Roland Garros 2016: Watching Andy Murray at French Open as a TV executive provides conflicting emotions, says Eurosport boss Peter Hutton

 
Joe Hall
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Murray has played 20 sets in his last five matches (Source: Getty) (Source: Getty)

Andy Murray's torturous run to the semi-finals of this year's French Open has put fans through the ringer but provided conflicted emotions for TV executives.

The world No2's passage to a third successive semi-final has not been completly smooth sailing, with the Scot playing 20 sets in his last five games and twice coming within a set of an embarrassing early exit in the opening two rounds.

For Eurosport chief executive Peter Hutton, such struggles are a cause for concern as a supporter of British tennis but provide an unexpected boon to his channel's ratings.

Read more: Wimbledon set to be broadcast on pay TV for first time after Eurosport strikes agreement with BBC

Sports media industry veteran Hutton was put in charge at Eurosport last year and has been tasked with leading the large scale development plans put in place by parent company Discovery Communications which took control in 2014.

Part of the channel's strategy is based on pushing locally relevant talent to the 93 countries in which it operates and Murray has already helped it score its best-ever weekend in the UK as a peak audience of 1.1m watched him lose to Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open in January.

"You look at it so much more differently in this job; you’re half a fan, half watching for business reasons," Hutton told City A.M.

"You get caught away with the emotion of it and then catch yourself thinking; ‘Hang on, from a viewership perspective can this go five sets?’ ‘Can it go on as long as possible?’, ‘Can it hit UK prime time?’

"The beauty about Murray is that it’s always dramatic. The commentators say the same thing; over the course of a set, his emotions go up and down, it’s so visible and that takes you with him. He’s great viewing as an individual personality. And if that roller coaster lasts four or five sets, then from a TV perspective so much better."

Yet if Murray is toppled by reigning champion Stan Wawrinka in Friday's semi-final, it would not spell disaster for Eurosport which has benefited from impressive runs by other national heroes in its key markets such as Poland's Agnieszka Radwanksa and Romania's Simona Halep who both made the quarter finals.

"Above all you don’t want the stars to go out," he said.

"It’s been great this year to have Radwanksa go on a run which dominates the Polish market, Halep go on a run which dominates the Romanian ratings. It’s another emotional roller coaster and you tend to look at it like you’re watching the betting odds — our money depends on the results.

"Murray’s a big factor in the UK and honestly I’d love to see someone challenge that dominance a little bit. But if you look at the figures for someone like Halep in Romania, she’s a genuine superstar in that market. I had no idea before I started looking at the viewing figures and you see how this is moving.

"We’re in 20 languages in every country in Europe, the beauty of the mens’ tennis is all the quarter-finalists were from Europe.

"Whatever happens you’re onto a winner."

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