Launch a new £1bn channel and people are inevitably going to poke around and see how many are watching, I’m sure that was well understood at BT Sport HQ.
But I wonder if channel bosses were prepared for The Guardian to shout quite as loudly as it has been about low viewing figures?
“BT Sport Rangers match fails to score with just 24,000 viewers” was yesterday’s headline which followed last week’s “Clare Balding Show draws average of just 1,200 viewers for BT Sport”.
The earlier of those two articles was a lot more nuanced than the headline, but yesterday’s story is a pretty solid ‘it’s not working’ tale with no room for industry experts to point out that new channels take time to build audiences.
It does however have space for this little gem:
“Earlier this week, BT revealed that more than 1 million households have signed up to the new sports channel offered by BT in its first three months, although the majority are existing broadband customers who are taking the service for free.”
The same “although..: line can be found in The Guardian’s original report of the 1m sign-ups.
In both instances this choice of wording could lead the reader into thinking this was some unintended situation, that BT had actually hoped to sign up 1m customers all paying £12 per month but ended up handing out free subscriptions instead.
This potential misunderstanding would be less likely had the original report not failed to include this important part of BT’s statement announcing the 1m figure:
“We always said that BT Sport would help us retain and attract broadband customers and that is proving to be the case. We are rewarding our customers for their loyalty and the strategy is working”
The whole point of the channels is that they’re free when you take out or renew a BT Total Broadband package. The standalone subscription is being made available only to draw in Sky TV customers who don’t take BT broadband, it’s not the main offer for reasons I explained in depth here.
It’s a shame The Guardian’s coverage keeps confusing this point.
There’s another aspect to all this which also isn’t reflected in the paper’s coverage – the BARB viewing figures don’t cover all of the channel’s distribution methods.
As reported earlier this year, BARB is working on plans to measure all viewing through computer devices, including tablets, from this autumn as part of its ongoing efforts to reflect how we all watch TV.
But as one of its helpful staff confirmed to me this morning, it currently only measures viewing through TV screens – Freeview, Freesat, Virgin Media, Sky and YouView.
Given that the BT Sport iPad and iPhone app is currently one of the top ten most popular apps in the UK, that’s potentially quite a lot of viewing on smaller screens which isn’t reflected in the figures or the headlines they’re provoking.
This is important because watching online and via apps is a big part of the BT Sport offer, not least because there’s no multi-room option on any platform.
I’ve asked BT if they can share any download or usage stats for the apps and will update this post if they’re forthcoming.
But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that the BARB figures only tell part of the story. Not least because it’s new and retained broadband customers which really matter to BT, not the number of people tuning in for any individual show or game.