‘Hostile and ruthless’: Being in the thick of the most controversial Ashes ever

When chaos engulfed Lord’s during the second Test of the Ashes, Louise Ransome was just metres from it all – an unpleasant time and place for an Aussie.

The Channel Nine reporter was on the sidelines as part of the network’s coverage of what turned out to be the most controversial series ever thrashed out between Australia and England.

“I can’t explain how hostile it was,” Ransome told Mumbrella.

The controversial wicket of English batter Jonny Bairstow on day five of the second Test earlier had sparked fury from the crowd.

“Everyone was so fired up and I was just metres from the crowd. The English crowd were hostile and they didn’t let up.

“They were screaming: ‘Same old Aussies, always cheating.’ They were chanting: ‘Shame.’ It got very heated. Then we had Usman Khawaja and Josh Hazlewood come over at the end for an interview, right there in the thick of it with the crowd.

“We were very close to it and there was a bit of back-and-forth there between Khawaja and the English spectators. The crowd went nuts.”

Things were no less tense inside the stands. As the Aussie players made their way through the Long Room on their way to the change rooms, they copped abuse from members – behaviour authorities deemed “unacceptable”, which resulted in the suspensions of three people.

Khawaja and David Warner had to be separated from the mob by match officials.

Major sporting events can be a bit like an unscripted soap opera that plays out in real time, Nine’s director of Total TV sales Richard Hunwick said.

“The reason we invest so much in sport is it’s effectively drama. It was heightened to a ridiculous degree this year,” Hunwick said.

“No-one knows the outcome and it could change at any moment. This one has been a cracker. A bit of controversy is always good. It’s created watercooler talk.”

The Ashes has been a ratings bonanza for the network, with some of the digital audience figures coming as a pleasant surprise, he said.

“The power of the streaming component of our coverage was probably bigger than we expected. We had a big influx of audiences that we might not ordinarily see.

“The numbers were significant. It shows how powerful that element has been. And the depth of it contributed right through, well into the night. I mean, 50,000 to 60,000 people still streaming at 2am – a great result and great outcome.”

The result is a testament to Nine’s investment in its Total TV approach, he said, adding: “To grab a million or so people on linear and 150,000 on streaming… we’re delighted.”

Brands are, too, he said, with feedback about the series being “universally strong”.

“A lot of revenue has gone into both the linear feed, which we’re really happy with, but we’ve also seen direct IO package money and also cleaned up a lot from the programmatic market.

“Generally speaking, the market is really happy to see audience growth on TV.

“If you look open to close through the month of July, Nine’s audience is in positive territory across all channels year-on-year.”

And the success of covering a major sporting event in a tricky Northern Hemisphere time zone has given Nine greater confidence about its strategy for the Olympic Games in Paris next year.

“Seeing what we did from an audience perspective has also allowed us to fine-tune some of our thinking and is a fantastic endorsement of our expectations.

“To have 60,000 people tune in the morning after to watch the mini highlights, that’s a powerful learning for us about how you present sport from the Northern Hemisphere.

“We’re also confident there are people who’ll sit up and watch through the night if it’s compelling viewing, and they’ll catch up with it through the day.”

For her part, Ransome said “the support from back home was lovely”.

“This was a big gig for me. I’ve been to plenty of Test matches, but this was my first opportunity to work on one. It’s been awesome and a lot of fun.

“There was really no negativity on social media and whatnot either, which doesn’t often happen. I’ve had lots of really lovely messages.”


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