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The most exciting and unpredictable WRC title fight in a decade sparked a major increase in global TV audience during the opening half of the 2017 season. Total audience for the first seven rounds rose to 463.45 million, a surge of 17 per cent compared with the same period in 2016, according to research from independent analyst Nielsen Sports. Figures spanning January’s season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo up to June’s Rally Italia Sardegna also revealed a 10 per cent increase in worldwide broadcast time to almost 6650 hours. Interest in the championship soared as a new generation of more powerful and aggressive new World Rally Cars, combined with the return of Toyota and Citroën, delivered a gripping opening to the year. Four different drivers representing four of the world’s biggest automotive manufacturers claimed the winners’ laurels in the opening four fixtures. After Italy’s seventh round, five different drivers had stood on the podium’s top step. An audience of almost 120 million viewed the glamorous opening of the new era at Rallye Monte-Carlo, a rise of almost 16 million from 2016. It is the third consecutive season in which the TV audience from the Principality of Monaco topped 100 million. The audience from Rally Guanajuato Mexico soared by more than 22 million to almost 87 million, aided by a spectacular start in Mexico City’s iconic Zócalo square and a dramatic finale when Kris Meeke salvaged victory after crashing into a car park a kilometre from the finish. While Europe headed the leading markets, there was fast growing development in Asia with China and Japan featuring in the top 10 countries for TV audience. WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said the figures rewarded the strategy to invest in more TV programmes. “We matched huge interest in the new-era World Rally Cars with increased and more varied live coverage,” he said. “We now regularly broadcast a live Saturday afternoon stage and have increased our coverage of Sunday lunchtime’s rally-ending Power Stage from an hour to 90 minutes, showing more immediate reaction and emotion from drivers and teams. “Our fans have enjoyed the most exciting and closest competition in years, which has helped audiences spike by almost a fifth. “The Power Stage has delivered edge-of-the-seat live coverage. Who can forget the drama of Kris Meeke’s Mexico victory? And Thierry Neuville’s last-gasp win in Argentina was the third-closest in WRC history.” There was also a strong fan response to WRC videos, photographs and articles on the web. The mid-season analysis showed significant web-TV and online coverage. In six months fans made more than 36 million views of WRC programmes and footage on motorsport websites in 20 key markets (not including the championship’s own WRC+ and YouTube platforms). Data from 25 key markets also showed more than 10,800 online articles spotlighting the WRC, generating more than 6.1 million impressions.
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