK no favours with their broadcast policy in the World Cup, and their global viewing figures - recently released - only underlined their obsession with paywall television.
The ICC accumulated millions of dollars from the tournament by selling broadcasting rights, and yet they failed to seize an opportunity to tackle growing unease in the UK when they could, and should, have done. British clubs with their cohorts of youth players remain powerless to slow cricket's slide into the second tier.
The ICC will always chase the big bucks to justify growing the game around the world, and it was no surprise that Sky were awarded the UK rights, with the ICC ever blind to the need for terrestrial exposure. Of all the favoured broadcasters around the world, only the state-owned Bangladesh Television offered free-to-view national coverage. Otherwise satellite or cable dominated as usual through Fox, ESPN, Sky, Ten Sports, Supersport and the like. Hotstar provided streaming service in Asia and North America, mostly if not entirely for membership.
The World Cup's global viewing figures were trumpeted by the ICC as though this was the A to Z of cricket success. The India-Pakistan match attracted a television audience of 233 million, certainly a phenomenal figure.
Yet if Sky had not shared the World Cup final with Channel Four, the competition would have virtually bypassed the public consciousness in the UK. There were tiny viewing figures for Sky coverage until about four million watched the final on Channel Four - a good number, if still lower than the Wimbledon men's final on BBC.
The ICC clearly do not care that cricket is facing fierce competition for participation from other sports in the UK. Strong television coverage in the World Cup would have helped project the game again, as in 2005 when millions were enraptured by the iconic Ashes series. Viewing figures of about nine million were recorded at key moments in those Australia matches, but since then a generation of young players has seen very little cricket on free-to-view.
A huge public audience watched women's football world cup on BBC at peak times in the summer; the England versus Norway quarter-final attracted more than seven million viewers. No doubt the sudden interest stemmed from accessibility rather than popularity. Is cricket less interesting as a sport than women's football? It is when fewer than a million watch matches on Sky.
England's victory over New Zealand in the World Cup final at Lord's must be one of the most gripping and controversial televised cricket matches of all time. So a mass of public had a tantalising glimpse before cricket went 'dark' again for the Ashes series on Sky.
That is the UK background to the ICC's consolidated viewing figures recently released. It is clear that cricket has worldwide reach, but in the UK the story is different. The ICC were careful to conflate highlights (on Channel Five) with live coverage (on Sky only, apart from the final) to give the impression that cricket swept the land in England.
Here is the press release detailing worldwide viewing figures:
The ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 was the most watched ICC event ever, with a global cumulative average audience of 1.6 billion for live coverage, a 38 per cent increase over the 2015 edition and a unique broadcast audience of 706 million viewers, demonstrating the phenomenal reach and power of live cricket around the world. The event also recorded a 42 per cent increase in average time watched per unique viewer in comparison to the 2015 Men’s Cricket World Cup.
Emphasising cricket’s continued appeal, the 706 million unique audience was a 22 per cent increase compared to that of Cricket World Cup 2015, and 41 per cent of the audience were women, whilst 32 per cent of the 706 million were aged 18 to 34 years old.
Fans watched the ICC Cricket World Cup for a longer amount of time than ever before, with the event amassing a record 13.7 billion global viewing hours. This is a record for an ICC event seeing an 18 per cent increase from the 2011 Cricket World Cup and 72 per cent increase from the 2015 event.
The most watched match of the World Cup 2019 globally was India against Pakistan with 273 million unique viewers tuning into linear TV coverage with over another 50 million digital-only viewers.
ICC chief executive Manu Sawhney said: "These quite astounding numbers demonstrate the power of live cricket to connect and engage more deeply with diverse audiences around the world. The theatre and drama of live cricket is compelling and the added jeopardy of tournament cricket enables our sport to cut through and aggregate audiences like never before even in our increasingly fragmented world."
This was the most widely available ICC event in history as more than 20,000 hours of live action, repeats and highlights coverage was carried by 25 broadcast partners across more than 200 territories.
Locally in participating countries the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 also demonstrated the scale cricket has to engage fans in a number of markets. In the host country, the tournament reached a unique audience of 24 million across live and highlights coverage with the final becoming the most watched game of cricket in the United Kingdom.
A unique audience of 15.4 million witnessed the most exciting final in Cricket World Cup history via Sky Sports, Sky, Channel 4 and More 4, peaking with 8.92 million unique viewers at 7.29pm at the start of the historic Super Over. This is the highest ever peak for a cricket match on record for UK television audiences. The final also received the highest viewing hours for a live cricket match on UK record with 36.6 million.
India led the way with the consumption of live matches on digital platforms with Hotstar reporting a world record for the highest ever concurrent viewership of a live stream with 25.3 million viewers during the India v New Zealand semi-final.
The most watched match in India was India against Pakistan which had a unique TV audience of 233 million from the 273 million unique viewers that had tuned in globally. The tournament reach within India was 545 million across TV and digital platforms.
In Australia an overall audience of 6.1 million watched the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup with the most watched match the semi-final played between Australia and England with 2.1 million unique viewers.
There were more fans watching the 2019 edition compared to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in Pakistan with a 37 per cent increase, Bangladesh saw 35 per cent more fans watching and in Sri Lanka the figures were up 11per cent on 2015, reaching a unique audience of over 100 million.
Aarti Dabas, ICC head of media rights, broadcast and digital said: "More people are watching, more hours of cricket on different platforms than ever before. The consumption of live matches on digital platforms is evidence of fans watching live sport differently and wanting to be fully immersed in the sport and this is exciting time for cricket."
The ICC clearly think they are doing a wonderful job by publishing and revelling in these astronomical viewing figures. The fact is that one of the world wealthiest governing bodies has failed the game. The ICC could have used terrestrial television to sell cricket to the UK public again. But they chose not to.