The 2013 Formula 1 season brought in a higher viewership than 2012 in the United Kingdom, according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. However, a deeper look inside the figures shows that the season was a tale of two halves.
The season, when taking into account Sky’s longer running time for each race programme, averaged 4.11m across the nineteen races on BBC One and Sky Sports F1. This is an increase of 130k (or 3.3%) on the 3.98m average recorded for 2012, but is again down on the figures recorded between 2009 and 2011 when Formula 1 was exclusively live on the BBC. Despite an overall increase, viewing figures dropped a million viewers from the first half to the second half of the season. The first half of the season averaged 4.58m (2012: 4.06m), whilst the second half of the season averaged 3.59m (2012: 3.89m), a 27.6% drop compared with a 4.4% drop in 2012.
BBC’s Formula 1 coverage was the reason for the increase, averaging 3.42m viewers throughout 2013 for their race-day coverage, compared with 3.22m in 2012, an increase of 6.2%. The main source of the increase was the high German Grand Prix highlights rating, which averaged 5.15m and benefited from following the Wimbledon final. Removing this would still keep 2013 above 2012 for the BBC. Nevertheless, the first half of the season averaged 3.81m (2012: 3.21m), with the second half averaging 3.00m (2012: 3.23m), a 27.0% drop compared with a 0.6% increase last year, slightly below the overall average drop. It shows how well the first half of the season did, helped not only by the German Grand Prix, but also the controversial Malaysian Grand Prix.
Unlike BBC, Sky Sports F1’s coverage dropped throughout. When putting it on a level playing field with the BBC, the main part of their race-day programming averaged 685k, down on the 767k recorded in 2012, a decrease of 12.0%. There is no particular race that struggled, but rather an overall declining picture for the channel compared with 2012. 770k (2012: 855k) watched the first half of the season with Sky, this number dropping to 590k (2012: 659k) for the latter half of the season. In both 2012 and 2013, Sky’s coverage has dropped across the season: a decrease of 30.5% compared with a 29.7% drop in 2012.
The F1 Broadcasting Blog says: The season from a ratings perspective can only be described as a tale of two halves in about every possible way. From a television point of view, producers would expect and hope for the season to start slowly and then build to a crescendo towards the end, 2008 is a perfect example of that with the Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa battle bubbling up at several points in the season before the season finale. 2013 was almost the opposite in that round two had the biggest story of the entire year, with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel’s on track battle. It was downhill from there. Casual fans love stories like that. Sadly though for companies around the world, it was never followed up on where the on track action was concerned. There was no juicy follow up, and I don’t think Webber and Vettel ever got close on track again.
Instead, the second half of the season seen Vettel dominate, and viewing figures plunge. I imagine, although I cannot verify, that a similar picture was repeated around the world. I’d be surprised if the UK was an anomaly given the context of the season. Which leads me onto double points.
AUTOSPORT has learned that teams were pressured into supporting the move because they were told by Bernie Ecclestone that television companies and race promoters had asked for a way to ensure the world title battle was kept alive for longer. – AUTOSPORT – December 20th
Obviously broadcasters can see the ratings as soon as they are released and may well have done the same comparisons as I have shown above. Has one of them forced Formula One Management (FOM) to press the panic button? I think they did. And rather stupidly too, given that 2013 was definitely not a typical season in terms of layout. As good as the Webber and Vettel story was, the other stories, the public simply don’t care about, for example the ‘tyre test’ and the outcome of that. They care about personalities. More of Webber and Vettel, less of the tyres which I suspect no one out of the Formula 1 bubble really cares about.
A good season for the BBC, they will be pleased to be up versus 2012. Yes, they did drop in the latter half of the season, but given the context, it is difficult to have expected anything different. What I would say is that the BBC ratings do show is that Formula 1 needs to keep the terrestrial television presence, which I hope continues beyond 2018, although that is a long, long way away yet. Whilst Sky’s decline in the latter half of the season is unsurprising, the first half of the season also declined, which was not a good sign from the get-go. From a ratings perspective, they desperately need stability and avoid the free-fall continuing into 2014. How do they do that?
Unlike BBC, which is purely dependent on the on-track action, Sky need to consider how Formula 1 is packaged within their portfolio of channels. Limiting who can, and cannot view Formula 1, and punishing people through loopholes is not the way to go. At the end of the day (and this will apply to BT Sport with MotoGP too), Sky need to make their coverage more accessible to people and not price them out of the market. I’m not sure that will happen, and if it doesn’t happen, then I only see viewing figures continuing to drop for Sky. The aim of the game needs to be to get Formula 1 ratings in the UK back up to the levels seen between 2009 and 2011. And who knows, for the moment, 2014 may be make or break where that is concerned.