Belgian Grand Prix fails to reverse pre-Summer decline

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.


5 thoughts on “Belgian Grand Prix fails to reverse pre-Summer decline

  1. Belgium Grand Prix. BBC F1 production team hit an all time low in quality of content in the race previews and race commentary itself. Holding interviews to a background of noise does not add colour to the event. Equipment failures in this day and age are a no no. The interviews and comments by the interviewers are getting too tedious and seem to have too much time made available to introduce the event. I prefer the cut down filleted versions of F!that the BBC do. Less comment and trivia, more race action.

    Sky must be pleased with the BBC amateurs tawdry performance although SKY’s production creaked at times with too much waffle.

    1. I thought the intro from the Beeb was brilliant, but from there it was a crying shame. I watched Qualy on Sky and I thought it was a prequel to their Super Sunday football coverage. I have been watching Sky F1 for two years and I think some elements of their coverage are good, some are bad. But either way, the audiences watching get the coverage they want. BTCC’s Qualifying mishaps were worse on ITV online, but I still think the BTCC on ITV4 is good, but not as great as it turns out to be.

  2. The loss of fans is down to paywall, 28years of dedicated watching ruined when BBC and Bernie failed to see importance of fans, this is result of the greed and I think F1 is going to die off due to this in next ten years..

  3. It’ll just become a niche sport as with World Superbikes, WTCC and MotoGP. It’s not to say that I’ve fallen out of love with the sport, but in terms of viewing figures, it’s decline is more than justified with Sky’s football-style coverage to F1, which does ruin the whole experience for me. The BBC’s performance in Belgium was appaling and I have doubts that the BBC may pull out a year before the rights end in 2018.

  4. I hate the current f1 qualifing . I much prefered the era of 1hr three sets of sticky tyres get on with it. There is no way i am going to pay sky a penny to watch that live

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