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Ashes to Ashes

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Roger Mosey | 10:33 UK time, Saturday, 25 November 2006

There's a story I was told when I joined BBC Sport about the time a few years back when someone in our website team complained to a manager that they were being treated as third-class citizens. "Well, you are third-class citizens" was the alleged reply - which let us hope was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the dominance then of our television and radio output. But if anyone had any doubts that the new media era is now firmly entrenched, the response to our Ashes coverage leaves no room for argument.

My colleague Alex Gubbay set out what we were trying to achieve in his blog when we announced we'd won the rights to online highlights. We want to offer a service 24x7, and it's the latest example of the BBC trying to use all its platforms - TV, radio, online, mobile - to serve people with the sport they want when they want it. Internally, the buzz phrase is 360 degree commissioning: which simply means taking ideas from being narrow, single media offerings and turning them into something much bigger and more ambitious...

It means, of course, that measuring the audience response is more difficult than before. In the old days you had television ratings and that was pretty much all that mattered, but now we have to stitch together data from a myriad of different sources - and in the case of radio, home to our much-loved Test Match Special, we don't get figures until literally months after the first ball has been bowled. I should say too that this interest in statistics isn't a reflection of the BBC's obsession with ratings or my own; but clearly knowing how many people are using each service allows us to plan better, and gives us some facts alongside all the rest of the feedback.

So the biggest number so far is 2.4m people using our website around the first day of the Ashes. Not all of them were seeking cricket, but around a quarter-of-a-million people took advantage of our audio and video services online - and cricket was overwhelmingly the biggest draw. A lot of people said they liked the combination of TMS commentary with TV-style graphics - a service also available via digital television, and not included in these figures. Reading some of your emails it took me back to my student days: quite a number written in the middle of the night while writing an essay or multi-tasking in the college library!

The ratings for the TV highlights are strong, too. The first night at 2320 on BBC Two was watched by 500,020 people; on Friday that rose to 700,000; and by Saturday it hit a peak of 800,000. Sunday was the best night to date with one million people watching. By comparison, Sky's live coverage - which to be fair is mainly through the night - had a peak a bit higher than us on the first night and a bit lower than us for day two. Our red button highlights at 10pm also seem to be doing well: we can only measure satellite interactive requests not Freeview or cable, but an estimate for night one would be 100,000-200,000 users.

As I say, we're completely in the dark about how many are tuning in to Five Live Sports Extra or to Radio 4 Long Wave. But I know from some bleary-eyed colleagues that there are plenty of people hitting the radio button when they stir in the middle of the night. And then there are the blogs, podcasts, mobile services, alarm calls and all the rest of them - which we'll assess as we accumulate the data.

There have, of course, been occasional glitches. Yesterday our video highlights online missed an English wicket - for which apologies, and we put it right as soon as we could. I know from experience on this blog that other people will have spotted more, so please let us know if and when we're going wrong. But there've been plenty of editorial highs: I personally love Aggers' close of play on Five Live Sports Extra, and as a Yorkshireman myself I can't hear enough of Geoffrey Boycott. It was also a bonus on the TV highlights programme that we've had such good live access to the ground, and the ability to show what's going on live in the radio commentary booth.

As ever, though, the ultimate verdict is yours. We hope you're enjoying the BBC service. But you'll have noticed that I haven't mentioned England's performance, which is the main thing standing in the way of complete enjoyment. My guess is even our Australian colleagues at Channel Nine will be hoping for an improvement in English cricket, and let's all hope the only way now is up...

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