British Grand Prix drops to eight year low

The British Grand Prix, won by Lewis Hamilton, peaked with 4.9 million viewers yesterday, unofficial overnight data shows. Tough opposition and a one hour red flag period meant that the race dropped to its lowest number since 2006.

You may argue that year-on-year analysis is invalid due to the red flag period. To some degree, comparisons are invalid and I accept that the race yesterday was not your typical 90 minute event, however that does not mean that they should be completely dismissed especially when you also look at the relevant qualifying comparisons. The live coverage on BBC Two averaged 2.82m (22.6%) from 12:00 to 16:30, with the equivalent timeslot on Sky Sports F1 bringing 501k (4.1%). A combined average of 3.33m is the lowest for the race since 2006, a more depressing statistic perhaps when you consider that a Brit is in the title race – and won yesterday.

Over 4 million viewers were tuned in as the lights went to green, 4.50m (40.1%) were watching at 13:05. Even at this point, the numbers were lower than the equivalent point in 2013: 5.29m (49.6%) watched the beginning of 2013’s race, showing that lower interest, the race being on BBC Two and other sporting attractions played their part, meaning that the red flag that followed was not the only factor in the low numbers. The problem with the red flag is that it meant that the race would now be overlapping completely with the Wimbledon final. The audience dropped to as low as 3.59m (30.2%) during the red flag period, picking back up to a high of 4.77m (35.9%) at 14:10. Despite having a British driver in contention, audience levels dropped again to 4.06m (28.2%) at 14:55, rebounding to a peak of 4.88m (32.7%) at 15:25 as Lewis Hamilton won – the audience split being 4.19m (28.1%) on BBC and 688k (4.6%) on Sky.

The peak audience of 4.88m (32.7%) compares with a peak of 6.70m (52.8%) in 2011 and a peak of 5.98m (51.0%) in 2013. The latter stage of the 2012 race, which clashed with Andy Murray’s Wimbledon, peaked with 5.2m. It is the first time since 2007 that the British Grand Prix programme average has been below four million viewers. Depressingly, the 2011 programme average of 4.89m (43.1%) is actually higher than yesterday’s peak.

Like the race yesterday, coverage of qualifying struggled similarly against Wimbledon and the Tour de France on Saturday. Whilst the Formula 1 did win its slot from 11:55 to 14:30, no doubt the opposition knocked a few hundred thousand off its potential. BBC Two’s coverage averaged 1.62m (17.5%), peaking with 2.29m (22.0%) at the conclusion of the qualifying hour. Sky Sports F1 from 12:00 to 14:30 added 293k (3.2%). With a combined average of 1.91m, it is easily the lowest British Grand Prix qualifying number since 2007. Had qualifying done well, I would have probably put a disclaimer next to the race figures, but in my opinion it is telling that both qualifying and the race did poor.

I’m afraid from a scheduling point of view, the decision to have the British Grand Prix on the same weekend as the Wimbledon finals and the Tour de France departing from Yorkshire was a disaster by FOM and the FIA. The Tour de France starting from Yorkshire has been known since late 2012 and the Wimbledon finals are always on the first weekend of July (although this is changing from 2015). I know that there are many, many factors that come into consideration when finalising the calendar, however having the British Grand Prix on the same weekend as two other big sporting events, thus reducing its prominence in the British sporting calendar, is brain fade. I did similar in 2012, but having:

– June 8th – Canada (as present, avoids World Cup clash)
– June 15th – Le Mans (as present)
– June 22nd – Britain (critically as it is a BBC live race means no World Cup clash)
– June 29th – Austria (Wimbledon middle Sunday and World Cup down to two games a day, giving more flexibility)
– July 13th – Germany (avoids clash with The Open, giving more flexibility)
– August 15th – Hungary (avoids Commonwealth Games)
– August 29th – Belgium (avoids late Summer Bank Holiday)
– September 7th – Italy

I’ll stop there, however the timing of the self imposed Summer break means that BBC highlights races are reduced to BBC Two coverage, reducing the ratings potential. I’m not sure how much consideration is given to avoiding other sporting fixtures, however in the case of Silverstone yesterday, they clearly did not pay as much attention as they should have. At a time when Formula 1 desperately needs good viewing figures, high profile clashes, along with yesterday’s one hour delay only serves to aggravate matters. Germany and Hungary are up next, and both are highlights and will be on BBC Two thanks to live coverage of the Open and Commonwealth Games. Formula 1’s Summer of low ratings looks set to continue…

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


7 thoughts on “British Grand Prix drops to eight year low

  1. You’re right, given the fact that the Wimbledon final and UK Tour de France dates were known years ago – F1 has only itself to blame for the clash. It’s doubly ironic because F1 constantly changes its calendar and then wonders why audiences are declining when the reason is staring them in the face. Whilst I know this race was live on the BBC, the loss of free to air coverage has generally hit F1 hard, whereas all Wimbledon and the Tour remains free.

  2. and to think that toto wolff said that the viewing figures in the uk are improving. the fact that f1 on bbc silverstone 2012 did better against the 2012 tennis final. than this years gp vs tennis. clearly the sound,suzi perry,no jake,no gary and gimmicks and plastic tyres have put viewers off in the uk. its worse in germany and italy though. the next 2 races are the worst highlight ones for me as they are only 1ht 30min and with no lee mackenzie they might as well not send a team out there apart from the comms

  3. The decline in global TV audience figures is ultimately down to the way FOM and the FIA manage the sport. They do not take much account of the views of the of the core fans and they show even less interest in promoting the sport to a wider public.

    One key issue is that FOM make their money via contracted fees from the TV companies and the circuit owners and, in the short term, FOM do not seem to be directly affected by a drop in global TV audience figures.

    Indeed, it is clear that Mr Ecclestone is actively pushing for all F1 coverage to become exclusively PayTV regardless of the obvious drop in viewing figures that will result from this action – presumably because he thinks that Sky/BT/Eurosport/Canal etc will always be able to afford to pay him more than the free-to-air channels and, from his perspective, that’s all that matters.

    I personally think the BBC team actually do a great job (I have a SkyF1 subscription but I still choose to watch the BBC coverage when they are both live) and I’m keen to support them and not jump on the ‘knock the BBC’ bandwagon.

    I am grateful that, despite the excessive fees imposed by FOM, the BBC has continued to cover all F1 races. The BBC audiences for the 2014 World Cup matches are typically over three times more than their audience for F1 races and the BBC audience figures for the mens’s final at Wimbledon were more than double the corresponding F1 audience figures. In the light of their current cost cutting measures it would be very easy for the BBC to justify walking away from F1 on the grounds of the disproportionately high cost per viewer when compared with other major sports.

    It is actually also hard to see how Sky can continue to justify the money they currently spend on their F1 coverage. The SkyF1 audience figures are more representative of a minority interest than a major global sport and, from an overall Sky Sports perspective, their F1 coverage does not really justify a dedicated channel at a time when Sky are in serious competition with BT for the lucrative football audience

    It is particularly significant that there were nearly four times as many people (estimated at 2.5m) who made the effort to travel out to stand for hours on the streets of Yorkshire to watch the Tour de France than there were sitting in the comfort of their homes watching a British hero win the British F1 GP on SkyF1!

    In my opinion the decline in TV audiences is now closely linked to the fact that the main objective of Mr Ecclestone has always been to push F1 in any direction that will provide more income for him and his business associates.

    I accept that, in the past, some of his actions were actually good for the sport but now the deliberate move to PayTV, the increase in the number of races and the move away from traditional locations within in the European time zone is now damaging interest in the sport from the broader TV audience.

    Core enthusiasts like myself will,if necessary, accept that eventually we may have to follow F1 exclusively on PayTV but, if it wants to get a global TV audience to compete with football, tennis and Cycling, F1 needs a complete re-think of its commercial strategy and the sport needs to become much more accessible and attractive to the casual TV viewer.

    Maybe it’s time for the teams and circuits owners to get together to stage a coup d’etat to get rid of FOM and put the commercial control and the promotion of F1 in the hands of a democratic ‘not for profit’ Trust that has a remit to work in the best interests of the the fans, the teams, the circuits and the sport as a whole….

  4. I guess a lot of people are watching via the internet these days due to a lot of F1 coverage being on PPV. However on a weekend where it was free on the BBC, I would expect more viewers, although, hardly surprising that viewers were low due to the silly clash with the tennis final. Anyway if I am allowed to recommend a website which has links to live F1 streams – always has links to watch free formula 1 online – I know many people like to watch live online on weekends when the races are on Sky TV in the UK (PPV), even if it means on a reduced quality picture as the free F1 streams are not HD. However that website does link to streams that are advert free and unlike the dodgy popup adverts and spam links all over the usual free F1 website suspects.

  5. If New Jersey joins the F1 calendar next year the schedule should run as follows:
    Canada – June 7th
    New Jersey – June 14th
    Britain – June 28th
    Austria – July 5th
    Germany – July 19th
    Hungary – July 26th

    Thid means Belgium and Italy would keep their usual slots.

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