BBC blames athletes for slump in viewers

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The BBC is attributing a record slump in viewers to Britain's failure to win a gold medal at the World Athletic Championships. The corporation's decision to devote hours to extensive coverage of the sporting event appeared to backfire, because a record low number of peak-time viewers watched BBC1.

But the BBC defended its decision to broadcast the championships by blaming the drop in viewers on the lack of Britain's medal hall and an apparent absence of star athletes.

"The figures are disappointing and the truth is that British audiences like to see British athletes winning," a spokeswoman for the BBC said. "The medal haul was not great and the performance of home-grown athletes does have an effect on ratings.

"There were also fewer athletes who were household names, with people of the stature of Paula Radcliffe not competing. We don't want to sound as if we're blaming the athletes but that is the truth of the situation." During the championships in Paris last week, Britain's athletes won only four medals; two silver and two bronze.

During the event, BBC1's share of peak-time viewers dropped to only 23 per cent, and ITV1 maintained a 30 per cent share.

Among the least successful evenings was last Wednesday, when only 3.4 million viewers watched a 150-minute broadcast, the equivalent of a 17 per cent share.

The coverage achieved its highest ratings when 5.4 million tuned in to see the triple jumper Jonathan Edwards bow out in tears.

Slumps in the number of BBC1 viewers last week were not confined to athletics. Top of the Pops had an audience of only 2.4 million last Friday, while Trevor's World of Sport, the Neil Pearson comedy that received rave reviews from the critics, was watched by 2.8 million.