Christopher O’Hearn

Yes, we all know that the ruthless and efficient Germans have swept all before them, even showing the Brazilians a thing or two along the way. But who was lifting the silverware and who was sick as a parrot when it came to television and audiences?

This was of course the first and last time in decades that the World Cup has coincided with Ramadan so there was much speculation as to what the impact might be. Would it be a month of two halves?

Look away now if you don’t want to see the results, but in the end I think it was the equivalent of grinding out a goal less draw. People watched, but not in huge numbers and it is difficult to see that it had much impact on Ramadan viewing with any sense of certainty.

Group Stages

As with the tournament itself we have to start with the group stages, and this is probably where there is a clear effect of bringing in extra viewing.

The group stages saw games at 8pm, 11pm and 2am most nights – football heaven for fans and they seem to have risen to the challenge.

Although the 8pm timeslot stayed much the same in terms of total numbers watching TV, the 11pm and 2am slots had distinct increases by more than 7 and 13% respectively. There must have been a lot of sleepy faces in the office each morning. The figures below are for households so multiply by about 4 to get a figure for individuals.


Timeslot Pre-World Cup Rtg(000) World Cup Rtg(000) Change
8pm – 10pm
935,325 -0.5 %
11pm – 1am 753,222 807,834 7.3 %
2am – 4am 299,444 340,244 13.6 %

Table 1: Timeslot viewing in group stages. Average, All Households.


Final Stages

But that was largely in June. What would happen when we got to the serious stages of quarter and semi finals which took place during Ramadan. Would there be a predicted knockout or a shock upset?

In the early stages with multiple channels and audio it was technically difficult to reliably pinpoint which viewing was World Cup or not, although we still have to give the caveat that these figures relate only to the main Arabic channels.

And this is perhaps where the surprises start to come in. Only BeIn Sports can tell us exactly how many subscribed but the range of UAE households watching most of the later-stage matches seemed to move between the 40 to 60,000 range, so we’re looking at around 200,000 people.


Match Average Households
Germany v Brazil 59,455
Argentina v Netherlands 57,287
Brazil v Netherlands 44,591
Germany v Argentina 44,314

Table 2: Semi Finals and Final. Viewing on BeIn1 and BeIn2. All Households, Average.

It’s clear many people went to out of home venues like cafes and bars to enjoy the communal atmosphere, and unfortunately a home-based meter system can’t capture that viewing. We can’t be sure but it may explain the decrease in viewing for the final, with many people choosing to watch that match elsewhere, even if they could have watched at home.

Was that more or less than expected? In hindsight it doesn’t seem that surprising. We are after all talking about a subset of a subset. To watch the World Cup at home you had to first of all be a Pay TV subscriber, which rules out a very large part of the population, and then you had to be prepared to pay an additional 440 dirhams, which cuts down the potential audience much further – not everyone is THAT interested in football or prepared to stay up all night watching it.

We get a slightly different picture when we look at minute-by-minute viewing with the final match appearing to be an exception to the rule, perhaps because of those other factors like out-of-home viewing.

Although the final had the lowest average over the whole game it did bring in the highest peak at around 80,000 homes. In fact it had two peaks, one as the second half was getting underway and the other as the match went into extra time and clearly interest built in expectation of a result or penalties.

Microsoft Word - Broadcast Pro World Cup COH Aug 2014.docx

Chart 1: Minute by minute viewing, BeIn1/BeIn2 All households 2400-2600 (Midnight-2am)

In the other three games the viewing was reasonably consistent, apart from a big drop at half time in the third-place playoff. It suggests that the final match was under a different influence, but to be honest I’m not sure I have a clear explanation for the difference – sometimes research is like that.

Was this the Twitter Final?

I saw many interesting animations and much PR about the amount of tweeting generated by the football. One could be forgiven for thinking it was all about social media.

At risk of appearing boring and conventional I often try to remind audiences at conferences and panel discussions that we shouldn’t get too carried away by social media. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that those millions of people tweeting during the world cup are tweeting about something they are watching on television.

The figure for tweets during the final was around 35 million worldwide. Frankly, yawn…

Twitter doesn’t say how many people tweeted, just how many tweets there were, so in research terms it is not unduplicated reach. For all we know it could be 7 million people sending 5 tweets.

But even if it was individuals, compare that to the worldwide TV audience expected to come in around the 1 billion mark (in 2010 the final audience was 909 million). There were 41 million television viewers in Germany alone, with another 12 million out of home. And that isn’t just taking 10 seconds to send a one-word tweet, that’s watching nearly two hours of football.

As a researcher I’m interested in all audiences on any screen so I don’t dismiss social media or viewing on mobile and other devices, but as someone who deals in data I do think it is important to retain a sense of proportion and reality.

Global live sporting events are the last thing that will ever disappear from TV and in that competition television is Germany to social media’s Lichtenstein.