Formula 1 hits decade low audience in UK

The 2016 Chinese Grand Prix recorded the lowest audience for a Formula 1 race in the United Kingdom for a decade, unofficial overnight viewing figures show.

Live coverage of the race, broadcast live on Sky Sports F1 from 06:00 to 09:30, averaged 433k (11.1%). The programme hit a five-minute peak audience of 687k. The average audience is down 26.4 percent on 2015, whilst the peak audience is down 29.1 percent year-on-year. Considering nothing has changed year-on-year from a timeslot perspective, the large drop has to be a concern. The picture for Sky is similar to their Australian Grand Prix numbers from last month, whereby both average and peak are down a similarly large amount.

Channel 4’s highlights programme from 13:30 to 15:25 (tape-checked) averaged 1.68m (17.0%). The audience peaked with 2.25m (21.6%) at 14:45 as their highlights edit came to a conclusion. As is now usual, Channel 4’s programming won its timeslot and thrashed their own slot average. Last year, BBC’s highlights programme averaged 2.97m (24.5%), peaking with 3.42m. Year-on-year, Channel 4’s average is down 43.4 percent, with the peak audience down 34.3 percent. The percentage drop for the programme average is the largest recorded yet this year.

Unfortunately, the broader historical picture is bleak. The combined audience of 2.11 million viewers is the lowest for the Chinese Grand Prix since at least 2005. It is also the lowest audience for a Grand Prix since 2006. You have to go back to the 2006 Italian Grand Prix to find a lower average audience. That particular race averaged just 1.86m (23.2%) live on ITV1. The combined peak audience of 2.94 million viewers is also the lowest since Italy 2006.

Live coverage of qualifying on Saturday morning performed solidly on Sky Sports F1, averaging 308k (5.8%) from 07:00 to 10:05. The programme, slightly extended due to the two red flag periods, recorded a five-minute peak of 528k (7.9%) at 09:15. Both measures are down around 20k year-on-year, which in the grand scheme of things is immaterial.

As was been the case in Australia and Bahrain, Channel 4’s qualifying programme was down on BBC’s coverage last year. Highlights of qualifying from 12:30 to 13:55 (tape-checked) averaged 1.19m (14.1%), hitting a peak audience of 1.55m (17.6%) at 13:30. In comparison, BBC’s highlights last year averaged 1.81m (20.9%) and peaked with 2.04 million viewers.

The average audience for qualifying is 34 percent lower than 2015, whilst Channel 4’s peak audience is 24 percent lower than what the BBC recorded last year. These metrics are important to look at as the season progresses, for both qualifying and the race. My hope was that Channel 4 would close the gap on the BBC’s numbers as the season progressed. Early signs are that the gap is not closing and, if the Chinese Grand Prix percentage is to be believed, then the gap is in fact extended.

Final thoughts
The big question: is China the low-point? My gut instinct is no. I have a bad feeling that we will see our first sub two million race day audience for 2016 very soon. I’m not prepared to knee-jerk based on the China number and write a lot of analysis based on one very low rating. Instead, I think we need to wait and see what happens in the next few races before analysing. As a number on its own though, the combined audience of 2.11m is very, very poor and that cannot be avoided.

The 2015 Chinese Grand Prix ratings report can be found here.


20 thoughts on “Formula 1 hits decade low audience in UK

  1. I disagree. While the numbers are bad there is an upside – the racing has been good. Exciting races and incidents, such as yesterday get people talking. Draws them in. If the seasons races continue like this, I think the only way is up.

  2. The racing has been very good so far, but as I’ve said before, I believe F1 has a much higher percentage of casual viewers than most other sports. These casual viewers switch off if a driver and/or team starts to dominate etc, they watch if and when it suits them. They aren’t hardcore fans and will have also been put off by the inept decisions that were made over Qualifying, and I doubt that they follow the sport close enough to see that they had reverted to previous format.

    Another way of looking at it is to point the finger at Channel 4. Sky’s drop of 150k is nothing compared to Channel 4’s 1.3 million, particularly as Channel 4 have essentially the same potential reach as the BBC. As unbelievable as it is, there will be some who see themselves as BBC viewers and won’t watch C4, and then there’s the C4 line up which is sure to put many off.

    1. The same is true though of BBC2. Just seems to be a significant number of people in the country who haven’t worked out hiw to change from channel 1.

  3. Its been inevitable. WHile some fans and journalists are trying to put lipstick on a pig and point at the ‘great racing’ for lower positions, traditionally fans want to see fights for the race win. With 35 Mercedes wins out of the last 41 races, perhaps these falling numbers arent so suprising. The more journalists are trying to deflect from that, the harder their bread and butter will cease to exist, as their bosses wont see any point spending more time and money on coverage.

    Meanwhile, Mercedes and Fiat(Ferrari) dont care, all they want is push through their idiot V6 turbo hybrid engines to ‘reflect the industry’. Except cars from their industry arent bought by race fans perse. But because they have money, they corrupted F1 into thinking it actually matters.

    A damn shame.

    1. Team/driver domination does have some impact, but that’s happened on many occasions over the years. One of the things that never gets mentioned is that the TV viewer has never had such a choice of programming, particularly sport.

      Engine noise is part of the F1 experience, but an increase in the maximum fuel flow rate would help this.

      1. First of all, the domination excerted by Mercedes is unprecedented. In Red Bulls most dominant season, 2011, there were 7 different winners than a Red Bull over 19 races. Mercedes managed 35 wins out of the last 41. In Nigel Mansells dominating 1992 seaosn you had 6 different winners than a Williams romping away.

        Second of all: those seasons werent locked in by virtue of testing bans or development restrictions as we have today. EVeryone could develop noveltys such as front exhaust or that McLaren rear wing gadget.

        Mercedes was offered to introduce a standard V6 twin turbo next to the current engines but they threatened to leave F1.

        They are so far ahead that they are manipulating their pace to a point im not sure if they are even fully turned up in Q3. They just do enough to keep halfa second between them and Ferrari.

        The fans had had enough. Even the Hamilton fans. Hell, even Hamilton himself said MotoGP is nicer.

        F1 is a mess.

    2. There is nothing “idiot” about the current V6 power units. There’s a significant degree of idiocy around the failure of everyone in the sport to properly promote them.

      There is certainly an unprecedented degree of whining from luddites who refuse to acknowledge the march of progress. History is littered with such idiocy.

      1. The idiocy revolves around the thought that somehow, with ‘proper promotion’ people would understand no, embrace the V6turbo hybrids as the best thing since sliced bread. Its also idiocy because you failed to grasb the single biggest attraction point F1 had: the sheer overwhelming auditory experience and appeal F1 had. You could hear the engines from miles from the race track. Currently journos write in a melancholic way when the V10 2 seater is started for promotion runs. TV prorgams used tos tart to the wail of engines.

        All that is gone because of the V6 turbo hybrids. F1 sees the importance, and implemented stupid rules to make it better, but its watter to the sea, and the engiens sound even more horrible than before.

        The other idicocy is that for some reason F1 should be connected to road car industry. Currently a road car is endlessly more sophisticated than an F1 car. They have ABS, TC, ESP and countless other systems that make it much more safe and adaptable to the road than F1 has, because its all prohibited. Its also not a test lab for new technology because of the token system and engine limit of 5 per season. On top of that 3 years after introduction, Renault doesnt even have a hybrid model in their showroom. And please spare me the bs about needing ‘progress’. Progress is electric motors, or a true new form of combustion engine. hybrid petroleum engines are as backwards as the V8 hybrids were. Yes, they, too, were hybrid, but at least they sounded better, and you didnt need a fortune.

        But the biggest reason why these V6turbos are idicoy is their costs. Mercedes has poured half a billion $$ into developing them. 3 years on and they still have a sizeable advantage over Ferrari, despite them trhowing everything at it. Nobody is gonna catch Mercedes. Mercedes is protecting their investment. Its only a matter of time before Renault pulls the plug, or Honda finds out it is simply not worth the effort. Haas buys a Ferrari clone and beats a big team like McLaren with ease, and a legendary team like WIlliams, with their wealth of knowledge. All because of these v6turbo biased rules.

        There you have it. F1 is a mess, because of V6turbo hybrids. And the longer its embraced by journalists who dont see the fans are running away by the millions, the more damage is done, until it is unrepairable, and F1 will stop to exist.

      2. F1 banned turbos in the late 80s because they ruined the racing by turning the week ends into an economy run. They also banned turbos then because of the prohibitive cost and complexity. Here we are now with massively complexed turbo hybrid technology with stratospheric high engine costs sending teams broke! Did they not learn anything from the 80’s The power units sound like flatulant groaning sheep leaving the pits and utterly dreadful at full speed.

  4. The Highlights broadcast by Channel 4 didn’t help. Less than 1 hour of visible on-track action in a 2 hour broadcast. It should be 70mins plus around 20mins of ad-breaks, cutting an extra lap or 2 at each ad-break.

  5. I’m not surprised. Ricciardo got left on the straight just because the Merc is faster. AND the thick commentators STILL cannot correctly pronounce his name! The whole schmozzle is becoming a boring 4 horse race.

  6. as fan from 1998 i went to btcc at donnington on sunday. I came back from having a great day meaning to watch the highlights on channel 4 and did not bother as i knew who one.

    20years ago i worked on sundays and when i got home i did not not who had one and would have watched the full race recording. In the info age we live in it really is live or nothing for me

  7. Isn’t this reduction in viewership exactly what F1 management want?
    After Bahrain they happily announced the exclusivity deal with Sky for 2018.
    F1 has gone from the Beeb, and soon it will be gone from freeview entirely.
    It seems to me that FOM want to rid themselves of 4-6 million fans (freeloaders) in the UK, and get down to a tidy 300-400K pay audience. Well congratulations, FOM, your dream is coming true…

  8. Hi David,
    Just out of interest, do you have comparative listening figures for Radio 5 Live?
    If I’m travelling around, or busy with other activities, I find the radio 5 coverage a good alternative (I then watch the TV highlights programmes to catch up on the visual ‘action’ later) and it would be interesting to know if the radio listening figures are also in decline.

  9. Well i and all my f1 fans enjoyed it and the season so far has been just great and as i have said before those sky figures are guesses as sky do not release their figures and the pub, sky go and sky q app figures are not in there. Im a barb user and they do not take any of my on demand or online stuff into account, despite me being on their trial for that.
    Also the thing is, there is so much more to watch last few years, not just motorsport, but other sport that the audience is going to be mixed up or changing in many ways and many now are watching much more on catchup and online, not always live or normal tv highlights shows.
    By the way, why are the comments hidden now on here, much preferred when they were in line with the text like the old layout. Did think they had gone at one point. Also the font is not easy to read on a tablet or phone, its a real struggle.

    1. Yeah I noticed the change in font. For phone users a plain Ariel type is far better for the comprehension of reading text blocks, as well as when posting.

      JessNuman – I’m glad to hear that others are enjoying the racing this season, just as I am. I tire quickly of folks like the poster above who continually run down the current iteration of the Formula – especially when they defend their own narrow mind with such absurd attempts at logic.

      I don’t know any real F1 fans who considered the noise factor as part of the attraction. It was a side product, but obviously nothing especially desirable and nothing that’s missed when the racing is good. I like the idea of the current complex energy recovery systems trickling down to consumer vehicles in the future. If I could increase the efficiency of my car by the amount the current V6 turbo hybrids have, over the ancient and outdated V8 engines – I’d be a very happy consumer. I’m not naive enough to think Mercedes road cars will utilize these technologies to best effect; I know how advances in automotive engineering spread across many different brands.

      I want to be able to enjoy F1 for many years to come. If the sustainability of the sport requires it takes a particular direction – that’s fine with me, as long as the racing is good! I’ve heard these backwards opinions suggestthe current power unit formula has spoiled the racing as it causes drivers to “lift and coast” as part of their technique. Yet that’s been going on since motor racing in general and F1 in particular began. Again I see nothing to criticise – as long as the racing is entertaining.

      As a sound engineer I’m already subjected to long periods of undesirable loud noise, as are many other musicians and engineers I work with. In a business where your ability to hear well is critical – I welcome an engine that efficiently converts some of the noise of previously naturally aspirated engines into energy the driver can deploy. I think the increased efficiency will be key to progressing F1 over the next few decades, plus I find little to interest me in lesser motorsports that gratuitously waste resources with antiquated technology!

      I have never considered the engine noise to be of importance in motor racing – the only time it’s referenced is from the cowardly anonymity of the web. If the number of web users posting about their displeasure with the current technologically impressive power units, were representative of regular F1 fans – there’d be hardly anyone left to watch the sport, either on TV or in person!

      I think the racing this season has been great. I also think it’s absurd that the viewing stats fail to account for an ever increasing share of the viewing audience – who rely more on time-shifting and catch-up services, than on regular scheduled programming – as it’s simply the modern way of consuming TV content of all kinds.

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