World Cup Semifinals Score Ratings Records in Europe

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26.6 million Brits watch England go down in extra time to Croatia, while France's 1-0 victory over Belgium drew 22.3 million, making it one of the country's most-watched TV events of all time.

The semifinals of the 2018 World Cup ended with England and Belgium in tears, France and Croatia in ecstasy, and with broadcasters across Europe enjoying record ratings.

France's 1-0 victory over Belgium on Tuesday night drew a peak of 22.3 million viewers on TF1, making the match not only the most-watched event of the year in France but the eighth most-watched of all time in the territory. Sunday's final will look to take on the all-time ratings champ, the 2006 World Cup semifinal match between France and Portugal, which drew 22.6 million viewers in La Republique.

Across the channel, a similarly massive audience of British fans watched on Wednesday as the Three Lions went down in defeat in extra time, losing to an impressive Croatian side 2-1. An average of 24.3 million British viewers, a 81 percent share, caught the match on commercial network ITV, with a peak viewership of 26.6 million, or an 84 percent audience share.

Britain's soccer obsession meant that the audience share for public broadcaster BBC 1 shrunk to just 6.2 percent during the match, its lowest level since 2010. ITV said it also scored a new record for online viewership, with 4.3 million simulcast requests for the match on the company's ITV Hub streaming service. ITV noted that the 24.3 million average audience is an all-time high for a soccer match on a single channel in the U.K., noting that England's last World Cup semifinal, in 1990 against West Germany, was broadcast on both ITV and BBC simultaneously.

"England’s unexpected success in the World Cup, together with the success of Love Island, is likely to mean ITV beats its advertising guidance for the first half of the year," Liberum Capital analyst Ian Whittaker said in a report, ahead of the semifinal, about what the Cup means for the company. "As a result, we think ITV will be closer to first-half +3 percent total advertising/+1 percent for TV ad revenues versus guidance of +2 percent/flat, and we also think that full-year 2018 ITV TV net advertising revenue consensus of -1 percent needs to be revised upwards."

Belgium TV also set new ratings records, with nearly 2.5 million watching the Red Devils' loss on Flemish network VRT and a further 1.65 million catching the match on French-language network La Une. Both were all-time highs for the territory.

The semifinal drama also drew in the neutrals: 19.23 million German fans watched the England-Croatia match on public broadcaster ZDF, an impressive 58.5 percent share. Well over 18 million caught the France-Belgium match. In Spain, Telecinco's broadcast of the England-Spain semifinal drew a formidable 53 percent share.

In all cases, official TV ratings should be considered a low estimate of total viewership, as the numbers do not include the millions that watched the matches in bars and in public viewing events across Europe.

Ratings for Sunday's final game, with no Latin American or Asian team in the running and with only one large European team competing, are likely to be down on the 2014 final between Germany and Argentina.

Alex Ritman and Georg Szalai in London and Rhonda Richford in Paris contributed to this report.