The ratings picture: The 2012 Verdict

Aside from looking at both the BBC F1 and Sky Sports F1 teams and their respective programming, a key component of this blog in 2012 has been to look at the ratings picture for every individual race. The ratings picture in 2012 has been haphazard thanks to the deal between BBC and Sky, some races have been wildly up and some have disappointed, but overall it is possible to draw some conclusions and bring together averages which I intend to do in this blog.

Before we get into figures, the main figures I use are programme averages. Why? Because they are the most widely available – especially when you are looking at historical Formula 1 figures from say ten years ago. Not every article will attach a ‘race average’ to it. However, I have done some calculations of my own using viewing figures that I have – which I will explain further later. All figures for 2012 comprise of one of the following, where appropriate:

– Sky live and BBC highlights
– Sky live, BBC live and BBC re-run (Asian based races)
– Sky and BBC live (non-Asian based races)

In August, I noted that Formula 1 in 2012 was set to be the lowest rated since on UK television since 2008. That prediction turned out to be true. Furthermore, analysis shows that there are 500,000 viewers that are not tuning into BBC highlights weekends that would otherwise tune into BBC live weekends.

Below are the season averages, based on full programme broadcasts:

– 2006 – 2.75 million
– 2007 – 3.61 million
– 2008 – 4.01 million
– 2009 – 4.38 million
– 2010 – 4.41 million
– 2011 – 4.62 million
– 2012 – 3.89 million (or 4.10 million using the ‘35 percent theory‘)

You may note some minor differences in the viewing figures above versus the ones I published in August. The reason for this is because all the figures from 2006 to 2012 now that I use are consolidated figures (which take into account anyone who has watched within 7 days) whereas before it was a mixture of overnight ratings and consolidated ratings. You will also notice that the 3.89 million figure for 2012 is the lowest since 2007. This is where the ’35 percent theory’ that I explained in August comes back in. When comparing to previous years, the BBC F1 programme started at 12:10 and ran to about 15:15. Sky Sports F1 live programmes ran from 11:30 to 16:15 meaning that the total average for Sky Sports F1 would be artificially deflated as a result. Applying the ’35 percent theory’ on top of the Sky figures gives you the 4.10 million average above. When both BBC and Sky are live, the average for those ten races is 4.38 million viewers. When only Sky are live and when BBC are showing highlights, that figure drops to 3.88 million viewers. Only twice for those ten races has the programme average been above 4 million, Bahrain and Hungary. The remaining eight races with exclusive Sky coverage recorded a average of under 4 million viewers. I would be questioning why that is the case, a 500,000 viewer difference between the two feels significant to me and appears to prove that the majority of fans still prefer to see Formula 1 in 2012 live.

Whilst the change in Formula 1 broadcasting for 2012 is one reason for the overall drop, it is not the only reason. The Olympics is another reason, as is Euro 2012 and Wimbledon. All three sporting events have hit Formula 1’s ratings this year. Formula 1 was always going to be hit by the Summer of Sport. But would the 2012 season have faired better if every race live on the BBC? Absolutely, and I think the fact that the average when races were live on BBC is 500,000 higher than when they were exclusively live on Sky proves that. BBC have every possible way of promoting sporting events – radio, TV, interactive, online. Formula 1 would remain in the limelight and would not become a forgotten sport for the Summer. I think the average would have been down on previous years, but it would have remained well above 4 million viewers in my opinion, near to 2010 levels.

Figure 1.1.
Figure 1.1.

The drop for 2012 is disappointing. But things need to be kept in perspective, Formula 1 is still immensely popular in the UK, and we are not going back to the mid 2000’s, where Formula 1 was struggling to achieve over 3 million viewers as Figure 1.1. above shows. The ratings should rebound in 2013 – no Olympics and no European Championship’s means that Formula 1 has weaker competition next Summer. If viewing figures do not rebound, then questions must be asked whether the BBC and Sky deal was a worthwhile deal for the money-makers to enter into. It also brings up the question of BBC Sport’s Formula 1 team extremely dedicated and hard work across these past few years in increasing the popularity of Formula 1 after the Schumacher years only for those higher up at the BBC to flush over half a million viewers down the toilet.

I noted during my August blog that I hoped the the season average would increase. At the Summer break, the 2012 season was averaging 4.14 million viewers. That figure has dropped very slightly by 40,000 viewers. Not a large drop, but a slight drop for whatever reason. A worrying statistic for me is that only four races seen their figures increase versus 2011. They were Brazil (up by 1 million), Italy, China and Europe. Two races were not on the calendar in 2011, meaning that fourteen rounds seen their figures drop versus 2011. Whilst some rounds clashed with other sporting events, I am fairly certain that does not apply for every one of those fourteen rounds. Canada unsurprisingly recorded the biggest drop versus 2011, whilst Japan and India also recorded sizeable drops. 2013 should see an automatic increase in significant numbers for Canada as the race will be live on BBC One.

The 4.38 million average for the BBC and Sky live races is an average I would have expected overall if BBC was showing every race live. There is an argument – and this applies for every race – that the 520,000 viewers drop is purely due to Sky’s longer airtime as there is a higher viewership for Sky when they are live, hence more weighting on their ratings. That is a completely false assumption to make due to the fact that I have already equalised the ratings as demonstrated above. Using consolidated figures and 5-minute breakdowns, The F1 Broadcasting Blog has taken averages from seven races across the past seven years and calculated the overall averages. Those races are Monaco, Spain, Britain, Belgian, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Europe. The average is from race start to chequered flag only. The results are as follows:

Race averages (Mon, Spa, UK, Sin, AbD, Eur)
– 2006 – 2.92 million (32.4%) (exc. Belgium, Singapore and Abu Dhabi)
– 2007 – 4.09 million (36.5%) (exc. Singapore and Abu Dhabi)
– 2008 – 4.57 million (37.9%) (exc. Abu Dhabi)
– 2009 – 4.95 million (43.9%)
– 2010 – 5.61 million (43.5%)
– 2011 – 5.58 million (43.7%)
– 2012 – 5.03 million (38.4%)

The conclusion that there has been a viewership drop is unquestionable. Those seven races were all BBC and Sky live races, and the race average is again in the lowest since 2009 – a similar story to the 4.38 million programme averages. Qualifying in 2012 has fared well, averaging 2.32 million viewers. Whilst it is down on 2009, 2010 and 2011 – it does stand in-line with 2010’s average of 2.41 million viewers which itself was affected by a Summer dominated by sport.

Focussing on Sky only to end the piece, live coverage of practice 1 has averaged 65,000 viewers; practice 2 has averaged 75,000 viewers; practice 3 has averaged 94,000 viewers. All three of those numbers have dropped off compared to the where they were at the Summer break, possibly suggesting that viewer fatigue had set in for the latter stages of the season. The F1 Show, when on location at race weekends, has averaged 45,000 viewers. I’ve covered my thoughts on those figures before and the main conclusion is that those figures are extremely low and below Sky’s own expectations. The GP2 Series and GP3 Series on Sky Sports F1 have also fared poorly, both averaging below 100,000 viewers. In my opinion that is due to the lack of advertising that Sky give to the feeder series’, neither series have had adverts promoting them on Sky so it is little wonder to see either series struggle for viewers on the channel. It is worrying that the stars of the feature are being seen by what feels like ‘one man and a dog’, GP2 and GP3 definitely need more of a prominent status here in the UK for 2013.

Several weeks on, and nearly 15,000 words later, that is my 2012 Verdict. Due to reasons already explained, I had hoped to have finished the verdict before Christmas but in any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the pieces and as always, comments are welcome. Roll on 2013!

Note: All the figures quoted here are the averages for the whole race programme, not the race average unless stated. Figures are mostly official figures from BARB and Broadcast magazine. While I have made comparisons and analysis of figures, I should note that I do not have every single ratings figure. The figures for that races that I am missing are:

1992 – Australia, San Marino, France, Portugal, Japan (live and both for AUS, JPN)
1993 – France (live), Japan (highlights)
1994 – Pacific (highlights), San Marino, France, Hungary, Japan (live)
1995 – Australia, Argentina, San Marino, Spain, Japan (all live)
1996 – Canada, Japan (all live)
1997 – Japan (live)
1998 – Australia,France, Japan (all live)
2000 – Malaysia (live and re-run), Japan (live)
2001 – Japan (live)
2003 – Malaysia; Japan (both live)
2004 – China (live)

If anyone is reading and has any of them ratings, leave a comment. While this piece focusses primarily on the 2012 ratings picture, my April piece focussed on the ratings picture for the past twenty years. For anyone wishing to read that, please click here.

2 thoughts on “The ratings picture: The 2012 Verdict

  1. Dont mind not watching live but i dont want to watch edited highlights. Theres no point, so much detail is lost, might be ok for casual fans but if youve been watching every race for years, highlights are a waste of my time.

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