On Saturday night, Britain got to witness 18-year-old Emma Raducanu become the first female British grand slam winner for 44 years, courtesy of Channel 4, which struck a last-minute deal with Amazon to show the historic US Open Women’s Final. Here, Total Media’s Rebecca Candeland tells why it was a triumph for all involved.
It is believed Channel 4 paid seven figures to share the US Open Women’s Final streaming rights alongside Amazon, pulling the rug from under the BBC, which was in place to show the highlights. Due to this deal from its terrestrial counterpart, it no longer went ahead with the transmission.
Channel 4 ran a direct Amazon feed, with very clear branding of the retail giant, which the BBC – as a public service broadcaster – was unable to support. The deal allowed Amazon to maximize viewing potential of the match and by removing the paywall for the event via the C4 stream. It also drove considerable positive sentiment from the British public. Simultaneously, however, this was also a rather clever and shrewd move to maximize the potential reach of Amazon Prime branding to the 50% of households in the UK not currently Prime members.
An impressive peak of 9.2 million viewers, including nearly 50% being the notoriously difficult to reach 16-34 old audience, is a remarkable linear audience for any program in such a fragmented market. That makes it Channel 4’s most viewed show of 2021 so far, and although Amazon is notoriously tight-lipped on its viewing figures, this far exceeds the estimated 2 million maximum audience Prime Premier League viewing has been known to achieve.
But while that all sounds great for Amazon, what was really in it for Channel 4 given it ran with no standard commercial minutage, only Amazon Prime branding?
What the Amazon Prime deal gave Channel 4
Channel 4 is potentially being considered as an asset to be sold to the highest bidder as part of a privatization push from the government, which could result in some serious losses to our industry – and, more importantly, to the broadcaster. This would stifle its current ability to showcase new talent and take risks ahead of driving profit – a hallmark of its ethos and ambition.
There was no obvious commercial benefit to it showing the US Open final on Saturday night, but it only takes a couple of minutes scanning social media to see the huge appreciation that this move garnered for the channel from the public.
On a weekend of sport that featured the return of the Premier League after the international break and British Formula 1 driver Lando Norris’s remarkable 2nd place finish at Monza, C4’s coverage of Emma Raducanu’s thrilling and inspiring performance stole the limelight on social media and shined a positive light on women’s tennis, which in-turn reflected back to the broadcaster. Positive sentiment in such a competitive market should not be overlooked and this decision at the last minute could well be one final power play before their privatization consultation closes today.
Couple this with the hugely positive and progressive ‘Black to Front’ campaign – the channel showcased Black talent on and off screen for one day – and Channel 4 has shown how it can remain relevant and push for change. Furthermore, with proceeds from the deal being donated to women’s tennis, the agreement between Channel 4 and Amazon Prime has generated positive press to both broadcasters.
Notably, viewer share during the match peaked at 64% – another blow to the BBC, which simultaneously dropped to a low of 10%. Given Channel 4’s move to bring cricket to terrestrial TV with the England v India series earlier in the year, these are two major sporting coups it has managed to bag in a market where every broadcaster is now fighting for attention. We are all talking about it still now, so the free press for both Channel 4 and Amazon continues!
While it remains to be seen if deals like the Amazon/Channel 4 agreement will happen again, it is clear that the Raducanu match was a win-win for both parties. Channel 4 gets to showcase its worth ahead of the government’s privatization consultation and Amazon Prime has advertised itself to the public.
Rebecca Candeland is head of broadcast at Total Media.