Channel 4’s bold decision to snap up the rights to show the US Open final has proved to be an enormous success, with a peak audience of 9.2 million Britons tuning in to watch the moment of Emma Raducanu’s triumph.
The broadcaster pulled off an unexpected last-minute deal to show the tennis match, paying Amazon a seven-figure sum to put the streaming company’s broadcast on free-to-air television. Its coup came as a surprise to the BBC, who had originally planned to show a highlights programme but was outmanoeuvred.
With the deal, Amazon also avoided the negative publicity endured by pay-TV streamer Discovery after it put many of this summer’s Olympic events behind a paywall.
Although Channel 4 was delighted with the audience, the real value could be in the broadcaster showing it is willing to make bold decisions to prove its worth as a public service broadcaster.
Channel 4’s chief content officer, Ian Katz, said on Sunday: “Moments like this are what Channel 4 was made for – it’s a perfect example of the kind of nimble, uncommercial, but profoundly valuable public service broadcasting that a purpose-driven Channel 4 can deliver.”
The broadcaster is going all-out in its fight against government plans to privatise the outlet. A consultation on the changes closes on Tuesday.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, who will help decide on the channel’s future, tweeted his delight after Channel 4 secured the rights for the tennis final.
The viewing figures also show that even with the growing popularity of streaming – about half the UK has access to Amazon Prime Video – traditional linear television channels can still deliver enormous audiences, especially for major sporting events.
The real viewing figures for the final are likely to be even higher, given that many people will have watched on Amazon Prime.
Amazon paid about £30m in 2018 for the UK rights the US Open, in a bid to drive customers to its Prime subscription service. In addition to the sublicensing fee – which Amazon will donate to grassroots tennis initiatives – the company gained enormous brand exposure and had its logo shown on Channel 4 for three hours.