Germans rate best at start of Euro 2008

Near-record viewers for soccer championship

COLOGNE, Germany -- The Euro 2008 soccer championships kicked off last weekend with strong ratings results in most European territories and spectacular ones in Europe's largest TV nation, Germany.

Germany's 2-0 win over Poland on Sunday night was a ratings triumph for public broadcaster ZDF, with 24 million viewers tuning in, capturing a 70% share and easily topping the 20 million Germans that tuned in for the 2006 World Cup opening game between German and Costa Rica.

"This is a great start, but the record for a European Cup game is the 1996 final, when Germany beat the Czech Republic, with 28 million viewers, so we have room to grow," a ZDF spokesman told THR.

The figures weren't as impressive elsewhere, thanks in large part to a lack of big nations in the weekend's matches.

The Czech Republic's opening game win over co-hosts Switzerland drew 2.5 million viewers, a 24% share, for Italian public network RAI, while Saturday's rough and tumble match between Portugal and Turkey grabbed 6.2 million Italians for a 29% share.

Ratings for Italy's opening game Monday night against the Netherlands should be double that, RAI estimates.

French sports fans preferred the soccer pitch to the French Open tennis court with nearly 6 million viewers, a 30% share of the audience, tuning in to commercial channel TF1 for Saturday's Portugal vs. Turkey game. M6, which is sharing Euro 2008 rights with TF1, managed 5.4 million viewers and a solid 22.5% share for Sunday's Germany vs. Poland match.

The worst results came from the U.K., where the BBC and ITV are faced with the unhappy challenge of trying to generate excitement for a tournament with no British teams competing.

BBC1 averaged 3.8 million viewers and a 28% share for the opening match, a fraction of the 17.6 million Brits that tuned in to watch the first England vs. France game in Euro 2004.

An ITV1 spokesman, quoted in the British media, said the viewing figures were strong given that no British teams were competing.

"We are very pleased that 5 million (at peak) watched our first game of the tournament -- it's a great start to Euro 2008," he added.

While other Europeans were cheering on their favorites, Brits preferred home grown entertainment: an episode of sci-fi series "Doctor Who" was the weekend's mos-watched program, drawing 7.1 million viewers for a 27% share.

Meanwhile, Spanish broadcaster Cuatro, which won't see its national team play in the Cup until Tuesday night, scrounged up a relatively tame 19.8% market share and 3.2 million viewers for its top match of the weekend, the German vs. Poland game.

Rebecca Leffler in Paris, Eric J. Lyman in Rome and Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.