Lewis Hamilton’s championship victory may have brought joy to both BBC and Sky Sports F1’s ratings in the latter half of the season but despite this, viewing figures are down year-on-year according to unofficial overnight viewing figures. Whereas 2013’s figures dropped sharply after the Summer break, the 2014 season has seen the opposite occur.
> BBC average figures drop year-on-year
> Sky record highest figures since channel launch
> Numbers still down on 2009-11 figures
As always, for those that are new to the blog, it is best stating what figures we are comparing here. For Sky Sports F1, all the viewing figures are for the three and a half hour race day slot: one hour before the race and approximately 45 minutes after the race. I have used the equivalent slots for 2012 and 2013 to present a fair and complete picture, there would be little use in presenting a skewed picture, so all data is for the equivalent timeslots. Over on BBC, I have used their programme averages, whether it be live or highlights, irrespective of whether the highlights were shown on BBC One or BBC Two, as was the case for Bahrain and Austria this year. Repeats are taken into account for Asian-based races that the BBC showed live. As always, viewing figures are for TV only. iPlayer, Sky Go and the such like are not included.
The 2014 story
It is worth a reminder that, in my Summer post, I stated that the UK’s audience for Formula 1 had “dropped to their lowest level since 2008.” Luckily, that has not happened. Thanks to a British driver winning the championship, numbers have increased. Crucially though, have numbers increased as much as expected, and has the scheduling hit the numbers badly?
Sky Sports F1’s race day programme has averaged 790k from 12:00 to 15:30, or equivalent across 2014. That number is up a massive 23.4 percent on 2013’s figure of 640k and up 11.1 percent on 2012’s figure of 711k. Whichever way you spin that, for Sky, those are very positive numbers. Things were not looking good for Sky during 2013 with numbers falling, but this year, they have turned it around, and then some more, to record an average higher than both 2012 and 2013. Back in the Summer, I was taking about a “meagre 22k.” The numbers bandied around above are much bigger than 22k, and in my opinion is definitely something worth recognising.
So, why the increase? Better picks? Absolutely. Having both USA and Brazil exclusively during the title run in would have done the average wonders. But even then, it is more than just that. In fact, 14 out of 16 races recorded increases between 2013 and 2014 on Sky Sports F1 (the other four didn’t take place), so even the races where Sky shared coverage with BBC did the numbers increase. That suggests to me that viewers are liking the product that Sky are putting out, otherwise they would not be tuning in to their pre and post-race shows. The substantial increase correlates with feedback on this blog to suggest that people are liking Sky’s race day show more than previously. Sky’s figures are no fluke, in my opinion.
The BBC’s figures dropped year-on-year by 5.9 percent, recording an average of 3.22m versus 3.42m in 2013. Numbers are up slightly on 2012’s average of 3.21m, although those two numbers are within the margin of error to be statistically insignificant. Scheduling was not great. Bahrain and Austria were both screened on BBC Two in highlights form, USA and Brazil, two races bound to draw big audiences if shown live, were shown as highlights. Under this current agreement, I feel that there will be a yearly discussion about what things could/could not have been done differently as a result. With USA, Brazil and Mexico back to back in 2015, BBC will not be able to screen all three live, although at least one of the three will be screened live.
Still down on BBC only days
The combined average of 4.01m is up 2.3 percent on 2012’s 3.92m, but down 1.3 percent on 2013’s average of 4.06m. What is fascinating to me is the closeness of those three figures despite the complete parallels that each of those three seasons faced. 2012 had a battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso until the end. 2013 arguably peaked in Malaysia from a fan perspective, with figures tumbling in the latter half of the season. In contrast, 2014 started with backlash from the wider media over the sound, or lack of, developing into a rivalry between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, inevitably helping the British figures in the final half of the year due to Hamilton’s involvement. I would suggest that it is a coincidence that the three years line up next to each other, although astonishing at the same time.
However, the 2011 season averaged 4.5m, a 10 percent drop. In fact, 2009, 2010 and 2011 all averaged higher than 2014. It will be, for me, an age old question of whether figures are really down 10 percent versus 2011, or whether more people are now watching Formula 1 via tablets, smart phones and as thus not being included in those figures. I don’t know. I’m not sure whether FOM even know the exact answer to that statement. For some people, 2009 through to 2011 will always be the barometer of Formula 1 coverage in the UK. Whether a group of fans bailed out of watching every race live at the end of 2011, I don’t know. I think it should probably be noted that a lot of shows have dropped year-on-year (the majority of ITV’s schedule is just one example), so in comparison, F1 has done well to hold onto the majority of its existing audience.
My own opinion is that viewing figures are down versus the BBC only days. That is an undeniable fact. When you include other devices, I think 2014 would close the gap in on 2011 slightly. Not significantly, as it seems clear to me that people have moved on. Sadly this is something that you cannot prove statistically, but anecdotally. If you were to grab a few people who have watched F1 at some stage in the past few years, chances are they would tell you that they are watching less F1 than when every race was live on BBC One, because it is not as readily available now as it was previously.
Heading into 2015
Whilst the overall picture is not exciting, the movement of viewers between BBC and Sky is somewhat interesting. There has been a 10 percent shift from BBC to Sky, although whether these are new viewers watching Sky’s coverage, or returning viewers to the channel from 2012, it is impossible to tell. It will be intriguing to see if Sky can continue the upwards swing heading into 2015, or whether BBC can claw back a few viewers off Sky that they have lost during 2014.
A BBC spokesperson said “In what has been a fantastic year with a wealth of sport available to watch on the BBC including the Winter Olympics, World Cup and Commonwealth Games we’re delighted with our F1 coverage this season which reached an impressive 26.1m people. This was undoubtedly helped by a brilliant season finale – Abu Dhabi was the most watched race of the season, with 6.5m people tuning in.”