Halfway through the 2014 MotoGP season, and the move to pay TV for live coverage is having a profound effect on the UK ratings, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.
> Half a million viewers across BT and ITV
> BT Sport “expect numbers to grow with time”
> ITV decline to comment
For the best part of fifteen years, BBC had screened every race live, with further more extensive coverage on British Eurosport. With an average of one million viewers every race, BBC’s coverage was motorcycling’s gateway to a new generation of fans, should a British rider rise to the top. In May 2013, it was announced that BT Sport would be taking over exclusive coverage of the championship from 2014 onwards, unsurprisingly provoking a backlash from fans. The exclusivity aspect failed to make it to the first race, just two weeks before the start of the 2014 season, it was announced that ITV4 would be screening highlights of the championship, a move aimed at appeasing a larger portion of the MotoGP fan base. And the viewing figures, in my opinion, back that up.
All the viewing figures below exclude BBC iPlayer for 2013, and similarly BT Sport’s app and ITV Player for this season. So far in 2014, BT Sport’s live race day coverage for the MotoGP portion of proceedings – from 12:30 to approximately 14:00 – have averaged 155k, peaking at just over 200k the majority of the time. ITV4’s highlights programming on Monday evenings have averaged 366k, this number including their +1 timeshift channel. The combined audience of 521k is significantly down on figures in previous years, when MotoGP was live on terrestrial television.
In comparison, BBC Two’s MotoGP coverage for the first half of the 2013 season, excluding Austin and Assen, which were not covered live by the channel, averaged exactly 1.00m, regularly peaking around 1.3m. In addition to that, an additional audience in the region of 150k watched on British Eurosport an hour later, bringing the combined audience is 1.15m. Traditionally, UK’s audiences have remained around that level for many years, with slight fluctuations about 100k either way depending on that season’s circumstances and other sporting competition in that calendar year. As mentioned above, audiences this year have more than halved in comparison to last year.
Looking into the figures, I maintain that ITV were brought on board to save face. BT Sport exclusivity would have been a catastrophic disaster for all concerned. Yes, they may be providing more in-depth coverage than BBC (albeit, with the use of a studio at every race weekend), but that in my opinion is meaningless if audiences are 10 percent of what BBC were getting. BT Sport’s coverage is not going to bring in new fans. If it does, it’ll be tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands as BBC’s coverage could have done if the likes of Bradley Smith get to the front of the field in the years to come.
I would be surprised if Dorna are happy with BT’s viewing figures, however it was them that made the decision to go with BT Sport’s money rather than BBC’s viewers. Whether ITV4’s highlights programming was a nice compromise, the jury is out. In any case, I’m not at all surprised about the drop. There is a valid point about the dominance of Marc Marquez having a detrimental effect on viewing figures. From BT’s perspective, viewing figures have stayed consistent (in fact, their Qatar programme only peaked with 230k), whilst ITV4’s highlights have dropped to around the 350k mark. Because of the football in the past month, there is no direct yes or no answer where the Marquez theory is concerned.
A BT Sport spokesperson said: “BT Sport is a brand new channel and less than a year old and MotoGP launched on the channel in March of this year. BT Sport show some of the most extensive coverage of MotoGP seen in the UK across Friday, Saturday and Sunday on a race weekend. We are pleased with the number of people watching MotoGP as well as MotoGP Tonight so far and feedback on our coverage has also been extremely positive. We expect numbers to grow with time.” ITV declined to comment.