Chinese Grand Prix continues F1’s ratings slump

Formula 1 continued its rocky ratings patch in the United Kingdom last weekend, as viewing figures for the Chinese Grand Prix dropped a million year-on-year, making it the worst Chinese Grand Prix rating in seven years.

The race, which aired exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 from 07:00 to 10:30, averaged 681k (11.2%), which compares with 622k (8.4%) and 547k (7.4%) respectively in 2012 and 2013 for their shared coverage. BBC One’s highlights averaged 2.87m (21.1%) from 14:30, bringing a combined average of 3.55m.

Whilst Sky’s numbers are up about 20 percent as a result of screening it live, BBC’s numbers fall significantly when comparing against the live plus re-run numbers from years gone by. In 2012, BBC averaged 4.45m by that measure and 3.93m in 2013. In fact, BBC’s live numbers for both 2012 and 2013 were nearly higher than the highlights number that the channel recorded last weekend!

The combined average does not compare favourably with previous years as a result: the Chinese Grand Prix has averaged 4.4m or more for every year from 2008 to 2013 inclusive, making it the lowest Chinese Grand Prix number since 2007. It is a worrying trend, however we will only know how concrete it is when we get to Europe. If Spain and Monaco record averages in the low to mid three million range, then alarm bells have to start ringing.

Sky Sports F1’s live Qualifying coverage from 06:00 to 08:45 averaged 236k (7.1%), which is almost identical to last year’s rating, despite this year being exclusively live on Sky. BBC’s highlights brought 1.59m (18.6%) to BBC One, meaning that the combined figure was 1.82m. Again, and worryingly so, that combined figure harks back to the ITV days. Whereas 2009 through to 2013 were all above 2.00m, this figure falls short.

I sometimes get criticised for painting a negative picture, but that is the only picture I can paint here. Where viewing figures are concerned, there are no positives when steep drops are being recorded more often than not. Over half a million viewers, which is the gap in most cases, would not be clawed back via ‘other methods’. The fact is, some people have tuned out due to many different primary and secondary factors.

The 2013 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.

Formula E unveils television team

Formula E have today confirmed their television team that will be at every round of the inaugural season. The series in the UK will air exclusively live on ITV4 from September.

Nicki Shields, presenter of Channel 5’s The Gadget Show, will present the World Feed coverage, whilst also roving the pit lane during the race. Part-time BBC Radio 5 Live F1 commentator and Blancpain Sprint Series commentator Jack Nicholls will be in the commentary box alongside former IndyCar Series champion and three time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti. Red Dwarf star Robert Llewellyn will present a series of technical features on their YouTube channel.

Speaking to Formula E’s official website, Franchitti said: “It is no secret that I have a passion for the history and evolution of motorsports. To be on the team that will now cover an exciting new racing category is a great honour and I can’t wait to see how the Formula E cars perform when the lights go out in Beijing.” Ali Russell, Marketing Director, added: “We’re delighted to be unveiling our host TV commentary team today which we believe ensures fans have the complete range of expertise to guide them through the championship from scientists and technology experts to experienced motorsport commentators and legendary drivers.”

A mix of motor sport experience and enthusiasts where the line-up is concerned. Given that this is meant to be a ‘green’ racing series, it makes perfect sense for them to get some people outside of the motor sport circles on board for their coverage. Given that Aurora Media have done the Goodwood coverage in the past, which Shields has been a part of, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see her present the World Feed, but a good move nevertheless for the reasons noted above. It’ll be interesting to see how it translates to on-screen for ITV4, one assumes that on the basis that paid very, very little for it, that they will just take the World Feed. To be fair, it makes broadcasters’ jobs easier by having a presenter on the World Feed as it means that all they need to do is take the feed and not much else.

Happy 2nd Birthday!

On April 24th, 2012, I launched The F1 Broadcasting Blog. As you’d expect, things began with a standard ‘Welcome‘ piece. Two years later, this site stands at 555 posts and counting. Below are some of the statistics so far surrounding the blog…

– Total of 460,000 hits
– 44,000 unique visitors in March
– Over 3,500 followers on Twitter
– Amassed over 1,900 comments since inception
– Average of 800 views per day
– Visitors from 174 countries
– Connections with members of the F1 paddock and beyond

I’ve said it before, but it needs to be said again. Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, shared and helped the growth of this site, without you, the site would not be what it is today. It has also in some ways, been an experiment for me. When I started two years ago, I didn’t know how popular the site would become. Which was some of the fun of it, not knowing where it would end up. I think its probably one of the best decisions I’ve made launching the site, it definitely has been enjoyable along the way. So, what has been the most popular content since the launch? Below are the most viewed articles from the past two years.

10. Are Sky going to withdraw F1 channel from old ‘HD Pack’ subscribers this month? – September 1st, 2013
Trying to update readers on the status of Sky’s legacy ‘HD Pack’ wasn’t easy. This is not the only entry on the subject inside the top ten…

9. Dissecting Georgie Thompson’s decision to leave Sky F1 – February 25th, 2013
I attempted to look at Georgie Thompson’s decision to leave the Sky Sports F1 team. No official comment was ever made on this matter, but Thompson turned up as presenter on new American talk show Crowd Goes Wild on Fox Sports 1.

8. Doing the sums: the cost of viewing Sky Sports F1 this year – January 31st, 2013
Unsurprisingly, a popular article last year involved people looking for the cheapest way to view Sky Sports F1 legally. The popularity of that article spawned a 2014 version focussing on both Formula 1 and MotoGP, the latter no longer live on terrestrial television.

7. A few thoughts on Jake Humphrey leaving the BBC – September 18th, 2012
In September 2012, it was announced that Jake Humphrey would be leaving the BBC. In typical style, I published my reaction to his departure and speculated about who would replace him as F1 presenter. In all cases here, I was wide of the mark with my guesses.

6. Predicting BT Sport’s MotoGP team – October 24th, 2013
I should have learnt my lesson with number seven to not bother predicting things, sadly I didn’t learn and decided to predict BT’s MotoGP team. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone predicted who the presenter would turn out to be!

5. Italian Grand Prix records highest rating since 1998 – September 10th, 2012
I can thank Jake Humphrey for this one. Another ratings related article, except in this case Humphrey decided to share it via Twitter. To date, September 10th, 2012 remains the most viewed day in the blog’s history, which shows how much power Twitter has.

4. Are current Sky ‘HD Pack only’ customers with Sky Sports F1 set for a shock? – June 1st, 2013
Any money related articles are popular. This, the first ‘HD Pack’ rumour falls into that category. I don’t envisage any future articles on this particular train of thought, the consensus for Sky subscribers is “switch from the legacy HD Pack, and you will lose Sky Sports F1”.

3. ITV4 win rights to screen MotoGP highlights – March 8th, 2014
The big news from last month was that ITV4 were going to screen MotoGP highlights on Monday evenings, following BT Sport winning the rights to screen the series exclusively from this season onwards.

2. Georgie Thompson leaves Sky’s F1 team – February 15th, 2013
In a surprising move, Georgie Thompson left the Sky Sports F1 team after only a year in the role, with Natalie Pinkham taking over her duties. The news was broken exclusively on this blog, with mainstream newspapers picking the story up a week later.

1. Gary Anderson to leave BBC’s Formula 1 team – January 13th, 2014
Another person leaving, one year after Thompson. This time it was Gary Anderson, as he parted company with the BBC team.

So, what lies ahead? One thing I do want to do, where possible, is more behind the scenes pieces, and hopefully that has been noticeable in the past few months, with a look at The F1 Show, a trip of my own to Silverstone, and also an interview with former FOTA secretary general Oliver Weingarten. Alongside that, there will be the usual ratings pieces, scheduling pieces and all the latest news snippets from the world of motor sport broadcasting. It needs to be noted that from October the joys of a dissertation to complete will be heading my way, but as I have done in previous years, the blog should continue rolling along.

Thanks for reading!
Owner of The F1 Broadcasting Blog

Watching F1 in highlights form amongst other observations

My trip to Silverstone to see round one of the FIA World Endurance Championship meant that I would not be watching the Chinese Grand Prix live. Its the first time I have missed a Formula 1 race since the 2008 Australian Grand Prix, back when the season opener took place in the early hours of the morning, and when I was slightly younger! But, as I said in my piece linked above, I didn’t mind. Having never been to a race beforehand, watching motor sport in the flesh beat anything motor sport related on the TV, including Formula 1. The decision was clearly the right one.

Going to Silverstone allowed me to sample Formula 1 in a different way and also allowed me to open my eyes a bit more. Normally, it would be a matter of watching Sky or BBC live and watching the BBC re-run for the highlights races. Instead, this past Sunday consisted of me listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s coverage and watching the BBC highlights later on. I watched the Sky build-up at home whilst getting ready, leaving at 07:45 in time for BBC’s radio coverage. Jack Nicholls, Jennie Gow and Giedo van der Garde assumed control. I don’t think I heard Eric Silbermann, but I may be wrong. If I said that I was listening to it 100 percent I would be lying, too busy concentrating on the road in front and chatting meant that I was dipping in and out. But from what I heard, Nicholls sounded confident and assured on the microphone, and pointed out the key things at the start quickly without getting in a muddle.

More importantly, it was nice hearing a new, younger voice commentating on Formula 1, Nicholls becoming the youngest lead commentator for Formula 1 in this country ever. With no traffic at all on the M1 motorway, we arrived at Silverstone about half way through the F1 race, meaning that I didn’t hear the latter half of the 5 Live commentary, but what I heard from the early laps sounded good. In a shocking and surprising development, aside from a few message checking, I managed to avoid social media for the entire day, meaning that when I got home at 19:30, BBC iPlayer was waiting for me with Formula 1 highlights already on there ready for me to watch! Well… not quite.

The highlights did not appear on iPlayer until exactly 21:00. I admit to being a bit confused by this. BBC don’t air the highlights live, it is a recorded broadcast, so surely the broadcast should have been on iPlayer soon after the BBC One broadcast finished at 16:30? A four and a half hour gap between the end of the show and it appearing on iPlayer, especially for a highlights show, is strange, and not the first time the F1 shows have appeared on iPlayer late. It makes me wonder if BBC can only make the highlights shows available on iPlayer X hours after the race has finished, depending on time zone of the race. A bit frustrating but at least I didn’t need to wait until Monday morning.

I chose to record Sky Sports F1’s live coverage in the morning, allowing me to watch it on Monday morning (Sunday night not an option there with the TV being watched by others!). Other Sky related methods, including Sky On Demand via Sky Go were unavailable, their rights don’t allow them to broadcast full races On Demand for some reason. Anyway, BBC’s highlights show was okay, the race coverage itself was good. The edit, about 85 minutes in a 120 minute slot seemed a bit lopsided, unless there were very slight edits, it appeared to me that they showed the entirety of the first 35 or so laps, and then they started taking chunks out of the last quarter of the race. But, from their edit I didn’t feel like I had missed anything. I know that BBC’s schedules do not allow this, but I think that there needs to be some flexibility in the length that BBC can have for a highlights programme, the fact that China had a longer edit than Bahrain is criminal, but its luck of the draw, I guess.

One thing that I did think in comparison to previous years, and again I may be wrong but these are just my thoughts, it appeared to me that the race edit was actually longer than usual, with less analysis. I remember before 2012 we were promised a forum for even highlights races, yet they rarely appeared, and then disappeared completely. In China’s case, there was no chance of a forum happening, given that the race was mundane, but for Bahrain? You could easily make an argument for sticking a half an hour forum online on Monday morning. Why they no longer do that for highlights races, I don’t know. I always point to the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix forum, again a highlights race, as one of the best half an hour segments of F1 television that there is. Despite the fact that highlights programming is never a substitute for a live programming, I didn’t feel any incentive to watch Sky’s programme on Monday. I guess the point I’m making is that, had the race been live on the BBC, that would have been my first point call, but as it wasn’t, and Sky do not have full races On Demand, I opted for BBC’s highlights.

On Sunday, for the Chinese Grand Prix at least, F1 lost a ‘live programme’ viewer and gained a ‘highlights propgramme’ viewer. Is that good? I don’t think it is. But the fact is, as Formula 1’s viewing figures are slipping, in this country at least, live viewers are slowly being sipped into the highlights category. You can rinse and repeat that situation across the country, and replace ‘going to WEC’ with ‘going to BTCC’ or many other things. If Formula 1 is losing fans, what has to happen is that those fans must transition to other forms of motor sport, two wheels or four. For some people in this country Formula 1 is motor sport. That couldn’t be any more further from the truth, as I think my experience at Silverstone last weekend highlighted. You can attribute the blame game for that statement at many different doors, but that’s outside the realms of this blog piece, although I have mentioned some parts on this subject before. I’d argue that WEC, BTCC, even MotoGP should capitalise on Formula 1 slipping in this country. Sadly, at the moment I don’t see that happening.

I’ll be posting year-on-year viewing figure comparisons on this blog later this week where Formula 1 is concerned, and the picture does not look good.

A day at Silverstone

So, yesterday was interesting! Fantastic, brilliant, a downright scary drive home, and many other emotions can be pitched in to yesterday’s day. But what a great day it was, and one that I won’t forget for a while. So, what happened? Firstly, a little revelation. Before yesterday, I had, despite being a fan of motor sport for 15 years, never been to a motor race. Considering I run a motor sport related blog, that might come across as surprising! The reasoning behind that is because no one I’m related to is really a motor sport ‘nut’ like myself, and I’d never really found the opportunity to ask any friends (partially because I’d have no clue as to whether they’d be interested – there are a few motor sport nuts, but I’d never pluck up the courage to ask, or vice versa – anyway).

I was planning another usual weekend, watch the F1 and stay in, no doubt following the football in the afternoon. That changed on Saturday when a friend asked if I wanted to go along with him to Silverstone the next day for round one of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Hell yes! A no brainer for me, and clearly for the 43,000 others that went to Silverstone too on Sunday. At £40.00 a ticket, I work that out at about £1.7 million worth of ticket sales that Silverstone made for race day. You can’t complain about the ticket price: six and a half hours of racing, paddock access, a pit lane walk, free roaming around the track, what more could you want? The only thing that saddens me is that Silverstone can have the F1 race day prices in excess of £100, yet sell over 100,000 tickets. But we should take the 43,000 figure as a positive, and hopefully that goes up in years’ to come, it deserves to.

The closest I had come to watching a motor race before yesterday would be an F1 test session, on a cold murky day in February 2001. Memories include standing on the outside of Luffield watching the Arrows and Jordan testing. But apart from that, nothing else. After successfully navigating the M45 and M1 for the first time ever (I passed my test four months ago), we arrived just before the start of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship race, won by Antonio Fuoco. We seated ourselves in the main straight grandstand, moving ourselves around the circuit as the day went on. The gap between that race and the start of the 6 Hours of Silverstone went surprisingly quick. We headed over to the pit lane (which, it is worth noting, the Silverstone Wing looks amazing in person), and took a stroll down it, swerving in and out of people. It was fairly packed! Back in paddock we caught a glimpse of Karun Chandhok, although admittedly jealously levels went up a few notches when a few other people we were with informed us that they had seen Mark Webber, Allan McNish and Anthony Davidson! Yeah, slightly jealous…

A shot of the Toyota motor home in the Silverstone paddock - Round 1 of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.
A shot of the Toyota motor home in the Silverstone paddock – Round 1 of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.

We positioned ourselves in the Becketts complex for the start of the main showpiece race, which was great for many different reasons, notably the fact that we could see the majority of the circuit: Copse through to Stowe almost, and the new first section. We stayed there for the first hour and beyond, as the heavens opened it made for interesting reading as the Toyota and Audi’s duelled it out, along with a minor annoyance. The tarmac run off areas. As the drizzle began, many drivers’ took the liberty of going straight on at the second part of Becketts, without an attempt of turning in. Just a minor bugbear worth mentioning.

Being a ‘newbie’ in going to races, the main point of interest to me was the sound. From the grandstand, most of the cars, from LMP1 down to the GTE-A class sounded fairly similar, however the difference was clear from track side between Becketts and Copse. I’d been reliably informed to keep an eye sound of the Audi’s. Boy was it different! Distinct, and stood out a mile when down at track side. Each lap, as one by one the cars went by, the Audi was noticeable. I liked it, personally. Overall, in the ‘how loud is loud’ argument, the sound yesterday was very, very loud! As this was my first motor race, there was no comparison for me, but in any case, it definitely felt loud.

Schumacher and Hill colliding, and many more moments have taken place over the years here, no longer in use and untouched.
Schumacher and Hill colliding, and many more moments have taken place over the years here, no longer in use and untouched.

After lunch, we moved round to Luffield. One of the brilliant things about yesterday was being able to position myself wherever I wanted, which, as it is a motor race, I wanted to experience. I don’t want to go to a motor race and sit in one position, I want to go and experience it from many different angles, different corners. I think it also makes you appreciate more the amount of effort that goes into preparing race weekends up and down the country, week in and week out, that makes race day what it is. It was the little things like that which made the day for me, being able to stand at Luffield, stand at Copse, both in the wet and dry, the same corners that I have seen legends race through year in, year out on TV. That’s what I found great. Then, we came across Bridge. A piece of history, but no longer in use, which saddened me. I’m surprised it hasn’t been utilised in some way, at least yesterday, the grass in that section looked long and untouched in quite a while.

The day ended back on the start finish straight as the 6 Hours of Silverstone prematurely came to an end. It was the right decision to call off the race. To be honest, the Safety Car decision confused me, however the weather in the twenty minutes following rapidly got worse. I’ve criticised some decisions concerning red flags in the past, however, actually having an attended a motor race as a fan now, I understand definitely the decisions from a ‘fan in attendance’ perspective. Getting out of Silverstone was a nightmare, but beyond their control. Had the weather been nice, no doubt some would have stayed for the podium presentation, thus, a more controlled traffic flow. Had the race continued until 18:00, the journey home would have been even more worse yesterday. I avoided the M1 as I was worried about the spray at 70mph, but the A5 was just as bad: multiple rivers, and many, many scary moments! In any case, a Toyota 1-2 and Porsche in third meant that we went home happy.

But, what a day. What an experience. From start to finish, it was full of great memories and moments that will last a while! I think it is fair to say it had everything a fan could wish for with great racing, great access and even typical British weather so that fans can experience the cars in all weather! If you’re ever asked to make a decision in the future: watch F1 on TV, or watch racing in the flesh at your local circuit. Choose the latter. It’s a decision you won’t regret.