Tuning out: Decline in Melbourne Cup TV audience continues

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The long-term decline in the number of people watching the Melbourne Cup on television continued despite fans being locked out of Flemington this year, with the national audience for Ten's broadcast of Twilight Payment’s win down 3 per cent on last year's race.

An average national audience of 1.86 million tuned in for Tuesday's race, compared with 1.91 million last year. The ratings were also down 2 per cent in metropolitan markets to 1.44 million and down 2 per cent in Melbourne.



Industry sources said the TV audience was the lowest since OzTam began in 2001 although Ten sources said it was impossible to make that assertion until a consolidated figure of audience numbers became available next week.

However, Ten, which took over coverage of the Melbourne Cup carnival from Seven in 2019, said live streaming of the race was up 47 per cent, with 144,000 people tuning in away from their televisions on other devices, and the race remained the most watched program for the day.

There were expectations that more people would watch the race on television as they were unable to attend the track this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne. But with some restrictions loosening, and warm weather on Cup Day, many Melburnians ventured out of their homes and away from their televisions.

Ten acknowledged the drop in figures but expressed satisfaction with the broadcast given the challenging circumstances surrounding the coverage due to the restrictions and the lack of fans on course.

It meant many usual elements of the coverage, including crossing to celebrities and fans inside marquees and the betting ring, as well as the quirky elements that accompany the Cup Day coverage from the track, were missing.

Television viewers for the race have been in decline with the Cup's image taking a battering in recent years due to concerns over horse welfare – favourite Anthony Van Dyck had to be euthanised after this year’s race and was the seventh horse to break down with an injury since 2013 – and the same owners and trainers, with the exception of Vow And Declare's win last year, regularly featuring in the finish.

The number of viewers dropped dramatically in 2019 after allegations of animal cruelty in the industry were aired on the ABC in the week leading up to the race, which coincided with Ten's return to broadcasting the race.

Ten's head of content Beverley McGarvey said in a statement that she was proud of the coverage across the platforms.

"In what has been a difficult and challenging year for so many people, the Lexus Melbourne Cup provided a much-needed distraction," McGarvey said.

"The big audiences across all of 10’s platforms highlight that no other sporting event captures the mood and attention of the nation quite like the Lexus Melbourne Cup. We are delighted that so many Australians engaged with our extensive, creative and entertaining multi-platform coverage."

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