Friday’s first quarter-final World Cup match, which saw a strong and composed French team defeat Uruguay, may have been played at 4PM local time, but that didn’t stop supporters of Les Bleus from tuning in en masse. Leading commercial broadcaster TF1 drew its largest audience yet of the tournament — and its highest ratings of the year — with 12.9M watching Raphaël Varane and Antoine Griezmann knock out La Celeste 2-0 to advance to the semis. The audience share was a huge 76 with a peak of 16.1M viewers near the end of the game.
It’s been estimated that around 3M-5M more sets of eyeballs were glued to giant screens in bars and town squares around France yesterday. Certainly in my Provencal village, time stood still as captain Hugo Lloris punched a key save. In Paris, revelers flooded the Champs Elysees.
France’s performance throughout World Cup 2018 has been a boon for TF1, even if pay channel BeIN Sport is airing all of the games (TF1 has 28 key matches). Les Bleus’ kick-off match against Australia back on June 16 had already set the bar high for TF1 with a then-best of the year at 12.6M viewers and a 69 share. France’s stunning win against Argentina last weekend was also a big draw with 12.5M and a 72.1 share.
The second match on Friday, which saw Belgium’s Red Devils take Brazil’s Selecao, reunited 10.3M viewers for TF1 and 48.2% of the audience. While polls here show most in France would have preferred face off against Brazil in the semis, we are now full-steam ahead to Tuesday with an 8PM local kickoff against our neighbors to the northeast. And those viewing numbers are certain to be massive.
To set an all-time record for the French side, they would have to beat the 2006 semi-final against Portugal (22.2M viewers). The final that year, which included the Zinedine Zidane head-butt heard round the world, came in slightly lower with 22.1M viewers for TF1.
For reference, the 1998 final between France and Brazil, and played at the Stade de France just outside Paris, drew 20M viewers in a vastly different TV landscape.
Publicis Media has estimated that advertising revenue for TF1 will reach 54M euros with France through to the semis, and 58M if it gets to the final. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.