We’ve seen in the past how the scheduling of the North American highlights races on the BBC can dictate how badly a race does. And this was repeated last night, as the Bahrain Grand Prix dropped to its lowest rating since 2007.
Live coverage of the race on Sky Sports F1, won by Lewis Hamilton, averaged 1.00m (6.3%) from 15:00 to 18:30, peaking with 1.55m (8.3%) at 17:40. Perhaps unsurprisingly due to later timeslot, the average for Sky was higher than previous years, 2012 averaged 963k (8.0%) and 2013 averaged 824k (7.6%). Sky’s peak is up on 2013, but down on 2012, which peaked with 1.61m (13.3%). Interestingly, because of Sky’s split programme strategy, this is the first time a programme has averaged over a million viewers on the channel (1.0017m).
With the later start time, it meant that BBC’s coverage began later, as the contract says. Last year’s highlights show averaged 3.58m on BBC One, at the more favourable early evening timeslot. This year, at 22:00 on BBC Two, the highlights averaged 2.38m (15.3%), bringing a combined audience of 3.38m, down about a million on every year from 2009 through to 2013. 2008’s race, broadcast live on ITV, averaged 3.55m (30.4%). Races moving nearer to primetime, in the case of Bahrain, is only a good thing if broadcasters exploit it. On this occasion, the BBC didn’t exploit it. For some reason, the race weekend clashed with both the Grand National on Saturday and then the Boat Race on Sunday, which meant that the chances of BBC picking Bahrain live was zero.
Saturday’s Qualifying session didn’t fare much better, again thanks to the scheduling issues noted above. Live coverage averaged 373k (2.8%) from 15:00 to 17:45 on Sky Sports F1, down on 2012 and 2013. A direct clash with the Grand National, which peaked with over 8 million on Channel 4, didn’t help. BBC Two’s highlights averaged 1.96m (9.8%) from 21:00 to 22:15. The combined audience of 2.33m is the lowest for the Bahrain qualifying session since the pre-BBC days. The ratings beg the question of whose idea it was to have the highlights for the North American races at that time when the contract was drawn up – was not having the race highlights at 21:00 possible?
I’m not sure whether the contract specifically says that the race cannot be screened until 22:00, but it appears to be one rule for qualifying and another for the race. This year, BBC are screening highlights of USA and Brazil, which means we will get more late night highlights. How is Formula 1 meant to build an audience as the season heads to a climax? Because screening highlights at 22:00 does not benefit anyone, and limits the audience potential. I’m expecting some to point the finger at the poor racing (in the view of many, myself not included) for Australia and Malaysia, but it is much more complex than that: poor scheduling, no ‘multi 21’ drama, good weather amongst other things, some of which have been noted in your comments in the survey that I am currently doing. If we get into the European season and viewing figures are still dropping, then I think there is real cause for concern, but not until.
Last weekend, GP2’s coverage began on Sky Sports F1 for 2014 with pleasing ratings. The feature race on Saturday averaged 46k (0.7%), with the sprint race on Sunday bringing 70k (0.8%). The feature race was slightly above last year’s ratings, but the surprising rating is for the sprint race – its the highest rating for a sprint race ever on the channel. Hopefully the figures continue to improve as the season progresses.
The 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.