World Cup viewership on the rise in Asia

Fans staying up late to watch home teams play

SYDNEY -- Sleepless nights -- and viewership numbers -- are on the rise in Asia as World Cup fever seizes the region.

Asia was represented in the tournament by perennial participants Japan and South Korea, joined by Australia, qualifying as an Asian country for the first time, and North Korea, which despite being a political pariah outlasted larger, richer nations like China to make the finals. New Zealand played as the representative from the Oceania region.

With limited participation and no Asian team having ever won the quadrennial World Cup, viewership of the event, which wraps next month, seemingly is boundless as broadcasters, exhibitors and TV-set manufacturers stay up late to capture the massive audience.

In South Korea, where the Taeguk Warriors advanced into the final 16 before losing to Uruguay on Saturday, ratings across the country reached 49%, according to AGB Nielsen Media Research. The team's 2-2 tie with Nigeria on Tuesday was broadcast live from 3:30-5:22 a.m. local time.

North Korea initially was suspected of broadcasting a pirated recording of the opening match between South Africa and Mexico before it was revealed that the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union struck a deal with FIFA before the matches to air matches live in North Korea. The team's 7-0 defeat by Portugal was shown live to North Korean audiences.

The Australian and New Zealand love of sport means that they, too, are watching in big numbers.

Australia's SBS, with the smallest audience of the free-to-air networks, is providing all 64 matches live, along with a raft of World Cup-related programming.

More than 8 million Aussie viewers had watched some of SBS' coverage in the first eight days of the tournament. The June 19 tie with Ghana aired to 1.7 million viewers nationally from midnight. Germany's 4-0 pasting of the Socceroos in the opening match aired to 1.3 million of Australia's 7.5 million TV households.

SBS holds all TV and digital rights to the World Cup in Australia, airing the games as far as Australian bases in Antarctica. At a time when its budgets are being squeezed, the Cup is expected to net $17 million in advertising.

Australians also are embracing technological aspects of the game. Hoyts Cinemas, one of the country's largest exhibitors, has expanded the number of games it is showing in 3D after sellouts at several cinemas for the Socceroos' opening match. Sony and Samsung are holding many public demonstrations of 3D technology.

Mass outdoor viewing is underscoring the need for reliable out-of-home audience measurement. Ratings agency OzTAM said before the tournament that it is a priority to get out-of-home ratings delivered, though a system is not in place.

In New Zealand, where members of the All Blacks national rugby team are demi-gods, the All Whites are delivering strong TV ratings across pay and free TV. The All Whites' World Cup opening match against Slovakia drew a combined TV audience of 744,000 viewers in New Zealand. The free-to-air coverage on TVNZ's One drew an average audience of 353,800, according to Nielsen, and 593,800 total viewers tuned in to watch at least part of the match, according to TVNZ.

World Cup fever hasn't been running as high as the past tournament in Japan, but audience share still peaked at more than 55% for the Samurai Blues' second match against the Netherlands on June 19.

Japan's opening victory -- its first in the finals on foreign soil -- against Cameroon on June 14 peaked viewership at more than 45% with a weeknight 11 p.m. kickoff. Japan also advanced to the round of 16.

Not included in the ratings are out-of-home viewings at bars, restaurants, soccer stadiums and other public spaces, which are growing in popularity.

About 12,000 fans packed the Saitama Super Arena, just north of Tokyo, for a live public viewing on what organizers claim was the biggest World Cup 3D display on the planet.

Sony, which is a tournament sponsor and is using the event to push its 3D technology, had several other live 3D public viewings throughout the country.

Asia's largest soccer-crazed nation is sitting the tournament out, but China's fans continue to break records for total viewership.

An average of 40 million Chinese watched Argentina beat South Korea, 4-1, on CCTV-5, the dedicated sports channel of state-run broadcaster China Central Television, according to CSM Media Research.

With no team of their own to watch, serious Chinese fans tune in to matches involving Brazil -- for the beauty of their game, said Rowan Simons, author of "Bamboo Goalposts," about soccer in China, and founder of one of Beijing's largest amateur leagues.

For advertisers hoping to get a piece of the Cup action on Chinese television, broadcasters have created soccer-related talk shows, variety shows and studio shows -- anything to spark a benevolent interest in the game.

-- Gavin J. Blair in Tokyo, Jonathan Landreth in Beijing and Park Soo-mee in Seoul contributed to this report.
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