Hamilton fails to prevent F1 ratings slide

The outlook may look rosy for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, but viewing figures in the UK continue to slide, overnight numbers show.

Heading into Russia, Formula 1 had recorded year-on-year declines for Singapore and Japan, both of which you can attribute to increased competition thanks to the Rugby World Cup. However, Argentina vs Namibia was never going to be tough opposition against the Russian Grand Prix, which turned out to be accurate as only 550k (5.6%) watched the game on ITV, only just above their own slot average.

BBC’s live coverage of the Grand Prix, which aired on BBC One from 11:00 to 14:15, averaged 2.79m (29.3%), down 13 percent on last year’s figure of 3.22m (30.7%). The drop in share is relatively small in comparison, a 5 percent drop year-on-year. Live coverage on Sky Sports F1 from 11:00 to 14:30 averaged 497k (5.1%), which compares with 665k (6.3%) last year. In other words, Sky’s coverage lost 25 percent of their viewership year-on-year, or 19 percent of their share. It does look like there were less viewers around, but in my opinion against minimal opposition, yesterday’s figure can only be considered as very poor.

Analysis – Does it matter who is dominating?
The morale of the story here is that domination is a bad thing for motor sport in general irrespective of whether it is Sebastian Vettel or Hamilton who is dominating. I’ve felt the need to explicitly state motor sport here. Dominance can be a good thing. See: Usain Bolt as one example. In some sports, dominance is good as it can raise the profile of said event, sometimes it can be bad (I think that’s a whole debate in itself, perhaps outside the remit of this site!). Back to Formula 1, home dominance is good – to a point. The problem with Hamilton dominating is not necessarily the fact that he is dominating, it is what is happening around that point that is the problem. The negativity surrounding the sport at the moment will only do more harm than good and drive down the ratings.

In 2011, Vettel dominated the season. Yet it was, and remains, the most watched season of Formula 1 in the past decade. Why? Of course TV coverage plays a part – I think we can agree that BBC F1 was at its pinnacle. But there was one thing that 2011 had that 2015 struggles with: sub-plots. Story lines. Something to draw casual viewers in. 2011 saw Jenson Button’s fantastic victory in Montreal, it also saw many fights between Hamilton and Felipe Massa, on and off the circuit. It was the latter that, in my opinion, was the main factor in driving up viewing figures that year. Both men were big stars in 2011 coming off the title battle three years earlier and viewers were waiting for the next big clash. What does 2015 have in comparison? Who is going to win the next instalment between Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso. The decline of McLaren (sadly). My point is that at the moment, Formula 1 on the circuit does not have a draw to the casual viewer in comparison to what viewers witnessed a few years ago.

The issue of sliding ratings is not something isolated to Formula 1. Viewing figures are generally dropping across the board as viewers ‘pick and choose’, ‘mix and match’ what they want to consume, although sport does tend to hold up a lot better because of the nature of the beast. Sport is still a big television event, and will remain that way for many years to come. The combined average across BBC and Sky shows a year-on-year drop from 3.89 million to 3.29 million, around a 15 percent decrease. The numbers do not look pretty. The frustrating, and sad, part about the television deal between BBC and Sky could play out in two weeks time in America. Lewis Hamilton is on the brink of winning his third championship. As the schedule current stands, the race be played out to terrestrial viewers on BBC Two at nearly midnight.

I blogged about this situation last year. Barring a miracle, Hamilton will clinch the championship in America or Mexico, both of which are Sky exclusive races. As a fan, it is frustrating to see this unfold (especially if you do not have access to Sky), but the BBC entered the deal knowing that this situation could unfold. If the title is clinched in America, I suspect the ratings trajectory will continue downwards as the 2015 season bows out with a whimper.

For those wondering, viewing figures for MotoGP and the British Touring Car Championship finale will follow later this week in a separate post.

The 2014 Russian Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.



8 thoughts on “Hamilton fails to prevent F1 ratings slide

  1. When you see what the big Saturday night shows are getting at the moment – 7-8m for X Factor and Strictly – it’s not really that bad combined.

  2. It was up against the BTCC final on ITV4 which may have diluted the viewership a bit. I was tempted to record F1 and watch the BTCC but decided to watch F1 live instead.

  3. I think these days the total inc the iplayer is the more relevant number. As time goes buy I watch more and more of it at a time that works for me and less and less live.

    1. The question I would ask in response to that is – why are you watching less and less of it live? Lack of interest with the sport or outside unrelated factors?

  4. for me this as been the worst season ever including the season with prost and senna dominated in the mclaren honda.

    The reason are so many now i don’t know how f1 can carry on without change. They have upset the hardcore f1 fans by to many fake racing f1 gimmicks like drs and bubble gum tyres ‘tyre war yes please’. they have butchered race tracks by putting tarmacs run of areas everywhere so drives can abuse the track limits but get away with it. They created a set of rules where if you got rubbish engine there is nothing you can do about it .

    and to finish it off they have hid the live race behind the paywall which as meant half the field ‘mclaren , sauber , manor ‘cant get sponsors and team which do have sponsor are the owners company and then the winning cars that do have sponsor bitch about not getting tv coverage.

    i have reached the point where i hope lotus go bust and redbull leave and then we can have big reset and hopeful something better will come out of it.

  5. In terms of watching the championship win live, I wonder if Sky would simulcast the closing stages of the race across Sky 2 and Pick as has been done with Football in the past. It would work in theor favour as they would get probably a million mote viewers than usual and around 2 million viewers is double pay. However, it would be good if the BBC could gain access but I don’t see this happening.

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