Now, there is a history when it comes to BBC1 and ITV both showing the same event at the same time. Usually ITV loses, and it was the same here, although the margin in terms of viewing figures is huge.
According to a report on the BBC News website, the overnight figures showed that BBC1 had an average of 12.1 million viewers for the World Cup final, against 2.9 million viewers for ITV. The peaks for both channels were 16.7 million for BBC1 and 3.9 million for ITV.
This is becoming so routine for ITV, that you'd think they'd either give up, or try something else, but no, they seem happy to take the hit generally. However, this is a mere symptom of a much bigger problem at ITV Sport, and it is this. ITV Sport generally underperforms against similar BBC Sport coverage. If you were to look at the averages of live football coverage on BBC against similar live coverage on ITV, BBC is more watched, more often. But why?
It's a weird thing really, but in general terms, ITV Sport has a major image problem. It's too often seen to be style over substance, where BBC Sport is often felt to be more substantive. Is that a fair criticism? Not really. At one time, back in ITV's heyday, their coverage of sports was often just as substantive as BBC's, even though sometimes they'd have to settle for lower profile sports and events. But ITV's image took a general hit overall from about 1993 onwards. The hit was mainly in News and Sports coverage and Comedy, which had been areas that various ITV companies had excelled in. It was painful at times to watch what had been a great broadcaster slowly decay.
But in 2000, the rights for Premiership highlights went from BBC to ITV, and ITV announced what they hoped would be their saving grace for Sports coverage. "The Premiership" was to be the first time that Premier League football highlights were to air in PrimeTime, indeed, airing at 7pm from the start of the 2001/2002 season. ITV hoped that this would make them the new goto company for sports coverage. At around the same time, ITV launched the ITV Sport Channel on their digital terrestrial subscription service, ITV Digital, previously known as On Digital. ITV Digital had acquired the Football League rights at around the same time, and were showing these games on the new ITV Sport Channel. For some baffling reason, ITV, in the form of Carlton and Granada, decided that the ITV Sport Channel should not air on Sky, to try to give ITV Digital a competitive advantage.
It was a mistake. One of many that ITV did around that time. I should know. I was covering the whole ITV Digital debacle at the time for Transdiffusion. It was one of the lowest periods in ITV's history. A news service that was pretty universally derided as being style over substance; a failed platform in ITV digital, and a failed sports channel. 2002 was a low point for ITV, and their Premiership highlights were not helping matters. Instead of being at 7pm, the highlights had gotten relegated to a 10.30pm slot, due to low ratings, and would remain there until the end of the rights package in 2004, where upon the rights for Premiership highlights returned to the BBC, and have stayed there ever since.
But why did the Premiership highlights programme do so badly? That truly was style over substance. A typical 75 minute programme contained just under 30 minutes of highlights, far less than BBC had given to highlights previously, usually almost an hour out of an 80 minute show.
Since then, ITV has learned their lesson about substance, although some high profile automation problems that interrupted live football coverage at key times, have not helped their reputation. But now, ITV need to do something rather more radical if they are to undo all the years of damage and neglect that they have done to their Sports department. They need to be as radical as Sky Sports was when they first appeared on the scene back in 1991. But again, they mustn't over-emphasise style over substance, as substance is what wins ratings, something Sky Sports knew about in 1991, although they had their own style, they backed it up with substance.
ITV needs to create their own style, and back it up with substance, something ITV News has had to relearn to do since their 1999-2004 low point. Now ITV Sport needs to do the same. At the moment, they don't really do a lot to distinguish themselves, and sacrificing substance for style just isn't an option, not with the state of the sports broadcasting industry today. EuroSport, BT Sport and Sky Sports are all big players these days in the world of sports rights, along with the BBC. ITV do have some major events, such as The Tour De France, The French Open Tennis, and some Darts and Snooker tournaments, but most sport now is relegated to ITV4, rather than on the main channel. If ITV want to make themselves a sports powerhouse, then they need to have coverage with a lot of substance, in a strong authoritative style, that defines ITV, the way ITV News is now defined by the greater emphasis on human interest news. Maybe ITV Sport should emphasise the match coverage, rather than analysis. It would differentiate them from BBC and just about everybody else in sports broadcasting. Such a strategy would be a radical departure from ITV's long time emphasis on celebrities and personalities in sports coverage, but it would be enough of a departure that might get them noticed again in the sports broadcasting world.
ITV have been stuck in a rut for too long. They say a change is as good as a rest. ITV certainly need to make some major changes.