F1 1,000 fails to lift UK television audience

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Formula 1’s 1,000th race failed to lift the UK’s television audience for the sport significantly according to overnight viewing figures.

For the third race in succession, live coverage aired across Sky’s Formula 1 channel, Sky Sports Main Event, and Sky’s general entertainment outlet Sky One, to boost their total reach during the early phase of the season.

As always, all audience figures exclude those who watched on demand, via the likes of Sky Go, Now TV and All 4.

Race – Sky live
To present a fair and transparent picture historically, this site continues to use a 210-minute time slot for Sky’s F1 coverage on race day. For China, this covers the period from 06:00 to 09:30.

> Ratings: an explainer

During this time slot, Sky’s coverage averaged 543k (14.5%), their highest audience for China since 2015, and a year-on-year increase of 9.7 percent, or 48,000 viewers. An audience of 301k (8.3%) watched via the F1 channel, with an additional 82k (2.3%) watching via Main Event and 159k (3.9%) watching via Sky One.

Worryingly, the proportion of viewers watching via Sky Sports F1 has dropped since Australia. 66 percent of Sky’s audience for the Melbourne live race day programme came from Sky Sports F1, compared with 60% in Bahrain and 56% in China.

Sky’s broadcast peaked with 1.02m (18.9%) at 08:40 as Hamilton won the Grand Prix. At the time of the peak, 498k (9.2%) were watching via Sky Sports F1, with 164k (3.0%) and 360k (6.7%) watching via Main Event and Sky One respectively.

Aided by the Sky One simulcast, Sky’s collective peak audience increased by 20.6 percent year-on-year, resulting in their highest peak audience for China since 2014.

Race – Sky highlights and Channel 4
Following the race, four repeat airings aired across Sky’s three outlets.

As in Australia four weeks ago, the repeats make a (smaller) statistical difference to the result, with a combined peak audience of 357,000 viewers watching. Sky One contributed the most: their single repeat airing peaked with 162k (2.6%) at 11:30.

Channel 4’s highlights show fared badly on Sunday afternoon, with opposition from both The Masters golf on BBC Two, as well as Premier League football on Sky Sports.

Highlights of the race averaged just 1.28m (10.9%) from 15:00 to 17:00, peaking with 1.68m (14.3%), one of their lowest ever audiences for an F1 highlights programme. Both measures dropped by 32 percent year-on-year, with their peak audience down 800,000 viewers on last year’s figure of 2.48m (20.6%).

Last year’s programme did unusually well, helped by the dramatic finale involving Daniel Ricciardo. In 2016 and 2017, the Shanghai highlights show averaged around 1.6 million viewers, which would result in a slightly less severe drop of around 20 percent for 2019.

Based on Sky’s live airing only the combined average audience of 1.82 million viewers and combined peak audience of 2.70 million viewers are the lowest for China on record, by some margin.

Adding in Sky’s repeat airings brings the average to around 1.98 million viewers, with the peak audience lifting to 3.01 million viewers, resulting in a higher peak figure than both 2016 and 2017.

The fact that we need to perform an additional calculation to bring F1’s 2019 viewing figures in line with previous years, which in turn was down from the phase before that, shows that the situation is not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.

Qualifying and Analysis
Live coverage of qualifying averaged 288k (9.8%) from 06:00 to 08:30 across Sky’s three channels, their highest qualifying audience for China since 2016. 171k (6.1%) watched via the F1 channel, with 45k (1.6%) watching on Main Event and 72k (2.1%) watching on Sky One.

Later in the day, 770k (10.6%) watched Channel 4’s highlights from 13:00 to 14:30, a decrease on last year’s figure of 840k (11.0%) and their lowest ever for China.

The combined audience of 1.06 million viewers is slightly higher than last year’s figure of 1.02 million viewers, but down on the 2017 figure of 1.12 million viewers.

Three races in, and it is increasingly clear that Sky’s decision to air the first three races of 2019 on Sky One is skewing the audience figures presented, with a large audience choosing to watch via the entertainment outlet.

Inevitably, and also by design, the Sky One simulcast has resulted in a deflated audience for Channel 4. With Sky One’s simulcast disappearing from Baku, expect Channel 4’s viewing figures to increase by a significant margin moving forward.

Based on the early evidence, it appears that F1’s UK viewing figures in totality will drop across the course of the season. By how much, and on what scale at this stage is difficult to quantify.

As I said after Australia, and again after Bahrain, Azerbaijan is the decisive test for F1 this season, and should give us our first sign of what ‘the new normal’ is moving forward.

The 2018 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

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Coulthard to step away from Channel 4’s F1 coverage for three races this season

David Coulthard is to step away from Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage for three races this year, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

The Scotsman has been part of the UK’s F1 free-to-air offering since 2009, first with the BBC from 2009 to 2015, and more recently with Channel 4, attending every race since at least 1995 in either a racing or broadcasting capacity. Coulthard started his existing commentary role in 2011, joining Martin Brundle and Ben Edwards in the booth during that time.

However, Coulthard will not be part of Channel 4’s coverage of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as well as two additional races later in the season.

This site understands that Mark Webber will join Ben Edwards on commentary for Baku, with Steve Jones, Eddie Jordan and Lee McKenzie completing Channel 4’s on-air team. It is unknown if Webber will step into the box for the other two races that Coulthard is stepping aside for.

Coulthard follows in the footsteps of close friend and Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle, who reduced his commitments with Sky last year to 18 races, and is again doing so this season.

Whilst disappointing to lose Coulthard for the three races, his decision to trim his F1 commitments is no doubt similar in reasoning to those elsewhere in the paddock, with the Grand Prix race schedule more demanding compared with yesteryear.

Outside of the F1 circle, Coulthard has other obligations within the motoring world and beyond, such as the new W Series, which gets underway in earnest the weekend after Baku.

Webber, who raced in Formula 1 from 2002 to 2013 with Red Bull and Jaguar, should be a great replacement for Coulthard. As part of Sky’s own shake-up last Autumn, the broadcaster was understood to have been interested in Webber, but no deal came to fruition.

He has commentated on F1 before for Australian broadcaster Ten Sports, most recently during their coverage of this year’s Australian Grand Prix, when he joined Tom Clarkson in the commentary box.

Azerbaijan will be Webber’s first solo commentary alongside Edwards in the Channel 4 booth, although he did join Edwards and Coulthard to comthe 2016 British Grand Prix.

Formula E axes Voltage YouTube show after six races

Formula E has axed its bespoke YouTube programme Voltage after just six races, Motorsport Broadcasting can confirm.

Introduced at the start of the 2018-19 season, the two-hour show aimed to bring a younger demographic into the championship.

The programme, filmed at YouTube’s Space Studio, involved what is known in the industry as ‘influencers’, the electric series working with GOAT Agency to support their long-term ambitions.

Queen B and Laurence McKenna presented, with influencers such as KSI and Stephen Tries joining them throughout the six races, whilst Autosport’s Scott Mitchell was also involved in an expert capacity. Neil Cole, who has presented and reported on many motor racing events during his time, was responsible for leading the production side.

Now Voltage, which Aurora Media Worldwide produced, has ended with immediate effect, with multiple industry sources confirming the news today.

In response to a request for comment from this site asking whether Voltage has been axed, a Formula E spokesperson said “Yes. We’re using the experience gained from trialling a pioneering new digital product and working with some of the biggest content creators to fine-tune other exciting content in the pipeline.”

“We want to engage with our growing younger audience, and this remains our goal for alternative viewing opportunities we’ll be rolling out in future.”

“Fans will still be able to follow races of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship live on YouTube in the UK – as well as across the BBC, Eurosport and BT Sport.”

A rash move made far, far too early
Voltage was not perfect. Some fans may be happy that it has disappeared. I would argue that this is a very rash move made by Formula E too early in Voltage’s life cycle.

If you are a passionate motor racing fan and did not like Voltage, that is fine, it was not my cup of tea from a personal perspective. But Formula E thought that Voltage would bring a different fan into the championship, someone who is not me or you.

What happened though is that Voltage failed to bring in many, if any new fans into the series. Outside of the programme, the influencers never really influenced across their social media channels.

A guest article on this site posted earlier today outlined Voltage’s problems, including poor audience figures and low engagement. More importantly though, all the problems outlined were fixable, with some collaborative thinking behind the scenes required.

If anything, I am disappointed Formula E have given up this early instead of pursuing through to the end of the season and then reviewing the situation then.

Pulling the series half way through smacks of a short-sighted decision without thinking about the bigger picture. If Formula E think things are not going ‘according to plan’, use the last half of the season to experiment with a different variety of guests, or a different format.

Not once did Formula E work with many of motor racing’s YouTube stars to see how that impacted on the metrics. They may argue “well they are related to motor sport, we don’t want them,” I would argue that anything that moved the needle at this point would be a success.

Changing things up would not only give Formula E a much better gauge on the landscape, but would also better inform their decision making for the 2019-20 season. Canning the show is admitting that the experiment failed when, in my view, it is Formula E who have failed to give it a chance to succeed.

Cole and the team did the best in the circumstances. The decision by Formula E to axe Voltage is another blot on Aurora’s copy book, and will raise further questions about their long-term future with the championship.

Updated on April 12th with Formula E’s statement.

Formula E, Voltage, and YouTube: a match made in heaven?

Last November, Formula E announced that races will be streamed on their YouTube channel. But, instead of your typical stream, the championship opted to try out a new approach using ‘influencers’. Five months on, how is the experiment going?

Andrew, one of Motorsport Broadcasting’s avid readers has been watching from the start, and sent in his observations…

If you are reading this site, you are more than likely a heavy motor sport fan, and therefore instantly dismissed by the personalities behind Formula E’s new YouTube experiment as ‘not the target audience’.

But as someone keen on broadcasting, I have been curious to watch the development of ‘FE Voltage’, to use the proper title. Think of Voltage as a cross between an irreverent YouTube talk show, and Gogglebox (a show we have in the UK, where we watch people, watching TV!).

The concept is the brainchild of GOAT, an agency that looks after influencers and YouTube talent. They are responsible for sending influencers to each race (presumably paid for by Formula E) with the sole target of widening the reach of the championship.

Voltage places influencers in a studio at YouTube London to watch the Formula E race with a similar premise. Fans of said influencer migrate to the Formula E channel to watch their favourite YouTube star being associated with the series.

Because of the broadcasting rights for Formula E, there are two Voltage feeds on YouTube: a geo-blocked feed which does not show the racing at all, and the ‘World Feed’ which uses picture-in-picture of the real-World Feed.

Difficult start for Voltage…
KSI, who is one of YouTube’s most notable stars, joined the team for episode one covering the Riyadh E-Prix. Despite coverage from mainstream outlets in the UK (such as the Metro, Express and Mirror), the numbers on the channel were small. Three months later, the Saudi video has 250,000 views (roughly split 50/50 across the two feeds), whereas KSI has 6.5 million followers across Facebook and Twitter.

It was clear from the comments left by viewers that few were there for KSI, questioning who they were and why they were talking over the race. KSI himself was unsure why he was there, frequently filmed on his phone, and once heard remarking ‘this is boring’.

The hosts, Queen B and Laurence McKenna seemed to have no idea what was happening in the race, no grasp of the basic rules that Formula E had been shouting about, such as Attack Mode and Fanboost.

Not one person in the studio seemed engaged, so how could the viewers become engaged?

Thankfully, episode two had a different feel: no distractions, no phones, just the guests and the race with anything non-Formula E related left to the pre-show. The use of the World Feed commentators’ audio (including Dario Spaghetti!) and the addition of Autosport correspondent Scott Mitchell as Formula E Guru helped.

The guests WillNE and Stephen Tries did not have the same number of followers as KSI from race one and the English feed suffered, with 45,000 views, but crucially 1,500 dislikes to just 400 likes on YouTube. The World Feed version of Voltage reached 266,000 views – mainly because Formula E removed the ability to just watch the race – internet consumers had to watch through Voltage.

Nevertheless, the studio energy was flat, disinterested and even with a Guru, there was no encouragement to engage. While the addition of Mitchell added some integrity, the production team placed him in the corner away from the influencers – left behind like the last one picked to be on a football team. It represented so much about the philosophy of the production.

What will not surprise many readers is that Aurora produces the output, the same house that produces the World Feed coverage alongside North One Television. The World Feed varies massively in quality from race to race, missing many key moments up and down the field.

What is more surprising though is that Neil Cole (also WRX pit reporter, WTCC presenter and Race of Champions commentator) produces the show. Clearly a man who knows his motor sport, it baffles how the stream seems so dis-interested in the sport.

Just 37,000 watched episode three, which covered Santiago, with 1,000 accounts disliking the video. The stream that includes footage of the race managed an upward trend to 294,000 and had more positive engagement in the 165 comments, clearly fans of the guests, WillNE and ‘Morgz Mum’ helped.

Were they commenting on Formula E, engaging with what they saw, and subscribing to the YouTube channel however, the numbers suggest not.

…but is the show turning a corner?
One of the stars of Voltage is Saunders Carmichael-Brown, who is on-site with the main Formula E television team. He frequently tries to drag the studio back to focus on the action, or enthuse about the atmosphere and the battles on track. There is a genuine passion and understanding, although it is clear he can rarely hear what the studio is saying, coming across sometimes as a little underproduced.

Carmichael-Brown’s energy is what Mitchell needs to emulate as the ‘Guru’. As a writer and journalist, he is highly respectable and knows Formula E, but is unable to articulate his knowledge on Voltage. Of all the guest or presenters, Mitchell should be the most engaged having followed the championship longer than those alongside him.

The double stream setup ended after Santiago, with a single ‘World Feed’ in use from Mexico City onwards. Evidently, broadcasters did not feel threatened by Voltage’s presence and so allowed the change to happen. A chili eating competition helped fill some dull moments half way through Mexico, and by the end the guest seemed truly engaged with the racing action.

The Mexico stream had 550,000 views and clearly benefited from both the craziness of the racing and the fun competition. It may have also been geo-blocked in a different way to help the numbers, but the feeling was still the same from many watching.

From chilis in Mexico to worms in Hong Kong and thankfully, due to various red flag periods, the team used the worms to fill the time. As the races went on, it became clear that the bookers of the talent were starting to consider requests from fans for motor sport related guests.

Yianni Charalambous, a car wrapper with 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube going by the name of Yiannimize, joined the core line-up for Hong Kong, whilst MrJWW joined the team for the following race in Sanya. Both were clearly engaged in the racing far more than previous guests. The change of direction pushed Queen B to engage as well and Mitchell became far more involved than McKenna hosting.

The World Feed was also in full screen with the studio in the corner allowing for far less negativity. Initially the numbers for Mexico on YouTube looked poor at just 90,000 but the figures soon grew to 570,000, with Sanya’s figures soaring to 632,000.

With just 18 comments for Sanya, one would question exactly how the numbers have increased so much, especially as Formula E are now uploading the full World Feed coverage onto their YouTube channel.

The relationship between Voltage and the main production team has improved, which became apparent when Voltage cut to a replay of Sam Bird exiting the Sanya race before the World Feed had shown what had happened or even referenced it.

Mitchell’s departure from the team following Sanya presents a great opportunity to bring in an energetic presenter to really enthuse on the sport. While Mitchell’s influence and knowledge has been hugely important to the product, Voltage could do better. In fact, the best person for the job is probably the producer!

Ultimately, Voltage’s figures have increased significantly since Riyadh last December. However, with a low number of comments and interactions, it is not yet creating the buzz either Formula E or the production team were hoping for.

Fancy contributing to Motorsport Broadcasting? Head over here for further details…

Ted’s Notebook to return to Sky’s F1 schedule

Ted Kravitz’s Notebook will return to Sky’s Formula 1 schedules in a reprieve for the programme, the broadcaster has confirmed.

Kravitz, who is with Sky for 13 races this season, will present the 30-minute Notebook at this Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix following their Paddock Live post-race programme.

However, the Qualifying Notebook does not appear to be returning as of writing. An article on the Sky Sports website outlining their Chinese Grand Prix schedule references the Notebook, but omits any reference to Kravitz presenting the show.

Since Sky’s article went online, the broadcaster themselves has noted via their customer facing @SkyHelpTeam Twitter outlet that Kravitz will present the programme. Whilst Sky may not be calling the programme Ted’s Notebook, instead giving it a generic title (this Sunday it is “The Chinese GP Notebook”), the presenter is indeed the same.

The Notebook is returning for all of Kravitz’s 13 races. Kravitz’s status with Sky, and their communication around it, has been subject of much social media attention in the past two months.

Sky, whose F1 team is led by Scott Young, initially axed Kravitz from their line-up in the off-season, but the broadcaster u-turned on their decision, as this site exclusively revealed at the time.

In the interim period, Kravitz joined forces with F1 themselves, with a post-weekend Debrief show airing on F1 TV and Sky’s F1 channel. It quickly emerged though that Kravitz’s Sky return came with a reduction in his role, from 21 to 13 races.

In the weeks since Australia, Sky have communicated to customers via social media that Ted’s Notebook is not returning to their output. Now, in a second u-turn, the Notebook returns this Sunday following a significant social media backlash.

Analysis: Another u-turn from Sky
The saga that is Ted Kravitz’s status with Sky Sports rumbles on. As I said from the outset, the decision to axe Kravitz from the line-up struck me as a “very narrow-minded decision.”

Make no mistake about it: Sky’s PR on this from the start has been appalling, with attempts made at every opportunity to brush the subject underneath the surface. Where is the honesty with their customers?

A simple statement on the Sky F1 website to state that Kravitz is with the team for 13 races, and that the Notebook programme will air during those races, would have quashed any sort of backlash during Australia and Bahrain.

Instead of being proactive, Sky’s whole communication strategy has felt reactive. The only mention of Kravitz on Sky’s F1 channels as far as I am aware has come from David Croft in commentary for Australia and Bahrain practice, whilst on-air team members have sporadically responded to individual tweeters.

Neither are exactly front and centre of their social media or website portfolio. Sky could have avoided much of the negative feedback in recent weeks by being open and transparent with their audience.

It is possible that Sky never intended for the Notebook to return, even with Kravitz doing 13 races, and that fans have forced them to bring the Notebook back. Technically the programme that went by the name Ted’s Notebook is not in Sky’s schedules, but the Notebook presented by Ted Kravitz is in the schedules.

Ignoring the political aspect, I am happy to see the Notebook returning, as the programme covers every team, something that has been missing from Sky’s post-race output so far this season.

Every team has a story, with little nuggets of information up and down the pit lane as to why the race went the way it did.

Spending the race and the aftermath in pit lane meant that Kravitz was able to capture stories that in another era went underneath the radar. From that perspective, I am pleased to see the Notebook return.

The fact that Sky have reneged on their position is a good thing, although I remain bewildered that it has come to this.

Update on April 9th at 07:00 – Following this article, and late last night on their website at 22:55, Sky officially confirmed for the first time that Kravitz, as expected, will be with the team for 13 races, with the Notebook appearing at all those races.