EPL low 14th in China's 'most watched' TV football

Is the English Premier League the most popular football competition in the world's most populace country, China? Probably not, is the considered opinion of Pierre Justo, Managing Director of TNS Sport China at CSM Media Research in Beijing. Writing in the quarterly Rating Horizon, Justo cautioned that while EPL may be the league "most largely broadcast" in China through a "huge number" of channels "most of those channels have indeed a very limited audience as they reach either locally or province-wide."

According to his company's data, football broadcasts in China in 2005 (excluding news and magazines) amounted to a staggering 2285 hours over 20 different channels (the "bulk" offered by CCTV 5, Dragon TV and Guangdong TV Satellite), making football the most aired sports. It accounted for a total 42% of the sports offered, far more than basketball (16%) and table tennis (6%). Football fans could follow the China Super League and six major foreign leagues - English Premier League, Liga, Bundesliga, Calcio, Liga and Ligue 1 - in addition to the major Cup and Champions competitions from Europe, South America, Asia and FIFA.

Overall, more than 35 different football events/properties were aired nationwide in China during the year with the following events receiving the most airtime: Italian Calcio (386 hours of broadcast), EPL (313 h), the Liga and Bundesliga (around 240h) and the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers (189 h).

But being on air is one thing and being watched is another story. Data on cumulative numbers of viewers puts the Chinese audience watching basketball during 2005 at 2.7 billion viewers compared to 1.4 billion viewers watching football. And, within the football segment, Italy's Calcio was first with 147 million viewers, the FIFA World Club qualifiers second with 121 million, the Bundesliga third with 115 million and the games played by the China National Team fourth with close to 100 million. The English Premier League ranked a distant 14th with only 36 million viewers ("hardly more in total than the FIFA World Club Championship event in Tokyo that lasted for only one week").

"Overall," wrote Justo, "a few properties over-perform compared to the limited time they were on air: apart from the above mentioned, there is the China Super League (‘'yes'', the Chinese do like watching their own football league), the AFC Champions League (‘'yes'', the Chinese like Asian football, especially when the Chinese clubs perform as it was the case in 2005 with Shenzhen Jianlibao reaching the last four), or even the FIFA World Youth Holland (once again thanks to the presence and good performance of the China Youth team). On the other side, some properties do not attract as many viewers as their TV exposure: apart from the EPL, the Liga is also suffering a lot despite an overall 6th ranking with 82 million viewers."

Justo opined that the EPL and Liga audiences suffer because of their regular early morning broadacts times ("it is difficult to wake up most Chinese 3 am") whereas the Bundesliga and the Calcio "offer quite a lot of games by the evening around 22:00" and the CSL or the AFC Champions League get a booster by airing in the afternoon or at the start of the evening."

Another reason is the reach of the channel broadcasting the program. "So far, on a nationwide basis, very few satellite channels can really ‘'reach'''as many households as CCTV 5 and in a lesser extent Dragon TV and Guangdong Satellite. And it is true that the EPL that boasts a high number of provincial satellite broadcasters (which often appears as a decisive edge) is suffering a lot from that when it comes to attracting, to reaching a wide base of viewers.".

Last but not least, he wrote, is the level of interest in each league. "Isn't it troubling to notice that the two leagues that started airing in China the sooner (over 10 years ago) were the Bundesliga and the Calcio?"

It is not a coincidence. According to CSM Media Research-TNS Sport's ‘'Sports on TV in China Overview Report'', China is different to other Asian markets in that the EPL is not, currently, a strong competitor to the Calcio and the Bundesliga.

See also: Germany building quiet footballing links to China (22 Apr) and Poll: Italian clubs still "most famous" in China (6 Feb) and Zhang award for promoting Italian football in China (6 Dec 05)