The 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix peaked with 4 million viewers in the UK yesterday, around two million viewers down year-on-year, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.
Live coverage of the race was broadcast on Channel 4 and Sky Sports F1 from 15:00 to 18:30.
Channel 4’s live coverage, their first live race averaged 2.30m (16.2%), peaking with 3.24m (20.2%) at 17:30 as Nico Rosberg won the Grand Prix. Numbers stayed relatively stable throughout the Grand Prix on Channel 4, hovering constantly around the three million mark before rising in the last few laps. Last year, BBC’s live coverage averaged 3.83m (26.0%) over a shorter 185-minute slot, peaking with 5.31m (30.8%). Channel 4’s peak is down 39 percent on what the BBC managed for their live Bahrain Grand Prix coverage last season. Channel 4’s race day programming, as in Australia, comfortably won its slot on Sunday afternoon, and performed well against its own slot averages.
Sky Sports F1’s coverage, also airing from 15:00 to 18:30, averaged 546k (3.9%), peaking with 966k (7.3%) at 16:05. Sky’s average is down 14.7 percent year-on-year; however, their peak audience is up 1.6 percent year-on-year. It is interesting to note looking at Sky’s breakdown that their numbers dropped drastically through the race: from 966k at 16:05 to 783k at 16:40. By the time the chequered flag came out, 673k (4.2%) were watching Sky’s coverage. It is very unusual to lose a third of your audience as the race progresses. A good deal of viewers watching on Sky opted out as soon as Lewis Hamilton dropped down the order in the turn one collision, although there are multiple other reasons for the drop that are not F1 related.
The combined audience of 2.84 million is the lowest for the Bahrain Grand Prix since 2007, and is down 36.4 percent year-on-year. The peak came at 16:05, when 4.01m (30.2%) were watching on Channel 4 and Sky. At the time of the peak, the ratio was 76:24 in Channel 4’s favour. The peak of 4.01 million is down 36.0 percent on 2015’s number of 6.26m (36.3%), again the lowest for Bahrain since 2007.
As always, there are a lot of different issues which dictate a number and this is one of them where you need to look beyond the move from BBC to Channel 4. Of course whilst that has had an effect, there were other issues in play yesterday. The first was a lot of sporting opposition, both motor sport and non-motor sport. Alongside the usual Ford Super Sunday, you also had England in the final of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. The cricket averaged 1.04m (8.0%) on Sky Sports 2 across the majority of yesterday afternoon. Combine that with the pleasant weather over the weekend, and the negative press that Formula 1 has received, and you can see why the number was where it was.
It is also worth re-iterating that Channel 4 won the slot yesterday afternoon whilst the Formula 1 was on, a more important point given the news last week that Sky will be screening every race exclusively from 2019. You can guarantee that, had yesterday’s race been exclusively on pay TV, it would not have drawn a peak audience of 4.0 million, instead it would have been swallowed up by the sporting events around it. In fact, it is probably a testament to the free-to-air coverage that a standard Formula 1 race recorded a significantly higher figure than a major England cricket match hidden exclusively behind a pay-wall…
The universally unloved elimination qualifying format stayed for a second race in Bahrain, and attracted a peak audience of 2.60m (20.3%) at 16:55.
Live coverage on Channel 4 from 15:00 to 17:30 averaged 1.44m (13.2%), with Sky Sports F1 adding a further 360k (3.3%), albeit in a slightly longer slot. The combined audience of 1.80 million is the lowest for a Bahrain qualifying programme since 2008. The drop year-on-year is around 357k or 16.6 percent. That is not actually as bad as it sounds: the BBC’s live qualifying programme last year was 90 minutes long due to other sporting events, whereas Channel 4 were on air yesterday for 150 minutes, which makes a difference to the average.
Channel 4’s peak audience of 2.00m (15.6%) compares with 598k (4.7%) for Sky, a ratio of around 77:23 in Channel 4’s favour. The combined peak mentioned above of 2.60 million is not too far away from the combined peak last season of around 2.85 million, so on the whole the number is not as bad as the headline suggests. It is noticeable how much the qualifying numbers have dropped away for Bahrain since 2013: having the qualifying hour in the core Saturday football window is a bad idea, not just in the UK but across Europe.
This site does not focus too much on the practice numbers, but the start of a new deal is a good time to have a quick check round the various numbers. Channel 4 aired all three sessions live to audiences of 312k (4.7%), 463k (4.5%) and 823k (10.0%) respectively. In comparison, Sky Sports F1 averaged 82k (1.2%), 82k (0.7%) and 149k (1.8%). The key headline there is practice three, which recorded a combined audience of 972k, and would have peaked at around 1.1 million viewers.
Practice one and three are above Channel 4’s slot averages, and practice two is in-line with their average. It is a really good number for practice three – we rarely focus on practice numbers, but it shows that even though it means little in the context of the race that still over 1 million viewers are prepared to watch it. That’s more to do with the time slot than anything else. Channel 4 Racing, which was situated between practice three and qualifying averaged 638k (7.5%), so the right decision was made with regards Channel 4’s scheduling.
The 2015 Bahrain Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.