ROME – Nearly 30 million Italians — almost half of the total country’s total population — tuned into the free-to-air coverage of the presentation of the 266th pontiff, Pope Francis, on Wednesday, almost surely making it the most watched event in Italian television history.
According to preliminary figures released Thursday, the coverage from the seven networks run by the three national free-to-air broadcasters attracted 20.2 million viewers at the moment the white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel chimney, indicating a successor to Pope Benedict XVI had been selected. By the time the new pontiff appeared on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, viewership had swelled to 29.8 million, for an audience share of 89.1 percent.
Add to the mix the estimated crowd of more than 100,000 gathered in St. Peter’s Square to watch the events unfold in person (the best views were from large cinema-style screens erected in the square), and the total numbers come very close to 30 million Italians watching it live, a level never before achieved in Italy.
The audience share dwarfs the 54 percent share earlier this month for the San Remo Music Festival, previously the biggest audience share for a single event this year and traditionally Italy’s most popular non-sports broadcast, or the 79.5 percent share for last year’s Euro 2012 soccer championship final, in which Spain defeated Italy 4-0.
The audience share falls just short of the 90.1 percent share from the 2006 World Cup soccer championship, where Italy won against France 5-3 in a penalty shootout, but that game attracted 24.5 million viewers, far short of Wednesday’s total.
The Installation of Pope Benedict in 2005 attracted around an 80 percent share, according to media reports at that time.
Wednesday’s event was shown live in Italy by all three free-to-air broadcasters: state television company RAI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset, which own three networks each, and La7, the independent broadcaster recently acquired by businessman Urbano Cairo.