Formula 1’s struggles in the ratings continued after the Summer break, as the Belgian Grand Prix in the United Kingdom recorded the worst figure for a European round since 2008, according to unofficial overnight viewing figures.
Before going any further, of course this is Bank Holiday weekend. However, this is by no means unusual, 2012 aside, Belgium has fell on the August Bank Holiday weekend for many, many years. So I don’t think the Bank Holiday reason is one that applies here as there is a fair playing field year-on-year. Live coverage of the race, screened live on BBC One from 12:10 to 15:30, averaged 2.44m (26.4%), peaking with 3.27m (31.8%) at 14:25. In comparison, their 2013 broadcast averaged 2.89m (28.5%), albeit over a shorter slot finishing at 15:15, peaking with 3.90m (35.8%). The BBC figure is pretty bad, and is another decline for the broadcaster.
A peak audience of 784k (8.3%) at 13:05 saw Sky Sports F1’s broadcast, which averaged 475k (5.2%) from 12:00 to 15:30. Both numbers for Sky are up year-on-year, the average is up on both 2012 and 2013. 2013’s race averaged 419k (4.2%) and peaked with 698k (6.8%) for the channel. Interestingly during the race itself, neither channel failed to add on many viewers. The combined peak of 4.04m (42.7%) was recorded at 13:05, after which the audience slowly dropped to around 3.75m, before picking up to 3.99m (38.7%) at the finish. 2013’s peak in comparison was 4.52m (41.9%) half way through the race. The figures for 2014 definitely indicate that they was a turn off as soon as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clashed on lap two, those viewers never came back until the last few laps.
It’s worth noting that there was a BBC Two highlights broadcast last night at 19:00, which usually would have been on BBC Three. I don’t know why it was on BBC Two, and I also don’t know whether any viewers were fooled into thinking that this was a BBC highlights race as a result. For the avoidance of doubt, that programme averaged 859k (5.1%). You could bundle it into the above, but then are you presenting a fair comparison? In my view, no, where would you stop the line? I could bundle in all the repeats on Sky Sports F1. You’d be carrying on for a long time. The simplest thing to do is to take into the account the live airings for the European rounds where both are live, and that is it.
The combined average of 2.91m is the lowest for a European round since the 2008 European Grand Prix, which clashed with the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Due to its positioning in the calendar, Belgium has never rated very well, which is fair enough, you cannot expect every race to set the ratings alight. The average from yesterday is down on the circa. 3.25m from 2012 and 2013, and nearly a million viewers down on the 2010 and 2011 averages.
Live coverage of Qualifying on BBC One averaged 1.80m (21.3%) from 12:10 to 14:20. Sky’s F1 broadcast from 12:00 to 14:35 averaged 297k (3.6%). The combined number of 2.10m looks to be down on 2013, but up slightly on 2012.
It’s worth ending this piece by mentioning a comment made by Bernie Ecclestone this past week. Ecclestone, when asked about declining TV audiences by AUTOSPORT, said: “I don’t know. We were talking to TV people about that. They [audience figures] seem to have drooped everywhere – all sports. And not just sport – other things. There are too many other things to look at.” If we are to focus on the UK for a second, then Ecclestone’s comment is accurate. There are many TV shows which have dropped significantly year-on-year. You would have to look at each case one-by-one though, especially if it is a drama or a soap opera, there may very well be circumstances unique to those particular shows (i.e. viewers not liking particular storylines to give an example).
I don’t believe sport is affected as much as other shows, from what I have seen. The Italian Grand Prix in two weeks is also live on both BBC One and Sky Sports F1, so it will be interesting to see if the figures bounce back after Belgium’s poor number.
The 2013 Belgian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.